Monthly Archives: July 2012

Invitation to Meet the Superintendent Candidates! And still no contract

We’re invited!  The official invitation is reproduced here:

To all Hampstead and Timberlane Community Members:
The Superintendent Search Screening Committee has completed their task of interviewing candidates and has forwarded the names of three individuals to the SAU School Board for second interviews and consideration in filling the vacancy of the Superintendent of Schools’ position. The SAU 55 School Board would like to invite members of the Timberlane and Hampstead communities to meet each of the three candidates by way of a meet and greet/question and answer session to be held on Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at the Timberlane Regional High School, 36 Greenough Road, Plaistow, NH. The session will begin at 6:00 pm and will allot 30 minutes for each of the candidates.
The SAU Board values the participation of the public in this initiative and hopes many will take advantage of this opportunity.
Michael Mascola, Chairman
School Administrative Unit No. 55     (I’ve retracted Mr. Mascola’s email address for courtesy)


So, we will get the chance to meet the unnamed candidates!  Not only that but, “The SAU Board values the participation of the public in this initiative and hopes many will take advantage of this opportunity,” which is no doubt why this invitation was found on a parents’ online discussion board, posted on July 26th, and nowhere on the SAU website or Timberlane’s website – or at least not anywhere a person familiar with both sites can locate. Perhaps more publicity is coming.

One thing I’m willing to reckon is that more publicity will not be forthcoming about the contract terms being offered these three candidates: Phyllis Hill,  Winfried Feneberg (current interim superintendent), and  Earl Metzler.  I suspect this is because the taxpayer’s treasury is wide open, gold coins spilling from it in glittering enticement and contract terms so fluid that a strong-headed lawyer employed by the candidate won’t even need a ShamWow.

To his credit, SAU board member and contract committee member Peter Bealo had long ago made public  Mr. LaSalle’s contract on his own private website.  This contract, which is a must read for any parent and taxpayer in the district, was difficult to find on the SAU website until recently when the contract committee posted it in their superintendent search information. I believe Mr. Bealo and a few other board members are committed to transparency.  The trouble is that they are outnumbered by elected members who give every appearance of believing the contract is the board’s business only when in fact it is the business of every member of this district.

How bad could contract terms possibly be?  I’ll start with a LIFETIME medical retiree supplement of $1,650per year.*  That’s right, $1,650 until DEATH.  The Assistant Superintendent’s contract has the same ’till death do us part terms.  For more outrageous details, see my June 16th posting below: “Want to be Dissatisfied with Your Job?  Read the Superintendent’s Contract.”  But as I’ve said before, what is missing from these contracts is more disturbing than what’s in them – no performance/educational outcome requirements, no defined way of terminating the contract without paying punishing penalties, and so on.  It’s your basic nightmare, and one that could be repeated if parents and taxpayers don’t take an interest in this issue and demand the contract be made public before it is approved by the SAU board. We should at least be entitled to know what terms are negotiable and which ones are not and what the SAU plans to do to advance the educational outcomes of our district through this leadership decision.  This should be a golden opportunity for us, not a gold give away for the lucky candidate.

Parents’ online discussion board:

Superintendent contract comparisons (selection of districts requires some scrutiny… many in need of improvement):

*CLARIFICATION:  Information provided in the contract comparison spreadsheet provided by the contract committee was incomplete.  Thanks to Mr. Bealo, we now know this benefit kicks in with ten years of SAU service; furthermore, this benefit is part of an SAU contract, something in addition to the superintendent’s and assistant superintendent’s contracts. See my posting “Clarification to Superintendent’s Lifetime Benefit.”



Filed under SAU 55 Issues, Superintendent Search

Focus Group Results: Parents Know Best

Thank you to the board for posting summary results of the superintendent search focus groups. Rather than being a long, boring read, it is surprisingly revealing.

Parents got right to the heart of the matter. Here are the qualities they want in a new superintendent:

  • “… a demonstrated ability to improve curriculum and student performance,” (point #2)
  • “does not sacrifice rigor and challenge at top and all levels in an effort to bring more numbers out of lower scores…” (point #3)

Compare this with the SAU board’s top desired qualities in a superintendent:

  •  “has the requisite competencies and skills expected/required of a superintendent and is certified for the position.” (point #1)
  • “is a negotiator,” (point #2)
  • ” is knowledgeable in state education law including special education law.” (point #3)

Unless the board expects the new superintendent to negotiate college acceptances for TRHS graduates,  parents’ priorities should be the ones that count in selecting a new educational leader for the district.  It’s puzzling that the elected members of the board as a whole don’t seem to share parents’ sense of urgency and desire for higher standards.

