Monthly Archives: November 2014

How Things Work: PR continued

Here are two meeting clips, four months apart, that show a contradiction about the intention of the Community Advisory Committee in recommending (or not) a professional PR person for the district.   Given that the September minutes of the CAC are not yet released, there is no way to know whether what we see here is an evolution of position or a less kind interpretation.  Perhaps someone from the CAC will step forward and set the record straight.

In the first clip, from May 29, the school board liaison for the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), Kate Delfino, speaks of the CAC’s recommendation which  she said did not necessarily envision hiring a professional PR person. In fact, Ms. Delfino firmly denies that a professional hire is required by the CAC.

Now here is a clip from the school board October 2 meeting.  While the board was discussing a Request for Proposal for professional PR services, Ms. Delfino says that hiring a PR professional came out of the CAC recommendations where they felt strongly a professional PR person was needed:

This matter of fact is important because the CAC is going to be taking the public blame for recommending the expenditure of taxpayer money for a spin doctor which the school board is about to hire. Will the real decision maker please step forward.

You can view the entirety of any meeting at Timberlane.net where at the bottom of the page you will see “School Board Vimeos.”

 

 

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Filed under Expenditures, PR hire, School Board Issues

Urgent Right to Know Requests Made – UPDATED

The Timberlane Budget Committee has two meetings left before they are expected to approve the budget – three if you count Dec. 23, which is invariably cancelled – yet THEY HAVE NOT BEEN GIVEN THE FULL BUDGET.  There is somewhere in excess of $67 million dollars on the line.  This is an insult to conscientious members of the budget committee and an outrageous disservice to taxpayers. Very simply, your elected officials do not have enough time to fully digest and understand a budget of this scope.  Last year the full budget was presented to the budget committee on Nov. 4 and even that was too late given the small number of meetings the budget committee schedules.

I believe these delays are ploys to hobble the budget committee whose ineffectiveness is guaranteed by late information.  This year, late information serves the administration’s purposes even more than usual.  Arthur Green, Cathy Gorman and I will be hosting a Town Hall meeting on Dec. 7 about the proposed budget.  The less information we have about the budget, the less we can share with taxpayers and families. What is needed and should have been provided long before now are the full expenditures and the full revenues for the proposed budget. The revenues are important in order to understand the future tax impact which is never a subject of budget committee deliberations.

If you happen to watch the budget committee meetings on TV, you might think the committee is working, but what they have discussed to date is extremely fragmentary and decontextualized departmental budgets without salary information. This is a good start but it is only a start. Departmental budgets are a small fraction of the overall budget.

Especially disturbing is the administration’s failure to provide full financials for the 2013-2014 year that ended June 30, 2014 – more than FOUR months ago!  Information about the last completed fiscal year is needed to analyze the proposed budget in light of previous history. Without this information, the last year we have is 2012/2013 which is three full years from the budget being worked on now.

As a result, Arthur Green, Budget Committee member from Sandown, has been forced to make repeated Right to Know demands of the district concerning budgetary information,  Once this information is provided, we will have to pay for it at 50 cents a page out of our own pocket.  Unfortunately, we are getting used to paying for public information we need to do our job. Below are Mr. Green’s time sensitive emails asking for information.  Not one of these emails has been answered or even acknowledged to date.

