Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Reprimand and a Rebuttal: School Board Members Disagree

The chairman of the Timberlane School Board, Ms. Nancy Steenson, sent me the following email on June 26, 2014.  She reprimands me for a number of supposed transgressions.  It was addressed to me and the vice chairman of the school board, Kate Delfino. I reporduce it here because I replied to the TRSB email so that all my fellow board members could see my defense when they eventually look at the correspondence folder at the August 28th meeting.

Donna,

I have been told that you contacted the auditor. I need to inform you that as an individual Board member, you have absolutely no authority to contact entities affiliated with the district, using your elected position as clout, with the intent of obtaining information. You are well aware of the process: if a Board member requests information regarding district business, he or she must go through the Board Chair. As such, any request from you to the auditor is as a private citizen, and is completely inappropriate.

It has also been brought to my attention that you have posted some information regarding the Timberlane Regional School District on your blog which is incorrect. A public hearing to accept a refund from HealthTrust is completely unnecessary, and any claims to the contrary are unfounded.  As an elected official, you have a responsibility to report the truth. What you currently have on your blog is not only false, but damaging to the credibility of the school district. I am requesting that you remove your demands for a public hearing and any accusation of wrongdoing on the part of the district. In short, you are indeed wrong, and a public argument showing you why would be unnecessary as well as inappropriate.

Lastly, I have also been informed that you wrote a letter to the editor of the Eagle Tribune, as a member of the Timberlane Regional School Board, which was published on June 19, which also contained false information. Specifically, you stated that the Board was not preparing a press release regarding Dr. Metzler’s evaluation, when in fact, the Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Superintendent had decided to do exactly that. Perhaps a letter to the editor explaining your error would be in order.

I sincerely hope that you will refrain from using the authority you seem to feel you have as an individual Board member in the future. In addition, I hope that you will correct any misinformation you have spread via your blog and the newspaper. A formal apology to the district and the Board would also go a long way toward repairing some of the damage you’ve done. Going forward, please remember that the nine members of the Timberlane Regional School Board are powerless as individuals. It is when we come together as a Board that we have authority.

Nancy

Here is my reply on June 27, 2014

Dear Nancy,

I am writing to the entire board so this will go into the correspondence folder where I expect to see it at next meeting and also so I can post it to my blog. You seem to be under the impression that simply denouncing a person and their assertions is all that is necessary to put an end to their justified claims. You have made numerous factual statements in your letter, only two of which are correct.

1) Yes, I contacted the auditor as an individual member of the board. I have been asking for the auditor’s report since December. Londonderry received their report on Dec. 3, 2013. As of June 26,2014 Timberlane still did not have their report. Any responsible member of the board would be concerned about this exceptional delay. I wrote you at least 4 times about my concern, to get nothing but hollow assurances.
2) I have no authority to contact vendors? I most certainly do. Elected officials are expected to be watchdogs.
3) Board members requesting information about the district must go through the chairman? No. The policy says any questions to Timberlane staff must go through the chairman.
4) As a private citizen it would be “completely inappropriate” to contact the auditor? Only if you live in North Korea. The auditor was in fact delighted to hear from me and answered some extremely relevant questions about the district’s adverse opinion* in the 2012 report.
5) I’ve posted erroneous information on my blog? State specifics. I doubt there will be any forthcoming.
6) If no public hearing is required of the HealthTrust refund, cite me an RSA invalidating RSA 31:95-b which requires that unanticipated moneys, which the LGC refund was, shall be subject to “a prior public hearing on the action to be taken.”
7) Yes, I did write a letter to the Eagle Tribune.
8) You state that “the Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Superintendent” had intended to write a press release. Since when does that constitute the SAU board? My statement is factually correct; furthermore, I have learned today that this was a private decision between Jason, Peter Bealo and Dr. Metzler of which the rest of the board was not informed.**
9) Board members have no authority outside of meetings. This is true, yet somehow you feel you have the authority to reprimand me in repeated emails. Conscientious board members nevertheless have responsibilities outside of meetings and it is those responsibilities that I am discharging when I call the auditor to ask why a report is more than 6 months late after I can get no answer from the chairman. Perhaps coincidentally, you will find that the report will be available early next week.

No apology will be forthcoming unless the district can show me why a public hearing is not required when the RSA clearly states that it is. No apology will be forthcoming for calling the auditor. No apology will be forthcoming for writing to a letter to the editor with no factual errors. I doubt that you and Mr. Collins will be apologizing to me either. It is time the board as a whole learns that I will not submit to the continual attempts of you and the administration to limit my sources of information that I need in order to discharge my elected duties.

