Monthly Archives: May 2014

Reply to My Two Questions

A few posts ago you may recall two questions I asked of the Superintendent:  Where was the money coming from in the SAU default budget to pay for his raise, his bonus and the 2.5% merit pool for SAU staff?   I also asked what the hiring procedure was for new teachers.

By way of reply of a sort, Dr. Metzler forwarded me policy  GCF, which speaks to the hiring of professional staff.  The policy states that the school board may consider and select only those candidates nominated by the superintendent.  This answers one of my questions:  the school board does not see information about the candidates among whom the superintendent makes his selection.  

The policy, however, does not tell me if the school board sees the nominated candidate’s application or resume.  Are we voting blindly to hire new teachers based solely on the superintendent’s nomination?  I still don’t know and the chairman could not give a definitive answer.

The school board chair kindly spoke to me privately about my hiring procedure question.  She confirmed my own information that Dr. Metzler has changed the hiring procedure.  Previously, the school principal recommended their favored candidate to the superintendent.  Now, principals bring three unranked candidates forward to Dr. Metzler who then selects one.

Having the new procedure confirmed, I then asked how the school board could know that any candidate was indeed among the three put forward by a principal.  The fact is we can’t, because we are given no information about the pool of candidates.  This seems to me a very bad arrangement, not because I doubt Dr. Metzler’s hiring procedure but because I see this as a system that has the school board at a very bad knowledge disadvantage. Remember, school board members are not permitted to speak or communicate directly  with principals – a rule imposed a few months ago.  The school board could never know if a rogue superintendent were hiring his or her own candidates outside of the pool of three selected by the school principal.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not suggesting that Dr. Metzler is doing this.  Not at all.  Nor am I critical of the changes he has made to hiring. My point is only that as a member of the school board I can’t confirm how a candidate came to be presented for our approval. This makes the school board vote nothing but a rubber stamp. If our duties require our vote, it means it requires our knowledge as well .

As for my other question about where the money was coming from in the SAU default budget to pay for raises and a bonus, the chair of the SAU told me the budget line that will be affected is 100.2321.111.57.30.   The list of account codes given to the budget committee does not list a 2321 but it does list 2320 (SAU #55 Budget).  111 is the code for administrative salaries.  So, what I am being told is that the money for the raise, the bonus and the 2.5% merit pool will be coming from the salary line itself.  I find this  hard to believe, but perhaps the SAU is anticipating being half a  person short next year….  We will see come July 1, if – as I have been predicting – money will be taken from the health insurance line to increase the salary line.

A sincere thanks to both board chairs for replying to questions I asked of Dr. Metzler.

UPDATE  6/1/14:   At the last school board meeting, a thumbnail sketch for each of the recommended candidates was given to the board.  Although I was happy with the information given, it did not include  information about the other two top contenders for the positions which would give me more confidence in a vote, but our school board policy forbids this for reasons not known to me.  I appreciate this information but still feel I am being asked to vote for candidates without enough information.  As with all my concerns about inadequate information, it is not because I mistrust anyone but only because I must be convinced that I am doing the very best job I can otherwise my vote is neither useful nor needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues, The Mushroom Farm

End-of-Year Spending Spree Begins

This is how citizens lose control of their school district.

As one Sandown citizen opined, “If we vote to provide money for one thing and then it is spent on something else, that is obtaining money under false pretense and is fraud.”  Well,  that is the way most of us would feel, but that is not the case with “bottom-line budgets” where extra money in nearly any line can be used for nearly any other line.  As a result of this arrangement, towns and school districts can go on a spending spree as they near the fiscal year end.  At town level, the Board of Selectmen decide how to spend excess funds.  They are directly answerable to the voters and in Sandown they give serious thought to taking money out of what would become the surplus at the end of the fiscal year.  At the school district; however, very sizable end-of-fiscal-year purchases can be done by the superintendent alone.

