Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Battle at School Deliberative: Feb 6

Gentle Readers:

Taxpayers, parents and school administrators are going head to head in a pitched battle at school deliberative session on Feb. 6th.  In the words of Shakespeare’s good King Henry V rousing his soldiers against seemingly hopeless odds:

And gentlemen in Timberlane now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Deliberative day.
 
 But guess what?  Our odds are not hopeless.  We can get this budget cut with a compelling argument and some favorable numbers.  I will deliver the argument which I am working hard to make short and hard hitting.  [The Moderator has now given me permission to use the projector.]  You must deliver the numbers. Please!

Tell all you see that this is not an attack on education.  This is saving the school district from itself.  When institutions grow beyond the ability of people to pay for them, one of two things happen: the institution collapses or the people are impoverished.  Families must be able to afford homes in our towns. They must have enough private resources to offer their own children advantages that can’t be replaced by school – travel, private lessons, cultivation of hobbies, etc.

When it comes down to the most selfish motivations, we all have a personal stake in education for our own personal safety.  Young people with bright futures do not become thugs.  Our property values also increase with a desirable school district.  Right now we have taxes so high we fear our houses will not be marketable, and a school district that continues to underperform despite significantly more money than a respected neighboring school (Pinkerton). Higher budgets hurt families and all property owners without helping the school district come to grips with its fundamental problem:  a long history of poor management.  There is new management now, and new promise, but  ever increasing budgets in the face of plummeting enrollment does nothing but enable the old practices.

Tell your friends to visit Timberlane2015.wordpress.com for more facts about the 2014-2015 Timberlane budget and why it is imperative to cut it this year at this meeting.  See you in battle.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, DELIBERATIVE 2014, Sandown Issues

DIRE PREDICTIONS FROM SCHOOL BOARD OFFICIAL

   [Jan. 27, 2014]

Keep reading to see  a letter forwarded to me, purportedly written by the School Board chairman, Rob Collins, predicting the sky will cave in if a campaign to reduce the proposed school budget succeeds. Mr. Collins’ letter is a prime example of what is wrong with our elected officials.  Don’t look for solutions, just keep siphoning more of the taxpayers’  money and insulting them when they object because it’s all for the children.  Is it really?  It is very instructive that he predicts awful things for the children and their families in just the first phase of cut backs. The district’s primary mission is to advance the students  so why is it that they are the first on the line when there are sensible budget cuts?  Do you see any administrators being let go in this first phase? Any secretaries?  Non-teaching teachers?  Nope.  Right away children have to go without.  If Mr. Collins is seriously suggesting these are possible consequences of a budget with no increase, parents should realize that the district is putting their own employees before the children they are charged to protect and instruct.

In this letter, Mr. Collins accuses me of wanting to cut $3.5 million at a budget committee meeting but what he fails to tell you is that motion was made when the proposed budget stood at $3.7 above the previous budget!  Furthermore, that motion was to direct the school administration to come back to the committee with a plan as to how they would deal with a flat lined budget. The asked increase in the budget is now $2.5 million.

If the moderator will give me a chance to speak and show slides, I will prove that cost increases can be restrained without hurting children in any way – unless the administration decides to implement them in the most irresponsible way possible, which Dr. Metzler almost certainly will not.  I can say absolutely that if any of these outrageous and alarmist things Mr. Collins is predicting come to pass, it will be only because there was a will to retaliate – not because it was necessary. (The Moderator has so far refused to allow me to use school equipment at the Deliberative.)

P.S.  Timberlane has begun a new Capital Improvement Plan review.  Dr. Metzler has said publicly that all options are on the table – including the closing of Sandown Central.  So Mr. Collins’ threat to Sandown parents may come to pass whether or not they vote to restrain this out of control budget.

Here is the letter:

Hello,

I’m sending this along to my friends and neighbors within Timberlane.  Part of this is from a message I’ve sent out before that you may have received through other channels and the rest is an update so please read on.

There is an organized effort out of Sandown to reduce the budget at the Timberlane Deliberative Session, Thursday night 2/6 at 7 pm at the PAC.  The woman who we believe to be directly involved with this effort is on the TImberlane Budget Committee.  During their meetings she proposed several budget cuts, the largest $3.5 million.  They were all voted down by the committee and she is now turning her attention to getting enough people to decrease the budget at the deliberative session.

Legally there is no limit to how much the budget can be decreased at the deliberative session.

I’ve been in consultation with the Superintendent and if a $3.5 million decrease were to move forward the School Board would be forced to make many difficult decisions because we would not be able to sustain our current status at that level of funding.  Following are the consequences of a $3.5 million decrease in the budget, in no particular order.

  • Close Sandown Central and, as a result, overcrowd other schools
  • Eliminate middle school and freshman athletics
  • Introduce a fee to play for all other athletics at the high school
  • Reduce music staff and programs
  • Introduce a user fee for participation in music programs
  • Reduce the current engineering program at the high school – Project Lead the Way
  • Collect a fee for transportation to and from school
  • Increase class sizes

I am being told this would be the first phase.  After assessing the situation we may need to consider further cuts.  We do not want to even consider any of these but if we do not have enough people supportive of the schools, and our mission to improve all of our children’s education, in the room on February 6th then we might have to.  It is imperative you attend the deliberative session.
PLEASE forward this to anyone you may know within Timberlane supportive of the schools.

We are taking this situation very seriously.

—————————————————–This is a re-post with small changes from Timberlane2015.wordpress.com      A site devoted to Reducing the 2014-2015 Timberlane District Budget.

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The worrisome issue with SAU salaries

In something of a sea change, the administration is now providing generous amounts of information to me and fellow Timberlane budget committee rep., Cathy Gorman.  After feeling embattled and stymied for months, it is a welcomed change. But there is still the nagging issue of the SAU salaries for 2014-2015 which have not been disclosed.

In emails with Dr. Metzler and his consummately professional assistant, Cathy Belcher, the SAU argues that because the SAU  is awarding merit-based increases to its employees in the 2014-2015 year, it cannot report individual salaries in advance.  Not even the base salary?  Here is what Ms. Belcher explained to me in an email on Jan. 24, 2014:

What is different now is the process for budgeting whereby a line by line listing of SAU staff salaries is no longer generated because the SAU Board has done away with across the board raises and has authorized the Superintendent to award merit raises instead.  This means the Superintendent will pay SAU staff from a single pool of money (not individual line items) beginning 2014-15.

This means two things:

  • All SAU budgets going forward will not have salaries broken out by positions
  • The public will not know individual raises

Why does this matter?  Let me explain.  It is likely that voters will prefer the SAU default budget for 2014-2015, which means SAU employees will not get raises from the new 2.5% merit pool that was built into the proposed budget.  Think one year ahead to 2015-2016.  Another default budget is elected by voters. The SAU default budget is almost certainly once again going to have inherited a bloated insurance line because it stuffed its health insurance line in the 2014-2015 default budget.  Because there will be a tempting chunk of unneeded money sitting on the insurance line, there will be money to move around into raises. What voters approve, after all, is a bottom line budget, and the governing body is free to move the money around from line to line.

A number of people have told me they don’t believe a public body can give raises when they are running on a default budget unless the raises were contractually stipulated.  I questioned this and here’s the answer I got on Jan. 23, 2014 from Paul Sanderson, a lawyer from the Local Government Center:

The salary line in the default budget has a value.  However, the governing body still retains the right of transfer within the budget, and because salaries are a public purpose, they could transfer in or out of this line as needed. ….Thus, even with a default budget in place, a governing body could elect to make compensation changes using the power of transfer within the lines in the budget. 

It remains to be seen if any of this will happen but it is a logical possibility, made all that much easier by not giving us individual salary information, information which is most decidedly covered by The Right to Know Law. Merit-based pay is good and Dr. Metzler should be commended for this  advancement. Using it as an excuse to hide salary information however is an outrage.

Addendum:  Dr, Metzler has assured me that the budgeted 2013-2014 salaries are a good reflection of the base salaries for 2014-2015.  I questioned this because of salary adjustments that could have been made since the 2013-2014 budget was approved. His assurance otherwise means the 2013-2014 salary information we do have will serve as a baseline for SAU salaries for the 2014-2015 budget year.  But where does this leave us in subsequent years?  As years get farther away from the 2013-2014 base there really won’t be an accurate way of knowing SAU salaries unless the SAU institutes a practice of disclosing them at year end.

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What Does the District Have to Hide? PART II WITH CORRECTION

This year is very special.  It is the first year people in our district will be able to vote to reject the SAU budget. It is the first year the SAU budget will have to stand up to voter scrutiny. Because this year is so special and so much is on the line for the SAU and its budget, the SAU is keeping some sensitive information out of the public eye; namely, what it pays to each of its employees.

Salary figures are public information subject to the Right to Know law. Mr. Jorge Mesa-Tejada an eagle-eyed Hampstead resident, requested the salaries of all the SAU staff as is normally published in the SAU’s  proposed budget information package.  This year the salary information was missing.  Mr. Mesa-Jeada has made numerous requests to the SAU for this information.  To date, they have not provided it, making me now keenly interested to see it, as you should be, too.

Just so you know, the SAU budget is up 10%.  Timberlane’s SAU bill is up 10.66%.

[CORRECTION: IN A PREVIOUS VERSION OF THIS POSTING I SAID THE SAU BUDGET CAN BE CHANGED AT DELIBERATIVE. THIS WAS AN ERROR. I FAILED TO REVIEW RSA 94:C PART b. APOLOGIES TO MY READERS. THE SAU BUDGET CANNOT BE CHANGED AT DELIBERATIVE.]

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

What Does the District Have to Hide? UPDATED

UPDATE:  TWO DAYS AFTER THE POST BELOW, THE REQUESTED STAFFING INFORMATION WAS PROVIDED BY DR. METZLER ON JAN. 21, AT  2:13 p.m. 

________________________________________

As a School Budget Committee member and as a private citizen through the Right to Know law, I have been trying to obtain the number and general classification of staff in the district for the current budget year and the proposed budget year.  The district has refused to give me this information claiming it is not “available.” As a result, I have not been able to determine how much the staffing in the district has grown in the last year.  I know that the proposed budget includes 10 net new positions but I cannot determine how many net new positions have been created since June 30, 2013.  Why is the district refusing to release this information?  At the Hampstead school district’s public hearing for the budget, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Wilson was fully forthcoming about the staffing metrics in Hampstead for their proposed budget. What has Timberlane got to hide?

The staffing matrix that I’m requesting is published in every annual report; however, the most recent information available during budget deliberations was for the 2011-2012 year.  Based on my repeated requests, the administration released the 2012-2013 staffing matirx on the evening of Jan. 15, less than 24 hours before the public hearing.  I am demanding the staffing matrix for the current budget year and the proposed budget year. It’s important to note that the school budget committee approved a budget without this staffing information for three years!

To show you my efforts to obtain this information and the refusal of the district to release it, I offer you this enlightening email exchange between me and the school board chairman, Mr. Rob Collins on January 17th, two days after my first Right to Know request for the staffing information was denied.

Jan. 17, 2014

Mr Collins and Dr. Metzler:
This is an official Right To Know request for information.

Please provide the following for the school district currently:

Number of teachers

Number of assistants

Number of administrators

Number of secretaries

Number of service facilities staff
Number of cafeteria staff
Please provide the following on which the 2014-2015 district budget is based:
Number of teachers
Number of assistants
Number of administrators
Number of secretaries

Number of service facilities staff

Number of cafeteria staff

The intent of this request is to gain information consistent with the staffing matrix as published in each annual report, so I can compile this matrix myself. A breakdown by school is not required. If you decline this request, state specifically the reason(s) for so doing.
Thank you,

Donna Green

——————————–
Rob Collins, Jan. 17, 2014
Mrs. Green,

 How is this different from your previous request?
——————————
Donna Green, Jan. 17, 2014
Why are you refusing to provide this information?  Please provide the reason as required by law.

Thank you.

————————–
Rob Collins, Jan. 17, 2014
Mrs. Green,

As I stated in my original response, that information is not available.
—————————————-
Donna Green  Jan. 17, 2014
So I’m to understand that the SAU drafted a budget that includes salaries and benefits for an UNKNOWN number of employees/positions?  And that the current budget is also paying salaries and benefits for an UNKNOWN number of positions?
I will be going to the attorney general next as this is patently incredible.
————————————————————————————————-
Donna Green  Jan. 17, 2014
To: Budget Committee Members
Budcom members,