Donna

* In the original email I used the word “letter” when “opinion” is more accurate so I correct it here for the benefit of the public. The auditor’s 2012 letter pointed out that the district is not reporting the value of capital assets and taking depreciation on them, or reporting the cost of post-employment health benefits, all required under the applicable standard accounting practices.  The auditor told me about half the school districts they serve also do not do this, so Timberlane is not  alone.

** For the background on the press release issue, please see the comments from Peter Bealo and myself on my previous blog posting, “Letter on the SAU Chairman Resignation.”  Had I known about an agreement to write a press release, I would have argued for it to be vetted by the entire board and I certainly would not have agreed to have Dr. Metzler write a release on his own evaluation.

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning, The Mushroom Farm

Letter on the SAU Chairman Resignation

For those  interested in the underpinnings of the SAU chairman’s resignation, here is a letter with my opinion published in the Eagle Tribune on June 19, 2014.  You will see that I take issue with a widely held misconception concerning non-public meetings.  It is one of many salvos to come in my long-standing crusade to get the rules related to non-public meetings changed in order to prevent unnecessary secrecy in public business.  You will also see in a post later today that the school board chair thinks I owe the district an apology because of this letter and many other alleged transgressions.

Dear Editor:

     Thank you for Dustin Luca’s  coverage of the resignation of SAU 55 Chairman, Jason Cipriano.
To my mind, the controversy concerning Mr. Cipriano’s resignation comes down to two issues:
  • the reasonableness of disclosing information/conclusions of a non-public meeting;
  • the accountability of elected officials to voters through communication with the press.
    Although this distinction seems to have dwindling acknowledgement, not everything in non-public is necessarily confidential.  If it were, there would be no public minutes.  The fact that SAU 55 non-public minutes have one or two topic sentence descriptors with no discussion content whatsoever shows how the board is failing to distinguish between what should be confidential and the happenstance of non-public discussion.
     Conclusions leading to action made in non-public should be made public. That, at the very least, is what the public should demand.
     To my mind, Mr. Cipriano not only did nothing wrong, he should be praised for respecting the voters enough to communicate to them through the press what was owing them of their elected officials. The idea that absolutely everything said in non-public is a big secret to be kept forever when the minutes are not sealed is ludicrous and harmful to the public interest.
    Since this issue involved the performance review of the superintendent and as such was a personnel issue, the board as a whole should have issued a press release in consultation with the superintendent out of courtesy.  That the board neglected to do this put the chairman in an awkward position but he nevertheless rightly felt the voters were owed some comment.
    Mr. Luca’s article quoted me as saying I think superintendent reviews should be conducted in public and that is correct, but in that I am very much an outlier and my assertion is much more a philosophical position than a practical objection to our proceedings. Just because the law allows non-public for certain topics doesn’t mean that every discussion of those topics should be done in non-public.  This is another distinction that is increasingly seldom made.
Donna Green
Sandown representative on the Timberlane School Board and SAU 55 Board

5 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

Relief! Surplus mostly preserved

Last night’s school board meeting was a big relief.  It could have been so much worse. The board voted to spend $160,000 on new lockers, electrical work and a new hot water system for the high school athletic locker rooms.  The bidding policy was waived in order  to get this money encumbered before the end of the month.

