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Keene school voters send unchanged warrant to March elections
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After 26 minutes and no public discussion at the Keene School District’s annual deliberative session Saturday morning, voters moved the district’s entire warrant, including a $69.2 million budget proposal, to March’s elections unchanged.

The meeting drew 45 voters, out of about 19,000 registered voters in the city, to the Keene High School auditorium, where seating was arranged to ensure social distancing. No one in the audience commented on or moved to amend any of the warrant articles.

The biggest-ticket item on this year’s warrant is the district’s $69,155,390 budget proposal, which is a 0.005 percent increase over the current year’s operating budget.

“This budget is only going up $3,476 over last year,” Kris Roberts, chairman of the Keene Board of Education’s finance committee, said Saturday. “So, basically this is really a flat-line budget. Really, after you take salary increases, it’s actually a decrease in the budget.”

However, if voters approve the budget and two staff contracts, school-related property taxes in the city would increase 6.08 percent, or $226.20 on a house assessed at $200,000. Roberts said the increase in the tax rate, which the district had been able to avoid over the past two years, is due to the loss of $2,245,008 in state adequacy funding.

“And so, unfortunately, this year and moving forward, we have to make up that shortfall,” Roberts said.

If voters reject the proposal in March, a default budget of $68,930,190 would take effect.

Roberts noted that the school board already trimmed $1,339,876 from district administrators’ initial budget request in January. As a result, he said, the tax increases that will occur if the budget passes will be the result of the $2.2 million decrease in state funding, and increases in mandatory expenses, like the district’s contributions to the N.H. Retirement System.

“The biggest increase in this budget is the state of New Hampshire mandatory retirement increases: $844,904,” Roberts said. Ten years ago, the state paid a percentage of the contributions, he said, but “in an attempt to balance its budget, [New Hampshire] decided it was not going to pay any of the retirement costs, and so the school districts and municipalities had to make up that difference.”

Along with the proposed operating budget, voters also will consider four-year contract proposals with two labor unions: the Keene Association of Principals and Supervisors and the Keene Paraprofessionals Association. The Keene Board of Education and bargaining units have already ratified the two contracts on this year’s warrant.

The Keene Association of Principals and Supervisors represents 23 people in management and leadership positions within the district. The estimated costs for pay and benefit increases in the first year of the contract are $62,468, with a four-year total estimated increase of $668,521.

The Keene Paraprofessionals Association represents 55 full-time and 31 part-time district employees. The estimated costs for pay and benefit increases in the first year of the contract are $61,415, with a four-year total estimated increase of $634,291.

This year’s warrant also includes two articles asking voters whether to authorize the district to hold a special meeting to approve any revised collective-bargaining agreements if they reject either or both of the contracts at the polls.

The final article, which is included every year, asks voters whether to authorize the school board to purchase or lease land and buildings adjacent to existing district facilities.

“If it’s a small purchase, and the business office can find funds within the existing budget, then it does authorize the school district to go ahead and make a small purchase,” Keene Board of Education Chairman George Downing said. “If funds need to be appropriated in any way, that still has to be brought before the voting public.”

District residents will vote on the warrant articles at the polls March 9, when six of the nine seats on the Keene Board of Education will also be up for election. All wards will vote at the Keene Recreation Center at 312 Washington St. For information on requesting an absentee ballot, call 357-9002 extension 223. Budget documents and other information can be found at https://bit.ly/36QH1RJ.

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A lifelong love of cooking leads Roxbury man to "Drew Barrymore Show"
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When Keene State College professor Daniel Carberg responded to a Facebook post seeking people with a passion for cookbooks, he had no idea it would lead to him to a spot on national television.

Carberg, who also coordinates vocal activities at Keene State’s music department, said cookbooks have long been an important part of his life, even when he was young. Shortly after answering the Facebook call, he was invited to appear in a segment on “The Drew Barrymore Show.”

