Monthly Archives: June 2012

My Point and Some Counterpoint in the Tri-Town Today

A gentleman by the name of Jorge Mesa-Tejada from Hampstead wrote a letter to the editor in the Tri-Town stating that people who feel they have a right to comment at public meetings have “a runaway sense of entitlement,” given that the state laws regulating public meetings do not require chairmen to open most meetings to public comment. He had obviously read my letter posted here before it appeared in the paper, which is rather gratifying.

I would like to see the SAU board by-laws, which do not seem to be publicly available, to see if conducting meetings is among the items addressed. In any event, Mr. Mesa-Tejada is legally correct but completely missing the point.

“Can” does not mean “should.” The law may allow the limitation of public comment and non-public meetings, but this doesn’t mean this is the way meetings should be conducted — or have been in the history of our state. The person with the runaway sense of entitlement is the chairman who is using his authority to thwart uncomfortable public comment and scrutiny. I worry that the high-handedness it reveals will lead to worse behavior to come.

I’ll put a link to the letters when they are available from the paper’s website next week.

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Selection process outcome

Sources tell me the Superintendent Selection Committee settled the overabundance of applications for the one parent seat on the Timberlane selection committee as follows:

Each Timberlane school board member was given all 17 parent names.  Each board member selected 3 names.  These names were then put into a hat from which 3 names were finally drawn.  The first draw got the seat, the next two are alternates.

Please note that I was unable to attend the June 14th meeting and as it took place in Danville,  there may not be a Vimeo recording of it available.  Because of this  I don’t know the above information first hand, though I believe it to be accurate.

It is heartening to know so many parents were interested in participating, but disappointing that a better way to include them all could not be devised, and that a more fair way of making the selection was not used. If the committee wanted to screen for the ‘strongest’ candidate, how could they do this by simply looking at names?  Just guessing here, but it looks like the board was more interested in keeping certain names out of the position than they were in screening for ‘strengths.’ For the record, I did not apply.

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Filed under Sandown Issues, Superintendent Search

Want to be Dissatisfied with Your Job? Read the Superintendent’s Contract

Now that the search is on for a new Superintendent, the contract of the current Superintendent could very well form the template for a new contract offer.  That would be disastrous. The current contract can be found at  http://www.chachka.net/pgt1.htm. Caution:  You will want to quit your job.  Even in your wildest imagining,  you could not come up with these dreamy contract terms: THREE year notice for non-renewal or full pay, 90 days cumulative sick days, 7.5% of salary contributed to an annuity annually PLUS another 7.5% contributed by the district to a 403B plan.  That’s 15% of salary in retirement benefits every year. Sweet.

Although the salary is generous (nearly $140k) and the benefits lavish, my biggest objection to the current contract is what isn’t in it. Nowhere is there a provision for firing the Superintendent for failing to meet objective performance standards.  TRHS has been a School In Need of Improvement for 7 years in math and 4 years in reading. http://www.education.nh.gov/instruction/school_improve/sini_2012_13.htm   No problem! Have a raise and another three years on us! Let’s not forget who is being shortchanged here — not only the taxpayer and our long suffering property values, but the future of our children.

We now have an enormous opportunity to rework the contract terms to allow us to quickly and easily fire someone who isn’t raising educational outcomes. The SAU board has established a contract committeee to review other Superintendent contracts in the region which is commendable, but we should grasp the chance now to set our own terms.  The poor job market and the dismal state of public finances are all working in our favor now.

A friend offered me a wager that the new Superintendent will be offered more money than we are currently paying.  I didn’t take that wager.  Almost certainly the SAU board will be more generous with taxpayer money than they should, but what is most imperative is that they set performance standards pegged to improving educational outcomes with a quick and easy way of firing a non-performer. The board is advertising the position with a “multi-year contract.”  They have said that “No one will move for a one year contract.”  Really?  My husband and I moved countries for no contract at all. Three years is an eternity for a child.

The contract committee consists of two school board members.  I made a written request to participate on the committee.  My letter was ignored. I’m used to that. Below you can read another of my letters to the SAU board detailing the many objectionable contract terms in Mr. LaSalle’s current contract in the hope that they will not be repeated going forward.  At least I have the comfort of knowing this letter reached the contract committee.  It’s detailed reading, but the terms are eye popping.

April 4, 2012

Dear SAU, Timberlane School Board and Budget Committee Members:

As I am unable to attend the meeting on Monday evening, I would like this letter read into the public minutes.

The search for a new Superintendent requires as a prerequisite a through review of the contract terms of the past that bound Mr. LaSalle and requires of us to write a new contract that is more favorable to the prudent interests of the respective towns. Here is an abbreviated list of extremely unfavorable terms in Mr. LaSalle’s 2011 contract that in my opinion should be changed in a forthcoming contract to a new candidate.