The board also voted to put into the Retention Fund any monies over and above the anticipated and budgeted $1.9 million surplus that may arise once all the open purchase orders are closed out and the dust settles on the end of year finances.
I was the only vote opposing all three of these decisions. Here’s why.  The 2013-2014 budget was $2 million larger than the previous year’s budget. Not only did the district spend this additional $2 million, but it also spent another $1 million.  Dr. Metzler continually harps on the nature of a bottom line budget, so why didn’t he address the athletic facilities during the past year that was so very generously funded considering our enrollment is shrinking like a dried up grape?  Why didn’t the Facilities Committee highlight this as a top priority?  No, instead the administration runs to the school board at the very last possible moment to sponge up surplus needed to reduce the tax burden with issues that have been outstanding for years and could have been addressed in the proper course of business.  Something needs to be done with the locker rooms, that is obvious.  A rushed, end-of-the year grab at surplus is not the way to do it.
At the meeting Dr. Metzler struck out at the budget committee, blaming them for removing $200,000 from the facilities budget so they had no money to do the locker room maintenance they so badly needed.  Here’s the truth:  the budget committee removed $225,000 from the facilities budget earmarked for a generator for the high school.  Is Dr. Metzler saying that if we had given him money for a generator, he would have spent it on new lockers?  If that’s the case, being a bottom line budget and all, why didn’t he spend any other money on these needed improvements?
As I’ve said before, our district is not short of money. Our problem is that we have no working capital improvement plan and some parts of our athletic facilities have been left behind.
Speaking of our surplus, which was mostly preserved at last night’s meeting, you should know that a windfall from a court-ordered return of premiums from the LGC HealthTrust to the tune of $855,000 is the reason we still have a $1.9 million surplus. (We have averaged a $1.9 million surplus for 4 previous years.)
By the way,  RSA 31:95-b requires that unanticipated moneys, which the LGC refund was, shall be subject to “a prior public hearing on the action to be taken.”  This means a public hearing should have been held to both accept this money and to eventually expend it.  No public hearing was held .  It has long been my contention that this money should have added to our historical surplus to give us a surplus around  $2.7 million, instead it seems to have displaced the same amount of money previously in the projected surplus.
If I’m wrong, I’d like to see a public argument showing why.  In a letter to the Tri-Town Times yesterday, Sandown resident Christopher True called for a special meeting of the school board to go over financial management issues raised by Mr. Green.  I wish I would have read Mr. True’s letter before going to the meeting last night, because I would have supported  his idea.
Accountability for the HealthTrust money is not just a legalistic issue.  More money is coming.  A payment was announced in January which has already been figured into Timberlane’s 2014-2015 budget, but  HealthTrust announced on June 6th that they would be distributing  $3.2 million more to members this summer.  This will be more unanticipated money and if it is $5,000 or more, a public hearing is required by law.  It would be a good opportunity to get some questions answered, but will the district do it?

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, Taxes

Prediction: Taxes Will Go Up Tonight – a lot

The Timberlane School Board hasn’t seen a proposal from Dr. Metzler it hasn’t liked.  This is why I’m seriously worried about his proposals tonight, basic details of which have not been disclosed.  The agenda calls for action on a Reserve Fund but it gives no indication as to how much money is being proposed to deposit into this fund.  I asked but was told only the maximum amount that could be put in: $1.14 million.  This  suggestion alone should have your heart racing because the tax consequences would very likely be severe for Sandown and Danville.

The agenda also calls for action on the high school athletic facilities.  I asked for  a written proposal for this in advance of the meeting.  Nothing was forthcoming.  It will all have to be decided in a big rush to encumber the surplus money by the end of our fiscal year, this June 30th.  The agenda allows  10 minutes of discussion on this topic. You wouldn’t do renovations on your own home under such hurried conditions, but the school board thinks nothing of being railroaded into these decisions at the end of every fiscal year.

Now, having no information about the amount of money Dr. Metzler envisions for these action items, I can only speculate and worry.  I’m worrying hard.  We currently have a projected surplus of $2 million, which is that amount of money up for grabs tonight.

If the school board decides to spend $1 million, here is what is very likely going to happen to your school taxes come December:

SANDOWN:  + 10.8%       (preserving the full surplus:  +8.2%)*

DANVILLE: 11.7%         (preserving the full surplus): 9.1%)*

*(All tax figures are Arthur Green’s estimates based on the ADM of the four district towns staying in the same proportion as they were last year and with other variables the same as last year.)

I don’t even care to think what would happen if more than $1 million is spent.

You might think that putting money into a reserve fund would not affect taxes.  It will most certainly.  The surplus offsets future taxes owing.  Any money that is withdrawn from the surplus will hit taxpayers like a frying pan. It is a direct dollar to dollar relationship.  One dollar out of the surplus means one dollar more needs to be raised in taxes.

The meeting is held at the SAU building, 30 Geenough Rd., Plaistow, in the basement (back door) at 7:30.  Public comment is at that time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Expenditures, Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, Taxes

The Sham of School Board Meetings

The chairman of the school board has told me that she cannot fit in my agenda requests because our meetings are too full.  The agendas have become too full  with innumerable presentations requiring no action by the board.  Our meetings are being co-opted but I am the only member who seems to have an issue with this. By policy willingly agreed to by the school board, the  agenda is set by the superintendent in cooperation with the school board chairman.

Two very important examples of the sham that our meetings have become will be on display this Thursday night.  Ten minutes is allotted to action items ” high school athletic facilities” and another ten minutes to “Fund Retention option.”  These ten minute items have the potential to involve spending a hundred  thousand dollars or more out of this year’s projected surplus – money very much needed to moderate tax bills this coming December. These are the most critical items on Thursday’s agenda and already you can smell the rubber stamp being warmed in the back room.