His appearance on the talk show aired Monday, and can still be seen on Facebook at https://bit.ly/36PJxaZ.

“[Barrymore] loves cooking and she has this passion for cookbooks,” Carberg said. “So she started a cookbook club and she’s had different guests on. She has mostly professional chefs on, but she had this idea to choose three normal people and send them a cookbook.”

In the segment, the actress features the cookbook “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan, and asks three home cooks, including Carberg, to prepare one dish from its pages and document the process with video and photos. Then the home cooks are invited to tune in to watch and ask questions while Barrymore and chef Pilar Valdes prepare a different recipe from the book.

For his dish, Carberg prepared a crespelle — an Italian-style crepe stuffed with spinach, prosciutto and parmesan cheese. During his segment on the show, Carberg and his fellow cooks were briefly interviewed by Barrymore, described what they made, and then had a chance to ask Valdes questions while she and Barrymore made Hazan’s Pasta Amatriciana, a bucatini dish with a hot pepper and pancetta tomato sauce.

The segment was filmed Thursday, with the cooks participating remotely. Carberg said it had been delayed a number of times, and once even canceled, but it ultimately came together.

Carberg, a Roxbury resident, said cooking has become a serious hobby in adulthood, but the culinary world had piqued his interest from a very young age. He said there were plenty of cookbooks in his home when he was a child, and he used to feign illness so he could stay home from school and experiment.

“I would stay home and everyone else would go to work and school, and I would cook things from the cookbooks,” he said with a laugh. “I’d make a quiche and a chocolate cake.”

But now he doesn’t have to try to hide his cooking, and said he’s fond of hosting dinner parties and planning elaborate meals, often using ingredients from his home garden. In fact, while he has no intention of leaving his music career, he said if he ever needed a professional change, he’d be very interested in pursuing the culinary arts, calling it a “really serious hobby.”

In addition to cooking, Carberg’s also a big fan of Barrymore’s, saying he grew up watching “ET” — the star’s first major film role — and has been watching her movies ever since. He said he had a good time filming the cooking segment and enjoyed the chance to meet Barrymore and Valdes.

“It was lots of fun!” he said. “Drew and her chef Pilar Valdes were incredibly approachable.”

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson.

If you can’t get a second vaccine appointment within 28 days of your first, don’t panic

When Peter Minkow logged in to schedule an appointment for his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, he immediately became flummoxed.

The 76-year-old from Laconia received his first Moderna shot on Jan. 26, which meant his second dose, according to federal guidance, should be administered within 28 days, sometime in late February. The earliest appointment available was March 17.

He decided to make a gamble — he canceled his March 17 appointment in the hopes that an earlier one within the 28-day time frame would open up. Every time he refreshed the page, though, the available appointments were later and later at locations farther and farther away from his Laconia home.

He gave up and selected an appointment in April, nearly three weeks later and 40 miles away from his initial appointment.

“It’s just maddening,” he said. “I took the gamble and lost.”

Many Granite Staters who, like Minkow, found themselves with appointments outside of the recommended 28 days slid into a panic. They wondered, will my vaccine be less effective? Will I have to start the vaccination process all over again?

The short window between the first and second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been the subject of so much anxiety and logistical reworking, it begs the question: on a scientific level, how much does strictly abiding by the recommended timeframe — 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna — really matter?

To answer this question, it’s useful to understand how the vaccines work.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines capitalize on proteins that sit on the surface of the coronavirus, called spike proteins, which allow the virus to attach to and infect human cells. When you’re injected with the first dose of the vaccine, tiny pieces of genetic material that code for these spike proteins make their way into your cells.

Millions of these harmless proteins are produced, prompting a response from the immune system. The body deploys antibodies which clumsily attempt to bind and kill the proteins. But, having never encountered this particular molecule before, the immune response is rather crude.

After the first dose, both Pfizer and Moderna are between 65 percent and 75 percent effective.

That’s where the weeks between the first and second dose play an important role.

During the next month or so, the cells that create antibodies undergo a period of rapid mutation. Over several iterations of these cells, antibodies become more and more specialized to attach to coronavirus spike proteins.

When the second dose is injected, the mutation process starts all over again, ultimately leading to a response so tailored to COVID-19, that the effectiveness jumps to 95 percent within a couple of days of the shot.

David Topham, a professor of immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, has studied for decades the period of time between initial and follow up booster shots.

While it’s critical that second doses aren’t administered too soon after the first dose, Topham said there’s no real danger to waiting longer than the recommended 21 or 28 days.

In fact, many studies, particularly with influenza, have found that if you wait longer between the first and second dose, the vaccine becomes more effective, he said. For avian influenza, a comparable virus because of its novelty to the body, the research seems to suggest the optimal time between doses is three to six months.

Of course, there are other reasons you might want to get your second dose sooner rather than later. The longer you walk around with 52 percent protection, rather than 95 percent protection, the more likely you are to fall ill with COVID-19.

That’s partly why Topham thinks federal agencies have advised about a month in between doses — during a global pandemic, the main goal is to get as many people as much protection as quickly as possible.

“There’s no real science behind why we do it in three weeks or four weeks,” he said. “I know this sounds crazy, but it’s arbitrary. If you look for literature that documents why that’s the best time point, there isn’t any.”

In late January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention altered their vaccine recommendations to allow doses to be spaced six weeks if administering the shot in the four week window “is not feasible.” For many states, including New Hampshire, limited vaccines from the federal government has made it difficult to get everyone an appointment within their three to four week window.

The Granite State has been receiving about 17,000 doses of the vaccine per week — a number dwarfed by the 300,000 residents currently eligible for the shots. As of Jan. 29, the state had only 6 percent of the doses they need to vaccinate everyone in Phase 1B.

Namone Pike, the system director of clinical pharmacy at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said it’s still important to stick to these time windows as closely as possible because the effectiveness of these time frames are supported by rigorous clinical studies.

“We don’t have much data but there is no maximum interval,” she said.

After a couple of days of checking the online registration website, Minkow was able to reschedule his appointment within the recommended timeframe.

For those who aren’t as lucky, Topham said to remain calm.

“When people say they’re worried about getting their second dose on time, I say they shouldn’t worry, as long as they get the second dose eventually,” he said. “It’s not going to be a detriment to their ultimate immune response. If anything, it might actually be better.”

Trump’s trial brings a reckoning even if acquittal is likely

Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is almost certain to end in acquittal, yet it will deliver a public reckoning for his presidency and influence whether his populist supporters continue to dominate the Republican Party.

The nine House managers prosecuting Trump, arguing their case as much to the American public as to the senators who’ll serve as jurors, will focus on the most searing moments of the nationally televised Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Still, even with evidence including video of the day’s violence and the fiery rhetoric Trump used to egg on his loyalists, the Democratic prosecutors faces an almost impossible task of winning enough Republican votes to convict him.

Trump’s legal team is basing its defense on the constitutional question of whether a former president can be convicted of an impeachable charge, while also saying that his actions fell short of incitement and were protected by the First Amendment. Those arguments have already found favor with enough Senate Republicans to suggest Trump will escape conviction, as he did in first impeachment trial a year ago.

The televised proceedings are set to open at 1 p.m. Tuesday, creating an extraordinary confrontation likely to cement public attitudes on Trump’s behavior in office, pro and con, playing out at a time Americans normally would have turned their attention away from a defeated incumbent. Short of a conviction, Democrats will be looking to blunt Trump as a political force within the Republican Party, including his prospects for another White House run in 2024 and his ability to shape the lineup for the 2022 midterm elections.

For Republican senators, their votes on Trump’s culpability for the Capitol assault will follow them, potentially imperiling them with Trump loyalists in party primaries or with the centrist suburban voters who often decide general elections. Divisions within the party over the impeachment flared last week as Trump loyalists unsuccessfully sought to oust third-ranking GOP House leader Liz Cheney for having supported the impeachment article — one of 10 Republicans to do so.

Senate Democrats are sure to be unanimous in their votes to convict Trump. House managers, led by Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, haven’t yet said whether they’ll seek witness testimony.

Trump’s team already rejected a demand by Raskin that the former president testify on his actions surrounding the events.

“We will prove at trial that President Trump’s conduct was indefensible,” Raskin said in a statement after Trump’s refusal. “His immediate refusal to testify speaks volumes and plainly establishes an adverse inference supporting his guilt.”

Trump attorney David Schoen said his team is preparing arguments to answer the charge, but that it’s hard to plan because Senate leaders haven’t yet determined the rules and format for the trial. “We have no agenda, we have no rules, we’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting,” Schoen said. “We’re planning as well as we can based on the briefs in the case, but we don’t know how it’s going to proceed at all.”

Asked on Fox News on Friday night whether the defense will show video such as Democrats failing to speak out against Antifa, the loose collective of left-wing activists, Trump attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said, “you can count on that,” and that he’s been “looking at a lot of video the last several days.”

Trump parted ways with his former attorneys and named new lawyers just a week ago, after he reportedly wanted his defense to argue that the election was stolen. But while the lawyers’ formal answer to the impeachment charge defends Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him a landslide victory, Schoen said he doesn’t plan to use election fraud as a defense. “I’m not arguing that,” Schoen said of election fraud. “I don’t think it’s relevant to these proceedings, one way or the other.”

Members of both parties have suggested they want a quick trial. Republican leaders are anxious to avoid political damage from bringing prolonged attention to Trump’s role in the riot, in which five people died, including a Capitol Police officer. And some Democrats want to avoid delaying confirmation of President Joe Biden’s remaining nominees and work on his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

But chances of a conviction are low, with 45 of 50 Republican senators having previously shown support in a procedural vote for Trump’s argument that the trial is unconstitutional. At least 17 GOP senators would have to vote to convict for the necessary two-thirds majority.

“The whole world were witnesses to this,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week, referring to the events of Jan. 6. The impeachment managers will make their case in the court of the Senate “and in the court of public opinion,” she said.

“We’ll see if it’s going to be a Senate of courage or cowardice,” Pelosi added.

The trial will be held in the same Senate chamber that members fled a month ago, minutes ahead of invading rioters demanding a lynching of then-Vice President Mike Pence. The entire Senate will be ordered to sit silently at mahogany desks during arguments, a bit of pageantry familiar to most Americans after Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago. Instead of Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, though, the Senate’s president pro tempore, Democrat Patrick Leahy, will hold the gavel.

Yet key details of the proceedings — including how long each side will be given to present its case — are unresolved. Democratic and Republican Senate leaders are still negotiating procedures.

Heavy security will engulf the U.S. Capitol, where the sense of threat persists. Three-quarters of Americans say they’re concerned about more violence by extremist groups emboldened by last month’s attack, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken Jan. 28-Feb. 1, though respondents only narrowly favored Trumps’ conviction, by 50 percent to 45 percent.

Evidence from the House prosecution — images of the crowds attacking police, guards barricading the door to the House chamber, a masked person in paramilitary garb roaming the Senate gallery with zip-tie restraints — are a sharp contrast from that presented at Trump’s first impeachment. That case centered on accusations he held up foreign aid in order to extort help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in tarnishing Biden.

“Videos of Trump supporters storming the Capitol sear into our memories in a way that a phone call to a Ukrainian leader simply does not,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said in an interview two days after the attack.

How the Senate handles the trial will also have a lasting impact in setting — or blurring — a line that presidents cannot cross in fighting an unwelcome election result or using the threat of mob violence to pressure Congress, said Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University and co-author of a book on impeachment.

“The only way that presidents in the future will think hard about where the limits to their power lie is if it’s a serious trial,” Engel said.