Officer Paul Balukonis Honored at Hudson’s Nottingham West School

by Tom Tollefson

Officer Paul with wife Shelby and daughter Julia, 10, and Lauren, 7

At his final farewell in Nottingham West Elementary School gymnasium, Hudson School Resource Officer Paul Balukonis, was treated like a king, as he sat on his smiley face chair, instead of a throne.  This celebration marked the end of Balukonis’ days as police officer, as he has retired from a little over 20 years of service as one of Hudson’s finest, with 19 of those years as the elementary school resource officer.

Balukonis was bedazzled with good-bye letters, gift cards, and posters from the students, teachers and faculty at Nottingham West. 

Of all the gifts, undoubtedly his three best, was his wife Shelby Balukonis, and his two daughters Julia 10 and Lauren 7. 

“I think it was a real honor and privilege and we are so appreciative to the school and police department for Paul to work in the schools for so many years,” Shelby Balukonis said.

Balukonis also received a Nottingham West jacket, a large portrait painted by Nottingham art teacher Nanette Constant, and a hallway on the first floor named “Balukonis Boulevard” in his honor. 

Balukonis said he was surprised and honored by the school-wide assembly. 

“I knew something was going on, but didn’t know the magnitude,” he said. 

After the assembly, Balukonis stuck around to slap high fives with each student, as they lined out the door. 

During his 19 years as the school resource officer, Balukonis became famous for his speeches warning children the dangers of strangers, drugs, alcohol and for handing out prizes such as coupons for slurpees at 7-Eleven and food at Burger King. 

“Officer Paul taught me the importance of not doing drugs and saying ‘no’ to peer pressure,” fifth grader Nick said. 

Many of the other children said how much their favorite police officer will be missed, especially the fifth graders, who had five years worth of memories with Balukonis.  They all looked to him as more than an officer, or school authority, but a mentor who inspired them with his caring and his warnings about “bad choices.”

“He’s a big friend of mine,” fifth grader Rachel said.

“Officer Paul inspired me to be the best I can be,” Shannon, 10, said.

The PTO and staff at Nottingham West will also miss Balukonis. 

“He’s definitely a positive mentor.  Someone these kids can trust and they have a lot f respect for him,” Samantha Bergeron, PTO co-president said. 

Principal Peter Durso said he also will miss Balukonis.

“What can I say, it’s bitter sweet (Balukonis retirement), and he’s been a constant force for Nottingham West for the last 20 years,” Durso said.  

Balukonis will be replaced by current Alvirne High School Resource Officer Roger Lamarche.

“All the time I’ve known Officer Paul, he’s been a wealth of knowledge not just with the kids, but with people,” he said.  “I’ve got some big shoes to fill and hope I can do half the job that Paul did.”

Balukonis will be retired as a full time police officer to work with a friend on voting machines.  He will still remain a part-time officer and help Lamarche at the elementary schools.

Paul Balukonis with daughter Julie 10, right, and Lauren 7

Paul Balukonis giving high fives to the children as they leave for the bus

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Giving was Good

Submitted by Fred Giuffrida

Heather Barkley ready for the Luau.

The whistle blew three times, and the crowd of more than 200 people yelled, “Giving is Good!”  The scene was the “Jeanie Barkley Memorial ‘Giving is Good’ Island Time Luau” on September 12, at the Alpine Grove in Hollis.  These folks had gathered to honor the memory of Hudson resident Jeanie Barkley, who passed away from aplastic anemia last December, and to help raise money to fund a scholarship in her honor.  By any measure, the event was a huge success.

There were family, friends, and neighbors, and those who knew Jeanie through her long-standing volunteer efforts with Alvirne High School Friends of Music, or Girl Scouts, or church.  These were the faces of many people whose lives Jeanie had touched, together with those who’d simply heard of her, and were there to honor her spirit.

Jeanie was a constant smiler, and her infectious giggle was famous among her friends.  She would have been right at home with the laughing, joking crowd that prowled among the many silent auction items, bidding on sports memorabilia, gift certificates, and all manner of goods and services.  I had to smile myself to see that most silent auction items sold for more than their estimated value as friends light-heartedly outbid friends, and all got into the spirit of giving to a good cause.

The night was not without a few sad moments, as might be expected on such an evening.  When Tammy Weitzman spoke, many members of the audience could be found wiping an unbidden tear or two.  Tammy was Jeanie’s social worker, at Dana Farber/Brigham and Woman’s Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts.  From talking to Jeanie’s husband John, I know that Tammy was an enormous help to them during Jeanie’s illness, but Tammy talked about how Jeanie, and in fact the whole Barkley family, had inspired her.  It was a poignant moment, but nothing could bring down this crowd, present to celebrate a life, and have fun doing it.