Did I mention that an Eagle scout project has been allotted 15 minutes, and a student cooperative engineering project another 15 minutes? Half an hour on these two items is misplacing the board’s proper emphasis. While we appreciate Eagle Scouts’ valuable contributions and a cooperative engineering program is good to know especially in light of the reservations the board has with Project Lead the Way, neither of these things should be rushing our deliberations about issues that deeply affect families, namely taxes.

On Monday I made a written request to the school board chairman to provide in advance a written proposal concerning the Fund Retention to include the amount of money proposed, the amount of the current projected surplus, and the budget lines from which this money is being removed.  A similar request was made concerning the proposal, whatever it might be, for the athletic facilities. The information has not been forthcoming. This shows the disdain in which my requests are held and the complete disregard that is shown to giving the board truly insightful information in order to make thoughtful and considered decisions.  We can’t make informed decisions, which is  why any item requiring action is given so little time on our agendas.

For those following the matter, Mr. Green has been forced to make yet another Right to Know request to obtain the month-end financials for May.  So far he has received not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement from the SAU. We expect the charge to obtain this information will be another $8.

[Thursday’s meeting will begin with a tour of the athletic facilities at 7 p.m., then resume at the SAU building at 7:30 p.m.]

Thursday’s agenda is reproduced below:

1. Call to Order – Chair
2. Roll Call – Clerk
3. Pledge of Allegiance
4. Approval of Minutes
a. June 5th Meeting
5. Delegations or Individuals
6. Current Business
a. Eagle Scout Projects* – INFORMATIONAL (15)
b. School Board Student Rep – ACTION (5)
c. TRHS/Norwood High Engineering Project Collaboration – INFORMATIONAL (15)
d. High School Athletic Facilities – ACTION (10)
e. Fund Retention Option – ACTION (10)
f. Guided Reading Libraries – INFORMATIONAL (15)
g. District Action Plan* – INFORMATIONAL (20)
h. Driver’s Education Update* – INFORMATIONAL (10 minutes)
i. Business Partnerships* – INFORMATIONAL (15)
j. Tuition Requests – ACTION (5)
7. Administrator’s Report
a. Update on School Activities – INFORMATIONAL
8. Personnel Report
9. Reports of the School Board
10. Correspondence Folder
11. Vendor and Payroll Registers
12. Other Business
a. Non-public (if needed)
13. Future Dates

UPDATE:  6/18/14    Very shortly after this posting, the SAU posted on our private SharePoint site the  NESDEC enrollment projections which were one of the pieces of information I had requested in advance.  The SAU has been in possession of this extensive 9-year projection since Feb. 28, 2014. Mr. Green was also told his May financials would be available on Monday.  The chairman has informed me that Mr. Stokinger will be posting his budget information this afternoon which I take to mean we will learn about the projected surplus .  We shall see.  25.5 hours to the meeting and counting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Expenditures, School Board Functioning, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

Citizen Writes SB Chair Continued…

Wed., June 11, 2014
Subject: Re: TRSB meeting on 6/5/2014

Nancy Steenson,

Thank you very much for your time and the consideration you have given to me. I admit I am a simple, old man…. nothing fancy here. And I realize that we can’t continue to meet like this. I know you have a lot on your plate.

Please allow me to set up two scenarios so that even an old gentleman like myself will understand these issues.

1) DBJ policy says that any transfer of funds  exceeding $5000 between budget lines requires the TRSB to give it’s approval beforehand. Question: Has there been any transfers over $5000 between budget lines without the prior approval of the TRSB?  All I am asking for is a plain and simple ‘ Yes’ or ‘No’.

2) NH RSA’s  prohibit spending  for any purpose for which no appropriation has been made. Question (yes or no) Has there been any spending or any incurring of liability where line items have no budget appropriation-they are zero-funded in the budget?

As you can see, I am a plain meat and potatoes a  simple yes or no type of guy.  Thank you for taking the time to answer these two questions and I wish you a fantastic summer.

Christopher True

———————————

June 12, 2014

Mr. True,

It appears as if you simply do not understand our policy, nor do you understand the RSA, and therefore your questions do not make sense.  We have not violated policy or RSA.

