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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

14 Comments

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

14 responses to “A Reprimand and a Rebuttal: School Board Members Disagree

  1. Peter Bealo

    I never wrote that Dr Metzler was to write the press release. I said “The SAU”. To be more accurate I should have stated Mrs. Belcher was supposed to work on one with Jason, and Dr Metzler to approve. Don’t jump to conclusions.

    In your item 6: pick another RSA: the RSA 31:95-b applies specifically to TOWNS, CITIES, VILLAGE DISTRICTS, AND UNINCORPORATED PLACES. It does not apply to school districts. But we did vote to approve acceptance of any and all local, state or federal funds in the 2nd May meeting. We do this every year. You voted in the affirmative BTW. And yes, it was on the published agenda.

    Your comments regarding the auditor speaking to you may cause me too request we hire a new auditor. They had no business to give you any information about our audit and this could be considered a breach of confidentiality by their personnel. I will ask the chair to obtain any written communications between you and the auditors for the full Board to evaluate. If the conversation was via phone only, that’s worse in my opinion: they would have no proof even of who you are. Your actions may well get someone fired for cause. Actions have consequences.

    • Peter, thank you for once offering an argument.

      RSA 31:95 does apply to school districts because it is a general budgetary statute. I did not attend the May 2nd meeting and in any case the vote doesn’t satisfy the RSA requirement for a public hearing.

      Firing the auditor because they spoke to me about the 2012 letter? I started this merely looking for information and to gain understanding. If the auditor is fired over speaking to me, it strongly indicates that the district has something to hide. Actions have consequences indeed. They also have implications. Are you going to fire everyone who speaks to me?

      • Peter Bealo

        RSA31:95 is specific to POWERS AND DUTIES OF TOWNS, it says so right in the title. It doesn’t say “Powers and duties of towns and school districts”. You have the wrong RSA. I wrote 2nd meeting in May, not May 2. and the appropriate RSA (I’ll let you find it as an exercise left to the student) only calls for a public hearing if the money is SPENT. We’re returning it to the voters. Different gig entirely.

        And yes, if a vendor gives customer-confidential information of any kind to anyone but a known customer it is cause for firing. We need to fully understand what was asked, what was answered and by whom. I would fire any and all vendors to the district that provide you or any other individual school board member or anyone other than their direct customer with customer-confidential information. I would fire any of my Doctors, Dentists, Accountants or other professionals who provide others with my I confidential information as well. Wouldn’t you?!?!

      • Peter,

        A school district is part of a municipality so if a law applies to municipalities, it automatically applies to school districts. Here is proof. RSA 32 is “Municipal Budget Law” You can see municipal budget law clearly applies to school districts.
        32:2 Application. – RSA 32:1-13, shall apply to all towns, school districts, cooperative school districts, village districts, municipal economic development and revitalization districts created under RSA 162-K, and any other municipal entities, including those created pursuant to RSA 53-A or 53-B, which adopt their budgets at an annual meeting of their voters, except RSA 32:5-b, which shall apply only in those towns or districts adopting that section pursuant to RSA 32:5-c. RSA 32:14-23, concerning budget committees, shall apply only in those towns or districts adopting that subdivision pursuant to RSA 32:14, I, and shall apply automatically in school districts or village districts located wholly within towns adopting that subdivision.
        I did not use an incorrect RSA. There is a specific RSA covering this for school districts but 32 applies nevertheless.

  2. Cathy Gorman

    I do not believe we voted on a warrant however I agree with Donna the RSA was violated if the SB “intended” the vote on 29may2014 to also include “unanticipated funds”. This topic per the minutes was not discussed. The RSA discusses “acceptance” of unanticipated funds above and below $5000.00.
    I welcome corrects if I am wrong.

    The boards vote on 29may14:

    Federal Funding Authorization (02:53:42)
    Dr. Metzler informed the board that each year they must authorize the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Business Administrator and Assistant Business Administrator to apply for and receive on behalf of the district federal and state grants/funding.
    Motion: Mr. Collins motioned to authorize Dr. Metzler, Dr. Wilson, George Stokinger, Kathleen Smith to apply for and receive on behalf of the district federal and state grants and funding which will include approving and signing OBM form 1”s 3’s and 4’s and to file such authorization with the NH Department of Education. Mr. Blair seconded the motion. With no further discussion the motion passed by unanimous vote (9-0-0).

    This does NOT meet the requirements of RSA 198:20-b: (in part)

    III. (a) For unanticipated funds in the amount of $5,000 or more, the school board shall hold a prior public hearing on the action to be taken. Notice of the time, place, and subject of such hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the relevant municipality at least 7 days before the meeting is held.
    (b) A school board may establish the amount of unanticipated funds required for notice under this subparagraph, provided such amount is less than $5,000. For unanticipated funds in an amount less than $5,000, the school board shall post notice of the funds in the agenda and shall include notice in the minutes of the school board meeting in which such funds are discussed. The acceptance of unanticipated funds under this subparagraph shall be made in public session of any regular school board meeting.

