SAU Response to my RTK Requests

From: Donna Green [mailto:donnagre@gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2016 7:06 AM
To: Metzler, Earl; Belcher, Catherine; Peter Bealo
Subject: RTK for Achieve 3000 scores

Dear Mr. Bealo, Superintendent Metzler and Mrs. Belcher:

Thank you for the information concerning Achieve 3000 which I reviewed and copied extensively today.

I would like to inspect all the monthly test scores by grade that are available since its trial and now into its implementation for Achieve 3000.

Without this information, how can the board and budget committee possibly judge the appropriateness of going forward with a $100,000 contract to roll this program out into the elementary schools?

School board chairman Peter Bealo refused to give me Achieve 3000 test results as requested above so, I sent off the following Right to Know request.

From: Donna Green [mailto:donnagre@gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2016 1:52 PM
To: Peter Bealo; Metzler, Earl; Belcher, Catherine
Subject: Re: RTK for Achieve 3000 scores

Dear Peter,

Because of the RTK information I have received concerning Achieve 3000, I know you have been misinformed.  Collected data purged of student information is easily available from the program and is reviewed regularly.  You can see the attached document showing less than stellar results of just such testing based on grade levels.

Further to my Right to Know request for grade level Achieve 3000 grade level testing results by the month, I would also like to see a signed contract for the Achieve 3000 program we purchased on Sept 16, 2016.  Additionally, I would like to see the contract with Achieve 3000 for the elementary program that was subsequently requested to be below $100k by our superintendent and which I believe is currently part of the proposed 17/18 budget.

Additionally, my Right to Know request is now expanded to also include the letter sent to parents to obtain permission for the data collection involved in the trial and now implementation of Achieve 3000.

Thank you for providing the citizens of Sandown and the district with your personal and dedicated commitment to the utmost transparency in our business dealings,

Donna

Last night I received an answer from Mrs. Belcher, here in relevant part:

·        Signed contract for Achieve3000 purchased on September 16 – available for inspection

·        Contract for Achieve3000 for the elementary program as part of the 17-18 budget – no contract exists at this time

·        The letter sent to parents to obtain permission for the data collection involved in the trial and implementation of Achieve3000 – There are no documents responsive to this request.  Achieve3000 is not an assessment requiring parental permission; it is a blended learning tool which is considered one of the district’s web-based instruction tools.

I would like to see some substantiation for the assertion that Achieve 3000 does not require parental permission, but I’ll leave that particular fight to parents.

And this response, as well:

Your request for all monthly Achieve3000 scores by grade are available for inspection.

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More on Achieve 3000

The Timberlane school board purchased a $184,000 program without being given any data whatsoever from its trial period. The trial had been going on since Jan. 2016 using actual Timberlane student data. Negative teacher feedback was also not given the board.

Less than a month before the board’s vote to purchase, Debra Armfield, Executive Director of Curriculum, Assessment & Professional Learning K-12 emailed Dr. Metzler concerning Achieve 3000:

“I’m a bit concerned that we don’t have great supporting data for the adoption, but I trust you on this.  I know you have a handle on how the board feels about things, so you know best whether or not they will balk at an annual contractual obligation of $107k.  We could pull about 20K out annually and put it in the grant, making the annual cost closer to $87K.  Let me know when you have time to strategize.”

She also revealed in that August 23, 2016  email that the funds for the Achieve 3000 program “…were designated for math, but math went through last year.”

You can see her entire email here: armfiled-email-poor-supporting-data    (The financial terms Ms. Armfield mentions ultimately changed with the board rushing headlong to pay for all three years of the program upfront.)

One conscientious teacher tried to alert the administration to serious drawbacks of the program; namely,  out-of-date material and poor coverage of contemporary topical issues in this teacher’s field. redacted-teacher-search-results

All this information is from my Right to Know request of Oct. 16, 2016 which is available at the SAU office for anyone to inspect. I have since asked to see all testing data by grade level from trial to now.  School Board Chairman, Peter Bealo, replied that this information will not be forthcoming to me because it cannot be separated from identifiable student information.  I know this to be false.