NOVEMBER 2, 2014

Dr. Metzler,
This query is intended for Mr. Stokinger, and I have .cc’d him for everyone’s convenience.
At the last budget committee meeting, we briefly discussed the posting of financials.  I see that the September report has been posted, and thanks for that.
We also discussed the final report for the 2013/14 year end, with complete revenues and accurate encumberances.  I do not see that report posted, my apologies if I have not found the correct folder.
Not mentioned at the meeting, I would also like to request the comparable August and September monthly reports for 2013… so far only July is posted.
Finally, since the towns are now reviewing the tax figures for the November tax bills, I would like to request the tax allocation calculation (3 pages) as would appear in the 2014 annual report, similar to what was shared with Budcom last fall.
Thanks very much for your attention to this request.
Regards,
Arthur Green
___________________
NOVEMBER 9, 2014
Dr. Metzler
Please consider this a formal Right to Know request under NH law for the following documents:
Tax allocation details for 2014/15, covering the details typically provided in the Tax Assessment section (3 pages) of the district’s annual report:
  • Proration factors based upon equalized valuation
  • Proration factors based upon ADM
  • Apportionment of appropriations
  • Summary of town-by town Operating Assessment, Capital Assessment, Education Grant, Impact Fees, and Total Assessment Required from tax sources
I am extremely disappointed that I am obliged to resume Right to Know requests for information that I need to execute my duties on Budget Committee.
My attached request, as well as several other information requests over the past few weeks, have not even been acknowledged, although in some cases they have been actioned:
  • The monthly and year-end financials requested in the attached note were posted to the district web site on Nov. 6.
  • Mr. Stokinger responded to a question by Mrs. Green at the Nov 6 School Board meeting, acknowledging that the district’s budget analysis of free full-time Kindergarten should not have included additional adequacy aid of $234,000.  The administration did not acknowledge (or reply to) my note of Nov 2 pointing out that the adequacy aid formula for Kindergarten is capped at half day participation.  This materially changes the budgetary impact of offering free full-time kindergarten.
  • On October 26 I asked for clarification on whether the A12 staffing filings do or do not include vacant positions.  I also asked for information on district-aligned positions which are not included on the school-by-school staffing reports.  No response, no acknowledgement.
  • On October 26 I responded to a note from Mr. Stokinger, in which he provided some public web links about some of the special ed providers used for out-of-district placements.  Mr. Stokinger indicated in this note that he believed it responded to my request at budget committee for itemized information about those placements.  No response, no acknowledgement.
  • On October 22, I asked about the source and methodology of the enrollment forecast for 2015/16, since the district is forecasting enrollment substantially higher than the NESDEC forecast.  No response, no acknowledgement.
Some of these latter items may not be subject to Right to Know, as I am not in a position to demand an existing public document.  However, all are material to our current activity in defining a fiscally responsible budget to support a quality education.
Please comment on how I can expect these and similar requests to be dealt with.
Regards,
Arthur Green                                        
NOVEMBER 15, 2014
Dr. Metzler,
Please consider this a formal Right to Know request under NH law for the following documents:
  1. Year-end expenditures and revenues for the 2013/14 year, documenting the budgeted and actual expenditures for all items which are covered on the 2014 Annual Report, including (but not limited to) the following items not included on previously-provided financial reports:
    • Transfer from unassigned fund balance
    • Fund transfers: Food Service Fund – 5221
    • Fund transfers: Federal Projects – 5222
    • Fund transfers: Performing Arts Ctr Programs – 5223
    • Grand total Expenditures
    • Grand total Revenues
  2. A complete list of encumbrances as of June 30, itemized by Function code/object code
I would note that this information had been promised during the Oct. 23 budget committee meeting, and had ostensibly been fulfilled with files posted by the district on the budget committee sharepoint on Nov. 6.  I noticed that the posted file showed incomplete expenditures, and brought it to Mr. Stokinger’s attention at the Nov. 13 budget committee meeting, at which Mr. Stokinger exhibited surprise that I would have expected the financial reports to show the complete year-end revenue and expenditure position.
As a budget committee member, I consider it outrageous that we are expected to deliberate the 2015/16 budget without having complete facts of the 2013/14 year which ended over four months ago.  I also consider it an affront to the taxpayers who expect this work to be dealt with seriously.
Arthur Green
————————————–
UPDATE 11/22/14:  Arthur picked up the first Right to Know demand (RTK) on Oct. 19th and paid $20 for 40 pages only one of which was needed to fulfill the demand. He picked up the other RTK demand on Oct 21, paid $7 and found it non-compliant in that it did not include full expenditures and full revenue as requested. The full draft budget for 2015-2016 has been released.

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More on Bloated Staffing

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

I have demonstrated that Timberlane school district is grossly overstaffed , due to a persistent failure to manage staff levels in line with declining enrollment (presentation to Timberlane Budget Committee, Oct. 23).

I have shown that the district could reduce 76 full-time positions and still

  • have more staff resources than comparable districts with stronger academic results
  • maintain the current level of special ed teachers and aides
  • maintain the current level of kindergarten staff

None of my factual material has been disputed, and there have been no arguments rebutting my conclusions.

One objection has been raised in the blog discussion thread which I would like to deal with in detail – that the staffing level I am recommending would result in increased class sizes, particularly in the context of elementary school, where Timberlane applies maximum class sizes as a matter of policy.  (Note:  My recommended staffing level is based on comparing districts using standard NH DOE metrics.  I’ve previously illustrated the relationship between Class Size and Student/Teacher Ratio using Danville Elementary School as an example.)

