Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sandown May Take Money from Savings to Subsidize School Tax – updated

On Monday night, Sandown Board of Selectmen are going to decide whether or not to use the town’s fund balance to offset at least some of the school tax increase this year.  The Tri-Town Times calls the Fund Balance like “a municipal savings account.”

Here’s how the numbers work (as provided by the Tri-Town Times (10/30) and not yet independently verified):

Current tax rates:                               DRAFT TAX RATES

  • Town:  $5.06                             $4.49     (- 11.26%)
  • County:  $1.12                            $1.11     (-0.9%)
  • State school : $2.53                  $2.53  (NO CHANGE)
  • Local School: $18.37                 $19.45  (+5.9%)

Sandown’s School Taxes went up $1.08.  At the same time, Sandown cut its own tax rate by 57 cents.  This leaves a difference of 51 cents – all of it due to the school budget increase.  ( 1.08- .57 = .51 )

Our property taxes would be a lot worse if Sandown didn’t do such a good job controlling their own budget which had the effect of more than halving the tax impact of Timberlane’s budget increase.  Taking money from the town’s savings to subsidize part of the remaining school tax increase will be a temporary help to taxpayers but it will come at the cost of raiding our savings. The fact is that Timberlane’s budget is ever increasing and completely undisciplined and there is a limit to our own hard-earned savings. If the BOS votes to apply the unassigned fund balance to subsidize school taxes in order to keep Sandown’s taxes close to level this year, it is a strategy that cannot be repeated and encourages further bloated budgets by the school district.

While we’re tightening our belts, the SAU budget is up 11.5% in their proposal for 2015-2016. The school district budget proposal has not yet been released.

UPDATE 11/5/14:   Sandown Board of Selectmen decided on Nov 3 that they would not be using the town’s Fund Balance to offset the school tax increase.  

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Sandown Issues, Taxes

And Now Hampstead ? UPDATED

Watch the first five minutes of Hampstead’s school board meeting last night.  The chairman reads an email sent to the board by Hampstead resident, Jorge Mesa-Tejada.  You may recognize Mr. Mesa-Tejada’s name from his many letters to the Tri-Town Times and from his extensive public service, currently on the Hampstead School Budget Committee.

After the letter is read, the school board chairman, Greg Hoppa, says that Mr. Mesa-Tejada will no longer be permitted to address meeting agenda items without a vote of the board.

Readers, here is my own little survey.  Please reply to this post by writing  “A,” “B,” or “C.”

  • A:   The Hampstead Board acted appropriately towards the letter writer
  • B:   The Hampstead Board was right to feel bullied but they should not limit a citizen’s speech by vote
  • C:   The Hampstead School Board’s reaction and penalties are objectionable.

THE MEETING:  http://hampsteadcabletv.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=ded19f8a06c8ef2322d12104a3b7c487

Our SAU encompasses the four Timberlane towns as well as the town of Hampstead. I will post the survey results on Saturday. Please vote!

UPDATE 11/01/14:   See the Eagle Tribune’s report on the issue:  PR Flak    Also hear Rich Girard tear a strip off of the Hampstead School Board on his radio show: Hampstead SB Bullies Critics

POLL RESULTS:  100% replied “C”     but responses were very small and limited to my regular commentators though the posting was very well viewed.  Thanks to those who voted – and to those who follow the blog.

UPDATE 11/18/14:   Girard at Large interview Mr. Mesa-Tejada about this incident today. Mesa-Tejada radio interview

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Filed under Sandown Issues

SAU Employees Speaking to One of Their Bosses

These are clips from the SAU meeting on October 22, 2014. The meeting was to approve the SAU budget for 2015-2016.  There was no new employee in the budget and the SAU board made quite a show of pretending it was a spontaneous suggestion to provide one based on an observation about overtime. You will see from the video that this was a poorly disguised ploy covered by the Superintendent’s bluster. Below, Business Administrator George Stokinger, addresses Mrs. Sherman and then answers a question from me.  The background: on October 14, I emailed the SAU chairman asking for more budget details.  Mr. Sokinger provided some but not all of this detail on the night of the meeting when I had no time to review or digest this information.  It was as good as worthless if not received beforehand and he knew it. What you will see on display is defensiveness  and bluster to avoid addressing the issues.

Next, Dr. Metzler responds to my question about the work a new SAU employee would be doing.  It is still a mystery.

Here the board deliberates about hiring a new SAU support staff.  It ends with Dr. Metzler lecturing me about respect which had the happy consequence of avoiding the question at issue.

Just in case you may not realize this from these videos, the SAU board hires and supervises Dr. Metzler and Mr. Stokinger.

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Pinocchio Academy, SAU 55 Issues, Taxes

$1.1 Million in 90 Minutes Flat

When the Timberlane School Board Chairman says the bulk of the board’s work takes place in committee, you should be worried, especially if the October 21st Facilities meeting was typical.  I wish I had recorded the meeting because it will be hard for readers to believe how little discussion was given to decisions that involve spending $1.1 million dollars – an 80% increase over the current year’s facilities budget — not counting warrant article requests.