SPENDING SPREE BEGINS THIS YEAR

Yesterday, an hour and a half after the May 22 school board meeting was cancelled, Dr. Metzler announced that the district would be purchasing an elementary literacy program for $120,000.  Perhaps this came from the Educational Shopping Channel because if they acted now, they could save more than $26,000!  So, without discussion at the board level, without any explanation for the need for this program, $120,000 was spent.  Of course I protested, but it was a done deal. Dr. Metzler claims authority for such spending and yes he does have this authority without board approval due to a policy which I’ll explain later and which I consider seriously misguided.

A program of this expense should have been a planned purchase.  Its need should have been explained at a public meeting.  It should have gone through the school budget committee. I would like to have seen comparisons with other programs and an explanation for why what we have currently is not sufficient.  We are long overdue for an inventory of programs and software in the district. I would also like to know why this was not budgeted. All this is not to say that it is not a good purchase, because I cannot judge this based on being given no information about it whatsoever.  My objection speaks only to the way this has been purchased.

Dr. Metzler sent out a message to the board and  the elementary school principals this morning, thanking the board for its support of the purchase.  This was my reply:  Dr. Metzler, Please do not assume my support.  I would expect a need of this magnitude would have been planned and budgeted. This last minute sizable expense should have been defended in a public meeting. 

Let’s be clear.  The board did not give their support or approve this purchase.  We did not even discuss it.  Dr. Metzler broadcasted  thanks for support he did not receive while being well aware that mine was not forthcoming.  Mr. Collins, school board member from Danville, takes offense  that I would have the temerity to reply to a quorum of the board  to try to get the purchase discussed at a public meeting.  Mr. Collins, in an email to myself and the chairman, threatens  to call for an inquiry of my actions by the attorney general and for censure because, “[a]llowing her to project her opinion to the entire board regarding board business through email should not be tolerated.”  (Mr. Collins tried to censure me before on budget committee.  The ploy is getting old but I like the AG’s twist!) 

Now to explain the policy which allows gigantic purchases at the Superintendent’s sole discretion.

TRANSFER OF APPROPRIATION (FUNDS)   Policy DBJ

It is the intent of the School Board to limit its spending to the

amount specified for each line item. However, the

Superintendent is authorized to transfer funds between line items 

when necessary to achieve school Board policy goals, except that

excess funds may not be transferred from the Unemployment

Compensation line item.  Any transfer of non-grant funds

between object codes (expense code) that is $5,000 or more

requires School Board approval in advance.

Dr. Metzler says  the money for this purchase came from the same “object code”  within the budget. An object code describes a service or commodity.  Since both expenditures would be classified under the same very broad  object code, no vote by the board was required, as per the above policy.

The money that is being used was originally budgeted for a new math program. As a parent, as a taxpayer, do you think taking money budgeted and approved for one purpose  and putting it toward another without public discussion or scrutiny is a fair and respectful use of your money?  It seems to me our policy should state that any transfer between 15-digit budget lines greater than $2500 should be approved by the school board. Period. I can assure you, your current school board will not be making this change any time soon. They like things just the way they are – in the control of the SAU and not your elected representatives.

Plenty of other last minute  expenditures will be hitting the school board for approval soon no doubt,  and I hope this “object code” policy will not raise its head again this year. The school board and the SAU need to be reminded that unspent money belongs to the taxpayers unless the need can be defended at a public meeting.  Our policies may not require this all the time, and shame on them, but we all know this is the respectful and sensible way to do things.

ADDENDUM  (5/24) :  Dr. Metzler responds that a “program” was not purchased – just supplemental literacy materials.  This is what he informed the board of:  “$120k on Guided Reading Libraries curriculum with funds originally budgeted for math curriculum.”  Since I knew the math curriculum money was earmarked for a new math program, you can see how one could understand that a reading libraries curriculum was  a program.  This just shows the level of information given to your school board members. And by the way, since when are “materials” called curriculum?

This is taken from the Glossary of Educational Reform (http://edglossary.org/curriculum/) on the definition of curriculum:

When the terms curriculum or curricula are used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what the terms are referring to—mainly because they could be applied to either all or only some of the component parts of a school’s academic program or courses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Sandown Issues, School Board Issues, Taxes

Could Someone Ask These Questions? I Can’t.