Throughout the night, Dave Glover, close Barkley family friend and master of ceremonies, kept people on their toes with his absolute requirement that whenever the whistle blew, the crowd needed to respond, “Giving is Good.”

Dave, who flew in from Omaha, Nebraska for the evening, had this to say, “‘Giving is Good’ was Jeanie’s mantra that she lived by, and we honored her with the Luau Night Out.  As I blew that whistle three times, and saw the reaction people had to shouting ‘Giving is Good,’ I knew that the spirit of the event and the message people left with, was even bigger than we thought.  Unconditional giving feels good.  Doing things the ‘Jeanie Way’, with no expectation of personal benefit, is a very real feeling and it affects people.”

After a very nice dinner, Glover handed the microphone over to the capable hands of Frank Rosier, who presided over the live auction segment of the evening.  Spirited bidding ensued, with tables bidding against each other across the crowded room.  One of my favorite moments of the night was the bidding war for the opportunity to conduct the Alvirne High School Concert Band for their performance of Sleigh Ride at their holiday concert.  After a fierce battle, Bill Cahill of Hudson, won the right to conduct.  (The concert is December 11, leaving Bill’s friends plenty of time to stock up on videotape.)

Bob Guessferd, chairman of the Jeanie Barkley Memorial Fund, had this to say about the event.  “Ultimately, the success of this event came down to a community pulling together in an impressive fashion; from the individuals who gave generously of their time and energy, planning and running this event, to the dozens of businesses who without hesitation made donations of products and services for our silent and live auctions.  In addition, without the tireless energy of JBMF members, many working late into the night for weeks prior to the event, we could not have made this happen.”

I asked committee member Carol Martin for her impressions of the event.  “Working on Jeanie’s Luau was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Carol responded.  “We had a team of focused friends, each using their own expertise to get the job done.  It was fun, and giving felt good.”  Carol added, “Jeanie would have thought that we were making much ado about nothing having such a great event in her honor.  She’s gotta be giggling and smiling huge, and thinking she’s got some crazy friends.”

I talked to John Barkley about what the event meant to him, and to his daughters, Jess, Lara, and Heather.  “One of the important things to do as part of the grieving process is to talk about your lost loved one,” said John.  “And during the last six months, this event has allowed my entire family to speak frequently about Jeanie and what Jeanie would like or not like.  It gave us clear focus on ‘Giving is Good’ and allowed us (me and the girls), to talk about Jeanie openly.  It really feels good to keep Jeanie’s legacy alive, and the response from all of her friends was very touching and appreciated.”

John also wanted to be sure to mention the volunteers who helped create the evening.  “I would like to mention the Jeanie network of friends that were involved in this event.  We saw a small group grow to over twenty people who tirelessly donated their summer evenings to help put the entire night together.  Gathering items for the auction is hard work, organizing the group of volunteers, executing a promotion/marketing plan, decorations, food, music, and selling tickets were all completed in a very short time frame during a very busy vacation time of the year.  The network of friends grew as Jeanie’s friends volunteered and the group accepted them and made them feel welcome and included them like family.  I think the JBMF committee grew stronger as we got closer to the event.”

When it was all over, when all the auction items were handed out, dishes cleared, and the decorations taken down and packed away, it seemed a very successful night.  It felt good to have celebrated the life of someone who gave so much to her community.  As we left the hall in the cool early morning darkness, in my mind I heard a familiar voice.  “You guys!” she said.  And then there was that giggle.

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Kindergarten Suit Filed

by Lynne Ober

Hudson School Board has voted to file suit in New Hampshire’s Supreme Court because they believe that legislation passed and signed into law by Governor John Lynch is unconstitutional.

“It’s not that we are against kindergarten,” said Superintendent Randy Bell, who has been a long-time proponent of public kindergarten, “but we believe that the voters should approve this and they have not.”

One of the underlying basis of the suit is that voters of the Hudson School District have not approved a kindergarten program and have not consented to a public kindergarten program.  Prior to this state mandate, all new programs had to be approved by the voters.

Kindergarten will have significant costs for the Hudson School District.  These costs are much too high for the district to absorb in its budget, and, without voter approval of spending, the district has no legal way to acquire needed funding.

The suit outlines both the expenditures needed as well as the history of the kindergarten dispute between the state and the 12 towns without it.

In 2007, with no legislation to authorize the action, Commissioner Tracy took the position that Chapter 270 of the 2007 New Hampshire laws required school districts, including the Hudson School District, to implement public kindergarten by September, 2008.  Chapter 270 also established a joint legislative oversight committee, in part to ‘study and review transition assistance for school districts as the effective date of this section do not provide public kindergarten in order to enable those school districts to provide public kindergarten in accordance with RSA 193-E:2-a,’ wrote Attorney Diane Gorrow in one briefing to the school board.

That joint committee report was presented February 1, 2008, and it recommended that the legislature require school districts to provide half-day kindergarten no later than September, 2009.  As a result of that, legislation was drafted and signed into law by Governor Lynch on July 11, 2008.  It mandates that public kindergarten be offered by September 2009.

However, Section 28a of the New Hampshire Constitution, which was adopted in November 1984, states, “The state shall not mandate or assign any new, expanded or modified programs or responsibilities to any political subdivision in such a way as to necessitate additional local expenditures by the political subdivision unless such programs or responsibilities are fully funded by the state or unless such programs or responsibilities are approved for funding by a vote of the local legislative body of the political subdivision.” 

Since the voters of Hudson (the local legislative body of the political subdivision) have not approved kindergarten, the Hudson School Board believes that the state must fully fund the program.  The state has not provided such funding.

“To implement mandatory kindergarten, the Hudson School District will need to construct nine classrooms at a cost of $1,260,000 (9,000 square feet at $140 per square foot).  Under RSA 198:15-r,I(a), the State will only pay 75 percent of that cost which is $945,000.  The remaining $315,000, plus any interest, must be paid by additional local expenditures by the Hudson School District.”

“Besides construction costs, the Hudson School District will also incur unknown architectural and engineering costs to construct those nine classrooms.  The State will not provide any funds to the Hudson School District for architectural or engineering costs.  Therefore the entire amount of those costs must be paid by additional local expenditures by the Hudson School District,” Bell explained.

The suit also notes that the school district expects to pay an additional $15,000 per classroom for furnishing and equipment.  Nine classrooms would cost $135,000, and it is unclear if the state will pay any of those costs.

“A conservative estimate of the cost in 2009-2010 for salaries and benefits for nine kindergarten teachers is $539,252 or $59,917 per teacher.  The estimated cost of instructional materials would be $52,818 for the 2009-2010 school year and $27,050 for ensuing years.  The cost of busing the kindergarten students on four buses on double runs is estimated as $234,668.  The total operational cost for the Hudson School District to implement mandatory kindergarten in 2009-2010 is $826,739.

However, the state will not be covering the cost of operating kindergarten, as the suit points out.  “The Hudson School District estimates that it will have 270 kindergarten students in the 2009-2010 school year, which is equal to the number of first graders enrolled in the Hudson School District in the 2008-2009 school year.  Under RSA 198:48-b, II, the State will provide the Hudson School District $1,200 for each kindergarten student in 2009-2010.  The State will, therefore, provide the Hudson School district with a total of $324,000 for operational costs.  The remaining $502,739 must be paid by additional local expenditures by the Hudson School District.”

The suit points out that New Hampshire Department of Education acknowledged on May 15, 2008 that the aid would not be sufficient to cover operational costs for kindergarten, but offered no solution other than taxing residents.

Because the costs for implementing kindergarten are so high for the Hudson School District, the board and superintendent felt that this issue should be resolved in court.  The suit asks the court to make a finding on behalf of the school district because the state law is unconstitutional.  If such a finding is made, kindergarten implementation would not be done until funding was provided or the voters voted to approve the expenditures on the local level.

The recently implemented state law allows a school board to override the vote of the people and to override the Budget Committee’s ability to set and approve the amount of expenditures for this program, but it does not provide a funding mechanism.  Bell estimated, at a conservative level, that the school district would have an unfunded liability of $2 million, and with the Hudson School District facing such a large unfunded expenditure, the board felt that there were few available to them.  By filing the suit, the unfunded requirement will get a legal hearing, and the Supreme Court will decide if Section 28a of the New Hampshire Constitution does require state funding for the program when the voters have not approved it.

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Budget Reviews Crawl

By Lynne Ober

Litchfield’s Budget Committee ran into multiple snags in this past week’s meeting.  Lack of requested backup prohibited them from voting on the Police Department’s budget, and caused lengthy conversation over the Animal Control budget, which they eventually modified and passed. 

Adding to the slowdown was the late arrival of Selectman’s Representative to the Budget Committee George Lambert.  Budget Committee Chairman Brent Lemire told Conservation Committee Chairman Joan McKibben that she could make an “informational presentation,” but that without receipt of the official, approved selectmen’s budget, which Lambert had, there could be no formal budget presentation or review.

