Ciao!  Family Pasta Night is Like a Trip to Italy

by Karen Plumley

Family Pasta Night host John Kelly, 11, poses with his mother Michelle and his little brother Christopher, 7, at Family Pasta Night.  John, the perfect gentleman, worked to make his many guests feel welcome during the event’s first seating at 6 p.m.

Over 300 residents attended the annual Family Pasta Night on Friday, February 6 at Pelham Elementary School.  The PTA-sponsored event is always popular:  the price is right and the food is “magnifica”!  This hearty, succulent event was not a fundraiser, but organized solely to encourage family and friends to get together and enjoy an evening with one another.

Methuen, MA resident and accordion player extraordinaire Sebastian Faro again graced the student dining area with his toe-tapping selection of Italian songs and children’s favorites.  One simply cannot deny the amazing talents of a musician who possesses the ability to tweak the Sesame Street theme song, making it sound as though it was being played in the watery canals of Venice.

Many young hosts including John Kelly, 11, of Pelham worked hard to help the many hungry visitors get comfortable.  As polite as any adult restaurateur at a five star dining facility, Mr. Kelly accompanied guests to their tables, and brought delicious sourdough bread, butter, and salads along as quick as you please.  According to John’s mother Michelle, he received a sizable tip from one patron and quickly donated it back to the PTA rather than keep it himself.

The generosity ran deep this year with local businesses as well, including Brando’s, Boston Bean Coffee, Harris’ Pelham Inn, and Polcari’s donating the food and drinks for the dinner.  Splitting the event into two separate seatings kept the dining room flow consistent and organized.  At the conclusion of the event, contented people filed out of the cafeteria with their young children in tow, tomato sauce stains gracing the many well-fed, happy faces.

Squisito!  Carol Lafontaine and her adorable grandson, Andrew, 22 months, fill up on pasta, bread, salad, and meatballs at this year’s Family Pasta Night at Pelham Elementary School on Friday night.

From left:  Jessica Slaton, 6, Abigail Devens, 6, and McKenna Williams, 7 are all smiles as they fill up on the delicious Italian feast provided at Family Pasta Night on Friday evening.

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Windham Has a New Deputy Fire Chief

Edward J. Morgan being pinned with fire department insignia by his wife Jacqueline.

A pinning ceremony was held for Windham’s new Deputy Fire Chief of Fire Prevention, Edward J. Morgan Jr., at the February 9 Board of Selectmen’s meeting. 

Morgan, a graduate of North Andover High School in North Andover, MA, and of North Shore Community College, joined the North Andover Fire Department after serving in the Army from 1969 to 1971.  He spent 15 years as a firefighter, 12 years as Fire Lieutenant and four years as Deputy Fire Chief retiring after 32 years of service. 

His duties and responsibilities with the Windham Fire Department are to assist in the daily operations within the department while also serving as the department’s Fire Inspector, Public Education Educator, and Fire Investigator.

Morgan resides in North Andover with his wife Jacqueline, mother Claire, and daughter Beverly.  He has three other daughters, Lynne, Kerry and Rebecca and five grandchildren. 

We welcome him to Windham.

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Kindergarten an Issue at Deliberative Session

by Lynne Ober

As soon as Pelham School District Moderator Ken Dunne read the operating budget warrant article, Lorraine Dube moved to the microphone and proposed to cut two kindergarten teachers, two kindergarten aids, and add $314,000 to the operating budget.  After a bit of prompting from Dunne, she modified her amendment to cut $314,000 from the operating budget.

Dube said only 37 students had enrolled for kindergarten, so the school district didn’t need six teachers and six aids for 37 students.

When Dunne asked for the amendment in writing, Dube said she didn’t have the figures.  Joe Puddister took the microphone to assist with the figures and said that two teachers would cost approximately $134,000 and two aids would cost approximately $36,000 or a total of $170,000.  Given those costs, removing four teachers and four aids would result in an approximate reduction of $340,000.

Dunne then suggested that the petitioners should move to the back and work on the amendment.  While they were doing that, School Board Chairman Bruce Couture said that, to date, 59 students had registered for kindergarten and that registration would be open until school started.  He said it would be a mistake to cut kindergarten funding at this point because the district had to offer it and that if teachers were cut and students enrolled then something else would be cut later.

Other residents spoke, and, despite some tongue-in-cheek comments about requiring second grade education and math skills for candidates, and about not allowing families with 5 year olds to buy any homes in Pelham between now and the start of school, some pertinent comments were made.  Dave Hennessey, who manages a large real estate company, spoke to how not having kindergarten affected the selling price of homes.  He urged voters to think about the long term, as did Bill Scanzani.

When Dube returned to the microphone, she had an amendment that removed four teachers and four aids for a cost of $314,000.