This is an email I sent today to Timberlane’s Superintendent with cc’s to the school board chair and the SAU chair.
 May 22, 2014
Dr. Metzler:

As an SAU board member I would like to know:
1) What specific SAU budget line(s) are anticipated to be impacted in order to pay for the Superintendent’s raise, bonus, and the 2.5% merit pool. In other words, where specifically is this money coming from in the SAU default budget?
As a Timberlane board member I would like to know:
2) What is the hiring procedure for hiring new teachers? Since the board is required to approve new hires, are members of the board able to view the applications of the person recommended?  Of the top candidates?
The root of my question comes from the fact that the board is tasked with approving new hires and yet as far as I can see, we are given no information about the candidates we are being asked to approve. I would like to understand the procedure better.
Thank you,
Donna Green
As an official correspondence, this email chain is subject to public disclosure.
____________________
This is Dr. Metzler’s reply:
First his standard, automatic reply to any email I send to any Timberlane.net address no matter who the addressee:
May 22, 2014

Thank you for your email.  My invitation for you to meet with me to discuss your concerns about the school district stands.  Please contact our office to schedule a meeting by calling 382-6119 ext 2217 or email Cathy Belcher at Catherine.belcher@timberlane.net.

Dr. Earl F. Metzler II

—————————————–

Then came his official reply:

May 22, 2014

Mrs. Green – As you already know….your questions need to go through the chair of each committee.

Respectfully,
Dr. Earl F. Metzler

——————————————

This is my reply to all:

May 22, 2014

Dear SB and SAU Chairs,

Pretty please forward my questions to Dr. Metzler.
Thank you,
Donna Green
——————————————————
Finally:
May 22, 2014
Thank you for your email.  My invitation for you to meet with me to discuss your concerns about the school district stands.  Please contact our office to schedule a meeting by calling 382-6119 ext 2217 or email Cathy Belcher at Catherine.belcher@timberlane.net.
__________________________

Is it absurd that school board members cannot correspond directly with the Superintendent?  Absolutely.  Is it even more absurd that we cannot COMMUNICATE with any Timberlane employee directly also?  Beyond absurd.  It is downright oppressive. Here is the newly imposed School Board Rules that Dr. Metzler implicitly referenced:  “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.”  [School Board Rule #6.]

I confess to voting for the School Board Rules as a whole after the ACLU’s changes enshrined the right to a dissenting voice.   Unfortunately it came with  totalitarian Rule  #6, the implications of which I did not fully appreciate at the time. Now it is evident that this rule was included to keep school board members in an information vacuum.  Quite honestly, I’m surprise I’m allowed into the schools at all.  Who knows who I could talk to there if anyone had to courage to speak to me.

As this blog has reported over and over:  Your elected school district officials are treated like mushrooms. The sad thing is that the growing medium is shoveled on by board members themselves in some cases.  If I sound strident, please understand it is because I cannot do my job in an information blackout.

In a modicum of good news:  Arthur Green obtained the April 30th financials from the SAU yesterday without a Right to Know request and without having to pay $8 to do his elected duty. The March 31st financial were another story, but let’s hope that is history and that the budget committee will regularly be given monthly financial reports of expenditures without Right to Know requests.

Thank you, too, to Sandown’s Kelly Ward who voted last night at the SAU meeting to second for discussion my motion to create a Right to Know policy at the SAU level.  Almost all of the issues I feel are important cannot get discussed at the school board  level for want of even a second for discussion.  I hope this is changing.

NEWSFLASH:  Tonight’s School Board meeting was cancelled “for lack of a quorum.”  A few members were going to be late due to a student music performance. The meeting was rescheduled for May 29th – without discussion.

UPDATE COMING:  May 24, 2014      Some answers have been forthcoming from the SAU chair and the school board chair.  I will share them with you and address them on Monday.  A salute to all our vets.