Hampstead’s public hearing provided the public with a detailed staffing matrix with full transparency.  Their budget is also DOWN this year.  I draw Mr. Collins’ attention to pages 23 and 24 in this document where the staffing matrix was fully provided by Dr. Wilson without a Right to Know request but as a matter of course. So Hampstead has this information and they are asking taxpayers for less this year than last year.  Our district supposedly doesn’t have this info…. no wonder it needs a 2.5 million increase.
https://hsdsp.hampstead.k12.nh.us/SchoolBoard/Board%20Documents/2014%20PUBLIC%20HEARING,%20DELIBERATIVE%20SESSION%20AND%20ELECTION%20RESULTS%20MATERIALS/2014-15%20PH%20on%20Budget%20and%20Bond.pptx

————————————–
There has been no reply from any member of the Budget Committee nor the administration.  I have drafted a letter to the Attorney General. My original request for this specific staffing information was on Dec. 9, 2013 as a budget committee member.  My subsequent requests have been as a private citizen under the Right to Know Law. Cathy Gorman, the other Sandown respresentative on the school budget committee, has also had to resort to a Right to Know request.

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2014/15 School Budget Demands 5% More Cash: Sandown Impact UPDATED

This is revised to reflect newly reported revenue for the 2014-2015 year as per Timberlane’s Business Administrator disclosed in the evening of Jan. 15, 2014.  (1/18/14)

If Timberlane’s proposed budget is passed (along with the SAU’s proposed budget), taxpayers in the district will be required to give the school district 5% more taxpayer dollars than in this current budget year.  In Sandown, this 5% raise translates into a potential 7.8% increase in our school taxes because our state aid and impact fees have declined.  We’re not alone in our misery.  Danville may get hit with a 6.6% increase because their education grant has also decreased.* THIS IS ALL BEFORE THE COST OF WARRANT ARTICLES, should any of them pass. [percentages revised 1/15/14]

The school administration is going to tell you that the budget increase is just 2.2%, but that will be deceptive.  The cost of running the SAU has been (rightly) stripped out of their calculations, but because this is the first year this is required, a truthful comparison with last year must include the proposed SAU budget. With the SAU added, the actual total proposed budget increase is actually 4%.  In dollars, that’s $2,569,174. To raise all this additional cash, property owners are being asked for a 5% increase over what they paid this budget year.  And as I’ve noted above, for some towns, coming up with that 5% will drive their school taxes up nearly 8 or 9 percent. Please take a look at the spreadsheet that is linked here for an understanding of each town’s tax impact.

If this budget passes as proposed,  you should know that since 2008, the school district’s cash requirements from the towns will have grown 24.5%.  That’s a 25% increase in SEVEN years.  All this has been happening during the worst recession in modern history AND while student enrollment has plummeted by 17%. [Figures include 2014-2015.] Don’t think this might be because state aid has declined.  In fact, state aid to the district as a whole has actually increased over this period.  Very simply, the school district’s budget is a runaway train.

Now if you really want to see a train wreck in progress, consider the possibility that the new support staff union’s collective agreement might pass to the tune of $248,447.  A staggering 76% of that is for health insurance, so you can be assured that the cost of this agreement will do nothing but rocket up in the years going forward. As it is now and before this collective agreement,  salaries and benefits consume 73% of our district’s budget.

Think you’ll get relief by voting for the default budgets for both the district and the SAU?  Nope.  Even with both default budgets, Sandown’s school taxes will likely go up 7.4% and Danville’s by 6.3%.  This is less than Sandown’s  9.5% bill this year, but hardly anything to celebrate.  ATTEND THE PUBLIC HEARING ON THIS BUDGET ON THURSDAY, JAN. 16 AT 7 P.M.  AT THE PAC.  EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, PLAN TO VOTE AT THE SCHOOL DELIBERATIVE ON THIS BUDGET ON FEB 6,  7 pm at the PAC.

Town tax impact 2014-2015 rev 15 Jan. 2014

*Due to the fact that the district does not give the Budget Committee projected tax impact information, the calculations here assume 1) the average daily membership for each town stays in proportion to what it was in this current budget year; 2) the balance between capital and operating spending is consistent; 3) state aid and development fees are as last year or as estimated by the DOE.  The district’s own estimates will not be shared with the public (or the Budget Committee) until Deliberative. Two members of the Budget Committee this year have made Right to Know information demands of the SAU.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Sandown Issues

My Freedom Of Information Request to the School Board

This is a copy of the email I sent on Dec. 20, 2013.  You might think that the school budget committee as a whole would get the information I request below as a matter of course, but that is not the case, which might make you wonder about the level of scrutiny the budget committee is able to provide.  My request was as a private citizen because the law requires a prompt response. I had previously requested some of this information on Dec. 9th as a Budget Committee member.
Timberlane Regional School Board Chairman, SAU 55
Mr. Rob Collins and Dr. Metzler:

This is an official Freedom of Information request for the following information to be given to me before Jan. 16, 2014:

1) Default budget with a detailed breakout of the salary and benefits lines. Specifically, how was the increase in benefits calculated?  Number and kinds of health insurance coverage, etc. For healthcare benefits, what is the cost for a single plan, a two-person plan, a family plan.  If there is a choice, please provide the cost of each choice as well as the deductible for each and the percentage cost to each employee.  Provide this for union vs. non-union employees.

2) A balance sheet for the district for 2012-2013; projected balance sheet for current year and 2014-2015 if available. This is a statement of assets and liabilities.

3) Exact costs for all new positions included in 2014-2015 budget broken out for insurance benefits, salaries and professional development, etc. with each position specifically identified. I am not requesting names of employees, only position.
4) Staffing breakdown as published in the annual report for 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and projected for 2014-2015.

5) List of all staff in the middle school and high school by specific position, title and salary (names not being requested). Identify all non-teaching positions staffed by qualified teachers (with the exception of teacher’s aids who are involved in assisting with teaching). Show the change in non-teaching positions from 2011-2012 to projected 2014-2015.

Thank you,
Donna Green
Here is Mr. Collins response on Dec. 23, 2013:
Mrs. Green,

First of all, in NH, the proper term is the Right to Know Law not the Freedom of Information Act.

Second, I’ve consulted with the Superintendent about your email.  We will make every effort to provide the information you’ve requested.  It will take some time to pull together given the breadth of the request. We anticipate most everything should be available for you after January 9th, during regular business hours  The SAU will be in touch.  If you desire to make hard copies of anything the staff will be prepared to do so for you at $.10 per copy.  This may not happen the day of your request as staff may be busy with other duties.  Possibly, you could mark the pages needed to be copied with a sticky note and that may make it easier for the SAU staff to find what you need for copying later.

 In providing this information we are fulfilling your request.  If you require further analysis or formatting of the information the SAU will not be available for this purpose.  Any further information requests must be made through myself and DR. Metzler.
 
Happy Holidays!
_________________________________________
Here’s the information request I made on Dec.9th at 9 a.m. four working days prior to what turned out to be our very last Budget Committee meeting before public hearing.  It is addressed to Greg, Budcom chairman, and George, SAU business administrator. Much of the information was forthcoming at the Dec. 12th meeting especially concerning revenue, but some was left outstanding.  I am including this to show just what information we are required to ask for, information I think one might reasonably expect to be presented in the normal course of examination and review.
to TRSD, George
Greg and George:

You might recall that at the beginning of this year I asked to do our deliberations backwards.  By this I meant having the annual report information to us first so we could see the big picture. Revenue directly impacts tax rates so before we vote for a budget increase, we should all be aware of the revenue projections and how solid they are.  Revenue projections for the 2014 yr were given out at deliberative this year.

Please provide for the next meeting:

1) final ACTUAL revenue figures for 2013 in detail

2) up-to-date revenue projections for 2014 (including 2013 surplus amount) and 2015 year.  (Is state aid decreasing?)

3) Balance sheet for 2013

4) Full accounting of the 2013 expended of 61 million.  (Unless I missed something, we have a 2013 expend of 58 million on our district summary… but I can’t find how this turned into 61 spelled out.)

5) School tax rate recap for the proposed 2015 budget broken out by town as in the annual report.

6) Staffing as broken out in the annual report for 2013 year, 2014 year and projected for 2015.

7) Enrollment projection for 2014-2015

8) Actual number of new positions requested in 2015 budget and their salaries and benefits per position.

9) 2014-2015 TTA salary increase (the second of the three year contract and the lion’s share.)

10) All the function codes under Mr. Hughes authority:  2610,2620,2630,2640,2650,4200,4600….. anything else?

Thank you.

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