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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8 Comments

Filed under School Board Behavior, The Mushroom Farm

8 responses to “Learning Nothing and Making You Pay for It

  1. Rob Collins

    Mrs. Green,

    I think it would be most appropriate and would demonstrate your dedication to transparency for you to post Mrs. Steenson’s reply, in its entirety, here on your website. Posting a selected phrase out of context is not transparency. I think your constituents would be very interested in what she has to say.

    The “protocol” around school board members communication with Timberlane personnel is detailed in school board policy BHC. I know you are aware of this policy because Dr. Metzler sent it out to the entire Board yesterday, well before your post above was published. This policy has been in place since 1983 and most recently revised in June, 2011. The specifics of Board communication with Timberlane personnel are also detailed in our newly adopted School Board Rules. You had no issue with the rule regarding communication when it was deliberated in our meeting on March 20th and you voted to adopt it in our last meeting, April 3rd.

    School Board policy BHC is posted online at the TRSB website here:
    https://public.timberlane.net/sau/trsb/Policies/Section%20B%20-%20School%20Board%20Governance/BHC%20Board%20Staff%20Communications.pdf

    School Board rule related to communication with Timberlane personnel:
    ~~~~~~~
    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.
    ~~~~~~~
    I’m looking forward to seeing Mrs. Steenson’s reply posted here on your website.

    Rob Collins

    • I will reply to your posting soon.

    • Skeeter

      Mr. Collins wrote:
      The “protocol” around school board members communication with Timberlane personnel is detailed in school board policy BHC.

      BHC Policy:
      Board Communications to Staff All official communications, policies, and directives of employee interest and concern will be communicated to employees through the Superintendent, and the Superintendent will employ all such media as are appropriate to keep staff fully informed of the Board’s actions and concerns.

      The TRSB pays the NH School Board Association pays for the services to write School Board Policy http://www.nhsba.org/policy.asp and then adds on top of what is paid for by the taxpayer with further recent rules not in School Policy?

      Simply, Mrs. Green asked for a copy of an AP Text Book at a public meeting where the Chair and Dr. Metzler was present.

      What do you propose Mr. Collins, no longer Chair, that she should have walked the few paces to the Chair and said what? Madame Chair, can you go ask Mr. Strainge, who is standing right there, for a copy of the AP Textbook?

      The bigger question is why the childish behavior to remove the AP Textbook after it was at a front desk for her viewing?

      Answer: Childish attempts at Control to have all it your way.

      • Rob Collins

        Skeeter,

        Not childish but protocol. All communication and requests move through the Chair, over to the Superintendent and down to the appropriate personnel. All of us on the board follow this policy. It’s really quite simple to understand, has been in place for some time and brings an order to our business that is much needed. You should see what it is like without this order in place. Multiple board members asking for various things about many issues. It gets pretty crazy quickly and it places Timberlane personnel in an uncomfortable position inappropriately.

        Rob

    • I am learning a lot re. the school board and their responsibilities thanks to Donna. She has really opened up the lines of communication. Thank you Donna. I clicked on your link, Rob, and read the school board policy re lines of communication. The biggest impression I got from that was the Superintendent has an awful lot of power to control the flow of information. Is this why there has been an increase in “Right to Know Requests”? Is that the path one takes if they cannot get the information they are requesting? I thank everyone for their time and participation in this. My children are the most important thing to me and my husband and they are certainly learning a lot these days re. their rights, especially in relation to freedom of speech.
      Lisa Tapley

      • I have another question. If the school board is being asked to approve a new AP book then why wasnt it provided to them? Wouldnt every board member want to look at it before approving it?
        Lisa

      • Lisa,

        This is my first moment to reply to this topic and Mr. Collins. You know, I was quite taken aback by the slapdown I got for not follow protocol to the letter. It seems to me everyone would want to see this book and that the reply should have been, “Hey, we should make this available to everyone…. here you go!” Instead, it was a punitive response for a small breech of protocol, a protocol which, given the response I received, I now believe is designed to control board members and not expedite the administration’s response to requests. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind going thru the Chair for requests, but I certainly resent having all information back to me channeled through the administration. This textbook situation demonstrates how this policy, when strictly enforced, quickly descends into absurdity. To tell you how extreme the lockdown on communication is in the district, when I attempt to email anyone with a Timberlane.net address, I get an automatic response from Dr. Metzler saying that he would like to meet with me to discuss my concerns about the school district. In other words, my emails are copied to Dr. Metzler. (At first I thought they were intercepted and maybe forwarded to the addressee, but now I think they are just copied.) I don’t know if I am the only person to whom this is happening. (One parent had it happen once…. not repeatedly as I had believed.)

        Why would I want to reach out to other Timberlane staff without going thru the Chair?

        Well, before I was a board member, I needed to arrange a time to get sworn in by the district clerk.
        I did want to reach out to Mr. Holland to help me activate the autonotification feature on the private Sharepoint site for SB members – but I didn’t. Tell me how efficient this is for me.
        I also need to communicate with Ms. Belcher for SB business, occasionally. When she emailed me that the textbook was ready for pickup, I responded and got what was probably my 20th autoresponse from Dr. Metzler.

    • Since it went to the entire board, why don’t you post it yourself Mr. Collins?

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