    The entire RSA:

    TITLE XV
    EDUCATION

    CHAPTER 198
    SCHOOL MONEY

    Miscellaneous Provisions

    Section 198:20-b

    198:20-b Appropriation for Unanticipated Funds Made Available During Year. –
    I. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, any school district at an annual meeting may adopt an article authorizing indefinitely, until specific rescission of such authority, the school board to apply for, accept and expend, without further action by the school district, unanticipated money from a state, federal or other governmental unit or a private source which becomes available during the fiscal year. The following shall apply:
    (a) Such warrant article to be voted on shall read: “Shall the school district accept the provisions of RSA 198:20-b providing that any school district at an annual meeting may adopt an article authorizing indefinitely, until specific rescission of such authority, the school board to apply for, accept and expend, without further action by the school district, unanticipated money from a state, federal or other governmental unit or a private source which becomes available during the fiscal year?”
    (b) If a majority of voters voting on the question vote in the affirmative, the proposed warrant article shall be in effect in accordance with the terms of the article until such time as the school district votes to rescind its vote.
    II. Such money shall be used only for legal purposes for which a school district may appropriate money. No funds disbursed from the education trust fund pursuant to RSA 198:42 shall, under any circumstances, emergency or otherwise, be deemed to be unanticipated money under the provisions of this section.
    III. (a) For unanticipated funds in the amount of $5,000 or more, the school board shall hold a prior public hearing on the action to be taken. Notice of the time, place, and subject of such hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the relevant municipality at least 7 days before the meeting is held.
    (b) A school board may establish the amount of unanticipated funds required for notice under this subparagraph, provided such amount is less than $5,000. For unanticipated funds in an amount less than $5,000, the school board shall post notice of the funds in the agenda and shall include notice in the minutes of the school board meeting in which such funds are discussed. The acceptance of unanticipated funds under this subparagraph shall be made in public session of any regular school board meeting.
    IV. Action to be taken under this section shall:
    (a) Not require the expenditure of other school district funds except those funds lawfully appropriated for the same purpose; and
    (b) Be exempt from all provisions of RSA 32 relative to limitation and expenditure of school district moneys.
    Source. 1981, 167:1. 1991, 329:1. 1993, 176:12, 13. 2000, 201:1. 2005, 188:1, eff. Aug. 29, 2005.

    Cathy Gorman

    • This is exactly the kind of debate we should be having at board meetings.

    • If it can be shown that the district did vote in a warrant to allow unanticipated funds to be accepted without a public hearing, I will stand corrected. Nothing short of that will suffice.

    • Peter Bealo

      Cathy, the place you are incorrect is that “under RSA198:20-b it is only when a District intends to accept AND expend revenue received that the District is required to hold a public hearing”. I use quotes because that is the written opinion of our lawyer, and I’ll go with that. Either of you could have had that written opinion if you had just called and asked Dr. Metzler, but instead you both prefer to demand special meetings and try and waste many people’s time because you refuse to actually talk or meet with someone who can provide you with answers. But actually learning the FACTS instead of misreading RSAs (when you can find the correct one that is, which I applaud Cathy for finally doing) would limit your ability to get on a soapbox and spew nonsense, so I understand your reticence.

      • That is a legal opinion. Others who know this general budgetary provision are of the opinion that it applies to acceptance and expenditure – either or both. And, when one dollar of the surplus is spent, then the LGC refund is expended because once in the surplus it is not segregated.

  3. Cathy Gorman

    I agree the debate regarding how the “rebate” will be should occur. This of course is after the process required by statute is honored.

    These monies are not state funds. This is a refund of tax payer’s money; one could argue the refund should be returned to the taxpayer. The people should know there is an additional $800,000.00(+) on top of the 1.9 surplus the Finance Manager projected at the last SB meeting.

    The district has had an approximate 2M surplus each year. School Board members has stated repeatedly it doesn’t matter that we over budget by 2 M each year because the surplus is applied to and minimizes the tax burden. If I recall correctly; this argument was raised a few times when Mrs Green debated lowering the budget to remove the surplus.

    Using basic math it would be logical to anticipate a 2.7M surplus if we include the LGC refund. Or is the taxpayer being told the 1.9M includes the $800,000.00 refund and without the refund there would have only been a ~1M surplus this year?
    It seems to me not only do we not have the LGC refund yet since the SB has not properly accepted the overpayment to LGC. There also is 1M, in what should be surplus, unaccounted for. There are questions that need to asked of and “answered” by the SB.

