Monthly Archives: June 2013

School Board Decisions to Scratch Your Head Over – Part Two

Two decisions at the June 20th School Board meeting needed much more open public discussion – with none of it hidden behind an unjustified non-public session.

Two new modular units to be acquired      It was reported that the Safety Committee was of the opinion that the modular units (housing four classrooms) were a safety concern and should be replaced.  According to the district’s facilities  manager, the past winter had been hard on the units.  Since there was plenty of surplus money left in the 2012-2013 budget, and this was the last meeting scheduled when the board could authorize the expenditure of that surplus, the board was pressed to decide on the purchase (or lease) of replacement modular classrooms.  The board voted unanimously to go into non-public session to further their discussion under the authority of RSA 91-A:3 (i).

Right there citizen’s should get their hackles up. Non-public to discuss why the district needs new modular classrooms? Every citizen has a right to full disclosure on the condition of buildings and the reasoning behind an emergency spend of up to $175,000. This non-public was, in my opinion, an abuse of their legal authority.  Here’s the RSA so you can decide for yourself:

(i) Consideration of matters relating to the preparation for and the carrying out of emergency functions, including training to carry out such functions, developed by local or state safety officials that are directly intended to thwart a deliberate act that is intended to result in widespread or severe damage to property or widespread injury or loss of life.

This provision in the non-public session authorization was clearly intended for terrorist events.  That it is used to discuss uncomfortable maintenance issues with school buildings boils my blood. I’m going to make it my mission to get this provision rewritten to absolutely forbid this abuse going forward….  but that is a posting for another day.

Thankfully, Sandown’s Mr. Barczak was once again a voice of reason.  He said this was a request at the final hour that had not previously been discussed with the Budget Committee and was by-passing the normal channels. He also said that the issues raised were nothing more than normal maintenance issues he has with his own home and he’s not looking to buy a new house.  A leaky roof has been fixed.  There is no black mold.  There is no emergency, in other words.  He and Mr. Bealo voted against authorizing the purchase or lease of two refurbished units, but the vote was carried, authorizing an expenditure of up to $175,000 should the units be purchased. The life expectancy for the replacement units is 5 years.

Everyday math is here to stay      Those of you who shop at Market Basket might have noticed that young checkout clerks have a hard time adding $10 increments to a total bill when offering cash back. The system there requires clerks to do the sums in their head.  I’ve had three occasions with three different young ladies when the addition has been wrong, in some cases hilariously, wildly wrong and I’m the only one getting the joke.  The inadequacy of our math education really came home to me at the fish department not so long ago.  A young man couldn’t estimate a fish portion – at all. He had no idea what “a third more” meant in terms of fish fillets.   “I’m bad at math,” he confessed.  These young people aren’t just bad at math, they are being handicapped by a failing math education program.  Now I don’t know where the young people at the Plaistow Market Basket were educated or with what math curriculum, but I know these are local kids whose future and contribution to the world are being curtailed by math illiteracy.

When the Everyday Math curriculum was under review to be replaced by a previously implemented pilot elementary math program, I assumed we’d have some discussion about test results with the pilot vs. the current program.  But no.  Without any discussion but for one question posed by Mr. Barczak, and an answer, the board’s majority voted to stay with Everyday Math.  Mr. Barczak’s question revealed that teachers and curriculum specialists in the school unanimously recommended changing to the pilot program.  I know nothing about curriculum and don’t have an opinion about the correct outcome here, but I certainly feel the School Board owes parents and taxpayers a public explanation for this important decision.  We invested the money in the pilot math program, after all.  Mr. Collins referenced a report at the meeting.  Perhaps he would kindly respond to this post with a link to the report upon which the board made their vote without a breath of discussion.  It may well be that the pilot results were not strong enough to justify the cost and upheaval of changing the curriculum, but the public should see that argument made.

In future, the board would be wise to provide their constituents with generous insight into the justification for their decisions.  A momentous vote without any discussion seems puzzling at the least and ill-considered at worst.  As for non-public sessions, these are easily abused and should be resisted by all board members except when strictly justified by RSA AND when strictly needed.

For Part One of this posting, scroll down.

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School Board Decisions to Scratch Your Head Over – Part One

My 75 year-old uncle’s elementary teacher used to tell him, “Hayden, stop scratching your head.  You’ll get splinters.”  Well, I’m at risk of harvesting splinters over a few school board decisions this month, most notably from the June 20th meeting, but first here are my observations on the June 6th meeting.

June 6th, 2012 meeting

Standards-based report cards out  On June 6th the board voted to ditch the standards-based report card for the middle school in favor of a 100 point scale report card.  This is a refreshing reversion to common sense.

Revenue shortfall will increase property taxes   Mr. Stokinger reported that the district’s various revenue sources, from the state, tuition and other sources, will be reduced next year.  Recall that the school district budget for next year was increased $1.75 million. Now, in light of revenue disappointments, Mr. Stokinger reports that taxpayers will be asked to come up with a total of $3.44 million rather than the $1.75 million increase alone.  I’ve asked Mr. Stokinger to tell me when these state figures become available annually.   It was my first year on Budcom, but I’ll be wiser next year and far less willing to grant increases to a budget with such substantially uncertain revenue.

Because property taxes can be anticipated to go up not insignificantly from this $3.44 million hit, the board prudently decided not to place any of the $1.55 million dollar surplus from 2012-2013 into the retention fund that was authorized by voters this year.  We need every bit of surplus to be used as revenue in the 2013-2014 budget.

Food Service Contract Renewed  As reported before, the food service contract for this school year is in serious deficit.  Mr. Stokinger believes the final total will be “a little over $100,000.”  While leaving our current food service provider, Whitsons Culinary Group, was an option favored by the cafeteria staff,  Dr. Metzler conducted negotiations with Whitsons and expressed belief that the food service contract will break even next year.  The board voted to give Whitsons another contract; meanwhile, I’ve asked to see the contracts to try to understand Dr. Metzler’s optimism. It certainly would have been appreciated had the board discussed changes in the contract to give taxpayers an understanding of why next year will be different from this year, but if you expect detailed discussion of anything at a school board meeting you haven’t ever attended one. Dr. Metzler explained that the risk sharing between the district and the vendor had changed in the district’s favor so if the service fails to break even next year, the vendor will pay the district a greater sum than this year, but even that would not offset by half this year’s deficit.

Part Two:  the June 20th meeting featuring the unexpected purchase/lease of new modular buildings and the elementary math curriculum

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Per Pupil Funding Dynamics

A US education blog I follow, Intercepts, posted this article today about per pupil education funding and the economics of enrollment numbers.  It certainly gave me pause.

Marginalized Students.

Timberlane has been facing declining enrollment for years while continuing to enjoy ever increasing budgets – yet our cost per pupil pretty well tracks the state average. Wish I could say I understood this as to me it seems something of a disconnect.

In other news,  congratulations to Mr. Anthony DiBartolomeo for being selected as the Music Educator of the Year by the New Hampshire Music Educators Association.

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Summer Online Courses for Students

Looking for free online instruction for your children this summer?  Check out these excellent resources.

  • The Virtual Learning Academy is a state of the art online school getting great reviews from educators and students.  All courses are free to New Hampshire students.  Don’t wait too long to enroll as enrollment is ongoing year round but courses are not abbreviated.  Check out its catalog .
  • Khan Academy – “Learn Almost Anything for Free”  http://www.khanacademy.org/   Excellent short video tutorials on a wide variety of academic and popular topics.
  • The Society for Quality Education offers free online placement exams for students as well as free online remedial courses designed for summer in reading and math. This is a Canadian organization but a most excellent resource.

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