Globe Northwest Community briefing

Fiscal alert

December 21, 2008
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As school administrators begin to prepare spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year, a process that will kick into high gear in the spring, the School Committee is considering "all feasible ways to achieve cost savings and efficiencies," according to a letter penned by Debra Rahmin Silberstein, School Committee chairwoman, on behalf of the committee. "We wanted to let people know that budget season wasn't going to be business as usual this year," said Silberstein. "We are taking these tough economic times very seriously." Actions in effect include curbing spending on materials and supplies and accelerating the district's energy-conservation program in hopes of reducing energy costs by 5 percent, she noted. The School Committee is also working to increase support from community groups and is collaborating with neighboring districts. - Brenda J. Buote

TAKING STOCK OF HISTORY - Volunteers and library staff members will be contacting community organizations and groups next month in an effort to identify and index collections of historical documents and artifacts throughout the town. The history project is being spearheaded by the public library with assistance from Chelmsford Telemedia and support from town officials, according to Brian Herzog, the library's head of reference. Herzog said he hopes eventually to scan the documents into a database for online public access that would help preserve the originals. For more information or to volunteer, call Herzog at 978-256-5521, ext. 111, or e-mail him at - Joyce Pellino Crane

TEACHER RAISES ADD TO BUDGET - The recently approved teachers' contract is expected to add more than $500,000 to the town's budget. At a School Committee meeting on Dec. 8, members voted 4-1 in approval of a three-year teachers' contract, giving teachers an increase in pay until the contract ends in 2011. The deal is retroactive to July 1 and runs to June 30, 2011, giving teachers a 2 percent pay increase from the start date until the 90th day of the school year. Teachers are set to receive a 1 percent increase until June 30, 2009, followed by a 2.5 percent raise for each remaining year. Officials say that School Department salaries account for 77 percent of the department's budget. - Rocco Colella

THANKSGIVING FOOD DRIVE - The student council, parents, and others at Swallow Union Elementary School donated 24 boxes of food as well as $715 in food vouchers to the Lowell Wish Project as part of an annual Thanksgiving Food Drive last month. A charitable outreach program based in Lowell, the Wish Project is an Internet matching service that supports people in need across the region with furniture, food, and other donations. - Matt Gunderson

BUCKING HOUSING TREND - In contrast to the slumping real estate market, which has caused new housing sales to nose-dive, a developer is pursuing a nine single-family home project off Old Dunstable Road, said Town Planner Michelle Collette. The first public hearing on the development, known as Crystal Springs Estates, canceled last week due to the ice storm, has been rescheduled to Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. - Matt Gunderson

THINKING OF TEENS - People hoping to give back this holiday season can bring joy to needy Lawrence teenagers by participating in the Winter Wish program. The holiday gift drive benefits teens who have been placed in secure treatment centers, said April Schrenker, development coordinator for the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, which runs the Lawrence Community Re-Entry Center in Lawrence and the Eliot Community Re-Entry Center in Lowell. Schrenker said the drive is unique because people tend to gravitate toward helping younger children during the holidays and teenagers are sometimes overlooked. There are about 40 teenagers in each program, and donations can be made as gifts, gift cards, or cash. This annual drive continues after Christmas, but the goal is to get gifts out to the teenagers before their holiday parties. For more information on the programs in Lawrence or Lowell, contact Schrenker at 617-227-4183, ext. 121, or by e-mail at - Kate Augusto

GRANT TO AID DISLOCATED WORKERS - The city received a $250,000 federal grant to develop a strategic plan to assist dislocated manufacturing workers, according to US Representative Niki Tsongas' office. The 18-month grant will allow the Greater Lowell Workforce Investment Board to partner with other workforce boards in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire to help workers quickly find jobs with local manufacturers. The boards will work with manufacturers to assess their employment needs and connect them with workers who may have recently lost their jobs. The grant will also enable the development of a website that can be used by dislocated workers to access employment services and find employers. - Jennifer Fenn Lefferts

ICE STORM DAMAGE - While no one was hurt or seriously injured, Methuen suffered massive damage from the recent ice storm. Mayor William M. Manzi III declared a state of emergency on the day of the storm, and set up a command center and a shelter at the Comprehensive Grammar School. According to Manzi's chief of staff, Matthew A. Kraunelis, residents at a Mystic Street housing complex for the elderly were evacuated and bused to the school. The storm caused extensive damage, including a loss of power for about 350 residents and downing of 127 trees, he said. Kraunelis said Methuen officials might ask the federal and state governments for as much as $1 million in emergency aid. - Connie Paige

NO TUITION HIKES - Merrimack College in North Andover will not increase tuition or room and board fees for the 2009-2010 school year, said Merrimack president Ronald O. Champagne. The Board of Trustees increased financial aid for students to nearly $18 million. Merrimack relies on endowments for 2 percent of its overall budget, so the school is avoiding tuition and room and board increases by cutting costs and making programs more efficient. - Brad Kane

PENNIES FOR PEACE - Varnum Brook Elementary School students and community are donating $2,142 in pennies to the Central Asia Institute, an organization that helps provide education and literacy programs for young children in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. To raise funds, students scavenged piggy banks at their homes for pennies. Greg Mortenson, a hiker who has tried to scale Pakistan's K2 mountain, founded the program, called Pennies for Peace. His efforts are described in the book "Three Cups of Tea." - Matt Gunderson

NURSES NEEDED - The public schools are seeking substitute nurses to fill both full- and part-time positions. Applicants must be a registered nurse or hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. Positions are available throughout the district. To apply, send a letter of interest, resume, certification, transcripts, and three letters of reference to Christine L. McGrath, superintendent, 139 Pleasant St., Tewksbury, MA 01876. - Brenda J. Buote

FORUM ON TOWN CENTER PLAN - The Board of Selectmen will hold a public hearing Jan. 5 to lead a discussion of the Master Plan for the redesigned town center. Included in the discussion will be potential uses of town-owned properties such as Old Town Hall, the Littlefield Library, the Winslow School, and the defunct Shur Fine Market. Town officials are encouraging residents to attend. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at town offices, 25 Bryants Lane. - Joyce Pellino Crane

A CALL TO SERVE - Residents interested in serving on the newly formed Energy Committee are being encouraged by officials to submit a citizen's activity application by Dec. 31. Committee members will help the town conserve energy by initiating new programs. More information is available by calling the town manager's office at 978-692-5501. The application is at - Joyce Pellino Crane

CONSERVATION EFFORTS ADVANCE - Voters may get a say in whether the town purchases 104 acres of farmland for conservation, according to town documents. A resident recently presented selectmen with a petition bearing more than the 50 required signatures needed to get the issue placed on the official ballot in March, according to meeting minutes. The town is looking to purchase a parcel of land known as the Martin Farm, which straddles the line between Amherst and Bedford. The land could cost the town $260,000 and would be set aside for conservation. The board said the signatures needed to be verified before the warrant article advances. - Melanie Plenda

TRAFFIC CAMERAS DISCUSSED - The Bedford Highway Safety Committee is researching the possibility of placing cameras at traffic lights to catch people running red lights, according to minutes from a recent committee meeting. Members of the committee asked Police Chief David Bailey to look into what would be involved in placing the cameras on the lights and argued that it could cut down on accidents. - Melanie Plenda

NEW POLICE CHIEF - The Board of Selectmen has chosen a new police chief, according to a release. Jason Lavoie will replace retiring chief Richard Gendron, effective Dec. 31, the release said. Lavoie has been with the Police Department since February 1991 and became a captain in July 2006. Lavoie and his family live in Hudson. - Melanie Plenda

DISCRIMINATION ALLEGED - A woman is suing a Merrimack company in federal court claiming it refused to hire her because she used to be a man, according to court documents. Brianne Cook of Milford, is suing PC Connection Inc. for gender discrimination and civil rights violations. In 1999, Cook, then Brian Cook, applied for a marketing position with the company, but was not hired because the company was only hiring sales people, court documents said. In 2006, Cook, now Brianne, again applied for a job, but she claims once the company found out that she had applied before as a man, she was not hired. Cook is seeking a jury trial on the matter and an undisclosed amount in damages, according to court records. - Melanie Plenda

AGREEMENT ON CONSTRUCTION PROJECT - After several snags in the process, an agreement that would allow the city and not the state to manage the controversial Broad Street construction project has been approved, according to city documents. The $36.7 million bond project would build a roadway connecting Broad Street to Hollis Street, creating a third crossing over the Nashua River, according to Board of Selectmen minutes. The bond for the project passed in September. Aldermen recently voted unanimously in favor of the municipal agreement between the state and city, which would transfer decision-making power over the project from the state to the city. Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has said she will hire a project manager to oversee the construction. - Melanie Plenda

DOGS APPROVED FOR SEARCHES - The School Committee has approved the use of dogs for detecting illegal substances on school premises. The policy, adopted Dec. 8, empowers administrators to authorize a search and requires the school principal or a designee to be present. Lockers, classrooms, parking, and storage areas are all subject to examination, but students cannot be approached by the dogs. Law-enforcement authorities will be given authorization to investigate and prosecute anyone found responsible for illegal substances on school property. The complete policy is posted at - Joyce Pellino Crane

THIS IS A TEST - The recent ice storm gave Boxborough a chance to test its emergency response plan with its most at-risk elderly residents. "I was very pleased with the response," said Laura Arsenault, the Council on Aging coordinator. The town has asked more than 600 senior residents, including more than 100 older than 70, if they want to be on a list, so if there is a power or phone failure the police will check on them with a visit. With the power outages in the wake of the storm, some seniors did require personal checks by the police. "A storm like this comes along so rarely," said Sergeant Warren Ryder, so this was the first time the police and the Council on Aging collaborated with the list. "We had no incidences of seniors getting sick, cold, or hungry," said Arsenault. Some water was delivered to homes because Boxborough has wells that require power to pump the water. - Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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