Monthly Archives: September 2013

“Respectfully Requesting” is a Cop Out

Under the galling title “CORRECTION,” the Tri-Town Times wrote this in its September 26th edition:

An article in the Sept. 19 edition could be construed by some readers as saying that Hampstead School Board Chairwoman Natalie Gallo sought to ban electronic devices from use by the audience at board meetings. As the article states, Gallo said she “respectfully requests people not to use electronic devices during meeting,” and the board went along with her wishes.  She said this week that she “respectfully” asked the audience not to use electronic devices at board meetings, even though she knows such a request cannot be enforced and would be a violation of the state statute (RSA 91-A:2).  Gallo did not use the word “ban” to describe her request.

Now, let’s see….   Ms. Gallo was “respectfully requesting” citizens to give up one of their legal rights.  The correct response to this controversy from Ms. Gallo and the Hampstead board is to issue an apology to their constituents and reverse their position — not hide behind language in an attempt to make us think her statements meant something different from what they very clearly did mean.  Thank you to Dr. Hoppa for speaking against the consensus. I would note that not a single board member mentioned in their longish discussion that legislation existed prohibiting a ban… and that a “respectful request” might also be construed as a de facto ban, which is of course what it is.

And as an aside, I found it striking that one member of the board described the public at the meetings as “eavesdropping.”  I’ve always thought public participation at meetings of any kind added to an understanding of issues being discussed, but when you view public meetings as meetings for the board and not for the public as well, then condescension and insufferable “respectful requests” will abound.

To watch this meeting:  http://vimeo.com/74286025     The relevant passages begin at 40 minutes, 30 seconds. I encourage you to watch it for all that it reveals.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

School Boards Behaving Above the Law

This is the original letter I submitted to the Tri-Town Times, a lightly edited version of which appeared in the paper today, September 26, 2013.

The Tri-Town reported on Sept. 19th that The Hampstead School Board has prohibited the use of electronic devices by members of the public who attend school board meetings. This is in direct defiance of New Hampshire’s  RSA 91-A-2 (d) which states in part: “Any person shall be permitted to use recording devices…[at meetings]. Since laptops, notebooks and smartphones have built-in microphones and cameras, these clearly cannot be banned from meetings. Either the Hampstead Board didn’t know about this provision, which is shameful in itself as it is extremely well promulgated, or they willfully defied it.

RSA 91-A deals with access to governmental records and meetings.  It is, it seems, a thorn in the side of school boards. The Timberlane School Board also violated RSA 91-A, specifically the provisions that restrict the use of non-public sessions.

On June 20, 2013 the Timberlane School Board inappropriately invoked RSA 91-A:3, Part II (i), which allows non-public sessions to discuss security issues, as justification for a non-public session to discuss the condition of modular classroom units in the district. You can see this meeting on the Vimeo online service: http://vimeo.com/album/255898/sort:preset/format:detail . The provision was cited at 1:55 on the recording, (one hour, 55 minutes) followed by a unanimous vote. Mold is not a security issue and to claim so is a gross abuse of the intention of the provision.The public has a right to know the condition of all facilities in the district and the board had no legal right to discuss this in non-public.

Citizens have to rebuke their elected officials when they behave above the law or we will get more of it. If local governance is too unimportant to exercise ourselves about and national politics is too big for us to make a difference, just exactly when do citizens think it is their place to act?  We get the government we deserve and we cannot let our elected officials get away with defying laws especially those in place to protect our knowledge of government functioning.

 Donna Green

Sandown, NH

Leave a comment

Filed under Sandown Issues

The State of Our Facilities 2013

Another year, another facilities tour – this one better than last.  In September 2012,  I had this to say after attending the annual facilities tour of Timberlane’s schools:

The facilities were, with just two exceptions, in excellent repair and so spotless the tour goers applauded the maintenance staff. Floors gleamed, walls were without mars, windows and doors shone and nothing I saw looked abused.  The facilities projected pride, self-respect and solid maintenance…

The praise stops dead at the mini-gym facilities at TRHS. So much rancid clothes littered the change room that the smell was like thrusting your nose into an old runner. Fetid clothes were balled up in lockers with doors open, some hanging nearly off.  One expensive football helmet was on the floor.  Another, abandoned on a bench. A faucet leaked freely. A few walls appeared to barely remember a coat of paint.

If the point of this demonstration of student irresponsibility and institutional neglect was to impress on the tour members the urgency of a new gym, it did not have the desired effect on me. Yes, the facilities are inadequate, but they are made worse by neglect.  Taxpayers are not blind to this ploy which needlessly pits parents against those who would like a rest from ever-increasing school budgets in a time when those lucky enough to be employed are squeezed by frozen wages and escalating costs.

Maintenance of the facilities continues to impress this year after a tour of the high school, middle school and performing arts center  – everything clean, neat and in good repair.  The two new modular units are fabulous and for a rent-to-own cost of $35,000 a year, not a bad deal.  I was especially pleased to see the mini-gym and other athletic facilities we toured showing more care by both the school and the students.  The smell was considerably improved, nothing was openly leaking, the walls were painted, for the most part, and equipment was respectfully stored.  A+ for effort.

If I were to offer a theme to the tours, it might best be characterized as “Doing the best with what we have which is far from perfect.”   Attendees were shown numerous rooms and spaces being used in ways different from their intended design, such as storage areas converted to small offices, labs having to also accommodate desks, shower areas used as storage, even spaces in the PAC being repurposed.  To some extent, this is a normal development in any building.  In my own home, my dining room is in what was once the living room and my office is in what was intended to be the dining room.  With schools, architecture reflects pedagogy and pedagogy changes faster than buildings.  The other pressure I observe on facilities is a proliferation of course offerings needing very specific facilities even in the face of falling enrollment.  This is not a criticism in itself but an area to be watchful.  Any way we can help students gain employable skills as early as possible is to be promoted, and the CAD lab is an outstanding example of this;  however, “aerospace engineering” is also being offered for the first time this year.  Really?  My son has a degree in aerospace engineering and he didn’t begin any aerospace courses until the second year of his university studies.

As for some of the athletic facilities, they are obviously inadequate and poorly designed from the get go.  The science labs are crowded.  Do we need a new mini-gym?  A new high school (as planned)?  Last year I wanted to see academic improvement before investing in athletic facilities and my feelings have not changed there.  Some money directed to better science facilities should be considered so long as we have the teachers who will make good use of them.  Modular labs, if there are such things, might not be a bad investment to see if facilities really do generate academic improvements, or failing this perhaps another modular unit for more classroom space to allow some of the existing labs to be expanded and enhanced, once all the course offerings are rationalized.

In other news, the district’s insurance surplus about which I blogged in August has been taken in cash rather than being used to defer future insurance premiums.  That is a good thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, School Board Issues