Diane Chubb spoke and noted that she had testified at three public hearings before the legislature, but neither one petitioner nor one School Board member had testified.  She told the audience that Superintendent Frank Bass, along with Superintendents Randy Bell and Elaine Cutler, also testified.  She asked Bass to elaborate on the revenue the town would receive for kindergarten.  Bass replied that the district would receive $1,200 for every student.  Plus the state will pay for the costs of the portables for three years and for the installation and furnishing of the portables.  Parents will have to provide transportation for their children.  He also mentioned the ongoing kindergarten registration and urged voters not to cut the program.

Dube then stepped to the microphone and withdrew her amendment to cut the program.  Another resident moved to call the question, and debate was stopped before anyone else could talk.  This left a group of frustrated parents muttering in the hallway as they wanted to ask the Budget Committee Chairman about some of the cuts that the Budget Committee had taken.  One of them said it was obvious that parents should vote “no” on Warrant Article 2, the operating budget, because the default budget was larger than the budget approved by the Budget Committee.  The operating budget is $24,007,621.00; however, the default budget shall be $24,090,033.07.

“The school district gets more money if we vote this warrant article down.”

Articles 3 and 5 deal with pay increases for staff.  Article 3 supports three year raises for the support staff.  Article 5 proposes a 2.75 percent raise for non-union staff.

Article 4, supported by both the School Board and Budget Committee, proposed to add a part-time nurse position to support Pelham Kindergarten at a cost of $26,995.00 for both salary and benefits.

Staff additions for Pelham Elementary School include a new Assistant Principal and a Speech Assistant.  These positions were recommended by both the School Board and the Budget Committee.  However, the Unified Arts / PE teacher and part-time clerical position for Special Education did not garner Budget Committee recommendations.

New staff positions for Pelham Memorial School included a seventh grade teacher, which was not recommended by the Budget Committee, and a part-time clerical position for Special Education, which did get Budget Committee support.

The high school requested two additional teachers — one for English and one for Special Education.  The Budget Committee only supported the Special Education teacher.

The district is also seeking to purchase a new phone system for all of the schools.  This project also got approval from both School Board and Budget Committee.

Voters will have an opportunity to vote on these and the town warrant articles in March.

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Dress Code Debate Rages in Pelham

by Lynne Ober

Posting an article on the Pelham Message Board about comments made at a school board meeting started a thread that has nearly 8,000 views as residents watch the situation.  What began as individual board comments and questions has, in turn, generated into a petition supporting administration and the dress code.

The events that kicked off the raging debate began at a recent Pelham school board meeting.  School Board member Linda Mahoney, whose son is going on the trip, questioned the dress code for the PMS Washington DC trip.  Mahoney felt that students should be able to dress in a casual manner, but School Board Chairman Bruce Couture felt the dress code was inappropriate as the students will be representing Pelham while on the trip.  Couture also noted that this dress code has been in effect since the early 1970s and declined to act after Mahoney said legal counsel should have looked at it.

When PMS Principal Catherine Pinsonneault was called to the table to answer questions, her voice gave away her high stress level.  Although Mahoney said she had been contacted by parents who were concerned about the dress code, Pinsonneault said that only one parent had not signed the dress code slip for the trip.  Pinsonneault also explained that financial aid was available to families who needed assistance and that aid included the purchase of clothing.  “Everything would be handled very discreetly, but the fact is no one has asked for financial assistance.”

While the DC trip allows jeans on Tuesday and Friday, the travel days, students are expected to wear pants, skirts or dresses that are non-jeans on the other days.  Boys may wear golf or collared shirts except when attending the evening performance at the Kennedy Center when they must wear dress pants, dress shirt with tie and shoes other than sneakers.  School dress code rules will be strictly enforced throughout the trip.

After an article from the Eagle Tribune was posted on the message board, a debate began with few supporting Mahoney’s position.  Many felt that the school board is facing significant issues and should be concentrating on that and not on a dress code. 

“With all the issues that are facing our community pertaining to our schools, (accreditation problems, kindergarten, sick build for a high school) it is pitiful that this issue is even being addressed, said Andy Ducharme.“  This dress code for our students going to DC and other events has been around for years.  These students are representing our town in the Nation’s Capital.  They have done this for many years and this is the first time it has been called to a major issue.  It is a shame and a pity that a leader in our School Board would bring such a thing up.  The dress code has been around longer than her tenure has been in office.  This is just another smoke screen put up to cloud the true issues that are facing Pelham’s school district.”

When former school board member and Chairman Bob Turnquist posted “the rest of the story,” he got a private message from Linda Mahoney, which he promptly posted for all to see.  That message, as posted, said, “Bob, If you are going to paraphrase a private, personal conversation that took place between a parent and a school district administrator over the privacy of the telephone, work a little harder to get your facts straight.  Honestly, the only thing you said that was correct and accurate is the fact that the bus was leaving later in the morning and that I left with my son.  Pretty much everything else is just bull.  It is unfortunate you found it needy to post this information in the first place, but more unfortunate that the person who gave you the information will have to be held accountable.  Since this matter is a matter outside of my position as a school board member, and is strictly a matter of a personal nature between my family and the school district, it is totally off limits to you or anyone other than those directly involved.  Definition of Libel: 2 a: a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression I would strongly suggest you consider a retraction and a public apology immediately.  Remember you are no longer protected by school district counsel for anything you might say or do.  Linda Mahoney.”

