Monthly Archives: January 2013

Common Core Curriculum: what are you getting?

The federal government gave states a handsome financial incentive to adopt the  “Common Core Curriculum.” It’s the latest rage in education that is supposed to pull the US out of its embarrassing underperformance  in international comparisons. I’m not expert on the Common Core.  In truth, I can’t get so much as the gist of it as it is wrapped in education speak thicker than a Jersey accent.  You hear things about it though, alarming things, but confirming them is tricky. I’ve heard, for instance, that cursive writing is not mandatory in the curriculum.  Each school will decide whether their kids are smart enough and disciplined enough to tackle handwriting.  At least we can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we will soon be freed from writing notes on Christmas cards, and no longer will we need feel resentment when a thank you note fails to appear in the mail. All good, unless you’re a mail carrier or an uncool grandparent.

My tone is not rooted so much in rejection of the core as in absolute frustration.  A quick look through the website devoted to explaining the common core and I feel I have stepped onto Laputa, the island in the clouds devoted to math and music where the inhabitants are incapable of putting their ethereal intelligence to any useful purpose. You, too, can visit Laputa:  core standards

If you can figure out what it means in practical terms – besides new textbooks – please let me in on it. The goal is to raise standards and to make students more prepared for work and college. How this will be achieved is mysterious to me. I know from my own experience educating my children that math drills and phonics instruction were irreplaceable, as was a steady diet of our culture’s great literature.  When teachers themselves are mired in Laputian, one can only despair and hope that our local educators have more sense.

International education rankings


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Filed under Sandown Issues

Superintendent’s Report: Refreshing and Meaningful

While parents await a district report card, you should invest a few minutes reading Dr. Metzler’s Superintendent’s Report, released this month. Having read reports of high seriousness before, like most of us I’ve been conditioned to expect boilerplate bureaucratic gobbledygook.  This report is different.  It is a document of real earnestness.  ‘Smart Goals’ in four areas of concentration are set for the district, as well as establishing an innovative reorganization of administrative staffing at the high school level.

TRHS’ new organizational chart is particularly interesting (page 19).  It shows three assistant principals:  one for operations, one for academics and one for student services.  Although the responsibilities of the operations assistant principal is unclear to me as so many of the designated responsibilities seem to overlap with the SAU function, the academic assistant principal has one seriously ambitious job.  This VP supervises four “academic deans.”  Each dean is responsible for a logically related group of academic areas.

I believe this organizational restructuring required the creation of one new position and may ultimately be pared down, but the current investment seems small compared to the promise of the reorganization and what I perceive to be its goal of furthering academic accountability from students and teachers.

Particularly encouraging is seeing Dr. Metlzer grapple with and set his stamp on the issues of AP exams, social promotion, NECAP results, and the science credit misalignment that has been something of a long embarrassment. (Pages 21 and 22.)

You’ll find the report here:

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues

Teachers’ Contract and Total District Cost Increase

Figures for the teachers’ contract are finally out.  The good news is that the cost increase for 2013-2014 isn’t nearly as bad as I had feared.  The bad news is that the impact in the subsequent two years is sizable.

Here is the breakdown of ESTIMATED costs of the teachers’ new three-year contract, as provided by the SAU.

2013-2014:  $398,203   
This is a 0.6% increase in total district cost over 12-13 year   

2014-2015:   $718,282        
     This is a 1.12% increase in total district cost over 13-14 year
2015-2016:   $684,321        
    This is a 1.06% increase in total district costs over 13-14 year

TOTAL dollar increase in teachers’ compensation over three year contract  is $1.8 million.

Keep in mind that these figures are estimates because FICA could go up, medical insurance will almost certainly go up, and New Hampshire Retirement Services payments may go up as well.  Just so you know, included in these figures on the teachers’ contract costs are a 1% cost of living increase in the second and third year payable no matter what inflation  is doing.

Where I had worried that the impact of this new contract could push the district’s total cost increase next year as high as 3.5%, I’m relieved to report that it is coming in at 2.6%.  That’s better but not great. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a 2.6% increase in our household budget even though some of our kids have left home?  In the face of declining enrollment, the SAU and the school boards have got to adjust their expectations that their budgets will go up every year.  Just to stay at 2.6%, the TRSD budget for 2014-2015 has got to have no more than a 1.5% increase – and that’s assuming taxpayers feel 2.6% is a justified annual increase. I’m not convinced it is.

In other news, last night at the public hearing for the TRSD budget, I spoke on the need for the SAU operating budget to be separated from the Timberlane Regional School District budget, as allowed by law.  It was pointed out that the SAU budget is a mere $1 million dollars in the Timberlane budget.  You can be assured that budgets with no accountability to the voters will not remain just one million dollars.  All budgets should go before voters.  It is a financial discipline that keeps all parties conscientious and best empowers taxpayers. My citizen’s petition to this effect will be before the voters in March.  I hope you’ll support it. SAU Petition: Let the People Vote

Immediately after the public hearing, the Budget Committee met to vote on their recommendations for the district’s warrant articles. The financial information about the teachers’ contract was given to the the budget committee only after I asked for it and then just on Monday, Jan. 7 at 3:00 p.m.  The board was expected to recommend this contract on Thursday night.  From the discussion, I suspect the majority of the board did not have time to look at these numbers or read the teachers’ contract, as I had the time to do, thankfully.  The board  voted to recommend the contract to voters. I voted NOT to recommend the contract to voters.  Here’s why: the contract does not link pay raises or job dismissal with job performance.  It’s time people paying the bills and suffering the consequences of poor academic results demand more. I’ve started here. Voters, it’s your turn next.

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Filed under Budget Committee, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition, School Board Issues

Parent Alert: New Hampshire Education Policies Get an F

On Monday, the education advocacy group, Students First, released a state by state education policy report.  New Hampshire was one of 11 states that was graded a big fat F.  We’re in the illustrious company of California and Vermont, which should have us scratching our heads right there.

Students First was founded by one of my heroes, Michelle Rhee, whose online bio includes this:

“On June 12, 2007, Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Chancellor Rhee to lead the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), a school district serving more than 47,000 students in 123 schools. Under her leadership, the worst performing school district in the country became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading and state math scores in seventh, eighth and tenth grades over three years.  The graduation rate rose, and after steep declines enrollment rose for the first time in forty years.”

The report grades state school systems on the basis of three broad criteria — teacher accountability, parent empowerment, and fiscal accountability. New Hampshire fails in all three categories.  Read the discussion for yourself and see if you don’t agree with both the criteria and the evaluation.  I don’t know 15 minutes that would be better spent for the advancement of education.   Students First Report Card

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues

New Teachers’ Contract: Money first, education last as usual

Here’s a list of the most salient points in the new teachers’ contract.

  • Cumulative sick days to 120 day maximum. (Also establishes a disability bank for unused sick days… more on this in a later posting.)
  • Criteria for staff reduction:  Job performance and experience in certified area last criteria of six.
  • Length of school day “on the premises” is 7.25 hours  (including 22 minutes for lunch)  Three evening session required per year no longer than 3 hours each, for some specialties 3 more evening meetings may be required. Plus 20 meetings before or after school no longer than 60 minutes.
  • “School Improvement pay” from a pot of $50,000.
  • “Longevity pay” at 15 years of service entitles teachers to $100 per completed year of service to a max of $3,000 a year paid as a lump sum July 15.
  • “Retirement incentive:  “1.25% of the employee’s last salary times the number of consecutive years immediately prior to retirement that the employee served the School District in a full-time position in this bargaining unit.  However, in no event shall the amount paid to an employee exceed forty-five percent (45%) of the employee’s last salary. “
  • As for raises, well, each teacher gets one step increase each year of the three-year contract except for top step teachers. The actual money involved has not been disclosed except to say that it is a $2 million contract increase.* I don’t know what percentage increase a “step” is, what is happening to the top step teachers, or if there is a cost of living adjustment agreement involved with the steps. The Budget Committee isn’t given any of this information as a normal matter of course.  I’ve requested it and trust it will be forthcoming before the Jan. 10th public hearing on the budget and warrant articles, of which approval of this contract will be one.