Let’s look at the class sizes in the five comparable districts which have stronger academic results (2013/14 stats from the NH DOE web site – School and district profiles):

First, let’s note a few observations, remembering that all these districts have a lower staffing level (higher student/teacher ratio) than Timberlane:

  • Keene has lower average class sizes than Timberlane (despite having elementary students distributed across 5 schools instead of our 4.
  • Salem has about the same average class sizes as Timberlane
  • Keene, Merrimack and Salem all have average class sizes within Timberlane’s policy maximum. Hudson’s average exceeds Timberlane’s maximum only in 1 grade.

Of course, average and maximum are possibly very different. Looking at the school-by-school breakdowns one can learn that Hudson, the district with the highest student/teacher ratio, would need to add only 3 teachers to comply with Timberlane’s maximum class size policy. Bedford would need to add only 4.

Based on my proposed staffing model, Timberlane would have 16 more regular ed teachers than Bedford, and 21 more than Hudson.

Conclusion: Under my plan, Timberlane would have ample teachers to maintain the current maximum class size policy if that is how the district prefers to prioritize its use of resources.

Keep in mind that the five comparison districts all have stronger academic results, so it is definitely worth questioning whether strict maximum class sizes are the right priority to deliver a quality education.

Update:  Thanks to a friendly reader for the offline suggestion that I add some discussion of the distinctions and relationships between class size and student/teacher ratios.  I added a link to my previous case study of Danville Elementary.

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New Tyranny at Timberlane: Policy Committee Under Attack

Policies fundamentally affect the way the district is run.  As I have been told many times, the primary function of the school board is to set policy.  As of this morning, the school board’s Policy Committee has been shot in the knees.  Dr. Metzler and the other co-chair of the Policy Committee have unilaterally decided that deliberations by the Policy Committee should not exceed 10 minutes on any one policy at Policy Committee meetings and that topics to be discussed will be pre-screened.  The notice came down from on high  without any previous discussion by the Policy Committee.

Hello Policy Committee Members:

Co-Chairs Peter Bealo and Dr. Metzler shall institute the following process for policy review as a means to foster more productive and efficient committee meetings.

Policy meeting packets will be distributed at least two weeks in advance of the meeting to encourage individual policy review prior to the meeting.
1.      Committee members are encouraged to submit their comments and suggestions about the policies to the co-chairs ONLY by the Monday before the meeting.  These comments and suggestions will be considered for meeting discussion.  Copying to a quorum of the committee could very well constitute a meeting, and as such, this practice is strongly discouraged.
2.      A time limit of 10 minutes for discussion shall be given to each policy under review.  This is where comments and suggestions to the co-chairs will be helpful in driving that discussion.  It will be up to the co-chairs to determine if additional time is necessary to address a policy.
It is important to note this process is not intended to prohibit a healthy discussion about the policies of the school district; just the opposite, it is to help direct the discussion and keep the meetings productive and moving along as charged by the school board as its chief function, along with providing the resources for the successful implementation of these policies.
Please find attached the December 4th Policy Committee meeting packet.  You will notice the first item on the agenda is the goals for 2014-15.  Your ideas and suggestions for goals for the current year can be emailed to Dr. Metzler and Mr. Bealo as well.

Have a good weekend,
Cathy

Recent policy changes at Timberlane no longer require a large number of contracts to go out to competitive bid.  As of a few days ago the administration can now move up to $25,000 around for different budgeted purposes without elected official knowledge or approval.  One policy change being proposed will limit public comment at school board meetings to items on the agenda and only on the agenda.  (This has the happy consequence of stopping budget committee members from making public comment at school board meetings, and parents from bringing up issues.)

Since I’ve joined the Policy Committee, the number of policies we have been able to advance for the laughable “first and second readings”  has gone from 6-10 policies a meeting to 2-6.  Is this because I am disruptive?  No, it is because I ask us to really think about what these policies mean.  Mr. Bealo said just a few days ago at the most recent school board meeting that our discussions are productive and important.

The committee is large.  It consists of eleven people only four of whom are school board members.  Our policies are a mess because they have gone through many agenda-driven revisions without any real attention to detail.  They have inconsistencies and in at least one case outright unintelligible sentences. So far as I’ve been able to observe, the Policy Committee’s primary purpose is to transfer as much authority to the superintendent as possible in the shortest time possible.

The Co-chair is asking for goals.  Here’s mine:  Disband the Policy Committee and let the superintendent write the policies to his liking.  Then the yoke of checks and balances will be lifted from our shoulders.

P.S. Policy Committee meetings are just one hour long once a month.  Not much time to devote to the Board’s most important function, is it?   Lack of deliberative time is the chief ploy the district uses to control outcomes. This is in keeping with giving the Budget Committee the district’s full budget with only two meetings remaining in their deliberative schedule (three if you count Dec. 23 which is invariably cancelled).  The second most well-used ploy is withholding information and surrendering it when it cannot be useful as is done during budget deliberations.  More on that soon.

UPDATE 11/17/14:  Listen to radio commentator Rich Girard’s take on this: Girard on Limiting Debate

 

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Filed under School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning

Police Release RTK Information. Investigation Closed.

Lt. Baldwin of the Plaistow Police Department has released documents in response to my lawyer’s Right to Know request.  I picked them up late this afternoon.

I  learned from reading reports enclosed that Lt. Baldwin had closed the investigation on October 22.

 

 

 

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Parents Take Note: Textbooks Getting Reviewed

With Donna Garner’s permission to reproduce this, I urge parents and school board members to save this information and use it. Whether or not you agree with the political slant, it is always good to know exactly what is inside texts that are educating our children. [Thanks to Rich Girard of GirardatLarge.com for the information.]

“First Time Ever Done in America: Truth in Texas Textbooks”
by Donna Garner
11.9.14

This has never been done by any group in America. Without getting paid a penny, average citizens formed Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT); and they have completed “the largest and most extensive textbook review of social studies textbooks in the US.”

Let by Lt. Col. (retired) Roy White, these grassroots citizens took matters into their own hands; dedicated themselves to spend countless hours reading through the new, proposed social studies instructional materials (IM’s); and they have submitted in writing the factual errors, omission of facts, half-truths, and agenda bias.

Rather than allowing leftist organizations such as Texas Freedom Network (please see link at bottom of this page) to dominate the process, these patriotic citizens of Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT) have done “their homework.”

Background: On 5.21.10, the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education adopted new Social Studies TEKS (Texas’ curriculum standards) that are the most fact-based and patriotic of any standards in the entire United States. Since that time, publishers have been developing new social studies instructional materials (e.g., textbooks) that are supposed to be based upon the 5.21.10 Social Studies TEKS. In the upcoming Nov. 18 – 21 Board meeting, the SBOE will be voting on a list of approved Social Studies curriculum materials.

Lt. Col. White chaired Truth in Texas Textbooks; and their evaluations have now been posted on a public website — http://truthintexastextbooks.com/.

These evaluations are easily accessible to the publishers, to the public, and to the SBOE members.

The TTT (Truth in Texas Textbooks) website is easy to understand, and all of their evaluations have been formatted so that they are easy to read and share (formatted in WORD).

Lt. Col. White has explained on the website how the public can sign up to testify at the upcoming Texas State Board of Education meeting (Nov. 18, 2014). Now by utilizing the valuable TTT evaluations, the public will feel completely confident to present their remarks.

Here are excerpts from Lt. Col. White’s website, and I have posted further on down the page some helpful links for easy access:

TTT is the largest effort by average citizens assisted by subject matter experts to do full reviews on social studies textbooks. TTT will begin to populate the website with reviews by other reputable individuals and groups such as TTT who wish to share their reviews with us.

The total number of books reviewed were 32 high school and/or middle school textbooks. Cumulatively TTT reviewers compiled 469 pages of factual errors, imbalanced presentation of materials, omission of information, opinions disguised as facts and additionally questions found in the teacher’s editions that are considered “agenda building” or “leading questions” to conclusions not supported by facts.
The goal is to have as many social studies textbook reviews posted in one place that will give parents, teachers and Board of Education members a single source to find these reviews to insure the publishers are held accountable for producing factual and honest social studies textbooks. This will be an ongoing process handled by volunteers.

No one is getting paid; we are not a 501c nor plan at this point to become one. We merely want to have the most factual and intelligently honest textbooks possible for our children.
This website is dedicated to two groups:

1. The children of Texas (our future!)
2.. The TTT Coalition volunteers who have expended thousands of hours on conference calls, reading training newsletters, going through “mock reviews” and finally conducting the actual reviews on the textbooks. As well as putting up with me.