When McKibben inquired as to whether she should go through each line item as though it was a formal budget review, Lemire said yes.  In the middle of her presentation Lambert arrived, apologized and said that he had gotten lost driving to Campbell High School.  He immediately presented the budget and asked McKibben to continue.

At the end of her presentation, there were few questions.  Lemire explained that they would not vote until the following week, which allowed Budget Committee members to review and consider her presentation.

During the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s budget review, questions were asked about the stipend paid to Selectmen’s Assistant for ZBA support.  Budget Committee members seemed surprised to learn of this arrangement and Selectmen’s Assistant Howard Dilworth reported that he had been told this was part of his responsibilities because the previous Selectmen’s Assistant had provided this function.

Lambert told the committee that a number of town positions were funded this way and reported on a conversation the board had with their road agent.  “We have a legal opinion from our attorneys that we can do this,” he stated.

The Selectmen’s budget and Administration budget were reviewed.  In both cases questions from Budget Committee members pointed out the lack of submitted backup documentation.  Dilworth was able to provide verbal details for a number of the questions.  There were questions about the use of a computing firm and the appropriate place to budget such consulting fees.  Since charges were reported to be part of a budget not being reviewed, those questions may be discussed later.

Selectmen have voted to remove the stipend paid to them as part of this budget.  Lemire questioned whether this was a practical idea.  Lambert spoke at length.  Upset about the way that the removal was done, Lambert’s comments were obviously his own opinion.  Although Lemire allowed him as much time as he wanted to express his opinions, another budget committee member finally asked if the committee could move onto factual questions rather than continue with opinions.  “I have a question based on fact and not based on personal opinion,” said Budget Committee member Michael Falzone.

These budgets will be discussed next week and the budget committee plans to vote on them at that time.

Next on the agenda was the review of additional backup from the Police Department.  The previous week needed backup was missing causing the Budget Committee detailed what they needed and asked Police Chief Joey O’Brion to return with the backup.

A number of budgetary items were discussed.  Members asked O’Brion to confirm the number of cruisers.  When O’Brion responded with 7, Lemire questioned that number.  “I have in my notes from last year that you told us five.“  Lemire wanted O’Brion to speak to the increased number of cruisers and why the town needed a total of seven with a full time force of ten.

O’Brion said that cruiser number one was his and he drove it back and forth to work as well as used it for police business while he was in Litchfield. 

Two cruisers are designated for “detail work,” which means that when an officer is on traffic detail, a car is on-site with him. 

The Lieutenant has a cruiser and two are designated for patrol.  He did not fully clarify what the seventh cruiser is used for, but did talk about the need for a spare in case one cruiser was in the shop.

O’Brion said that the two cruisers used for details have less than 1,000 miles per year put on them.

When Lemire asked why a cruiser had to go to every detail, O’Brion responded that it was a safety issue.  However, Lemire disagreed and pointed out that in Manchester where the traffic is heavy cruisers are not at detail sites. 

When budget committee members asked O’Brion if he could delay the purchase of one new cruiser for the coming year, O’Brion responded no.  Lemire explained  the economic situation was tight and  it would be helpful to delay one purchase.

O’Brion also fielded additional questions about using a different, more fuel efficient cruiser than the Crown Vic.  Questions had been asked about this at the first review.  O’Brion supported the use of the Crown Vic, but did not provide additional backup.  There was discussion about the efficiency of the Crown Vics, and Lambert, who was surfing on his laptop, found some statistics that he read to the committee about the Crown Vic’s fuel usage.

Budget Committee members questioned the tire budget.  O’Brion had budgeted for nine tires for each of the 7 cruisers.  When O’Brion explained that this was for a full set of new snow tires, a full set of new regular tires and one spare for each of the seven cruisers, budget committee members asked why the two cruisers with reportedly less than 1,000 miles of usage every year would need 9 new tires.

While O’Brion did bring backup for the overtime hours that his men are paid for training, the budget committee did not discuss this backup. 

O’Brion did not bring the requested backup for the prosecution over time hours.  He has added dollars to his budget for a contract prosecutor and had previously discussed the need.  Lemire had requested that he bring details of the number of hours that are spent on prosecution, but O’Brion had said that wasn’t tracked.  He did say that he tracked how many overtime hours were actually as a result of prosecution and was asked to bring that, but did not.

He did bring information about police prosecutors in two towns.  Litchfield has a population of approximately 9,100 with a reported median income on the 2000 census of $73,302.  The median income for a family of four was $76,931.  Litchfield Police Department has a policing staff of 10 according to O’Brion’s previous presentation to the Budget Committee.

