Monthly Archives: March 2014

ACLU Challenges TRSB “Rules”

The New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a letter to the Timberlane Regional School Board challenging the unconstitutional nature of their recently adopted “Board Rules.” This is very good news. Read this article about it in the Union Leader: Unconstitutional Board Rules

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Press Lashes Out

Today, March 28, the Eagle Tribune has an excoriating editorial on Timberlane’s “censorship” which mentions both the current controversial cancellation of a planned future production of Sweeney Todd, and the School Board Rules, subject of my previous blog. Razor of Censorship

March 25, the Union Leader ran an article about my refusal to sign the “School Board Member Ethics/Expectation” form presented at the meeting on March 20th. I am just the second member of the board to refuse to sign. [Note: The reporter mistakenly used the word “intent” when I had used the word “interests.”]

Here is the article: Timberlane School Board Member, a blogger, balks at ethics policy

The third last provision of the code is the one to which I voiced objection and which prevented me from signing:“Take no private action that will compromise the Board’s actions or decisions, and respect and support such actions and decisions as made by the majority vote or consensus of the Board.” This, I feel, would stop me from blogging.

I have my differences with the school board and occasionally with Dr. Metzler; nevertheless, it pains me to see our district in such a bad light. Clearly, however, there are very substantive issues at stake here such as the freedom of elected officials to speak freely and openly, and how much direction school leadership should have in artistic ventures and student social media. Obviously, members of the school board should not be restricted in what they say or to whom. I am most grateful to the media for their interest and outspoken objection to the school board rules and the “ethics” policy.

The other issue is different to my mind.

When the district hired Dr. Metzler, I wrote this about him: “…knowledge, character and service are fine values for all citizens and refreshing talk from an academic leader who does not seem uncomfortable with moral leadership as well.” Given the violence around us, Dr. Metzler should be supported for taking a stand against a musical about serial murder, cannibalism, and other depraved behavior. We need to encourage positive values in school. Sweeney Todd is musically sophisticated so I can see the attraction for our ambitious music department, but in school, artistic examples of people behaving well should be the diet. This is not censorship, this is sound moral leadership, something so old fashioned it sounds odd to even read, but when we lose sight of it, we will regret it.

My comments are, of course, my own and not a reflection of the school board or Dr. Metzler’s.

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Eagle Tribune: TRSB Bars Members from Talking to Press

At my first meeting as a school board member, I argued against and voted against brand new school board rules written by Mr. Collins. Here is an article in today’s Eagle Tribune concerning one of the eight rules. The rules themselves are posted below. They were adopted 7-2. Mr. Peter Bealo voted against them as well.

TRSB bars talking to press

SCHOOL BOARD RULES
The MISSION of the Timberlane Regional School District is to engage all students in challenging and relevant learning opportunities, emphasizing high aspirations and personal growth.
1. Board members are expected to treat each other with respect and professionalism.
2. All discussion will be germane to a specific agenda item.
3. A Board member, once recognized by the Chair, may not hold the floor for longer than 3 minutes. That Board member may retain the floor for an additional 3 minutes if approved by the Board.
4. A Board member wanting to add items to an agenda will contact the Chair. The Chair and Superintendent will decide whether or not to add those items to the agenda for the next meeting. If they decide not to then any Board member may ask the Board to approve an agenda item for the next scheduled meeting, during “New Business” of the current meeting.
5. All email addressed to the TRSB@timberlane.net will only be addressed by the Chair.
6. All communication to anyone within Timberlane (excluding subject matter related to your child’s education at Timberlane) must move through Chair. If the subject matter is related to a specific committee then it may move through the committee chair. Committee chairs may utilize their co-chair (SLT member) to relay or obtain information.
7. All decisions made by the Board will be supported by all board members regardless of how a member voted. Efforts to undermine a decision will not be tolerated.
8. All communication to the press will be provided by the Chair. Board members contacted by the press will not comment and direct the press to contact the Chair.

Nancy Steenson, Chair
Kate Delfino, Vice Chair
Timberlane Regional School Board
Adopted March 20, 2014
TIMBERLANE REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

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Now to the Recount….

Although the recount resulted in an identical four vote margin in favor of the collective agreement, they were not the same four votes because the overall number of total votes changed in the recount.

The March 22 recount took place at the Middle School cafeteria. Coffee, water and muffins were served. Each town had a table behind which was seated four ballot counters, two were school board members, two were paid individuals. Either in front or behind each table were two observers who volunteered their time in the service of the petitioners of the recount. (Thank you, observers!) There was also a police officer from each town present presumably to protect the ballots.

First the sealed boxes were opened. Then the yellow school ballots were separated from the white town ballots. After this the ballots were sorted into piles of 25 and counted. Then the ballots were separated into “Yes”, “No,” “Blanks,” and “Questionable” piles. Observers could challenge a ballot if they felt it was placed in the wrong pile.

The questionable ballots were voted on by the recount board which consisted of all the school board members (minus myself), the school district moderator, and the school district clerk. Their job was to determine if the ballot clearly showed the voter’s intention. There were a small number of questionable ballots at three tables that I saw, possibly at all of them.

After the ballots were all sorted, they were again separated into piles of 25 by “yes” and “no” and then counted again. The moderator announced the results by overall number. The SAU posted the results by town shortly thereafter. http://wp.timberlane.net/blog/2014/03/results-of-ballot-recount/

For those who feel the recount was a waste of tax dollars let me say that every town had a change in final vote.
Plaistow plus 11 YES, plus 12 NO
Atkinson plus 1 YES, minus 2 NO
Danville 0 change YES, plus 2 NO
Sandown plus 1 YES, plus 1 NO

In total there were 26 more votes counted in the recount but the overall split between the yes and no was even leaving the original four vote split the same.

Though I would have wished for a clearer explanation of the rules and the procedure at the start of the morning, the moderator conducted himself with great integrity throughout the morning and the recount gave no one reason to doubt the final result. The voters have spoken and been heard.

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Recount results: Union wins

By four votes more to the yes, the Support Staff Union prevails.

Congratulations to the victors.

More later.

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Filed under 2014 Recount

Spanish Consultant Contract

The consultant contract is 8 pages:
Spanish Consultant Contract

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Filed under Sandown Issues

A Citizen Speaks: Arthur Green’s first address to the school board

Presentation to the Timberlane District School Board

March 20, 2014

My name is Arthur Green, of Sandown.  I am scheduled to be sworn in to the Timberlane Budget Committee in a few days, but I appear today as a private citizen.

This being the first meeting since election day, this is the Board’s first opportunity to deliberate the rejection of the proposed budget, and the resulting changes needed to operate on default budget for 2014/15.

I was surprised and concerned to learn from coverage in the Eagle Tribune March 14 that Dr. Metzler plans to carry on with the Full-Day Kindergarten which was the principal new feature of the proposed budget.

I don’t wish to debate the merits of this program, on which there are differences of opinion.  I wish to focus exclusively on the implications of the default budget.  The default budget does not include the new Full-time Kindergarten positions, benefits and furniture purchases, which means that the program is not funded.

As a voter, my expectation is that Full-time Kindergarten has been eliminated from the budget. I believe that my expectation is widely shared, particularly amongst those who voted against, and defeated, the proposed budget.

I am fully aware that the district operates on a bottom-line budget, and that funding can be redirected from the approved budget lines. However, budget training material published by the LGC in 2012 entitled “The Municipal Budget Process” states that a default budget means a budget freeze, and no new purposes.

No Full-Time Kindergarten.

It may well be that the Timberlane District has legal advice that there is no prohibition to proceeding with the program if the money can be reallocated within the voted default budget. But I do not see how the district can take that course yet still claim to have heard the message sent by the voters.

No Full-Time Kindergarten.

The program is claimed to be funded by fees, so the board may hope that there is no net expenditure. But the voted default budget restricts expenditure regardless of the claimed offsetting revenue.

No Full-Time Kindergarten.

On March 14, Dr. Metzler released a video with the very alarming suggestion that the coming (2014/15) year would not be passing on a “significant” surplus to the 2015/16 year. Every dollar of surplus spent in the coming year is an additional dollar to be raised in taxes the year after.

Timberlane has deliberately carried forward a significant surplus from year to year – for the past five years it has been consistently about $2 million. I have repeatedly heard this surplus defended in budget committee as a prudent buffer against unexpected emergencies, and I agree with the need for a contingency.  The 2015 default budget fully funds all non-discretionary increases from the 2014 baseline, so adhering to the default budget is no justification to draw down the surplus.  If the Full-time Kindergarten program is truly self-funding as claimed, it gives no reason to draw down the surplus.

If the surplus is spent, the consequences for the December 2015 tax bill will be severe. For example, in Sandown the December 2014 school tax bill will go up an average of 7.6% based on the default budget alone. If we did not have the $2 million surplus this year, that increase would double to 15%.  We don’t know yet, of course, what the school tax rate will be for 2016, but without the surplus to offset it, it will be a catastrophe to many taxpayers of this district.

I have two requests to make of the School Board.  I call upon you to vote up or down on the Full-Time Kindergarten program. This program is contrary to the clear intent of the voters in holding the district to a default budget. If it proceeds despite that let it be because this board takes a vote.

Second, I call upon you to give direction to the administration that the surplus must be conserved. If the district proceeds to spend all the funds allocated through the default budget, let it be because this board takes a vote.

I look forward to taking my place next week on the budget committee to help the district deliver an excellent, effective, affordable education program for the students of our towns.

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Filed under Fill-time Kindergarten, School Board Functioning

Ballot Recount on Saturday, March 22, 2014 and Other News

Eight teams of ballot counters will be at the Timberlane Middle School cafeteria at 8 a.m. on Saturday.  Friends are stepping forward to be observers.  Eight are needed.

The public is welcome to attend. (Expected duration around 4 hours.)

Results will be reported here.

In other news, Mr. Collins has undertaken to have the Spanish consultant’s contract to me before the School Board meeting tonight, in fulfillment of my Right to Know request.

And in the good news department, the Sandown Board of Selectman appointed Arthur Green to the school budget committee to fill my vacant seat.  The board will enjoy his quiet, logical approach to budget issues.

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Filed under 2014 Recount, 2014 TRSD Warrant ARticles, Budget Committee, Spanish Consultant Contract

Consultant Contract Terms and Election Recount Coming

THE CONSULTANT CONTRACT THAT MUST BE SEEN BY RIGHT TO KNOW

If you are new to Timberlane doings, you might think the administration would be proud of the great bargain they have got by hiring the Superintendent’s wife and whip out the contract in delight to anyone who might ask to see it. But no.  I have to wait the 5 business days the law allows to take a gander at a contract the School Board was so pleased to pass that they did not address one single word to it in public.

I also requested the Request for Proposal SAU 55 sent to SERESC in order for SERESC to suggest Mrs. Metzler for this contract.

STAY TUNED.  You’ll know when I know.

RECOUNT PETITION FOR SUPPORT STAFF COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT

The new support staff union at Timberlane had their collective agreement pass by just 4 votes.  Today, March 14, I delivered a petition to the SAU office calling for a recount of Article 6.  I want to be sure that such a big and lasting change for our district is truly the will of the voters.

I’m awaiting notification of the time and place of the recount.

AGAIN, STAY TUNED.  You’ll get the news on both of these here first – unless the district gets religion and decides to release the contract as any normally functioning district would. But then, a normally functioning district would not want even the appearance of nepotism.

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Violation of RSA 32:5 Pinocchio Academy Continued

This is a continuation of the post of March 13, 2014 entitled, Pinocchio Academy and the Mushroom Farm.
Here is an email exchange between me and the school board chairman, Rob Collins, after I discovered a significant change in the Sandown kitchen renovation warrant article as presented at Public Hearing in January, and then as presented at  Deliberative in February.  RSA 32:5 prohibits warrant article changes between Public Hearing and Deliberative, especially those concerning costs.
Feb 7, 2014
Mr. Collins:
I noted that the warrant for the Sandown kitchen was changed from public hearing to Deliberative.
Why was the cost increased?

As these changes were not discussed at the public hearing and did not arise out of the hearing, could someone kindly help me understand the RSAs that allow this change?

I’ve not before encountered a warrant article change between public hearing and deliberative that did not arise from public hearing. How does that work?

Thanks for helping me understand the process.
Mrs. Green
————————————————————————-
Mr. Collins replied on Feb. 8, (PH being Public Hearing and DS being Deliberative Session):
Typo on the slide at the PH.

What was presented at the DS was consistent with everything else (what we approved in a Board meeting, handouts at the PH and everything at the DS, not to mention the handouts at various BOS meetings).
———————————————————————————–
I replied on Feb. 8:
Mr. Collins:
THESE ARE SERIOUSLY DIFFERENT VERSIONS.  PLEASE EXPLAIN THE LEGALITY IN THIS SUBSTITUTION OF ONE ARTICLE FOR ANOTHER. I consider this a very serious matter and I expect a serious and studied answer.

At the Jan 14 public hearing on the budget, Warrant Article 5 read as follows:

  • Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $335,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital Reserve Fund?  (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)(The funds for this article come from existing money in the District’s Capital Reserve Fund, not from additional taxes.  This article, therefore, will not increase the 2014 tax rate.) 
At the Deliberative this is the version presented:
  • Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $385,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital Reserve Fund with remaining funds ($50,000) to come from the 2014-2015 operating budget?   (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)
Thank you,
Donna Green
————————————————————————————————
Reply from Mr. Collins, Feb. 8, 2014

Mrs Green,

The warrant as written at the DS is correct and was what was approved by the Board in December.  I assume the slide at the PH was an honest mistake.  There was no “substitution.”

—————————————————————————–

My reply to Mr. Collins, Feb 8, 2014

Mr. Collins,

This is an extremely serious matter and I advise you not to lie to me.

In the tax impact handout Mr. Stokinger presented to the Sandown Board of Selectmen, it showed no tax impact concerning the kitchen.  In the substituted version presented at deliberative, there is obviously a tax impact.

The whole article changed as did its tax impact.  The article presented at deliberative was never discussed by the budget committee and was never seen by the budget committee until deliberative session. Furthermore, I have the handout from the public hearing and the budget committee voted on this version and YOU read the warrant at public hearing.

This was a clear and flagrant substitution and it was absolutely illegal.

Donna Green
—————————————————-
Mr. Collins replies   Feb, 9, 2014 (WA means Warrant Article):
The meeting where the WAs were approved was 1/9.

You can view it here: https://vimeo.com/84140196
The discussion around the SC kitchen WA begins at 1:01:16.
————————————————————————————–
The Vimeo shows the board approving the version that was read at Public Hearing. Because of this, I made an official Right to Know Request on Feb. 8 to get at the bottom of the issue.  (My third in total.  I am now onto my fourth.) The email was address to the entire Budcom and School Board.
Mr. Collins and Dr. Metzler:

This is an official Right to Know request for the following information:

1) Provide the name(s) and title(s) of the individual or individuals who authorized the change of Warrant Article 5, “Sandown Central Kitchen Renovation” from the Jan. 16, 2014 version presented at Public Hearing to the version presented at Deliberative Session on February 6th, 2014.

2) Provide all documents and emails relating to the Deliberative version of Warrant Article 5 to include minutes, memos, emails and any other captured communications such as visual and/or audio recordings. Demonstrate when this version was presented to the Budget Committee and the school board.

The public hearing version of Warrant Article 5 read as follows:

  • Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $335,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital Reserve Fund?  (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED) (The funds for this article come from existing money in the District’s Capital Reserve Fund, not from additional taxes.  This article, therefore, will not increase the 2014 tax rate.)
The Deliberative version read as follows:
  • Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $385,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital Reserve Fund with remaining funds ($50,000) to come from the 2014-2015 operating budget?   (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)

Donna Green

Member of the Timberlane Budget Committee

__________________________________________________________________________
On Feb 12, Mr. Collins finally gave a full accounting of the history of the changes:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Following is the sequence of events surrounding warrant article 5 (WA 5).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12/12/2013 Budget Committee meeting.  The Budget Committee approved the 2014-2015 operating budget including the equipment line containing the $50,000 that will be used to purchase equipment for the Sandown Central kitchen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12/19/2013 SB meeting.  A draft of WA 5 was presented, the wording was as is below.

Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $385,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $385,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital reserve Fund? (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)(The funds for this article come from existing money in the District’s Capital Reserve Fund, not from additional taxes.  This article, therefore, will not increase the 2014 tax rate.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1/9/2014 SB meeting.  A draft of WA 5 was presented, the wording was as is below.

Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $385,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $385,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital reserve Fund? (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)(The funds for this article come from existing money in the District’s Capital Reserve Fund, not from additional taxes.  This article, therefore, will not increase the 2014 tax rate.)

After some discussion that is detailed on Vimeo (starting about 1:01:15 https://vimeo.com/84140196) the Board decided to decrease the total in WA 5 from $385.412 to $335,412 fully understanding the remaining $50,000 would be taken from the 2014-2015 operating budget.  We also decreased the amount in WA 4 from $400,000 to $350,000 to be in line with WA 5.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1/16/2014 Public Hearing.  WA 5 was presented, the wording was as is below.

Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $335,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize tha District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital reserve Fund? (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)(The funds for this article come from existing money in the District’s Capital Reserve Fund, not from additional taxes.  This article, therefore, will not increase the 2014 tax rate.)

After the Public Hearing the SAU contacted district legal counsel on the Board’s behalf.  It came back from them that the best way to present WA 5, given the intent of the School Board, was as was presented at the Deliberative Session.  Please see attached letter.

The School Board must post the final warrant articles “on or before the last Monday in January” (as described in RSA 40:13).  Cathy Belcher sent an email out for the purposes of posting the warrant on 1/27 (the last Monday of January) fulfilling the legal obligation of posting on or before the last Monday in January.

The wording in the posting of the warrant articles on 1/27 for WA 5 was as is below and is identical to the wording presented at the Deliberative Session.

Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $385,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital Reserve Fund with remaining funds ($50,000) to come from the 2014-15 operating budget? (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)

Recommended by the School Board 8-0

Recommended by the Budget Committee 8-1

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2/6/2014 Deliberative Session.  WA 5 was presented, the wording was as is below.

Shall the voters of the Timberlane Regional School District raise and appropriate the sum of $385,412 to renovate the kitchen at Sandown Central Elementary School and to authorize the District to withdraw up to the sum of $335,412 from the existing School Building Construction, Reconstruction, Capital Improvements and Land Purchase Capital reserve Fund with remaining funds ($50,000) to come form the 2014-2015 operating budget? (MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED)

Recommended by the School Board 8-0

Recommended by the Budget Committee 8-1

This is the wording that was approved and recommended by our legal counsel.  This is the wording that was approved by the legislative body at the Deliberative Session and this is the wording that will go on the ballot.

As you can see there is no real substantive difference between the version from the Public Hearing and the version posted on January 27th.  Both versions remove $335,412 from the Capital Reserve Fund and $50,000 is used from the 2014-2015 operating budget reflecting what was decided by the School Board in the 1/9 meeting. Our legal counsel support and recommend this change.

Let me be very clear, the $50,000 from the operating budget is already budgeted for as equipment, went before the budget committee as such and was approved by the budget committee on 12/12/2013.  The Board will use those budgeted funds like we will use any other budgeted funds in the approved operating budget.  The version presented at the Deliberative Session is the same version that was posted 1/27 and is the same version approved by district legal counsel.  This version is a more accurate and transparent description of what we will actually do.

Please do NOT “reply all” if you feel the need to comment or ask additional questions.  Please move through your Chair and do NOT reply to your entire committee.  We have procedures we need to adhere to regarding 91-A, please follow them.

Mr. Spero, if members of your committee have questions that need answering please let me know and I will attempt to address them at your next meeting.  I would also like to add a word of caution in that the purview of the Budget Committee does not include warrant articles and therefore the Budget Committee holds no authority regarding them, in any way.  Please remember that if we do discuss in a meeting.

Mrs. Green, if you still feel the need for us to consider your RTK request please email Dr. Metzler and myself directly.  Otherwise, I will consider this issue closed.

Rob Collins

TRSB Chair

_______________________________________

On Feb 13 I sent this email to the entire budget committee.  It is addressed to the Budcom chairman and reads in part:
Greg,
I would like procedural issues and the WA #5 with  Mr. Collins’ response put on our agenda as an agenda item at our next meeting.  ( “New” or “other” business will not be sufficient.)
Thank you for your kind attention to this,

Donna

____________________________________________________________
Of course this will never be discussed at a Budcom meeting.  Elections have come between and I am no longer on Budcom to pursue violations of the law.  Why does any of this  matter?  Well, apart from the attempt to pass off a violation of the law as a typo, the Budget Committee voted on the  article after Public Hearing.  Those recorded votes were then slapped on a materially different article at Deliberative and represented as our vote! Even apart from misrepresenting the Budget Committee’s vote to the  public, I have learned that it is imperative to jump on seemingly small infractions because they invariably become larger ones.  Here we have a clear violation of state statute.  This was shortly followed by a violation of policy against conflict of interest and nepotism. The School Board will ignore all criticism and the Budget Committee, planted in cool, moist, growing medium, will let them.

RSA 32:5 in part:  II. All purposes and amounts of appropriations to be included in the budget or special warrant articles shall be disclosed or discussed at the final hearing. The governing body or budget committee shall not thereafter insert, in any budget column or special warrant article, an additional amount or purpose of appropriation which was not disclosed or discussed at that hearing, without first holding one or more public hearings on supplemental budget requests for town or district expenditures.

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Filed under Budget Committee, DELIBERATIVE 2014, School Board Behavior