Over 5 million children will use these textbooks over the next 8 years.

TTT has reached out to each publisher and asked to speak to them in order to facilitate change and in correcting the errors we found. They are to respond to the SBOE and TEA regarding our inputs sometime this week or early next week. We will put up their replies so everyone can see what changes are being agreed to and which ones aren’t.

Based upon those final edits we will rate the books as either “Good”, “Poor” or “Worse” but this will occur sometime in December most likely as we assess the number of changes and the impact that has on the quality of the textbook. The SBOE will vote “up or down” on the textbooks on or about November 21, 2014.

This has been over a year in the making. Our volunteers have put their lives on hold in making this happen and they are the real heroes in what is the largest and most extensive textbook review of social studies textbooks by “average” citizens in the US. I hope others like them will step up in other states and in Texas when more textbooks in other areas are put forth for adoption.

LINKS TO TTT’S EVALUATIONS:

Evaluations done by TTT reviewers – listed by the name of publishing company: http://truthintexastextbooks.com/texas-book-reviews/

Summary of findings – World History, Geography, and Cultures: http://truthintexastextbooks.com/about-us/

Summary of findings of factual errors, omission of facts, half-truths, and agenda bias — Economics, U. S. History, Government: http://truthintexastextbooks.com/about-us/

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Texas State Board of Education Meetings: http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/Leadership/State_Board_of_Education/SBOE_Meetings/SBOE_-_State_Board_of_Education/

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11.9.14 – “Progressive Bias Rampant in Texas Textbooks” — by Merrill Hope – Breitbart Texas

http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-Texas/2014/11/09/Progressive-Bias-Rampant-In-Texas-Textbooks/

2.3.13 – “Who and What Texas Freedom Network (TFN) Really Is” — by Donna Garner —

http://nocompromisepac.ning.com/profiles/blogs/who-and-what-texas-freedom-network-really-is-by-donna-garner

Donna Garner
Wgarner1@hot.rr.com

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Surprise! Cozy Low Bid for PR Contract

Four bids were received for the district’s proposed Public Relations services.

  • $50,400   (Massachusetts)
  • $46,800    (California)
  • $39,500    (Massachusetts)
  • $18,000    (New Hampshire)

The low bid is from SERESC, the organization where superintendents go off to their final taxpayer funded reward.  About SERESC   Our former superintendent, Mr. LaSalle, now heads this organization and Dr. Metzler is one of seven fellow superintendents from neighboring SAUs who comprise the Executive Committee. You might remember SERESC as being the organization that gave us Mrs. Metzler as the Spanish consultant for kindergarten.

SERESC is quick footed, if nothing else.  They recently managed to snag Jason Grosky’s wife, Gretchen Grosky, as a PR consultant and have proposed her as the service provider in their bid.  Mr. Jason Grosky is chairman of the Timberlane Budget Committee.

The Community Relations Committee, which disgraced itself by opening these bids outside of the publicly announced time and place for the opening, will be deciding on their recommendations at their next meeting in early December.  Then they will put their recommendation forward to the school board who will bless the committee’s hard work and thank them for finding such a marvelous consultant right in our own backyard!  Actually we don’t look in backyards.  We climb up on ladders and peer into bedrooms.

Mrs. Grosky is a former journalist and editor who registered her own PR company, GMG Strategies LLC, with the state of New Hampshire in August 2013.

I should stress that no decision has yet been made and no contract has yet been awarded, but I smell her name plate being printed.

Only five short years ago our policy KDCA (student communications) said this:

“The best possible community relations grow from a superior teaching job in the classroom. Enthusiastic pupils with serious intentions, well directed by sympathetic and capable teachers, are certain to communicate with the parents and the community.  The School Board believes this is the cornerstone of good community relations.”

That earnest and encouraging paragraph can no longer be found in any of our policies.

See Dr. Metzler announcing that he had given Rob Collins of the Community Relations Committee Mrs. Grosky’s name  at the May 29 School Board meeting:

http://vimeo.com/album/255898/video/97162461     FORWARD  TO   3: 42: 40  .

Should you be concerned about the independence of elected officials in the district or the SAU,  let me reassure you that there is nothing to worry about. It’s business as usual. The wife of  SAU board member, Jason Cipriano, was hired as a full-time teacher at Timberlane in August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, Spanish Consultant Contract