Sincerely,

Nancy Steenson

Chair

Timberlane Regional School Board

__________________

For the previous email exchange, see “Sandown Citizen Writes, School Board Replies.”  Thank you again to Mr. True for permission to reproduce the emails.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning

A Sandown Citizen Writes, School Board Replies

Although the school board and the SAU have completely ignored Arthur Green’s call for an explanation for budget policies not being followed, at least one Sandown citizen was listening.  Here is a letter from Sandown resident, Christopher True, sent to the school board, quoting Mr. Green’s observations based on expenditure reports.  The reply from the school board is a classic, but Mr. True’s response cuts to the chase.
June 6, 2014
To Nancy Steenson-chair and the TRSB:
    At the TRSB meeting last night, 6/5/2014, some very serious questions were raised in regard to the  school board and what appears to be an extreme failure by the school board to properly and legally carry out their job functions.
    I am asking for an immediate response from the TRSB explaining what appears to be either gross negligence of the TRSB’s fiduciary responsibilities or unlawful expenditures of tax payer’s monies by the school district in the amount of over $750,000.
    My concerns are with, but not limited to the following issues raised at the meeting:
1) Under Policy DBJ “Transfer of Appropriation” any transfer of
funds exceeding $5000 between budget lines requires board
 approval in advance. As of April 31, there are 10 budget lines
with expenditure exceeding budget by more than $5000. 
There are an additional 13 lines with contractually 
committed encumbrance exceeding budget by more than
$5000. The total amount of the overcommitments
on these budget lines is over $775,000. The school board
has not taken any action to review these items as required by policy.
 2) two of the line items have NO budget appropriation – they
are zero-funded in the voter-approved budget.  RSA 32:8
and 32:10 (e) prohibit spending or incurring a liability
“for any purpose for which no appropriation has been made”.
The amount at issue is $40,000.
3) the auditor’s report for the 2012/2013 year has not been
published. According to the auditor’s contract, this should
have been delivered by the end of November 2013, more
than 6 months ago.

  Thank you in advance for your prompt response and clear explanation.

Christopher True

Please note that on the TRSB website, there is not any email given for Michael Mascola and Susan Sherman. I ask that the chair gives them a copy of my request.

HERE IS HIS REPLY FROM THE TRSB CHAIRMAN (courtesy of Mr. True).  

June 10, 2014

Mr. True,

I am in receipt of your email. You seem to be drawing conclusions based on one person’s misunderstanding. Mr. Green, who spoke at the Board meeting, is in receipt of a budget report which he appears to be misinterpreting. The accusations that he made stem from this apparent inability to understand the report or the appropriate management of district funds. I can assure you that policy DBJ and all other relevant policies and laws are being followed. There is no “gross negligence of the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities,” or “unlawful expenditures of taxpayers monies by the school district,” nor is there “an extreme failure by the school board to properly and legally carry out their job functions.”

The district operates on a bottom line budget, and the Superintendent and our Business Manager manage it very effectively on a day-to-day basis. They are quite skilled at this process, and are well aware of what is right and appropriate. Their integrity is above reproach. As TRSB Chair, I am well acquainted with their work and am thrilled to have such honest and careful people in charge of our budget.

Regarding the auditor’s report: it is expected to be available in a few weeks.

At your request, I forwarded your email to Mr. Mascola and Mrs. Sherman. Posting private email addresses is not required of Board members. They do, however, review all correspondence emailed totrsb@timberlane.net.

I hope helps to clarify any misunderstanding.

Sincerely,

Nancy Steenson

Chair

Timberlane Regional School Board

______________

MR. TRUE’S REPLY:

June 10, 2014
Nancy Steenson,
Thank you for replying to my email.  After last years taxes hit me very hard, this year , I plan on learning as much as I can concerning the ins and outs of the school board  and our school district’s operations.
To clarify specifically  concerning :’Policy DBJ “Transfer of Appropriation” any transfer of funds exceeding $5000 between budget lines requires board approval in advance.’
Are you saying that the school board has voted its approval in advance ( please bear with me… I can’t find the votes in the on line board meetings, during which meetings were the votes taken?)
or are you saying that Mr Green is mistaken, and that there actually has not been any transfer of funds exceeding $5000 between budget lines?
or are you saying that what is posted on line concerning the TRSB policy DBJ is posted in error,  and that school board is not charged with the fiduciary responsibilities of voting to approve  any transfer of funds exceeding $5000 between budget lines in advance.
I greatly appreciate the time and effort you give to the district and  to my questions and concerns.
Thank you,

Christopher True

_________________________________

For Arthur Green’s full comments to the board about expenditures, see my posting of June 6, 2014, “Arthur Greens Calls for Financial Management.”   Thank you, Mr. True, for permission to reproduce the emails and for your interest in this issue.  Mr. Green is my husband.  There is little he has an”inability to understand,” except perhaps Tom Cruise.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning