Monthly Archives: February 2014

My Vote on School Warrant Articles – 2014

Here is my opinion on Timberlane School District warrant items.  This is a letter published in the Tri-Town Times Feb. 27, 2014.

Dear Editor:
As Sandown heads to the polls on March 11, I’d like to explain my votes on the Timberlane School District Warrant Articles in the hopes that others will add to my vote and also to give voters a sense of my candidacy for the School Board.

Article 2: Operating Budget: NO because I believe it was possible to present the district with a level-funded budget this year.  Despite “information” to the contrary, this is a 4% increase over last year’s budget, which I do not believe is justified in the face of significantly falling enrollment and no overall staff reduction.

Article 3: SAU Operating Budget: NO.  The SAU budget is up 10% this year- supposedly because of needing to provide insurance coverage to every single SAU employee. Well run companies find savings within their operations and do not pass all cost increases on to their customers, in this case, the taxpayers. Better cost control needs to be demanded of this organization. Thankfully we have the option of a default budget.

Article 4: Capital Reserve Fund:  NO   $350,000 is too large a contribution and is not necessary.  Furthermore, it is not correct to think this has no tax impact because money not put into the capital reserve fund is used the following year to reduce school taxes.

 Article 5: Sandown Central Kitchen:  NO   $385,000 is a staggering amount of money for a kitchen renovation. Furthermore, a new capital improvement plan has just been launched by the district and the Superintendent has said that all options are on the table – including closing Sandown Central. The proposed renovation is one year premature and way overpriced.
Article 6: Timberlane Support Staff Agreement: NO   The Superintendent says the staff are looking for some security and want insurance benefits with just a modest raise. We simply cannot afford to extend public benefits when we cannot afford the benefits we already provide. The teachers’ pension fund is woefully underfunded and the district is required to pick up more and more of that expense going forward.
Article 7: Special Meeting on Article 6  NO  I would not authorize a special meeting to approve a renegotiated union agreement. If both Articles 6 and 7 are defeated, the Superintendent should take a message and wait until next year to approach the voters again – or let the union petition the court at their own expense.
Article 8 :  Budget Committee doesn’t vote on this.

Article 9: Rescind SAU budget:  Budget Committee doesn’t vote on this but I heartily hope all voters will vote NO to this petition and keep the SAU budget separate so voters can have a default option and can also be very aware of the entire cost of running the SAU, an organization that is strictly administrative.

As always, these are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others are the Budget Committee. Should I be elected to School Board, I will immediately resign my seat on the Timberlane Budget Committee.

Donna Green

 

 

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Filed under 2014 TRSD Warrant ARticles, Budget 2014-2015

Recording of the Deliberative Session

Here is the Vimeo recording of the school deliberative session, Feb. 6th, 2014.

http://vimeo.com/86187592

My presentation is about 46  minutes into the session

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Sandown Speaks

These are comments from Sandown residents who took the time to write notes of appreciation to my husband and me for our efforts at Deliberative.  We are most grateful for the support and continued encouragement.  I’m sharing  them so the world can see the depth of concern in our community.

  • Thank you for all your hard work. It is too bad so many don’t see the truth. I pay over $5,000 in real estate taxes but have no vote in Sandown because we no longer live there. I have rented my house because I was unable to sell it for $175,000 when we paid over $244,000 for it. Please keep up the fight for the town. Your dedication is greatly appreciated.
  • Not only is it harder to pay these outrageous increases – but if you want to move – good luck selling. The first question people ask is “How are the schools?” followed by “What is the tax rate?”
  • I wanted to thank and applaud the efforts you and Arthur put forth-strong work->VERY strong and courageous work. You spoke respectfully and were incredibly well prepared.  And I do believe, even though we got beat back somewhat last night, you have opened many eyes. Please keep up the good work. (our taxes went up 38% last year)
  • I want to thank you and Arthur for all the work you put into your presentation last night. You fought a good fight and I hope that the “for the children” crowd will not deter you from continuing to educate those of us that are not dialed in so we can spread the word and try to end the culture of endless money and bloated administrations.
  • I would like to work on this to understand how to redirect the costs and get control as a community. We are in a dire situation.  Our property values will continue to fall, we have one of the worst markets in Rockingham county.  Still no rebound, still lots of foreclosures and this will continue and drive down values.
  • We want to take this time to thank you for efforts on behalf of the tax payers of Sandown, they were greatly appreciated. It was dishearting that more people from Sandown did not show up to support your effort.  Perhaps after another tax increase they will finally get it.
And this note before Deliberative:
  • Thank you for standing up for the residents of Sandown. Taxes are out of control and I watched the [budget committee] meeting and nobody cared at all about being fiscally conservative at all, except for you. They just keep giving you the runaround. It was sickening to watch. Typical big government tactics. Keep up the pressure. Wish we had a lot more like you!