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

My Agenda Requests Denied: 7-0 UPDATED

As a member of both the Timberlane School Board and the board of SAU 55, I have asked to have numerous items placed on the agenda for public discussion.  So far, every single one of my requests has been denied.  At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this means that issues of concern to Sandown residents are deliberately not being discussed at school board and SAU meetings. This is not an issue of personalities; this is an issue of the majority oppressing the minority.  As your elected representative, I am being prevented from doing my job which is asking questions and getting to the truth of matters.

Here is my first agenda request made to the chair of the school board on March 27, 2014:

Dear Nancy,

These are items I would like added to the agenda so we can address them specifically at our forthcoming meeting on April 3.

1) Decision and action on SB being given monthly line item report of expenditures;
2) Discussion and action re: expenditure of formerly projected $1.9 million surplus

3) Status of Spanish program in kindergarten and in elementary schools

4) Understanding the deliverables in the Spanish consultant’s contract

Might you also explain what you meant in your note of Sunday last as to “being held accountable” for not following the school board rules and code of ethics?
I have noted in the past that the board does not read emails or letters addressed to the board at meetings.  I would like to see this practice changed.  People from the district take the time to write to us.  I feel we should take the time to read their letters in a public forum and share our reply with them as well. Perhaps we can discuss this also at our next meeting.
Thank you,
Donna

———————

Here is my second request in reply to a board email from the SB Chair:

April 1, 2014

Nancy,

This issue should be an item on our agenda.

Donna

On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 10:07 AM, Nancy Steenson  wrote:

Hi all,
This has been a very difficult week with the press and people on Facebook misrepresenting facts, which has caused a PR nightmare for me personally, for the Board, and for Timberlane. If you are contacted by people who are angry with you, the Board or Timberlane in general, I would like to suggest the following:

  1.  If they are asking questions about Sweeney Todd, the Board was not part of that decision. It was never discussed by the Board, as is it not within our purview. There will be a forum to discuss the issue in the high school library Wednesday night, April 2 at 5:30 pm, and it will be open to the public. This would be a good opportunity to hear from high school administration directly, as well as a chance to ask any questions.
  2. The School Board rules have been taken out of context and misrepresented. They are not my rules as newly elected Chair; they were voted on by a majority of the Board because we have been doing business that way for years. There has been tremendous backlash to this, and we will revisit this topic on Thursday when we reconvene. We will not revisit it before Thursday night, because we will not have an opportunity to meet before then. I will not, as Chair, comment before then, because we need to come to a consensus on this together.

As  always, you are very capable of speaking with your own constituents, so please do as you see fit.

Thanks to all of you for your support during this difficult time!

Best,

Nancy

——————

On April 1, Nancy Steenson replied to me that the School Board Rules issue was still before the district’s attorney and would be addressed during “the adoption of the minutes.”  (Dealing with an extremely substantive issue during adoption of the minutes?  Highly irregular, but I let it pass.)  As for my other agenda items and the issue of correspondence, she said “our agenda is too full” and invited me to make a motion under “Other Business” to have them added to our next meeting.  Of course I did subsequently make four motions at the  meeting under “Other Business” and all four motions failed, mostly for lack of a second.  These are uncomfortable topics.  Why discuss them in public when you can just shut down a dissenting member and be done with it?

Now  the SAU board chair is also thwarting my agenda requests.

Here is my first request to the SAU Chair:

May 16, 2014

Dear Jason:

Given that the SAU board is responsible for setting the policies of the SAU, I would like to have the SAU’s new Right to Know policy discussed at the next SAU meeting.  As you probably know, Dr. Metzler has, by his own action, implemented a policy of charging 50 cents a page and refusing to provide electronic copies and requiring RTK requests to be picked up only at the SAU during its very restrictive office hours. All of this should be approved by the board and be stated in an SAU policy.
I would also like to discuss where the money came from to fund Dr. Metzler’s raise and bonus and would like to see “Budget impact of Dr. Metzler’s raise and bonus” added to the agenda.
Thank you very much,
Donna
_________________________________________________