You may note that teachers get an incentive for longevity and an incentive to retire.  I’m so old fashioned I thought a pay check was a longevity incentive and a fat pension was a retirement incentive, and that being good at your job would be the primary consideration in whether or not you get canned.  I don’t mind paying teachers handsomely for quality educational results.  I don’t mind giving them lavish benefits that most people in the private sector can only dream of… if they are making our kids leaders of the future. I very much mind giving teachers all this and not having them accountable for poor student performance. I intend to vote against every teacher contract that does not allow the Superintendent to fire underperforming teachers for that reason alone. We can throw as much money at teachers and facilities as the SAU likes, but until we have the stick of firing teachers and giving pay raises based on merit alone- regardless of years of service – we are going to get more mediocrity.  So far our new Superintendent is using a carrot… pay increases to the SAU staff, big pay increases to the teachers, a thankfully rebuffed stipend increase to the school board members. He must be also given a stick (whether he wants it or not) and only the voters can make this happen. I’m willing to bet that a union would surrender staff reduction criteria for this fat pay increase.  Unfortunately, if you approve this contract, you’ve given them everything with very little in return.

In fairness, there are some new elements to this contract that I need to compare with the previous contract which may show this contract in a somewhat better light, but the fundamental problem in education, the lack of accountability for educational results, remains – with a dazzling $2 million reward, 100% more than the average of previous contract increases.

We await the promised school district report card. Until then, for more on Timberlane’s academic performance see Do More Teachers = Better Results?

To view the teachers’ contract:

*CLARIFICATION:  My first draft of this posting said $2 million contract… The teachers’ contract is in the tens of millions. I meant the contract INCREASE was $2 million over the last contact, which is a 100% increase over the average of previous contract increases.

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Filed under Budget Committee, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues

About Default Budgets, and Jan. 10th Hearing

Back from a refreshing holiday break, it’s time for me to get back to weekly postings.  Let’s start with the mystery of default budgets.

This year, as in quite a few previous years, the TRSD default budget is LARGER than the proposed budget.  Since the default budget is based on a previously approved budget, you would expect the default budget to be smaller than the proposed budget, especially since the 2013-2014 proposed budget is 2% more than last year’s budget.  To understand this seemingly implausible situation, let’s look at the definition of “default budget” as given by state statute:

RSA 40:13, IX (b) “Default budget” as used in this subdivision means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget. For the purposes of this paragraph, one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body, unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, of the local political subdivision. (RSA 40:14)

This year’s default budget is $146,000 higher than the proposed budget because certain large contractual obligations have hit the district that must be paid; namely,  employer retirement contributions (offloaded from the state) and employee insurance premium increases.

As I’ve said before, a 2% increase does not seem all that unreasonable but this must be combined with the teacher’s salary increases as ratified in their new three-year contract which gives a $2 million raise to teachers over 3 years. To date, the breakdown of the district’s year by year costs of this contract, should it be approved by voters in March, is not available from the SAU so no one can yet say what the total district budget increase will be year by year.  My guess, and it is just a guess, is somewhere around 3.5% for 2013-2014 but, disappointingly, no one seems to yet know.

Just so you know how things work, the Budget Committee approved the 2% (1.98%) increase without knowing what the outcome of the teachers’ contract negotiations would be. Had the Budget Committee waited just one or two weeks before accepting the budget, the committee would have known the negotiation outcome. But hind sight, as they say, is 20-20. The board’s feeling, if I may be so bold as to generalize, was that the budget was fair for the district’s needs and the teachers’ contract was completely independent. While this is true, it overlooks the taxpayers’ reality. A 2% budget increase along with a $2 million contract increase made me regret not being more aggressive in trying to restrain costs, even though I hardly knew how to begin.

In related news, the Timberlane Regional School District will have a public hearing on school warrant articles and the proposed budget on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 at the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.  Seldom is there much public in these public hearings, which is discouraging to your representatives who must soldier on, in my case, plowing through the fog of their own inexperience. Today I submitted a citizen’s petition signed by 74 people from the Timberlane district, requesting that the SAU budget be separated from the school districts’ budgets and be put before the voters as a stand-alone budget. If all goes well, this petition will be read publicly on Jan. 10th, beginning a short campaign to give voters just a little more control over how their money is spent. Many thanks to Ed Mencis, Linda Meehan, Brenda Copp, Cathy Gorman, and Len Mullen for their help in  obtaining signatures and spreading the word.

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Filed under Budget Committee, SAU petition