Employment and Term:  currently 3-year term.  The term should be one year, renewal by agreement. Three years is an eternity in the life of a student.

Salary: currently the SAU has the right to increase salary at its own discretion. Any salary increase should be subject to approval by the school boards and based on the objective attainment of measurable education outcomes of students to be determined by the school boards.

Renewal of Contract:  Currently the contract requires THREE YEAR’s notice of non-renewal.  90 days notice of non-renewal is all that is necessary or prudent.

Termination for Cause:  This should include a failure to obtain stated performance objectives to be set by the school boards.

Termination with Pay: Currently this could require the towns to pay up to three year’s salary. This should be changed to state never to exceed three months.

Sick Leave: Currently can accumulate to 90 days.  Sick days should not be cumulative at all.

Performance Evaluation:  Currently the SAU may provide a written evaluation relative to objectives established by the SAU.  This should state that the School Boards WILL provide written evaluations based on objectives set by the school boards. The provision that currently says in the absence of such evaluation the Superintendent’s performance may be presumed satisfactory should be stricken.

Professional Activities:  Currently this permits the Superintendent to teach, lecture and consult.  This provision should be stricken entirely.

Section 21 Other:  Current normal retirement age of 57 should be changed to 65 and the current provision allowing retirement after completing 3 years of service should be changed to a minimum of 15 years of service.

Retirement Annuity: “The Superintendent shall annually receive an individual tax-deferred retirement/annuity plan in an amount equal to seven and one half percent of salary.”  This is an extremely ambiguous provision. It should be clarified to state that 7.5% of salary will be contributed to an annuity on behalf of the employee, if this provision is not stricken altogether for its extraordinary generosity especially given 403B employer contributions.

Under the Superintendent’s Benefits addendum to the contract:

Again length of time of service to qualify for benefits and the 7.5% annuity need scrutiny and change. Note also the 403B contributions of 7.5%
Annual sick leave redemption should be stricken.
Un-vouchered travel reimbursement should be disallowed entirely.
Personal bereavement leave should not be at the discretion of the Superintendent as he/she is giving himself his own leave.  It should be at the discretion of the school boards.
Business expense account $1000 should be questioned. No public monies should be reimbursed un-vouchered.
Compensatory time is again at the discretion of the Superintendent who is giving himself this time.  This should be at the discretion of the school boards.

Mr. LaSalle’s full 2010-2011 contract can be found at: http://www.chachka.net/pgt1.htm

Since Mr. LaSalle voluntarily retired in order to take another position, I would ask the SAU to explain why it needs to go into non-public session on grounds of compensation and reputation.  As I am new to the Budget Committee, for my future reference could you also tell me where notice of this public meeting was posted and when?

Sincerely,
Donna Green
Budget Committee member for Sandown

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Filed under Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, Superintendent Search

Will the SAU Board Make the Focus Group Comments Public?

In consultation with a search consultant, the SAU Board sponsored public focus groups to solicit input on the skills and qualities needed in a new Superintendent of schools, in addition to the most critical issues needing to be addressed within the first six months of the new Superintendent’s term.

Focus groups were organized around constituencies:

Administrators and SAU staff
Local officials and community members
Senior citizens
Parents of students
Professional and support staff members

SAU Board members [UNADVERTISED]

At a budget committee meeting in May, one budcom member asked if the budget committee were invited to the SAU Board focus group.  Members of the budcom were told at that time that we were invited but I was subsequently told the budcom could attend  only as members of the public and would not be permitted to speak. Another shining example of cooperation among elected officials serving your interests.

It was probably just as well I did not attend the SAU  focus group as my contribution would have been  a need for “a proven track record of improving academic achievement,” a sentiment pretty well off the radar for the board who is looking for a communicator, a visionary, someone who can sell a budget, and good at parent engagement, and so on.  Two members got warm with “leader with accomplishments,” and “committed to what’s best for students,” but you’d be hard pressed to see improving academic results as a priority of this board. The SAU board, by the way is made up of both the Timberlane and Hampstead School board members.

I attended the “Local Officials and Community Members” focus session – me and seven other souls. Where were all the Selectmen from the five towns in the

SAU district?

To date the SAU board has not said if they intend to make public  all the comments from these focus groups. Dear tender eared SAU, let us have what we paid for.

Watch the SAU focus session:

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues, Superintendent Search

When ‘Public’ is not so Public: Keeping the tender ears of the SAU board from public comment

This is a letter to the editor of the Carriage Town News submitted on June 12, 2012.  The  abuse of non-public sessions will be one of my recurring themes.

Dear Editor:

Very few parents or citizens attend SAU meetings, (or their recent focus groups), for reasons I now fully understand.  Should you wish to comment at an SAU meeting, you must fill out a form stating which agenda items you wish to address. At the SAU 55 meeting on June 11th, I waited patiently to address the SAU board on two agenda points, the interim Superintendent’s compensation, and the new Superintendent contract.

When the interim Superintendent’s compensation came up, I spoke to an SAU member’s previously expressed interest in paying the interim Superintendent the same salary as the outgoing Superintendent. I argued that this was unwise on two counts. It is inappropriate to pay the interim Superintendent the same salary as someone who has been in the position for seven years, and doing so sets the salary expectations of prospective applicants. I also made a plea for the salary discussion to be held in public session. Only two members of the 10 member SAU board voted to keep the discussion public. I am well familiar with the law concerning non-public meetings. The law allows, but does not mandate, non-public discussion of employee salaries, and in my opinion, it was inappropriate in this case. When your elected officials do not have to justify their reasoning, any conclusion has to be accepted as reasoned and reasonable. How will you know otherwise?

 Shortly after the hour-long non-public session, there was a lengthy discussion by the SAU board as to if and how they could screen undesirable people from the superintendent screening committee to which more parents have applied than are positions. A pity they couldn’t hide that discussion in another non-public meeting.  Oh wait!  The screening committee is calling a meeting on June14th, portions of which may be non-public.

When the Superintendent contract was next, the chairman allowed me to address the board. Since the committee studying contract terms had not yet presented, I asked to reserve my comments for after the board’s discussion. The chairman did not permit me to do this. The proper way to conduct a public meeting is to open public comment after board discussion but before a vote, if there is one.

 As another example of the lengths the SAU board goes to keep itself free of public comment, you may not be aware that the SAU had its very own Superintendent focus group on May 31. This session was not advertised with the other public focus sessions and it did not allow public comment. I know because I asked to attend.

Sandown’s town hall has been closed on Fridays for years because we don’t have the money to heat the building –yet as of last night, the SAU has found $24,000 in their budget for a search consultant and additional pay to the SAU staff with interim responsibilities, and who knows how much more for exit costs payable to Mr. LaSalle. How much money does the SAU have sloshing around?

Timberlane has been a federally designated “School in Need of Improvement” for years. Hiring a new superintendent is a tremendous opportunity to improve our children’s education Your tax dollars should be going to effective teachers, not SAU administrators – and your votes should be going to people who support open meetings with public participation.

  Donna Green

Sandown rep, Timberlane Budget Committee

—————-

CORRECTION:  The SAU Board has 14 members, not 10.

The truth behind the words…..

Letters to the editor have to be around 500 words so much was left out. In my statement to the board, I argued that the interim superintendent should not receive any additional remuneration as he has been crossed trained exactly for this situation and will be assuming more responsibilities for only two to three months until the new superintendent is in place. Many of those in the private sector have been asked to do more for less in the last few years.  This is reality in nearly every business except where the taxpayer is footing the bill. In the end, the board decided to give the interim Superintendent an extra $60 a working day with discretion over $2500 a month for other employees for four months. Before this outcome, you should know that the Assistant Superintendent was budgeted to earn $110,313, the Business Administrator $102,838,and  the assistant Business Administrator $58,510. Mr. LaSalle’s salary was $138,679.

I have a strong misgiving that the SAU Screening Committee will avoid following the advice of their search consultant, which is to simply draw names out of a hat when there are more applicants for the screening/selection committee than available positions. In the June 11th SAU meeting the board talked about needing to screen people based on

1) ‘weak’ vs. ‘strong’ candidates.  Here I think you can read ‘foes’ vs. ‘friends’;

2) ability to keep information confidential.  Anyone in town from the leaky Defense Department?

3) convicted felons. Hmm…. What harm could a felon do with a prospective superintendent’s resume? Put on a fake mustache and impersonate the poor sod?

One well-intentioned board member suggested narrowing the field by selecting only those applicants who gave good reasons for wanting to be on the screening committee, leaving aside the fact that the call for participants went out without any such discursive requirements.

Two board members did advocate for drawing names out of a hat, which is the only fair and sensible thing to do, but no one made a motion to ensure that this was the ultimate selection process. The board agreed to leave the decision to the screening committee once they conferred with the search consultant.  I suspect the screening committee will get their way.

I highly recommend tuning in to the taped video recordings of SAU meetings on Vimeo available through the SAU website. http://vimeo.com/album/1914382

Stay tuned.

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues