Monthly Archives: October 2013

Timberlane Board Rescinds Previous Vote; SAU Board Ignores Urging to Question Budget

I’ve said it before and sadly I will say it again: the next time I praise the Timberlane School Board, someone please hit me with a wet noodle.  Tonight, Oct. 23, in a special meeting, the Timberlane School Board rescinded their vote of last week to recommend that the New Hampshire School Boards Association call for the elimination of the federal Department of Education.  Chairman Collins began the meeting by taking the floor and diving into his own presentation to rebut Mr. Barczak’s presentation of the previous week, for which Mr. Collins was not in attendance.  Mr. Barczak tried to raise a motion to block reconsideration but Mr. Collins refused to cede the floor and continued with his Powerpoint. Afterwards Mr. Barczak countered Mr. Collins’ points and exceptionally lively discussion ensued.  It should be noted that the special meeting announcement did not provide notice of a reconsideration which, though not strictly required, would have been more forthright.

NOTICE OF SPECIAL MEETING
The Timberlane Regional School Board will meet on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 immediately following the 7:00 pm SAU Board meeting at the Superintendent’s Office, 30 Greenough Road, Plaistow, NH. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss their NHSBA Resolutions voted on at their October 17, 2013 Board meeting.

The word “propaganda” was used numerous times with respect to Mr. Barczak’s material which was highly insulting to him and all those who believe, as I do, that federal involvement in education is a hindrance to achieving our own excellence. One member expressed the opinion that politics should not be part of school board matters to which Mr. Barczak responded that if we don’t change the politics, we can’t change our outcomes, and our outcomes nationally are flat lined academic achievement in the high school level for decades.  Well, Mr. Barczak, it was a fight worth having and my hat is off to you. [See TRSB Votes on Eliminating the DOE for his presentation.]

Board Ignores Request to Question Budget

In matters closer to my heart,  a staggering $93,000 has been added to the SAU’s proposed and default (2014-2015) budget for employee insurance benefits.  I made an impassioned plea to the Timberlane members of the SAU board to question Mr. Stokinger as to how that $93,000 figure was determined.  There has been no public explanation and not one of them asked for details.  They accept that it’s perfectly reasonable to budget for every single SAU employee to now take health insurance and their intellectual curiosity stopped dead at the idea of asking how much insurance costs per employee, how many employees currently take the insurance, and how much the buyout is for those who don’t take the insurance.  Why question something you know nothing about?  It is only other people’s money after all.

The SAU has 13 employees and a budget  now of $288,000 for health insurance for 2014-2015.  This is up 48% over one year. Dr. Metzler has said repeatedly that this increase is because the SAU budget must now stand alone rather than being a line item in the school districts budgets.  He says this without blushing.  How can a separate corporation’s budget be affected by going before the voters as a stand alone budget rather than being parsed into two different school district budgets as an untouchable line item?  The answer is, that it isn’t affected at all.  The SAU is telling the taxpayers that they now have to budget for the worst case scenario of every single SAU employee taking insurance benefits.  Why didn’t they have to do this before even to a small extent, and how is that possibly related to the budget now having to stand on its own?   If you think there is something else going on here, you’re not alone.

We’re told repeatedly that if the money is not spent on insurance it will be moved forward to the next budget as a surplus. That sounds reassuring, doesn’t it.  Let me remind you that this is a bottom line budget and money from any line can be used for any other line.  Furthermore, once funds become a surplus they then become part of the entire bottom line budget the next year and open for use as salary increases and anything else a growing, “understaffed” bureaucracy requires.  By the way, the SAU passed their proposed budget tonight, up 10% over this year’s approved budget, and there is no other opportunity to change either the proposed or the default budget.*

The SAU board did us all a disservice tonight, but they did do one thing for us.  They showed us what a “respectful” budget looks like and how a respectful board responds to someone asking some fundamental questions.

*Let me explain why I say there is no other opportunity to change the budget.  There will be a public meeting held on the SAU budget on Nov. 13.  As long as anyone I know can remember, the SAU budget has not been substantially changed based on public feedback. The SAU board is not required to change their budget based on the public hearing, and in practice they don’t.

This posting is corrected for some clarification as to budget years from its first posting at midnight Oct.. 23, and to clarify that detailed questions about the $93,000 were not asked. Mr. Barczak and Mr. Mascola did mention the $93,000 increase.  Also added is an explanation of how the public hearing affects the budget.

 

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

In 23 Advanced Economies: U.S. Adults Rank 21st in Math Skills | CNS News

Adults in the US are well below international averages for developed countries in literacy and numeracy.

In 23 Advanced Economies: U.S. Adults Rank 21st in Math Skills | CNS News.

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Filed under Sandown Issues

TRSB Votes on Eliminating DOE!

In a move that both astonished and delighted me, the Timberlane Regional School Board voted 4 to 3 in favor of recommending to the New Hampshire School Boards Association that they advocate for the elimination of the federal Department of Education.  Sandown’s own Mr. Barczak made a presentation of devastating factual forcefulness, pointing out that federal involvement in education has not resulted in any improvement in academic achievement whatsoever despite the DOE’s budget growing SIX times since 1980.  He also noted that TRSD receives about $2 million a year from the federal government, most of that coming from the DOE, but that the approximately 9000 households in our district contribute on average $900 each to the DOE.  This translates to about $8 million dollars a year from us to the DOE – or more than $6 million above what we get back. We would do better, he argued, keeping that money ourselves and directing our own education from top to bottom.  His persuasive presentation is reproduced below. Read it and see if you are not also convinced.

NHSBA Proposal 20

Kudos once again to Mr. Barczak, who always does his homework and does it well.

The meeting was held on Thursday night, October 17, 2013.  The figures cited for contribution per district household were calculated based on 2010 information.

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Filed under School Board Issues

“Unintended Consequences” are Neither for Stand Alone SAU Budget

Watching the SAU  meeting on October 9th you would think that the wisdom of voters this March to separate the SAU budget from the school districts’ budgets was the worse thing that could ever befall an SAU.  Members of the SAU and its board noted many times the so called “unintended consequences” of stripping out the SAU budget from the school budget.   (Mr. Barczak, Sandown’s own, thank you for not disrespecting the voters by joining that chorus and for offering two extremely insightful questions during the budget discussion.) I encourage everyone to watch the first 35 minutes of the meeting , but here are the controversial highlights in which everything that ails a budget is blamed on the successful warrant article.

1)  EMPLOYEE HEALTH BENEFITS UP BY NEARLY 50%

Last year’s SAU budget allotted $195,000 for health insurance for the twelve SAU employees, many of whom opt for a buyout.  This year the proposed budget is at a whopping $288,000 (round numbers). The explanation?  What if every member of the SAU who is currently taking the buyout suddenly decides to take the insurance?  We have to cover ourselves!

Dr. Metzler had this to say:  ” In the past, [the SAU budget] was a line item in a much bigger budget…  What you saw [in previous SAU budgets] was what we really spent…   This is a direct result of the warrant article that  passed  … we need to budget for total exposure at the SAU for what it costs to run the SAU. … in the past it was just a line item in a larger budget. Now it is a stand alone budget. So if everyone were to exercise that benefit, we would not have the money in the SAU budget to pay for it.”

The SAU admits that they did not in the past budget for the contingency of more people opting in to the insurance program.  They did not do this in the past but now must do it BECAUSE IT IS A STAND ALONE BUDGET.   This  implies to me that the SAU was dipping into the district’s budgets when they had a shortfall.  In fact, this is what they admitted to doing with the superintendent’s search.

Mr. Stokinger:  “If you recall, the recruitment costs [for the new superintendent] the SAU couldn’t afford. .. so I apportioned it to the two districts…. because we didn’t have it in the [SAU] budget.”  [Vimeo 18:30 and on.  My emphasis.]

So I’ll let you judge if this result  of the SAU having to fully document all its expenses in a stand alone budget is indeed an unintended consequence for the voters.

2) VOTERS WILL REJECT THE BUDGET AND VOTE FOR THE DEFAULT SAU BUDGET

Previously, the SAU did not have to prepare a default budget because their budget never had to stand before the voters.  Now it does.

Jason Cipriano, member from Hampstead, asked what would happen if voters rejected the now larger SAU budget in favor of the default?  Here is Dr. Metzler’s reply:

“…[W]e’d have to look at the money allocated for raises, we’d have to look at the insurance costs, and we’d have to take a look at what we have for personnel here but we’d have to respect the will of the voters and work within the budget that they voted for. We put together what we believe is a respectful budget.  I will say it, that warrant article drove up our budget.  That’s the fact. It also drove up the default budget. Direct result of that warrant article. …”

Now how does making a budget stand on its own two feet drive up costs?  It doesn’t, unless it wasn’t standing on its own two feet before, which we now know is what was going on.

Jim Stewart. another Hampstead member, adroitly noted that since both the budget and the default budget included extra money for insurance benefits: “Even if the budget got rejected, the default  still contains some extra money that may or may not be spent.”

Now default budgets are a funny thing, but they absolutely should not be stuffed full of unjustifiably large and indefensibly pessimistic expenses.  I don’t find that respectful in the least.

3) NOW WE CAN’T GIVE RAISES TO THOSE WHO DESERVE IT!

Dr. Hoppa:  “This is one of those unintended consequences of that warrant article passing… this warrant article takes away the executive power of this board that we’ve had very healthy debates …. as far as to how to assign executive raises and merit raises, for all the SAU staff . We lose that power due to the warrant article effectively… and now it limits our ability, depending on whether the voters accept or reject this, to provide appropriate feedback thru monetary awards…. ”

If voters, in their wisdom, reject a budget because the raises are too generous, their elected officials should take a message.  Rather than think voters stupid, they should view the result with some humility: “Hey, do you think a 3% raise every year might be too much?”

This year Dr. Metzler asked for a pool of money equivalent to an across the board 3% raise to award on merit.  Merit based raises are great, but a 1.5% pool is more than sufficient in my opinion.  But I’m happy to leave that up to the voters.  Clearly Dr. Hoppa isn’t.

So just what untoward unexpected consequences is the SAU complaining about?  Their raises will have to be subject to voter approval?  Their budget will have to fully reflect the entire costs of running the administration?

As for the large increase in insurance benefits, this is an insightful lesson in budgeting politics. The Town of Sandown budgets one extra insurance subscriber each year.  Given the uncertainty over Obamacare, maybe two new subscribers might be prudent for the SAU.  Anything more is padding the budget.  Watch the meeting here:   http://vimeo.com/76638920

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition

Tri-Town’s “Correction” was a Clarification

I’m happy to report, though I apologize for being late in doing so, that the Tri-Town’s paragraph entitled “Correction” which I cited in my last blog was itself subsequently corrected by the paper to be a clarification.

The note concerning Ms. Gallo’s respectful request for members of the public at school board meetings not to use electronic devices had always been intended to run as a clarification and its heading as a correction was an error.  The correction to the correction ran in the Oct. 3, 2013 edition.  Thank you Tri-Town.

Now perhaps Ms. Gallo will issue a correction to her objectionable position.

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Filed under School Board Behavior