Here are the student results from Jan.2016 to May 2016 I obtained through my Oct. 16 Right to Know request. You can see it is aggregated by grade level (6,7,8) and completely without individual student data. It is hard to know how well the program is working because of the great variability in the number of students taking the test from month to month. trial-test-results

Why would Mr. Bealo not want this information made public or provided to the board? No data. No accountability, but let’s roll the program into our  elementary schools anyway. The more data we can collect on our children, the better…. for whom?

Further to my posting about Achieve 3000 yesterday, I have since discovered that by signing a formal quote, our district agreed to a boilerplate contract on Achieve 3000’s website.  I have no evidence anyone actually read the terms of service before signing it, nor do I have evidence to the contrary. You can read the terms of service agreement here:  Terms of Service Achieve 3000

Some school districts require vendors to sign a detailed contract of their own specifying their own terms and ethical restrictions.  You will find section 18 of the Monroe County School District’s contract with Achieve 3000 of particular interest.  Timberlane provided me with nothing like this and we in Timberlane can only marvel, sadly, at the professionalism of Monroe. (Thank you to a reader for this!) Interestingly, you will also see that the documentation from Monroe shows comments from its legal review that states the personal relationship disclosure is not complete. (Their board gets to see legal comments? !).monroe-country-school-district-achieve-3000-contract

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My Right to Know Info on Achieve 3000

On October 16, 2016 I made a Right to Know request for information concerning the reading program Timberlane purchased in September, Achieve 3000. This story matters because the purchase of this $184,000 program was done under unusual and high pressure sales tactics at a school board meeting; furthermore, it was not disclosed to the board that Mrs. Metzler was a consultant for Achieve 3000 at the time of the purchase. Also not disclosed to the board was an additional planned purchase for $100,000 with Achieve 3000 put in the proposed 17/18 budget.

Why I made the Right to Know request

  • I learned from a filed legal deposition in the case of Carolyn Morse v. TRSD, that Mrs. Metzler was employed by Achieve 3000 sometime before mid-November 2015.
  • We know from a published LinkedIn profile that Mrs. Metzler was still engaged by Achieve 3000 in October 2016 as a “Curriculum and Implementation Consultant” for the Northeast Region.
  • The school board was not told that Mrs. Metzler was associated with Achieve 3000 when the board voted to buy the program on Sept. 15, 2016.
  • TRSD implemented a trial of Achieve 3000 in early 2016
  • Without the school board knowing -or even asking after – the results of the trial, the board purchased Achieve 3000 under intense sales pressure.  Nominal cost was $183,400 in unbudgeted expense. (Sept 15, TRSD meeting).
  • The board voted to transfer money from unknown lines to other unknown lines to pay for the purchase.

What I discovered

I learned a lot from my Right to Know request that would influence me to vote against the purchase of this program:

  • Teacher reviews of the program before the purchase brought up significant negatives which were not disclosed to the school board as a whole. Some teachers know of a free program which they believe to be superior. Negatives were massaged, if not altogether expunged, prior to a presentation to the Curriculum and Assessment Committee.
  • Not all teachers  were quick to adopt this program. Based on information given to me, a large majority of high school teachers of classes for whom this program was targeted were not using the program as of October 11.
  • An additional $100,000 was to be budgeted to roll the program out to all the elementary schools, despite the fact that the board approved the program for middle and high schools only. At last night’s board meeting (Dec.6,2016) Mr. Stokinger revealed at my prompting that yes, $100,000 was included in the proposed 17/18 Curriculum budget for Achieve 3000 in our elementary schools. The 17/18 Curriculum budget documentation shows only $10,000 for “SmartyAnts,”  an Achieve 3000 product.
  • No contract was provided to me.  Did the district approve a program with a 3 year commitment without a written contract?