The meeting was called for 8:30 a.m. Before things got underway, I asked for the usual spreadsheet for facilities projects.  At this Mr. Stokinger realized that this critical information  had not been distributed to the committee so the meeting was delayed while this five-page document was copied.  In the meantime, Mrs. Steenson asked me to leave the table as I was not a member of the committee (despite an abundance of empty seats) but as I was moving to the back of the room, she had to ask me to join because they lacked a quorum of school board members in order to begin.  Mr. Ward from Sandown arrived very shortly after.

The meeting began 13 minutes late. All the school principals were in attendance along with Dr. Metzler, Mr. Stokinger, Mr. Hughes, Kelly Ward (TRSB), Dennis Heffernan (TRS Budget Committee), a high school administrator (whose name escapes me – apologies) and myself.  After the Pledge and approval of the minutes of the first Facilities meeting in September (which I also attended), Mr. Hughes, Director of Facilities, proceeded to run down the spreadsheet list of all the facilities projects he classified as “essential” for the 2015-2016 budget

BUILDING AND SITE RENOVATIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS for 2015-2016 budget, Draft Proposal:

$1,314,910 + $281,323 (press box)

It’s hard to put these numbers in perspective.  It’s hard to put any numbers in perspective with a $67 million budget, but let’s start with the proposed press box, just one of two projects not considered “essential” for the next budget year.

The Press Box

Our existing press box needs to be replaced it seems.  A new one is wanted in the next two years to facilitate sporting events and to expand the high school’s very limited storage for sports equipment.  The replacement is to have an excavated basement with a concrete block tower upon which will rest a prefabricated box.  There was some discussion about putting this to warrant, which seemed favored by the group.  One elementary school principal asked why such a simple structure should cost so much.  Mrs. Steenson pointed out that this was the value of a fairly nice house in Danville. There was no answer to this question because Dr. Metzler jumped in to say it would be embarrassing to ask voters to approve a project and then not have enough money to finish it. Whose embarrassment was not discussed.  I had a thousand questions about this structure:  would it have bathroom facilities?  What is the cost of adding it to our existing septic system?  Would it be required to have an elevator to be ADA compliant?  What equipment exactly would be stored and would it need to be heated?  What kind of heat would be needed?  A/C?   None of these questions were asked, and this was the second most discussed project of the meeting.

Transformers

Latterly we came to the Maximus Prime of the morning:  $500,000 for three electrical transformers. Our current transformers were installed in 1973.  Mr. Hughes feels they should be replaced and moved outside in case of failure.  The principal of the middle school, Mr. Hogan, said he had never heard of this project before or of the concern.  Neither had anyone else on the facilities committee it seemed.  Mrs. Steenson said that since this was a safety issue, it should not be left to the voters to decide and must be included in the operating budget.  I find the suggestion that voters always put their pocketbooks before the safety of  their own children reprehensible, but I limited my comment to the suggestion that this should go to warrant as a capital expense to be paid out of our Capital Fund savings account. No one cared to explore that option.

The Problem of Size

Mrs. Steenson noticed that the proposed budget with the transformer work was doubled last year’s facilities budget (going from $616,000 to $1.3 million).  The usual pap was rolled out that our buildings are aging and we have to invest more in them.  Then Mr. Stokinger had a suggestion that made me understand why Dr. Metzler calls him the best business administrator in the business:  We can keep the budget level funded from last year but explain that we have this major safety issue of half a million.  So we really did our job.

Dr. Metzler practically glowed like a bride at this suggestion.  Some hurried calculations were done to figure out how much needed to be cut from the proposed “Essential” list to come in at the same number as last year. Mrs. Steenson reminded everyone that there was just 15 minutes left to the meeting.  The race was on to find $200,000 in time for the Safety Committee meeting at 10:15 a.m.  What proceeded next was the equivalent of Filene’s annual wedding dress sale.  Instead of people wildly flinging garments around in a frantic search for the perfect gown, suggestions were thrown out for projects that could be cut.

Here’s what got cut in 15 minutes with the very barest of discussion, if any- all but one of them previously categorized as top priorities for 2015/16:

  • Paving left of the concession stand:  $10,000
  • JV baseball field fencing:  $15,000
  • Replacement lockers in Middle School wings 1200,1300,1500:   $95,000  ( Wing 1100 and center hallway lockers still to be replaced @ $32,000)
  • Atkinson Building Management System upgrade : $25,000 (rated as a medium priority)
  • Locker room paint job reduced from  $65,000 to $35,000

“What’s our total so far?”  someone called out.   $180,000!   $20,000 left!