    Cathy Gorman

    • The current anticipated $1.9 million surplus includes the LGC refund, so yes, the district spent about a million dollars out of our surplus but is hiding it behind the LGC refund.
      The 2013/2014 budget was increased by $2 million but the district has actually spent $3 million more than the previous budget year. And what do we have to show for it? The administration came to the school board pleading to spend surplus money on new lockers, it was so urgent. Why didn’t they see this urgency when they were spending an entire $3 million more than last year on fewer students? Our enrollment is projected to decline by 29% in the next 9 years. It has already fallen 17% in the last 7 years.

  4. Cathy Gorman

    I think our SB and clearly the SB legal rep are taking “liberties” with “interpreting the RSA:
    ALL my research on the topic states how “I” outlined what is required by “law” is accurate. more links to come …
    I applaud Mrs Green! She may have had the incorrect RSA however she is not “interpreting” the law to suit her needs.
    From my perspective: when in doubt get legal to tell you what Ou want to hear.
    http://www.farmington.nh.us/public_documents/FarmingtonNH_Clerk/BasicLawBudgeting.pdf
    1. Unanticipated Revenue
    RSA 31:95-b, if the town has voted to adopt it (see RSA 198:20-b for school districts), allows the governing body to apply for, ****accept and spend unanticipated money received from a federal, state or private source****, so long as the money is spent in a way that does not require other unappropriated town funds to be spent. This can be problematic if the grant has a “matching fund” requirement under which the town must provide a certain amount of its own money toward the project in order to receive the grant. In those cases, the governing body may only accept the grant if the matching funds have been properly appropriated.
    Other requirements include:
    • If the amount of unanticipated revenue is $5,000 or more, the governing body must hold a public hearing on the action to be taken and publish notice in the newspaper at least seven days prior to the hearing. Acceptance of the funds must occur in a public session of the governing body.
    • If the amount of unanticipated revenue is less than $5,000, the governing body must post notice of the funds in its meeting agenda and include notice in the minutes of the board’s meeting at which the funds are discussed. Acceptance of the funds must occur in a public session of the governing body. The statute seems to indicate that the governing body may establish an amount of less than $5,000 at which it will hold a public hearing on acceptance of the funds, in addition to the required notice in the board’s meeting minutes.

    Cathy

  5. Cathy Gorman

    Some interesting articles regarding LGC refund:

    As this article (2nd link below) mentions the LGC monies is a REFUND; and NOT grant or state funding – your vote for blanket acceptance of any and all grant and state “funding” and basically giving all authority to the SAU, does not meet the requirement under RSA198:20-b.
    it is clear you need to disclose to the public the each and every amount and and each and every source of the unanticipated funds – cannot lump it into one general topic of federal grants and funding ( again it doesn’t even fall under this category and yes I realize the minutes topic is not verbatim)

    Bottom line: SB and their legal rep erroneously “interpreted” the law . It does appear that the SB legal rep has missed the mark on a few issues including “interpreting” the RTK law. Fortunately there is RTK training offered. Hopefully the SB and Admin will take advantage

    When is a legal opinion a legal opinion
    http://t.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?aid=/20140610/OPINION/406100342&template=tabletart

    SB decides how to spend LGC refund; some said voters should decide: (last paragraph)
    http://www.ledgertranscript.com/news/schools/7591748-95/board-mulls-how-to-use-639k-lgc-rebate

    And the town decides to keep most of it:
    http://www.ledgertranscript.com/news/townbytown/temple/7759846-95/town-says-refund-should-go-to-voters

    http://www.farmington.nh.us/public_documents/FarmingtonNH_Clerk/BasicLawBudgeting.pdf
    1. Unanticipated Revenue
    RSA 31:95-b, if the town has voted to adopt it (see RSA 198:20-b for school districts), allows the governing body to apply for, accept and spend unanticipated money received from a federal, state or private source, so long as the money is spent in a way that does not require other unappropriated town funds to be spent. This can be problematic if the grant has a “matching fund” requirement under which the town must provide a certain amount of its own money toward the project in order to receive the grant. In those cases, the governing body may only accept the grant if the matching funds have been properly appropriated.
    Other requirements include:
    • If the amount of unanticipated revenue is $5,000 or more, the governing body must hold a public hearing on the action to be taken and publish notice in the newspaper at least seven days prior to the hearing. Acceptance of the funds must occur in a public session of the governing body.
    • If the amount of unanticipated revenue is less than $5,000, the governing body must post notice of the funds in its meeting agenda and include notice in the minutes of the board’s meeting at which the funds are discussed. Acceptance of the funds must occur in a public session of the governing body. The statute seems to indicate that the governing body may establish an amount of less than $5,000 at which it will hold a public hearing on acceptance of the funds, in addition to the required notice in the board’s meeting minutes.

    Cathy Gorman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s