THANK YOU ALL!   These are serious issues that can be tackled if we work together.  Our strong showing at Deliberative was heard by the administration.

For those who would like to see my presentation from Deliberative, here it is:deliberative slideshow rev feb 6

Deliberative Address rev Feb 4 2014

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THANK YOU SANDOWN!

In an inspiring show of force, nearly 300 Sandown residents streamed into the Timberlane Performing Arts Center last night to have their say on the Timberlane budget.  At one point the voter registration line for Sandown was so long that it stretched into the parking lot. Deliberations had to be delayed by 45 minutes while the supervisors of the checklist gave out voter cards, some of which had to be borrowed from another town, so great was the demand.

Thank you, Sandown, for your show of strength and your active concern about the school budget. Not all of you voted to reduce the budget, but many of you probably attended your fist school deliberative and for that I am very happy.  The district needs the feedback of taxpayers. We should not be spending piles of your money in complete obscurity.

The night held plenty of excitement for the 700 registered voters.  First there was the shocking lie by the school board and administration that their budget is up just 2.2% when it is up 4%, but that was a lie known mostly to people sitting on the stage who did nothing to disabuse the audience.  Then a motion was made by my husband, Arthur Green, to lower the budget by $2.5 million.  After my prepared presentation on the rapidly falling enrollment but the even more rapidly rising budget,  and a pitch to cut things that would have no classroom impact, some  lively debate followed.  Ultimately the motion was defeated 372-239.  My husband has been sick in bed ever since though I think it is due to a cold and not sheer discouragement.

Then a gentlemen running for school board, Mr. Sapia, made a motion to raise the budget by $750,000 to buy new astro truf for the high school.  That went down in flames as will his candidacy, I hope. Last year at Deliberative, Mr. Sapia got $150,000 added to the budget for new lawn equipment and sod care.  One can only wonder what will become of our grounds once his son graduates.

People in Sandown are saying they can’t sell their homes because taxes are too high and the school district is not well regarded, but not enough people in the auditorium shared our desperation. Come next December when feeling helpless indignation at your tax bills, you will know that you at least, did your best to save public education from its own gluttonous demise which will come when people can no longer afford to have children.

Our fight was about affordable education.  Education the taxpayers can afford. Our district has ample resources.  I know.  I see all the underspent lines on the budget.  Why do we give the school district a blank cheque every year with no accountability for the quality of their education? NECAP scores in math and reading were down in 2013.  Our SAT scores are terrible, our AP courses have just 50% of students getting 3 or above when the state average is 75%.  Yet we keep shoveling money into the furnace when we should be opening windows to get some fresh air.  Money is not going to solve our problems.  If it could, it would have already. But money could very well be the ruin of us.

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The Problem in Pictures

These charts are a little too small to easily read here.  (Come to School Deliberative Session on Thursday night to see more.)  The first chart below starts at 2007 and ends at 2015.  Blue bars are enrollment, red line is budget, green line is what was expended.

Budget vs EnrollmentStaffing vs EnrollmentThe chart above shows total district positions in red vs. teaching staff in green, enrollment represented by blue bars, again from 2007 to 2015, using the administration’s own enrollment projection for 2015.  All information for both these charts sourced exclusively from the Timberlane school district. See anything wrong with these pictures? For more, attend school deliberative on Thursday night. 7 pm at the PAC.  There will be ten slides in total and not one will mention tax rates.

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Veil Lifted: Sandown School taxes up 19% in two years?

Exactly one business day after candidate registration closed, the SAU revealed “draft” tax rates for the school district’s four towns. Danville will be the hardest hit with a “draft” increase of 9.5%. Sandown is 8.7%.  If the proposed school budget goes through unchanged, the projected total school tax increase in two years for  Sandown will be 19%.  Danville will be 15%.  IN JUST IN TWO YEARS!

Perhaps with all the improvements going on in the district with their “respectful” budget increases, the library has digitized its copy of The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, leaving only the story of Chicken Little in the administrator’s break room.  The sky will fall if the 4% increase doesn’t pass!

This blog had been predicting a 7.8% school tax increase for Sandown and a 6.6% increase for Danville if the proposed school budget gets passed unchanged.  The “draft” tax reality is considerably worse. Voting for the default budget will give hardly any relief.  The only hope you have of peeling back this outrageous tax increase is to vote to lower the district’s budget at school deliberative on Thursday at 7 pm, at the PAC.