Through much of this I had my hand raised to suggest striking a new point-of-use hot water system for the Middle School kitchen because I know those systems are not what they are are touted to be, but Dr. Metzler beat me to it and called out something to the effect: “$25,000 for the hot water system and we’re over by $5,000!  Good job!”

And that was it. Too bad it didn’t go on for another 15 minutes because here are some of the “essential projects” left in the budget:

  • Replace interior doors in the Middle School in wings 1100, 1200, 1300 and men and ladies’s restrooms:  $42,810.   This, by the way, wasn’t even mentioned on the facilities tour of the MS a few short weeks before.   You know how doors are.  Working one minute, a safety hazard the next.
  • Carpeting for the Special Ed office suite in the Middle School:  a whooping $5000

 Now the Sales Job

True to form, at the very next budget committee meeting on Oct 23, Mr. Heffernan, Budcom’s rep on Facilities, announced that the Facilities Committee had kept their budget level from last year.  Either rehearsed or in a fit of conscience, Mr. Stokinger quickly added that they do have one extraordinary item for $500,000, replacing the Middle School transformers.

And that is the way we roll at Timberlane.

P.S.  For the record, I have the highest regard for the principals of all our schools.  They are professional, friendly and competent to a person.  Nothing above should be understood to be a criticism of them. No principal was eager to take money away from their own school or those of their peers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Pinocchio Academy, School Board Behavior, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

Green’s Presentation Proves Overstaffing

At last night school budget committee meeting, Arthur Green gave a powerful presentation on our district’s staffing levels.  Based on his study of 9 comparable districts, most of which have better academic outcomes than Timberlane, he concludes that Timberlane can shed 76 staff — without touching Special Education — and expect better performance.  Most of our cohorts are doing better with far fewer staff and less money and there is no reason we cannot be like them.

All the information assembled in this slide show linked below was taken from official public sources such as school annual reports and filings to the NH Department of Education.  Arthur offers to share anything whatsoever that went into this presentation – his reasoning, his data and his calculations.  Let’s turn this into an open forum on his data and conclusions.

During questions after this presentation last night, Budcom Chairman Grosky said that Timberlane has different demographics from a few of the selected comparable districts.  This is may be true, and I hear this over and over in education.  In plain language, this is what it means: people with less money have stupid children. I find this reasoning an insult to every one of our children who walk into our schools wanting to be judged on their own merits. Educationists use economic background as an excuse for their own pedagogical failure. All kids are sponges waiting for that magical teacher to transform their lives with a love of learning. One of the top performing math charter schools is in an inner city ghetto where kids struggle with all too adult problems too young.

Don’t reject Mr. Green’s conclusions because a few of the comparable districts may be wealthier.  The majority of them are demographically comparable to Timberlane.  And even if they weren’t, are you willing to surrender the highest expectations for our students because our collective incomes are lagging?  Let’s look at what better districts are doing with less money and try to adopt their practices.  This will keep public education affordable and give it the boot to become more efficient.

Please look at the slides, challenge the data, and let’s have a debate!     How Much Is Enough?

When the Vimeo is posted, I will link the presentation here:  

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget Committee, Expenditures, School Board Issues, Taxes

New Letter to Plaistow Police

Lt. Baldwin of the Plaistow Police did not reply to my lawyer’s letter of last month.  Here is our latest which did get a quick reply by phone.  Baldwin told my lawyer, Richard Lehmann, that the investigation is still ongoing.  Perhaps Lt. Baldwin hasn’t had time to watch the security video what with being under investigation by the Attorney General’s office and all.  I expect his investigation will be “ongoing” until I leave public office or he is removed from the police force.

Baldwin 91A Letter

UPDATE 10/27/14:  My lawyer tells me that the case will soon be closed and the emails we requested released on Friday Oct. 31, 2014. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues

SAU Budget Up 11.50%: 3% merit pool

And there’s not a darn thing you can do about it.

During budget deliberations tonight, the SAU Board added one additional SAU staff  and awarded a 3%* merit pool increase.

Suck it up and be happy.  This is the SAU hearing the message of the voters in March.

It is also the clear result of towns (other than Sandown) voting last March to approve the warrant article putting the SAU budget back into the Timberlane and Hampstead budgets, thereby denying voters the right to vote default on the SAU’s budget from here on in.

This is your new spendthrift SAU.  Their budget is up 7.6% over last year  and that’s with a default budget.  Next year it will be up 11.5%.  And in 2016-17?  The Fat Boy Burger Special with fries and onion rings.

A public hearing on this budget is scheduled for Nov. 11 at 7 pm in the SAU office.  The public will not have the opportunity to vote on this budget then or ever. This is what subservience feels like — the subservience of your elected representatives to the wishes of the administration rather than the will of the voters.

*CORRECTION:  Previous version of this post said the merit pool was 3.75%.  That calculation inadvertently included the superintendent’s raise which I realize is not properly included in the merit pool.  Removing that, the merit pool is 3.3%.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues