Monthly Archives: April 2014

School Board Argues About its Role

The school board has three functions, I’ve been told: hiring the superintendent, setting policy and approving the budget. That, I’ve learned, is where we differ. I see the board’s role as an oversight body for the SAU, curriculum, instruction and everything else.

This article from the Tri-Town Times, April 24th edition, shows just one flareup of this ongoing disagreement. Reprinted by the kind permission of the publisher and with thanks to the author. (Erratum: the article quotes a Mr. Russ Collins. In fact, Russ Collins is safe in Sandown. The school board member is Mr. Rob Collins.)

Tritown School Board Report Apr 24 2014

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Filed under School Board Behavior, School Board Issues

Radio Host Girard Takes Up Gorman Right to Know Request

Cathy Gorman is a Sandown representative on the Timberlane Budget Committee. She made a Right to Know request of the district, as a private citizen, concerning a social values survey 10th Grade students at TRHS are being asked to take. She was not pleased with the response she received from the SAU. The firebrand Manchester radio host took up her cause on his show yesterday morning. Being very well versed in New Hampshire’s Right to Know law, Girard devoted a good part of his show to the issue of school surveys and Right to Know responses.

Since the show aired, Ms. Gorman has been told the information she requested is available, for the price of 50 cents a page. Rich Girard also filed a RTK request of the district for exactly the same information but he cites case law that he says requires the district to provide the information in electronic format for free. We shall see what transpires. If he prevails, then the SAU policy of charging 50 cents a page, not providing electronic documents and requiring pickup at the SAU office from 8:30-4 Mon-Fri will wither on the vine where it belongs. This is a new policy by the way which was not adopted by either the Timberlane School Board or the SAU Board but was imposed unilaterally by the SAU.

Here is a link to the outspoken segment: Girard at Large 4/23/14

Yesterday, Girard’s website mistakenly described the segment by substituting my name for that of Cathy Gorman’s. Mr. Girard apologized for the error and it was eventually corrected, but to set the record straight everyone should know that I do not have a Right to Know request outstanding with the district at this moment (though Mr. Green does) and that Dr. Metzler did not send me an email that could be construed as arrogant or contemptuous of the law, which is how Rich Girard described an email response to Ms. Gorman. I hope Dr. Metzler and the school board will understand the error was not mine and I did everything I could to correct it promptly.

Also in the news was a dispute at the last school board meeting concerning meeting minutes. Thank you to the Union Leader for thinking this was of broader interest. The article did not mention all of my disputed amendments but focused on my proposed editorial note concerning erroneously reported NECAP scores at the April 3rd meeting. It should be noted that teachers and administrators have had the NECAP scores for months before they reported them to the board and the public. Much is made of these scores internally and pedagogy is designed around the results, yet two of the 11th Grade results were inaccurately reported to the board. The math score was the most material error. The school board was told the 11th Grade NECAP math score showed 38% of our students proficient or better at math. The actual figure reported by the DOE is 33%. The board voted against correcting the record in the minutes.

Timberlane Board Debates Minutes Proceedure
You can see the Vimeo recording of this meeting at http://vimeo.com/album/255898/video/92338555

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Filed under Right to Know issues, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Behavior, The Mushroom Farm

Dr. Metzler’s Visit to the Sandown BOS

On April 14th, Dr. Metzler met with the Sandown Board of Selectmen to answer questions from them and the public. Cathy Gorman preceeded him with comments about her difficulty getting detailed financial information on the full-time kindergarten program to be implemented in September and her Right to Know requests.

Unfortunately, I had a family obligation that night and could not attend; otherwise, I would have challenged a number of Dr. Metzler’s statements. The Vimeo recording is not yet out of the meeting, so what follows is my reconstruction of Dr. Metzler’s statements from one viewing of the meeting on Channel 17.

M: The School Board is discussing the budget now and moving numbers around.
DG: I have not missed a meeting of School Board since the default budget was voted and there has not been one single breath about the budget. If budget numbers are being moved, this is without any deliberation of the board.

M: The School Board has a plan to drive Spanish into elementary grades one advancing year at a time.
DG: This has not been discussed at the school board level. Dr. Metzler has said he intends in future to introduce Spanish to other elementary grades, but this particular strategy has not been discussed.

M: Timberlane cost per student is under the state average.
DG: The state published cost per pupil figure has a significant lag. The per pupil cost Dr. Metzler is citing is actually the cost under Mr. LaSalle’s final (2012/13) budget. Our per pupil cost has risen significantly in the past two budgets, and the comparable DOE average for 2013/14 will not be available until later this year.

M: The revenue from full-time kindergarten will fund the cost of the other elementary Spanish teacher required for the higher grades as Spanish instruction advances grade by grade.
DG: Show me the money. Cathy Gorman, Sandown rep on the school budget committee is highly skeptical that full-time kindergarten will even pay for itself let alone fund another staff person in the elementary grades to teach Spanish. Furthermore, how are parents going to feel to know their tuition for FT kindergarten is funding public education?

M: The textbook Mrs. Green requested was removed from the high school and moved to the SAU so she would not disrupt classrooms.
DG: The history text I requested to see was left for me at the high school front office. I would not have even been in a hallway let alone a classroom. Although flattering, in reality it’s been at least 40 years since my presence in a high school was disruptive. The text was made available to me at the SAU office a day and a half after it was removed from the high school.

M: Mr. Green’s information requests would take thousands of pages. I invited him in to meet with me on Sunday but I was alone all day.
DG: Mr. Green was never invited to meet with Dr. Metzler on Sunday. (He would be happy to post the entire email exchange with Dr. Metzler concerning his information request.) Further, Arthur’s requests are what anyone would expect a budget committee to receive – with perhaps the exception of balance sheet information. My husband is not insisting on balance sheet information and would just like to get what our financial reporting system produces. There is no need for Dr. Metzler to be in his office on weekends cobbling numbers together. His staff has simply to hand over standard financial reports. Mr. Green, a member of the school budget committee, continues to wait.

Here is what Arthur Green requested in order to be prepared for a knowledgeable understanding of the proposed budget when it is presented on November 13:
Proposed Information Baseline for 2015/16 Budget Preparation
Background materials to be provided by September 30 (earlier if practical):
• 2013/14 Budget Year
• 2014/15 Budget Year
• final expenditures and revenues by function and object code
• format as live spreadsheet .xls format (Microsoft Excel XP)
• list of carryover expenditures into 2014/15
• final approved (default) budget, updated with impact of Warrant Articles,
including revenue
• format as live spreadsheet .xls format (Microsoft Excel XP)
• full 2014 tax impact form including ADM and assessment – in draft if final
version is not available
• Staffing reports as prepared for NH DOE showing FTE details for calculation of
student/teacher ratios
• Complete organization chart
• for each position, indicate
• Position Title
• Employee/Contract
• Reporting relationships
• Full time or % time
• Classification per the Annual Report staffing matrix
• Classification per the NHDOE FTE staffing returns
• Bargaining unit or equivalent
• Professional Certification
• Position vacant
• Annual salary

• Format to be discussed, preferably live spreadsheet
• Balance sheet including
• Depreciating assets – vehicles, computers etc
• Real Estate, including breakout of land and building values, book value,
• Short term and long term debt
• List of upcoming special items impacting 2014/15 but not included in budget –
NH pension, health, NHDOR etc.
current value
Supporting materials to be provided together with the 2015/16 first draft budget:
• Headcount projection per annual report
• FTE projection per NHDOE format

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Filed under Budget Committee, Fill-time Kindergarten, Sandown Issues

Don’t Write to the School Board!

Last night’s School Board meeting resulted in some decisions you may not like. I don’t like them one bit.

No-Bid Contracts Here to Stay

Close on the sensible heels of the school board’s no-bid contract for Mrs. Metzler’s consulting services, the board seems set to approve a policy allowing no-bids in perpetuity.

Timberlane’s Policy Committee is suggesting this language be included in policy DJE, “Bidding Requirements:”

Specialized educational and related services are exempt from this policy when the interests of children so dictate (i.e. textbook purchases, psychological services, etc.) Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review and may not need to go out to bid. [Words in bold are changes to the existing policy.]

I moved to amend it as follows: “Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review by the School Board and may not need to go out to bid for a maximum of three years.”

This reasonable amendment was resoundingly rejected by the board. If the policy goes thorough as currently written, and there is a very good chance it will, you will have many more no-bid contracts…. just so long as the “needs of the district” are continuing to be meet. The needs of the taxpayers need not trouble us.

Dr. Metzler Stays in the Know but the School Board Doesn’t

The board also voted to direct all emails addressed to TRSB@Timberlane.net to the School Board Chair and the Chair only- oh, and Dr. Metzler. The Chair will reply and will not copy other board members. Board members will see the correspondence at the next board meeting and only then. Dr. Metzler will receive correspondence in real time, but the board will have to wait as long as two weeks to see what is on the mind of their constituents.

This disagreeable arrangement arose as a result of seeking legal advice on Rule #5 of the infamous School Board Rules. Previously, TRSB@Timberlane.net directed your emails to every member of the board. If a constituent answered a reply from the board by replying to the entire board, an unintended online “meeting” could have transpired in contravention of the Right to Know Law.

The district’s counsel gave three suggestions for dealing with the danger of group emails, none of which included leaving the group email arrangement as it was. The Board adopted the first option. The second option was to save all correspondence addressed to TRSB to discuss at the next board meeting. The third option eliminated TRSB altogether in favor of individual board member emails.

The board did not have an attractive choice in any of the three. My own preference was to leave things as they were and to caution correspondents not to “reply all” or reply back to TRSB. Instead, your representatives are now being left in the dark about your concerns until the next board meeting. Even then it will be challenging to keep up with the correspondence folder in the middle of business. Board members asked the SAU to keep a folder of recent correspondence on hand for board members to view at the SAU as they wished. Dr. Metzler refused which to my mind adds the element of hiding to the insult of forced ignorance.

Every board member is of equal authority and every member has a right and a duty to see what concerns the public enough to write to the board. I am not comfortable with delegating to the School Board Chair replies to my constituents and I certainly expect to be told about concerns from Sandown in real time – not 14 days later and after a reply has gone out from the Chair.

The long and the short: Please don’t write to the TRSB if you wish all board members to be aware of your issue. Send your email to each member individually.

21st Century “Learning”

Anyone watching the April 17th meeting who did not also watch the previous board meeting would not know that Mr. Strainge was responding to comments I made at the April 3rd meeting where I questioned Dr. Metzler about a front page story in the Eagle Tribune, replete with pictures, of 163 students from 11th Grade participating in Depression Era Days. For an entire day these students enjoyed experiential learning by building cardboard shelters, standing in a simulated soup line and watching a feature film, Cinderella Man. “Was this a good use of our few 180 instructional days?” I asked.

This triggered a massive response at the last meeting. All board members were greeted with an approximately 200 page photocopied document with the Depression Day instructional material including assignments and 39 sample student feedback responses. To the shock and disapproval of my fellow members, I said that the student responses were not 11th grade level. The responses were five sentences long, hand printed, and unremarkable. This is not a criticism of the students because I know our students can rise to excellence or I wouldn’t be on the School Board. My criticism is of our expectations of the students.

Dr. Metzler said I didn’t get modern instructional philosophy and Mr. Collins apologized to the teachers for my insulting behavior in criticizing their pedagogy. To that I say we have the absolute minimum number of instructional days required by the state. Our students are below both state and national averages in SATs. Half of our most academically ambitious students do not get credit for their AP courses. How’s 21st Century Learning working for you?

If the emperor is wearing clothes, please send me a fabric sample.

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Filed under Sandown Issues, School Board Functioning

A Year Late but a Good Start

In an astonishing but encouraging move, the Timberlane Budget Committee voted last night to direct the administration to deliver a flat-line budget for the 2015-2016 school year. Given the plunging enrollment, this is again much too generous, and the danger is that the flat-line will get bumped up by other wants which the budget committee will not have the heart to resist. But that isn’t the biggest danger by far.

The administration has previously told us they intend to spend our $2 million surplus. The SAU thinking seems to be: “You give us a default budget, we spend all the surplus.” This means that even with a zero percent budget increase, taxpayers are still going to get slammed because we will have to come up with $2 million more than we did in the 2014-2015 budget cycle. (The surplus offsets taxes by reducing the amount of money needed to be raised by the towns to fund the budget.)

Our tax impact for this coming year is going to be staggering and a close repeat of last year. You’ll recall, Sandown’s school taxes went up 9.5% in December. Here are Arthur Green’s* projections for this coming December tax bills:

ESTIMATED SCHOOL TAX INCREASE FOR 2014-2015**

Sandown: +8.2%
Danville: +9.1%
Plaistow: +3.6%
Atkinson: +0.2%

Overall district school tax increase: 4.6%

Keep in mind these increases stand on the giant shoulders of all the previous increases. Going forward into the 2015-2016 year without a “significant surplus” as Dr. Metzler has said, we are likely to be looking at yet another big tax increase. That would be three giant tax increases in three years.

The default budget was lower than the proposed budget by a mere $500,000. The surplus has been around $2 million for the last four years. So, although the Budget Committee has made a good start, we, the taxpayers, are hardly out of the woods. They need to save our surplus.

This is why I made a motion at the last School Board meeting to get monthly reports of district expenditures. My motion did not even get so much as a second because your elected officials do not think it necessary to oversee the SAU’s spending. Not our job, they say over and over again. I’ve yet to figure out what job the School Board actually does have that they haven’t given over to the SAU.

This is also why Arthur Green at the Budget Committee meeting last night made a motion to get monthly expenditure reports. Only Cathy Gorman from Sandown voted in favor of that motion – even though RSA 32:22 says the Budget Committee can request expenditure reports.

In truth, it is unlikely any elected people can stop the SAU from spending all the money voters have given it – including the surplus. A flat-line budget for taxpayers would mean a cut of $2 million in a zero percent increase budget. That’s the very least this Budget Committee should be going for.

Good start Budcom. Now help us save the surplus and you’ll be real heroes.

*Full Disclosure: Arthur Green is my husband of 36 years. Despite my best efforts, my opinions in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect his.

**This is based on tax impact information presented by the SAU at Deliberative Session, adjusted for the default budget and Warrant Article 6, the collective agreement with support staff. These numbers could change somewhat due to fluctuations in Average Daily Membership of the towns and impact fees the towns receive.

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Filed under Budget Committee, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, Taxes

Learning Nothing and Making You Pay for It

In an email sent out to the entire school board on April 7, 2014, the school board chair wrote this:

“Our legal fees generated by requests and criticisms from outside the SAU will mostly likely exceed $10,000 this year. This would include Right-to-Know requests, the Recount, and defending ourselves from a possible lawsuit by the ACLU. We will need to increase our legal budget line to accommodate this.”

This speaks volumes. Let’s look at the excuses for more budget padding one by one.

1) Right to Know requests. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the law knows when a RTK request is legitimate. It does not take a lawyer. The district would not find itself besieged with so many Right to Know requests if it was forthright with information in the first place. I can say this with confidence because as a member of the school budget committee, I was forced to file THREE Right to Know requests to obtain information that should have been forthcoming as a matter of course. A current budget committee member is into her second Right to Know request right now. The radical increase in RTK requests in the district is a symptom of flawed policies. Rather than asking you to pay more, they should be reforming their ways.

2) The election recount. Democracy has its costs. If the union would have lost by four votes, you can bet they would have called for a recount, too.

3) The ACLU action. There is no dispute that once a lawsuit is filed, district lawyers must get involved. But the ACLU did not file a lawsuit. This left the door open to the most sensible thing — to simply retract the School Board Rules that were patently unconstitutional. That would have been the end of the issue and no district lawyers need to have gotten involved. Instead, someone ran to a lawyer without giving the board an opportunity to discuss the issue and decide if the board thought legal advice was necessary. This was a complete waste of taxpayer money.

It was the board’s own overweening desire to control dissident members that got them into trouble. Then they compounded the problem by reflexively running to a lawyer when a simple solution was at hand. The district is asking you to pay more for an expense that was not needed to fix a problem that was completely avoidable in the first place.

Lesson Not Learned

Fast on the heels of the above email came this one by high school administrator Mr. Strainge:

Dear Mrs. Green:
After our conversation on April 3rd regarding your wish to see the proposed AP Textbook I have been reminded by Madam Chairperson Steenson that all requests for materials must go through the Board Chair and not through direct contact with administration. If you wish to make that request for access to the proposed textbook it must go through Madam Chair Steenson. I thank you for your attention to this matter as we navigate the waters of Board protocol.

My request for the text was both perfectly sensible and entirely innocent. The school board is being asked to approve a new AP textbook so naturally I wanted to see the text before giving it my vote. It was waiting for me at the high school front desk on Friday. Today it is not available to me, (but I’m told will be at some future date).
This “protocol” I supposedly violated is nothing more than an attempt to limit the information that school board members receive from sources other than the Superintendent’s office.

Let me point out that it is a good thing I do not get all my information from official sources. After a whole delegation of administrators presented the NECAP results at the April 3rd school board meeting at great length, a sharp-eyed citizen pointed out that the 11th Grade math test scores were reported at 38% competency when the state reports the results as a dismal 33% competency.

Here is my email in reply to Mr. Straigne’s diplomatic email that I sent to the entire school board:

Madame Chair,

The board is being asked to approve an AP textbook at our next meeting. While Mr. Strainge was shaking our hands at the last meeting, I innocently asked to review that text book. Mr. Strainge most kindly and immediately said a copy would be made available to me, as is only what one would expect. This was waiting for me at the HS. Now it is no longer.

It has been made clear that my request needs to go through you. So not only all communication directed to staff has to go through you, but all information from staff as well. I am left breathless by the scope of control you continue to try to exert over the elected officials in this district.

I expect that the text book I have requested will be made available to me immediately.

I also expect all the invoices related to the check register we are asked to sign at every board meeting be provided to me three days days in advance of every meeting.

Please understand that my expectations are not subject to your discretion.

I also wish you to understand that all emails from you and Mr. Collins will be, at my discretion, reproduced on my blog.

Donna Green
Sandown representative on the Timberlane School Board

From subsequent emails from Dr. Metzler and former Board Chair, Rob Collins, I have learned this board policy has been in place for at least a year and is not the current Chair’s doing. No doubt, but if the intent were not to control information and only to organize it, why was the textbook withdrawn from the HS front office? I was denied the textbook on Monday either out of a peevish desire to punish me or to control information.

Madam Chair has twice written to me that my behavior is “making a mockery” of the district or school board proceedings. The mockery going on here is of the taxpayers who think they have representation and oversight.

There is something seriously wrong with the flow of information in this district, and the restrictions placed on your elected representatives by the board itself.

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Filed under School Board Behavior, The Mushroom Farm

Sweeney Todd Reconsidered

After a number of persuasive online comments and the student forum, I have to say that the commentator who said I was underestimating the maturity of high school students was probably correct. Perhaps, too, I’m overestimating the influence of art.

One position not subject to reconsideration, however, is concerning the issue of censorship in the initial decision to cancel Sweeney Todd. It is still my thought that exercising adult authority for the benefit of children is not censorship but wisdom.

Thank you, all, for a lively, interesting debate.

Now we await the administration’s decision.

Timberlane Players, give my regards to Broadway!

UPDATE: Dr. Metzler has announced the show will go on.

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Filed under Sandown Issues