The report is dated June 28th and may have been online for some time, but I found it only yesterday.  As background, stakeholders were divided into seven focus groups.  Each group was moderated by an employee of the search company hired to find superintendent candidates for our regional school division,   SAU 55. The focus groups were

  • SAU  Board
  • Administrators  (the most populous group with 21 people attending)
  • Community Members and Leaders  (the group I attended)
  • Faculty/Staff
  • Students
  • Parents of Students
  • Seniors

You can find the report here:

Leave a comment

Filed under SAU 55 Issues, Superintendent Search

SAU is selecting candidates but contract terms remain a mystery

The SAU board has had three non-public meetings in July to review superintendent candidates.  So far, not even general contract terms have been made public. From the advertisement for the superintendent’s position, we know on offer is an  “initial multi-year contract, renewable yearly with a starting compensation competitive for the region, …”  There is a contract committee of two persons from the SAU board but apart from providing a comparison of  superintendent contracts from other districts, nothing more to my knowledge has been made public. Certainly nothing has been reported in meeting minutes.

Will the board not have a contract drafted before making a job offer to a new individual?  If the contract is already drafted, the terms should be made public.  If the contract is still almost wholly to be negotiated, what assurance do the taxpayers have that we will not once again be saddled with egregious terms that make it very difficult should we wish to fire an under-performing administrator? (Please see my June 16th post:  Want to be Dissatisfied with your Job?  Read the Superintendent’s Contract.)

The SAU has the statutory authority to hire a superintendent and the SAU board has the authority to approve his or her contract.  The terms of this contract should be made public well before the SAU board votes to approve it.  Yes, terms will change with negotiations, but taxpayers have a right to know what is on offer at the outset and after negotiation.  I would be looking for contract terms that hold the superintendent to measurable education outcomes, that do not permit consulting or other occupations while employed by the district, and annual renewals based on objective achievements set by the school boards.

Perhaps the board is thinking that making contract terms public while soliciting candidates will narrow the field.  Well, right now the current gold-encrusted contract is public and letting this stand uncorrected is either misleading candidates or seriously offending taxpayers.

What is the big mystery? It’s our money on the line and even more importantly, our chance to tie performance to employment. Unless more of us insist on seeing the contract terms before they are approved by the board, we might very well get more of what we have.

If you are tempted to think the SAU board will do just fine without public scrutiny and that the previous superintendent’s contract of 7 years was an aberration, take a look at the SAU’s policy for superintendent evaluation.  You’ll need to fan the sweet smoke away; it’s about as close to a love-in as you’ll see in these post-hippie days.

Through evaluation of the Superintendent, the Board will strive to accomplish the following:
1. Clarify for the Superintendent his/her role in the school system as seen by the Board.
2. Clarify for all Board members the role of the Superintendent in the light of the job
description and the immediate priorities among his/her responsibilities as agreed
upon by the Board and the Superintendent.
3. Develop a harmonious working relationship between the Board and Superintendent.
4. Provide effective administrative leadership for the school system.
The Board will provide the Superintendent with periodic opportunities to discuss
Superintendent Board relationships, and develop an appropriate program of evaluation of the
Superintendent and administration.

SAU policy CBI, reaffirmed April 21, 2011

SAU policies can be found on the SAU website under “SAU Policies”

The spreadsheet comparing superintendent contracts can be found under SAU Board Documents, “Superintendent Contracts”

Leave a comment

Filed under SAU 55 Issues, Superintendent Search

Timberlane District: Costs go up 34% while enrollment declines 10%

The convenience of online annual reports is immeasurable.  Timberlane School Board has annual reports from 2004 – 2011 on its website. Unfortunately it’s not the 2000-2012 comparison period I was hoping for, but it will do for now.

Here’s what I’ve learned from 2004 to 2012:

  • The budget has increased 34.7% over 9 years;
  • Overall enrollment in the district fell by 10% in this time;
  • Mr. LaSalle’s budgets had modest increases compared to the budgets during Mr. McDonald’s term;
  • Mr. McDonald ‘s default budget was significantly less than the proposed budget; under Mr. LaSalle, the default budget was sometimes greater than the proposed budget.

As reported earlier, elementary enrollment in the district has fallen by 20% from 2000-2010, which means numbers at the middle school and high school will continue to decline. You should also note that the budget figures do not necessarily  include expenditures approved by warrant, such as, for instance, capital reserve fund contributions.  This means the annual bottom line is actually somewhat larger than the budget indicates in some years.

As I try to understand the cost drivers, I will soon be looking at the growth in staff per student from 2004 to present. Stay tuned.

For annual reports :

To see my spreadsheet:  Growth in budget 2004-2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget Committee, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues

Nationally: school employees have doubled while enrollment is up less than 9%

Public-school employees have doubled in 40 years while student enrollment has increased by only 8.5%—and academic results have stagnated.” That is the deck of a July 9, 2012 Wall Street Journal article by Andrew Coulson. Here are the salient points in Coulson’s article:

  • “Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. “
  • “…. [Look at] the “long-term trends” of 17-year-olds on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress. These tests, first administered four decades ago, show stagnation in reading and math and a decline in science. Scores for black and Hispanic students have improved somewhat, but the scores of white students (still the majority) are flat overall, and large demographic gaps persist. Graduation rates have also stagnated or fallen. So a doubling in staff size and more than a doubling in cost have done little to improve academic outcomes.”
  • “Nor can the explosive growth in public-school hiring be attributed to federal spending on special education. According to the latest Census Bureau data, special ed teachers make up barely 5% of the K-12 work force.”

Although I haven’t yet worked out the growth in employment, Timberlane may turn out to be the nation in a microcosm.  Timberlane middle school has one principal and three assistant principals. TRHS has one principal, one associate principal, and four assistant principals. I don’t know about you, but I managed to get through school without getting shot or mugged with just one principal and one vice principal for a very large junior/senior high school. I even learned how to write an essay. At an SAU meeting, Mr. LaSalle proudly spoke of his achievement in Timberlane having a near 100% graduation rate. One can wonder given our academic scores, if this doesn’t reflect more on our standards than on the effectiveness of our administrators.

Here is a link to the article for as long as the link stays live:

Leave a comment

Filed under SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues

Costs double as enrollment declines

Finally, thanks to the technical know-how of friends, you can view an abbreviated spreadsheet showing enrollment numbers and per pupil costs for elementary students  in the Timberlane Regional District.  From 2000 – 2010, elementary enrollment has dropped in the four towns by an average of 20%  while costs per pupil have escalated 111%.  Before you click on the spreadsheet linked below for more details, you should know:

  • The spreadsheet labelled “Per Pupil Costs 2000-2010” is a vastly abbreviated version of a spreadsheet provided by State Representative  Weyler of Kingston.  Rep. Weyler’s figures were prepared by the Legislative Budget Assistant’s Office. I’ve provided an abbreviated version specific to Timberlane and simpler to read.
  • Rep. Weyler’s entire spreadsheet, provided below, is four pages and includes information on 23 towns as well as percent change in town valuations, among many other municipal comparisons.
  • Representative Weyler did not provide statistics for high schools.  If I understood his answer when I asked him,  the per pupil costs were too difficult to compare at the high school level.

Although it is dismaying to see costs more than double over a ten year period while enrollment shrinks markedly, it is instructive to note that Timberlane’s overall per pupil costs have averaged 4.5% below the state average during this period. While we’re looking to the state for perspective, New Hampshire’s total public school enrollment declined by only 4.5% ( 205,299  to 197,160) in the decade.  DOE

But per pupil cost does not tell the whole story. According to the Department of Education website, “Cost per Pupil is based on current expenditures as reported on each school district’s Annual Financial Report (DOE-25). Cost per pupil represents current expenditures less tuition and transportation costs. Any food service revenue is deducted from current expenditures before dividing by ADM in attendance. Capital and debt service are not current expenditures and are not included.”  For us to really understand how our costs have escalated, we have to compare the bottom line budget figure for 2000-2010.  I will do this in my next post.

Here is the abbreviated spreadsheet with Timberlane figures: Per Pupil Cost 2000 to 2010

Rep. Weyler’s entire spreadsheet (with thanks):  Ten Year Comparison of Selected Municipal Data

You can find per pupil ten year figures at the DOE site here:

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget Committee, School Board Issues

Superintendent LaSalle’s Exit Costs: $55,000

At the June 28th Timberlane Budget Committee meeting, Mr. George Stokinger, SAU Business Administrator, reported Mr. LaSalle’s exit costs:  $55,000. This is for vacation and sick time accrual.

Add this figure to:

  • approximately $13,000 for the search professionals hired to find prospective superintendent candidates,*
  • $60 per working day additional compensation for the current assistant superintendent:  $1,200 for a 20 work day month,
  • up to $2,500 per month in extra compensation for the SAU staff in the absence of a new superintendent, authorized for four months.*

If the new superintendent assumes his position as of September 1st, the costs to the SAU will be $75,400.

Should the replacement not start until November 1st, the cost will be $82,800.


From the proposed fee and payment schedule NASDEC presented to the SAU board:

  • The base fee is $13,992 (which includes a 20% discount due to being a NESDEC affiliate)
  • Search related costs (fixed): $4,260
  • Therefore the total costs for NESDEC’s services would be more in the order of $18,000.
  • The SAU board voted to give the interim superintendent $10,000 to spend in added compensation for SAU administrators over four months. They defeated a motion to cap the additional monies to $2,500 a month. This means that my calculations for September could be low. It is also logically possible that none of this $10,000 will be spent.  I had to mention that for completeness, not plausibility.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sandown Issues, Superintendent Search

Blogging’s Deadly Sins – a reply to Mr. Mesa- Tejada’s comment

Blogging has a surprising number of deadly sins – maybe not quite seven, but enough.

1) Assuming others are talking about you. Dabbling in social media causes a miasma of egocentricity to envelope even a formerly well-balanced adult. Mr. Mesa- Tejada, who wrote a letter which I believed to be responding to my blog, was actually writing in response to a Hampstead school board meeting. This is an odd coincidence, but one that also gives rise to a redemptive illumination: if I am exercised about something, others are almost certainly feeling the same way, or they will be.

2) Exercise is good, emotions aren’t. Bloggers weaken their eyes and let their hair get greasy because they are passionate about something… theatre reviews, video games, food, even school and local politics. Unlike conventional journalism which is filtered through an editor, (sometimes wise, very often just annoying), bloggers can, and in my case, often do get carried away in the outrage of the moment. Hitting ‘publish’ is a liberation, quickly followed by regret for the impetuousness of that soul-damning keystroke. Mr. Mesa-Tejada correctly pointed out that I had incorrectly quoted him. He complained of a “radical entitlement mentality that is sweeping the country.” I should not have use quotes when I said he was complaining about a “runaway sense of entitlement.” Apologies for the error, readers all and Mr. Mesa-Tejada.

3) Irregularity is more than a discomfort. It’s been ten days since I made my last posting — not good for cultivating the all important traffic needed to build an on-line community. My penance and salvation: I hereby vow to post once a week by Sunday night, and eat more vegetables.

4) Letting technical obstacles delay good information. For weeks I have wanted to share a most illuminating spreadsheet with readers about the escalating costs per pupil versus declining enrollment, but I cannot get the spreadsheet formatted correctly into the blog. Neither penance nor resolve seem to help this situation. Please stay posted.

The original Tri-Town Times letters to the editor will be linked when they are available.  In the meantime you can see Mr. Mesa-Tejada’s letter reproduced in the comment on my blog entry of June 22.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sandown Issues

A Rumination on Full-time Kindergarten: Not the head start you think

Timberlane’s Director of Elementary Education, Mrs. Killen, said that full-time kindergarten may be on the horizon for the district. Although this was in the context of a meeting with the budget committee on June 28th, it was by way of a heads up for future budgetary considerations.

I don’t know how far along these plans are, if at all, or what the budgetary impact might be. My concern is not fiscal so much as  sociological. Pre-school education such as that provided disadvantaged children in the Head Start program seems to have no lasting benefits by the end of first grade. (See links below.) I haven’t discovered part-time vs. full-time kindergarten studies, but it does seem some skepticism about expected outcomes is in order. I also worry about the danger of too much peer socialization at an early age. My observation with my own children is that time tends to equal impact. The more time very young children spend in the company of their peers, the more likely they are to become peer focused instead of parent/adult focused. This doesn’t happen to all children, of course, and many parents value socialization at an early age.  That said, once my children were spending more of their waking hours at school than at home, I had to hope solid values would see them through peer pressure, bullying, and other moral challenges. I was grateful I had those extra hours each day at an impressionable age to instill my values and to teach my children right from wrong by talking to them about their half day kindergarten adventures.!729BBE59-B78F-4846-AC85-32C9582D2A15

Leave a comment

Filed under Sandown Issues, School Board Issues