The timing of the “draft” release is interesting.  Dr. Metzler, Mr. Stokinger, Mr. Collins, school board chairman, and Joe Morris, Sandown rep,  attended the Sandown Board of Selectmen meeting last night.  They brought with them the “draft” tax rate at my prompting. This revelation just happened to be after anyone could challenge Mr. Collins on the ballot for his seat on school board.  He is running for re-election in Danville – unopposed.

Tax rates are subject to a little change as they depend on both the town and district revenues and student population of the towns, all of which could change somewhat from the draft, but don’t hold out false hope. The district has been doing these estimates for a long time.

Vote at the PAC on Thursday night to lower this proposed budget, or dig out your old children’s books.  You won’t have the money to buy any new ones.

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SCHOOL BOARD OFFICIALS ADVANCE DECEPTION

The absolute, unmitigated truth is that the amount taxpayers will be asked to pay to support the school district ( including the SAU) is a 4% increase over this current year.  The school board is claiming it is business as usual and the historical annual 2% increases of the past continues unchanged.  This is about as deceptive as it can be.

Here is an excerpt from a letter penned by  school board officials published in the Eagle Tribune on Jan. 30, 2014:  “While striving for excellence, the school district has continued to be respectful of taxpayers. Since 2008, the average annual budget increase has been just over 2 percent. That trend continues with the proposed 2014-15 district budget which is 2.2 percent higher than the 2013-14 budget. It is noteworthy that there are no large renovation or building projects envisioned. We are not building schools! Our focus is on improving instruction.”

Here is my scathing reply, published in the Eagle Tribune today, Feb. 3, 2014:

Many statements in Timberlane School Board member Peter Bealo’s letter last week (”Timberlane advances while keeping budget modest,” Jan. 30) cannot stand unchallenged.

1) Mr. Bealo claims the school district budget went up only 2.2 percent this year. It is actually up 4 percent because the SAU budget has been removed from the school budget this year. In previous years we paid for the school and the SAU in one bill, so to speak. This year, it is in two bills figuratively speaking. Only by ignoring one bill can the district say its budget went up just 2 percent. If you ran your household by this way of calculating, you’d always be going to relatives for a loan, which may explain why Timberlane cannot come to grips with its budget growth.

2) Mr. Bealo further claims the budget went through an “extensive and very thorough process with the District Budget Committee.” I am a member of that Budget Committee and I can tell you it did not go through any such thing. As just one example: More than 70 percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits yet the committee gets no information whatsoever about current or future staffing metrics. I requested this as a committee member and did not get it. I then made a Right to Know request and was refused. I made another Right to Know request and was again refused. The information is “not available” I was told by Mr. Collins, the School Board chairman. This was my reply: “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.” After I blogged about this situation on TimberlaneandSandown.wordpress.com, I received the information – in mid-January, more than a month after the budget had been approved by the Budget Committee.

Just so taxpayers know, the proposed budget was approved by the Budget Committee without staffing matrices for three years: 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. Does that sound thorough to you?

As for full-time kindergarten paying for itself, that remains to be seen. Ultimately I believe it will replace part-time kindergarten and become free. Neither the School Board nor the budget committee respected voters enough to recommend this program “extension” to warrant, and the School Board’s deliberation on the matter was so cursory that the topic never even made it into their minutes.

As for Sandown residents’ “shortsighted efforts to decrease taxes,” the district should remember that institutions collapse when their inability to restrain themselves exceeds the ability of people to pay. We have gotten to that point in Sandown. If this current budget passes unchanged, the district’s budget will have gone up 20 percent in just seven years while having lost 17 percent of our students – more than 800! Who is shortsighted here? Those who recognize budgets cannot go up indefinitely when the population they serve is shrinking, or those who reflexively stick their hand out for more rather than managing staff numbers and benefits?

It is true that Dr. Metzler has made some laudable changes at the district, and I believe he will continue to do so. The list Mr. Bealo provides is leadership accomplishments, none of which required much money. Management has been the problem at Timberlane, not a lack of financial resources.

At the school Deliberative Session on Feb. 6 in the Timberlane Performing Arts Center, taxpayers have a very real chance to vote to change this out-of-control budget. This is not an attack on education, it is an attempt to save public education from itself. Years from now, people will look back on this opportunity and either be inspired that people finally took control or be confirmed in their cynicism that nothing can ever change. Be in the PAC and vote to save our district from itself.

Donna Green

Sandown

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, DELIBERATIVE 2014, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition, School Board Behavior