August 11, 2003, 12:00 P.M.
The sound of crickets is, to me, a sure sign that the end of summer is drawing near. While laying awake at night listening to their incessant chirping and thinking about just how hot it is, I have also been giving some thought to the fall, impending elections and the start of school. Of course I have also been considering my own retirement from the Laconia School Board.
In preparing myself for the fall political season I reviewed some of my old columns (which you can also do at my web site) and thought about some of the issues that we were talking about last fall. Not surprisingly, a lot of those issues are still out there. For instance I wrote about Bike week in my first Sun column on October 1, 2002. The gist of that article was that there should be a citywide dialogue on the topic of bike week, and that I supported a “City wide review of the event”. These comments did stimulate a discussion. The discussion lead to the concept of a panel of citizens to review the event. The concept is great, but to date that committee has not accomplished anything other than to quiet the discussion. If left alone much longer, there will be little hope of addressing peoples genuine concerns about bike week for another year while bike week deficits continue, problems of access, noise, cost and general disruption for ordinary citizens who do not participate and who certainly do not profit, will persist. Regardless of their position on the issue, the Mayor and Council owe their constituents more than lip service on the topic of Bike week. This should certainly be a topic of discussion during this Fall’s elections.
Another topic that needs to be addressed is the replacement, repair, upkeep and future planning for our infrastructure. The City needs a full time, qualified and funded facility manager. This concept has been discussed, approved and recommended by the Liaison committee on several occasions and now is the time to put this position in place. That is not to say that someone simply needs to be delegated the responsibility of overseeing the cities facilities. As I have often said, there is no one working for the city or the school district that meets the qualifications for this position. The position is a full time, specialized job that is vital to the preservation of the cities assets. The community has invested in new buildings for the city and the schools, with the largest projects yet to come. To neglect the long term operation, maintenance and management of those facilities is shortsighted. It is also penny wise and Pound-foolish.
The time has come to fund the planning money for our Middle and High School projects. By planning these projects in advance, as we have done with the three elementary schools, we will insure that the projects reflect the needs, the budget and the future growth of our community. This has been a successive model for our School District and it will also be successful for our Library. Planning in advance of construction funding requests allows accurate cost estimation, accurate project planing and, hopefully, extensive community input. Not only does this model make sense from a practical perspective but it also makes economic sense as it reduces the possibility if costly changes, cost overruns and increased costs due to market fluctuations and material and labor costs.
The need to undertake these projects is well documented and widely recognized. The experience gained through the elementary school renovation and construction projects is invaluable. The preplanning and committee work undertaken relative to these projects thus far have the School District poised and ready to move to the project planning stage. This plan will still not see construction starting until at least 2005 even if the planning money is approved this year.
Our City needs to decide where it wants to go. There have been tremendous strides in the development of Laconia as a great place to live, work and play. I suggested last year that we need a citywide Summit of all elected officials, School Board, City Council, Police Commission, Parks and Rec. as well as Planning, Library and other community officials to discuss and overall strategic plan for the City. Comprehensive City wide planning, beyond master planning accomplished by a discrete department is needed to chart the course for our city.
I hope that these Ideas will be among the important topics discussed this fall. We need something to drown out those Crickets.
August 10, 2003, 12:30 P.M.
CNN has an update on the Houston dropout numbers. You may recall that, when last we heard, Secretary Paige had admitted that "there probably was" a dropout problem in Houston schools when he headed that district. The Houston school district under Paige's leadership has been heralded as a "miracle" in public education and served as the model for No Child Left Behind. Houston has been given 6 months to improve recordkeeping and has received an annotation on its rating that its accreditation is under investigation.