O’Brion chose to bring backup for Hollis, a town slightly smaller in population than Litchfield, but with more income.  The reported median income is $92,847 and per Nashua Regional Planning Commission the median income for a family of four is 104,837.  Hollis has a full time policing staff of fifteen plus assorted support personnel, including a full time prosecutor.

The other town that O’Brion chose for backup was Windham, NH, a town with more than 12,000 in population.  The median income is $94,794 and the median income for a family of four is $99,570.  Windham Police Department has 17 full time policing officers plus assorted support personnel, including a full time prosecutor.

O’Brion reported that he had talked to Windham’s Police Chief Gerald Lewis.  “Windham uses their prosecutor as a trainer when the prosecutor is not in court,” stated O’Brion.

Lemire asked the salary and benefit costs in Hollis and Windham, but O’Brion did not have that data.  Lemire asked him to get it for the budget committee.

When there were no more questions, Lemire asked O’Brion to provide the previously requested backup documentation and the newly requested prosecutor salary backup to him “as early as possible.”  Lemire said he would distribute to committee members.  It was agreed to delay the vote on the police budget for another week.

When Budget Committee members decided to proceed with the vote on the Animal Control budget, member Raymond Peeples reminded them that a 3 percent wage increase had been presented in the budget, but that selectmen had not yet voted on wage increases.  Because there was no backup available to the budget committee on whether the salary was a stipend or a contracted position, there was a great deal of discussion.  Lambert first said it was a contracted step increase, but then said he thought it was a stipend.  After additional discussion, the budget committee decided to remove the three percent increase pending selectmen approval of wages.  With that amount removed, the Animal Control budget was approved.  Lemire pointed out that the budget committee plans to review budgets and amend the salary lines once selectmen have voted on the annual salary increases.

With one budget down and several more to go, Lemire asked Lambert to remind selectmen to review backup before sending budgets to the Budget Committee.

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School Board Briefed on Law Changes

by Lynne Ober

A number of recent legislative and regulatory developments in labor and employment law will affect New Hampshire towns and school districts.  The Hudson School Board received a comprehensive document from its attorneys and Superintendent Randy Bell gave an overview of what they can expect.

HB1330 made a significant change for tenured teachers.  It allows tenured teachers to challenge a non-renewal at the State Board of Education, or, if the collective bargaining contract allows, arbitration.  It also changes the standard for the State Board of Education review of non-renewal decisions from “clearly erroneous” to “unjust or unreasonable” and deletes language in RDS 189:14-a that specifies remedial assistance is not required before teachers are non-renewed.  Teachers may not appeal to both the State Board and to arbitration, but they may pick their preferred option and appeal.

While schools are being held to ever higher academic standards under the No Child Left Behind federal legislation, causing more schools to be found “in need of improvement,” HB 1330 lowers the standards that teachers must meet, making it easier for teachers to overturn a non-renewal that is based on classroom performance.  Therefore school districts will be required to compile strong, well-documented evidence in support of tenured teachers’ non-renewal Bell told the board.

HB 1436 created a “statutory evergreen clause” the board was told.  This clause will automatically renew expired collective bargaining agreements, regardless of the durations that boards and unions negotiated into those agreements.  This legislation affects both towns and school districts and has been the cause of considerable discussion.

According to the attorneys, New Hampshire law “previously required public employers to maintain status quo between the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement that did not contain a voter-approved evergreen class and the commencement of a successor collective bargaining agreement.  New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that status quo did not include step raises.  HB 1436 will statutorily mandate renewal of all collective bargaining agreements, including all pay plans therein except for cost of living expenses.”

Because the renewal clause is in state law, voters have no say in whether a contract is extending or not.  According to the attorneys, “The point of the legislation is to remove collective bargaining agreement renewal (including step raises) from voters’ hands by operation of law.”

While this evergreen clause does not apply to contracts already approved by voters, it will apply to any contract approved after July 15, 2008.

HB 1127 gives public employers the option of approving collective bargaining units that consist of fewer than 10 employees.  Previously 10 employees was the minimum amount needed to form a union.  Towns and school boards will have the right to veto smaller bargaining units.

Changes to the pension law will have impact on both towns and school boards.  According to the briefing given to the board, “HB 1645 imposes a new assessment upon public employers who pay retirement incentives greater than 25 percent of a retiree’s average base pay.”  The board’s attorneys recommend that “boards should negotiate caps on retirement incentives into their future collective bargaining agreements and contract if they wish to avoid the New Hampshire Retirement System assessment.”  This will also impact town governments.  “This gives us a lot to consider,” said Bell.  “We need to digest the changes and plan for the future.”

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