On May 19th the SAU Chair replied that the Right to Know issue is a district issue and not an SAU issue, and that Dr. Metzler’s raise would be discussed in non-public session at the forthcoming meeting. (I would reproduce his entire email but unless I warn my correspondents ahead that I may publish their private emails to me, I publish only those emails sent to a quorum.)  I replied as follows:

Jason,

The new RTK policy is posted on the SAU website.  Here is the first sentence of that new policy:  “Right to Know requests shall be submitted to the
Superintendent’s Office in writing (emails are acceptable).”
Since the Superintendent is an employee of the SAU, my request absolutely should be addressed in the SAU agenda.
My inquiry with respect to the budget was specifically to know from what line or lines the money came for the salary increase.  It is obvious the salary line is going to be increasing. Mine is a simple budgetary question and I would consider discussion of this under non-public an abuse of 91-A. Please ask Mr. Stokinger  to report exactly from what line or lines the money is being taken to increase the salary line.
I ask you to correct your error by bring my requested agenda items up yourself under Other Business and in future will respect my agenda requests.  Thwarting my legitimate requests is in fact denying my constituents their voice.
Thank you,
Donna
______________________
The next SAU meeting is this Wednesday, May 21, (7 p.m.) and the next school board meeting is on Thursday, May 22 (7:30 p.m.).  Come watch “democracy” in action.
UPDATE:  (May 22, 2014)   
At last night’s SAU meeting, the chairman, Jason Cipriano from Hampstead, did indeed bring up my requested items under Other Business. I thank him.  The budget question was tabled because neither the district business manager nor Dr. Metzler were in attendance. The issue of the SAU Right to Know policy was discussed thanks to a “second for discussion” by Sandown’s Kelly Ward.  The board voted against creating a policy (Mr. Ward abstained), but two members from Hampstead asked for the issue to be put on the next meeting’s agenda.  To them, I am grateful.
The May 22 school board meeting has been rescheduled to May 29th.

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Behavior, Spanish Consultant Contract

School Board Approves No Bid Policy and Other News

When our athletic trainer contract was subject to discussion last year, it was put out to bid.  The new company that won the contract, Access Sports Medicine,  provides more services, including a physician at every football game, at a significantly lower cost.  It turned out our original trainer contract had been in place for 28 years with no record of it being put out to bid in that entire time. You would think the school board would have learned a lesson from that episode. Instead, your school board just passed a policy that will engender more and more of these unchallenged long-term relationships. This is not in the best interest of taxpayers or students.

At the May 8th meeting that I was unable to attend, the board passed a revised “Bidding Requirements” policy.  The relevant text is here:

Timberlane  Policy DJE:   BIDDING REQUIREMENTS

The Superintendent is required to get written competitive bids on purchases

of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of

$10,000 or more.  As a general rule, purchases of $1,000 or more per item will

require at least three competitive documented quotes for the open market.

All purchases made in the open market shall be consummated after careful evaluation.

[Text deleted for brevity.]

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.

When this policy came up for first reading at the April 17th school board meeting, I asked for changes to ensure contracts would be put out to bid at a minimum of every three years.  These changes were not incorporated into the second reading and the policy was passed without comment as were a whole whack of other policies at the May 8th meeting.  So, as the policy stands now, the district can keep renewing comfortable contracts indefinitely without competitive bids.

You should also know that “specialized eduational and related services” will not be subject to bidding at all.  Just what is a “related educational service”?  This introduces a vagueness into the policy that makes me most uncomfortable. If this policy had been in place last year, it’s likely the athletic trainer contract would never have gone to bid.

Taxpayers should be vigorously protesting this policy change because it will be costing you money and sooner or later resulting in inferior service to your children.  You should also be wondering why any district would want such a policy.

TIMBERLANE WINS NH EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION AWARD

I wish I could share in the joy of this distinction, and I am genuinely sorry to break it to you, but this award has absolutely nothing to do with academic excellence.  It might as well be called “Excellence in Education Wellwishing.”  After reading the article in the Eagle Tribune which oddly did not mention any measurable criteria by which our high school was selected, I visited the Edie’s website.  To my disappointment, the rubric for school selection did not contain a single academic achievement metric.  Check it out for yourself: http://www.edies.org/   You will find the Evaluation Rubric under “Application Materials.”