Turnquist said that he immediately called Superintendent Dr. Frank Bass to explain that Principal Pinsonnault had never spoken to him about the incident.  “I was worried about Linda’s implied threat that ‘the person who told you will be held accountable’.”

   Subsequent posts on the message board indicate that much of the conversation took place in a public place with other parents, staff and students witness to the incident.

As details continued to be revealed, parents and residents rallied around the beleaguered principal.  A petition supporting Principal Pinsonnault and the dress code has garnered over 200 signatures and more are being added daily.  Another resident posted information on how to remove a school board member, including references to specific state law.

At least one additional person has stepped forward and will run a write-in campaign for school board.  Others are writing letters to the superintendent in support of the principal and the dress code.

And in the midst of all of this, Pinsonnault continues to ensure that the middle school is providing educational services and that the field trip to DC will go off without a hitch.  “I’ve been doing this trip for nearly a decade.  In that time no parent has ever complained about the dress code.  We just want this to be a good experience for our students,” said Pinsonnault.

The permission slip signed by parents states, “I have read the required dress code for my child’s Washington DC trip and I agree to provide my child with these items and assist him / her in packing of these items.”  Pinsonnault said that she has met with parents, explained the dress code and the reasons for the dress code.  “It was the same meeting that we have every year.”  She also said that parents are well aware of financial assistance available to them and that such aid is very discreetly handled.  “So far no one has asked for aid.”

And the parent who has refused to sign the dress code?  Pinsonnault said that she had referred the matter to the superintendent and will let him handle it.

In the meantime, the community is mounting support for Principal Pinsonnault.

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Attempt to Lower Funding for Salt Shed Fails

by Barbara O’Brien

An attempt to lower the amount of money being requested to engineer and construct a combination salt shed/highway maintenance garage failed to garner sufficient support during the recent Deliberative Session of Windham’s annual town meeting.

On Saturday, February 7, Selectman Roger Hohenberger proposed an amendment which would have cut $60,000 from the original warrant article (Article #5), which asks voters to raise and appropriate $960,000 for engineering and construction costs associated with building the proposed highway complex.  The proposed salt shed/highway garage is slated for town-owned land located adjacent to Windham’s Transfer Station off Ledge Road.

Hohenberger said he was proposing the reduction to $900,000 in an effort to control expenditures.  In light of the current recessive economy, Hohenberger said he feels the project can be done for less money than previously estimated.  While Hohenberger said he is totally in favor of the project itself, he doesn’t think the cost should be $960,000.  “This is more than is needed,” he said.

According to the proposed warrant article, $335,000 would be taken from an existing capital reserve fund, one established specifically for this purpose, while the remaining $625,000 would be raised through the issuance of a bond.  It is estimated that the bond note would be issued through a local bank for a period of five years at an approximate interest rate of four percent.

Selectman Galen Stearns agreed with Hohenberger’s proposal to cut the warrant article by $60,000.  “Removing $60,000 will not kill the project,” Stearns said.  “We’ll still get what we’re looking for.”  Stearns said he was concerned that the more money available, the more would be spent.

Selectmen’s Chairman Dennis Senibaldi took exception with Stearns, saying that any excess money not needed to complete the project, as intended, would be returned to the general fund to offset taxes.  Senibaldi also said the original estimated cost had been trimmed by about $100,000 prior to the warrant article having been drafted.

“This is not a want,” Senibaldi continued.  “It’s a definite need.”

Windham resident Tom Case said he trusts the selectmen not to overspend.

“They’re not the School Board,” Case said, referring to the currently proposed school district budget and associated warrant articles.  The school district held their Deliberative Session the previous evening.

Resident Margaret Case said she’s not totally in favor of the proposed location, known as the Wilson Property, but does feel that the project itself should be done right.  Windham has a history of being short-sighted when it comes to planning, she said.

“Do it, do it right, and get it done,” resident Wayne Morris said, commenting that highway department employees are presently working in deplorable conditions.  “That needs to be fixed,” Morris said.  With the current status, there are no toilets, no running water, nor any heat or air conditioning, and expensive equipment is stored outdoors.

Former Selectman Alan Carpenter agreed with Hohenberger and Stearns, saying that in the present poor economy it should be easy to build the facility for $900,000.  Economically, 2009 is forecast to be worse than 2008, Carpenter said.

When put to a hand vote, however, the majority of residents attending the Deliberative Session decided to stay with the original amount of $960,000.  If the warrant article is approved by voters on Tuesday, March 10, the project will be put out to bid as quickly as possible, Senibaldi said.  It is anticipated that the facility would be finished before the end of the year, should voters choose to approve the expenditure as proposed.

Windham voters will have their say on the proposed salt shed/highway garage complex on Tuesday, March 10 when the polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. at Golden Brook School.

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