More Right to Know requests have resulted 

Dec. 5, 2016

Dear Sirs and Madam:

On Dec. 1, I asked for the following information concerning Achieve 3000:
  • Grade level Achieve 3000 testing results for all grades since introduction of the program trial and implementation as provided by the program. Mr. Bealo’s response was that all test data cannot be separated from identifiable student information.  I know this to be false. I have an email dated May 24, 2016 from Mary Youngblood to Deb Armfield showing the middle school test results from January 2016 through May 2016.
  • Signed contracts for Achieve 3000 for the middle school and high school, as well as the subsequent contract for our elementary schools.
  • Any letter sent to parents to obtain permission for the data collection on their children involved in the trail of Achieve 3000 and now the implementation – as was noted as an action item in the Curriculum and Assessment meeting minutes of Feb. 16, 2016.

This information should be forthcoming by Dec. 8, 2016 to comply with 91-A. If it is not forthcoming by then I will assume there is no signed contract and that no letter was sent to parents.  This assumption would be justified in that no contracts or parental letters or other communication to parents about Achieve 3000 were included in the extensive material given to me responsive to my first Right to Know request on this matter of Oct 16, 2016.

I will also assume the district is refusing to provide me with test data aggregated by grade.

Today I am expanding my Right to Know request to ask you to provide any communication with parents at all that would authorize you to collect data on children with respect to this program. If the district did not sign a contract but instead signed a formal quote, please provide the final quotes signed.

I would also urge you to be fully forthcoming with the school board as to the efficacy of this program and your intention to roll it out into the elementary schools.

Thank you again,

Donna Green

I await a response.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if

Wouldn’t it be nice if school board members could simply ask for information and receive it without having to invoke a law that is designed as a last-resort protection for the public?

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Green Comments on Candia

An intrepid Candia budget committee member, Dana Buckley, wants the tally of legal expenses from the school board.  The school board is refusing.

Hear what I have to say about that on Girard-at-Large this morning:

Candia refuses to disclose legal costs

 

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The Responsible Choice Default Budget

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

The Timberlane School Board will meet Tuesday night, Dec. 6 at 6 pm, to discuss the district’s Draft 2 proposed budget and the Default Budget.

The administration has signaled that the the default budget will be very close to the $71.5 million draft 2, so we can anticipate that once again the voters will have the choice between a bloated proposed budget versus an even higher default budget.

By my calculation, the default budget ought to be $70, 171,000.  That’s about $25,000 below this current year’s budget, and about $1.4 million less than the Draft 2 proposed budget.

Here is what the state’s MS-DS form requires the school board members to attest:

SCHOOL BOARD OR BUDGET COMMITTEE CERTIFICATION Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined the information contained in this form and to the best of my belief it is true, correct and complete.

The default budget exists as a measure of taxpayer protection.  The school board has the power to nullify this protection by passing a default budget higher than the proposed budget, thus assuring that the voters will approve what the school board asks.  The school board members have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers to create a default budget which removes one-time expenditures, and thus gives the taxpayers a real choice.

The RSA governing default budgets states that

.. one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body

Some might read this to say that the school board has the latitude to decree that a particular expenditure is one-time or recurring.

My read is that the board has a duty to identify and remove those expenditure which are in fact one-time.

It is said that Lincoln had a quip:

How many legs does a dog have if you call his leg a tail?  Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

And calling a one-time expenditure “recurring” doesn’t make it so.

Now here is a default budget as I believe it should be: responsible-choice-default-budget-2017-18

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TRSD Citizen Petition

I am collecting signatures for a school district warrant article to require Timberlane to regularly change auditors.

Timberlane is long overdue for a change.  Best business practice recommends changing auditors regularly, primarily to ensure the independence of the auditor.  It is not in the public’s interest for auditors to get too familiar with the management team. I have not been able to determine when TRSD last changed their auditor but I do know Plodzik & Sanderson PA have been conducting our audits for a very long continuous time.

New auditors will approach our financial affairs with fresh eyes.  This will give us renewed assurance that our money is being properly expended and accounted for.

You might hear some specious objections that this will increase the cost of audits.  Not likely true.  Sandown reluctantly changed auditors and actually saved considerable money in doing so. Firms that are certain of our business have little incentive to give us the best pricing.  I’m not saying that is necessarily the case here.  I’m just saying it is quite possible. And even if the cost is somewhat greater, our assurance would be all that much greater, too.

For the past two years I have been motioning to change auditors. Each year the motion is disdained by the majority. Changing auditors is nothing more than good business practice and anything less reflects poor respect for our fiduciary responsibilities to you, the taxpayer. My petition is a way for you to take action to ensure that we have effective financial controls, even when the school board and SAU want to take the lazy way out.

If you would like to sign this petition to be included on Timberlane’s school district ballot in March, you can find me at the Sandown library parking lot on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 9 to 11 am.

In being subject to RSA 21-J:19, shall the Timberlane Regional School District be required to change auditing firms every four years or fewer, starting with the 2016/17 audit year, and that no auditor or firm be reappointed within eight years of their last appointment? (Majority vote required.)

Section 21-J:19

21-J:19 Audit. –
I. Any town, or school district, or village district or precinct, at the annual meeting or at a special meeting, or the selectmen of any town, or the governing body of any city, or the school board of any school district, or the commissioners of any village district or precinct, may hire a certified public accountant or a public accountant licensed by the state under RSA 309-A:8 to conduct such an audit within one year after the close of the municipality’s fiscal year in accordance with audit guidelines and applicable statutes.
II. Every audit made by independent public accountants licensed under RSA 309-A:8, except examinations for special limited purposes, shall cover the accounts and records of all officials responsible for the receipt, custody, and disbursement of public funds. The audit reports shall include a summary of findings and recommendations regarding compliance with applicable statutory provisions of law, and the adequacy of accounting and business procedures pursued by the unit of government examined. Management letters, so-called, shall be included as part of the official audit findings and recommendations. Contracts executed between local units of government and counties and independent public accountants shall stipulate that all accounts and funds of the governmental unit are to be audited and a report of audit prepared in accordance with this section. A written or printed report of every completed audit shall be made to the proper local officials including a summary of the findings and recommendations of the auditors and a copy of such summary shall be published in the next annual report following the fiscal year in which the audit was completed.

Source. 1985, 204:1. 2008, 174:1, eff. Aug. 10, 2008.

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On Reconsideration of Taylor v. SAU55

In the case of David Taylor v. SAU55, judge David Anderson declined to reconsider his previous decision.  He also ruled that the single sentence in the disputed minutes was permissibly redacted.

taylor-v-trsd-reconsideration-decision

The SAU55 board has put aside $40,000 to fight this case in the NH Supreme Court should Mr. Taylor decide to appeal Judge Anderson’s decision. It is not known how much TRSD spent fighting me all the way to the NH Supreme Court because they did not want me having budget information in electronic form but it was in the tens of thousands. I am confident taxpayers would not have wanted to spend that money to thwart transparency. Do taxpayers want to spend another boatload of money to thwart Mr. Taylor’s demands? Here is what is on the line so you can decide if $40,000 is a good use of your education dollars.

Mr. Taylor was challenging SAU55’s policy of charging 50 cent a page for Right to Know information. He was also challenging the SAU’s policy of requiring a thumb drive in original packaging in order to obtain information in electronic form.  Mr. Taylor wants them to charge a cost more in keeping with actual copying, and to stop requiring a thumb drive when emailing or simply posting to a public website is easier for all involved. This is, in total, all that is at dispute in this case now…. and your elected officials are gung ho to fight this all the way to the state’s highest court should Mr. Taylor so challenge this. I say this because they added this money to the SAU budget specifically for this case.

Here is what I had to say about that during an SAU meeting:

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