The award focuses on education programs and alignments as though those are guaranteed to produce high achieving students.  Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate actual achievement rather than educational bureaucracy and systems?  Don’t get me wrong.  It is good to see the administration getting recognition for  initiatives and management, but it does us no good at all to be deceived about the nature of the award.

SUPERINTENDENT ANNOUNCES CLASS TIME AUDIT

Speaking of laudable initiates, at the May 8th meeting Dr. Metzler announced a full audit of the amount of time teachers and students are actually spending in class and he has vowed a crackdown on classroom absences by students for competing activities.  Dr. Metzler says that he will be curtailing these competing activities during the instructional day and moving more of them after school.  This is long overdue and could go a long way to helping academic achievement.

DRIVER’S EDUCATION CANCELLED

This is a shout out to Sandown’s Kelly Ward who was the sole vote against cancelling Timberlane’s Driver’s Ed program.  I would have voted with him had I been able to be at the meeting.  This academic year and last it will have lost $61,500 each year (not including employee benefits or auto purchase).  Now I would be the last person to say this is inconsiderable, but here’s why I would have voted to continue to offer this service to our children.

  1. Timberlane’s program fee is lower than a private company;
  2. Timberlane’s program of instruction is longer than most commercial programs;
  3. Timberlane offers financial assistance to needy students to offset tuition.

Given how important it is for families to have another safe driver in the family, I believe this is a valuable service to our students and district families.  Eliminating it will increase family costs and may make it less convenient for students to gain this invaluable instruction.  And I don’t believe taxpayers will see a penny of savings by eliminating this program. The Driver’s Ed program loss was already budgeted for and carried forward into the default budget.  Eliminating this program frees up a lot of money in a default budget to be used perhaps to fund salary increases or other objectives not envisioned by taxpayers who voted for a default budget. In other words, this money is going to be spent – not returned to the taxpayers – so I would prefer it get spent on our children and not on things the voters thought they were quashing when they voted for a default budget.

All school board policies can be found at Timberlane.net under “School Board” at the bottom of the page and then under “Policies.”

 

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Parent Arrested at Gilford School Board Meeting for Talking

A concerned parent was arrested at a school board meeting in Gilford, NH after he failed to respect the meeting rules limiting the speech of members of the public to two and only two minutes. The articulate gentleman, who ultimately ended up in cuffs, wanted to understand how a sexually explicit book became part of his daughter’s instruction and insisted the board answer his question. The Youtube video of this May 5th incident is worth a few minutes of your time:

Gilford, NH Parent Arrested at School Board Meeting

For me, the most interesting aspect of this video is the similarity of Gilford meeting rules with those in Timberlane.

  1. Gilford limited public comment to two minutes. Timberlane allows a three minute maximum.
  2. The Gilford School Board refused to answer questions, or comment in response to comments from the public. Timberlane’s School Board has the same practice. The chair of Gilford’s School Board told the parent that there would be no comment or response from the board because a school board meeting is a business meeting of the board where the public can have an opportunity to make comments to the board, but the board does not make comments back. Timberlane’s board has exactly the same policy. Here is an excerpt from Timberlane Policy BEA: “Meetings of the Board are conducted for the purpose of carrying on the business of the schools, and therefore are not public meetings but meetings held in public.”
  3. Not one member of the Gilford School Board protested the arrest of the composed and articulate concerned parent.  Unanimity seems a universal virtue on school boards. [There is some question as to whether the chairman encouraged the police to make the arrest or if the police officer acted on his own, but it was without protest from the school board.]

Although state statute says school board meetings do not have to allow public comment, school boards in our beautiful state have cultivated a practice of not being answerable to their electorate at meetings.  What school boards need to realize is that they are in fact accountable to parents and that the very business of the board is to be responsive.  That means at meetings, too.

And if you wonder why school boards are so much that same across the state, look no further than the New Hampshire School Boards Association  (http://www.nhsba.org).  

 

 

 

 

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