Monthly Archives: December 2014

Arthur Green Sums Up Responsible Budget for Atkinson BOS

On Monday night, Dec. 28, Arthur Green and I attended the Atkinson Board of Selectmen meeting.  Leon Artus, Atkinson resident and head of the Atkinson Taxpayers for Fair Evaluations, had brought Mr. Green’s tax analysis to the attention of the BOS and also introduced us to the board.  They graciously permitted us to speak about the estimated percentage tax increases with the proposed school budget as well as what we are calling the “Responsible Budget” of just under $65 million.

If you haven’t yet watched Arthur explain the staffing problem at Timberlane, you should spend a few minutes watching the video from the Atkinson meeting as it is a concise version of the more detailed presentation he gave at the Sandown Town Hall we hosted on Dec. 7th.

Video link here

The Atkinson selectmen listened attentively and asked insightful questions.  We were grateful for the opportunity to speak  openly and fully without any time constraints and enjoyed a free flow of back and forth that made our time together singularly productive.  Thanks especially to William Baldwin, Chairman of the Atkinson Board of Selectman, for his consideration.  It is no secret that I’ve had issues with Lt. Baldwin in the past and I heartily appreciated his courtesy to us and the way he ran the meeting.

Watch to the end of the clip where the meeting changes tone suddenly. Jack Sapia, appointed school board rep for Atkinson, bursts into the meeting outraged that we did not notify him about our attendance at the meeting.  This is hugely ironic because Mr. Sapia had a tour of Sandown North Elementary School during the day without telling me he was doing so while I have been denied access to all schools in the district during operational hours. School board members, Mrs. Delfino and Mrs. Steenson, made quite a point of how extraordinary the new full-time kindergarten program is after their time visiting the classrooms while they were in action a few months ago.

You will hear Atkinson Selectman Mr. Morse ask Mr. Sapia to leave the meeting.

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Expenditures, Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, Taxes

Staffing Info Denied: Sandown Representation Ignored

This is an email Arthur Green sent to the entire Budget Committee this morning:

 

Mr. Grosky,

At the Dec. 11 Budget Committee meeting, members were invited to submit questions for response in time for the Dec. 23 committee deliberation, with a deadline for submission of Dec. 14 at 7 pm.

Please explain in writing why none of the questions I submitted (attached) were answered.  Specifically:

  • Were my questions forwarded to the administration?
  • Did the administration acknowledge the questions and provide a reason for declining to answer?
  • Since we agreed as a committee that you would be the point of contact for these questions, did you take any steps to protect my rights as a member to get a response to these questions?
  • If there was no intention to answer my questions, why was I not informed of this in advance so that I could offer reasons for needing the information in before the final committee meeting?

This matter concerns not only my individual role as a committee member, but also the Sandown residents whose representation on the committee is being thwarted by denial of information.

I am prepared to accept that question 5 (attached) was substantially dealt with at the Dec. 18 School Board meeting, although it would have been appropriate to acknowledge the question and refer to that SB discussion.

I await your response.

Arthur Green

Email sent Dec. 14, 2014

From: Arthur Green
Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2014 5:45 PM
To: Jason B. Grosky
Cc: Dennis Heffernan ; Cathleen Gorman ; tom.geary@me.com ; Tony Cantone ; Gregory Spero ; Michelle O’Neil ; Richard Blair ; Josh Horns

Subject: Information requests in support of budget deliberations

  1. The 2014/15 A12B staffing report shows 688.4 Full-Time Equivalent employees.  Can you confirm that these positions are all staffed, or does this report include vacant positions?
  2. The 2013/14 A12B report shows 694.9 Full-Time Equivalent employees.  Can you confirm that these positions were all staffed, or did this report include vacant positions?
  3. As part of the district response to Right To Know requests in January, you provided an FTE breakdown which included staffing at the District lever (not associated with a specific school) of 30.1 FTEs in 2013/14 and 31.1 in 2014/15.
    • Are these positions part of Timberlane (as opposed to SAU) staffing/payroll?
    • Are these positions covered by a separate filing to the NH DOE?  If so, can you please provide those filings covering the years from 2007/08 to 2014/15?
    • If not covered by DOE filings, can you confirm the 2013/14 number?
  4. As part of the district response to Right To Know requests in January you provided a Staff Count breakdown which laid out the budgeted staff plan for 2014/15 as it would eventually be presented in the Annual Report – forecasting 740 staff.  Is this still valid as the staff headcount plan for 2014/15?  If not, can you provide your current staff headcount plan for 2014/15.
  5. The 2015/16 Grade 4 and Grade 5 enrollment for Sandown has been variously forecast:
    • 145 (NESDEC 2014 report)
    • 148 (Sandown North budget presentation)
    • 135 (oral discussion at Dec. 11 Budcom meeting)
    • The lower figure would be consistent with a need for 6 additional classes in Sandown North, while the larger forecasts might require 8 additional classes.  What is the district’s planning assumption for this?  Is the difference related to relocation of the district-wide special-ed program?
  6. At the Timberlane School Board meeting on Oct. 16, you stated that forecast enrollment for next year is down by 40 from the current year.  Given this year’s enrollment of 3,773, that would lead to a 2015/16 enrollment of 3,733.As we are all aware, the NESDEC forecast for 2015/16 is 3,613, a decrease of 160 from this year.The NESDEC forecast is generally considered to be highly accurate.  For example, this year’s enrollment of 3,773 is just 9 students different from the NESDEC forecast in their previous year report.If the district is using a forecast other than the NESDEC number, can you provide the source of this alternative, the rationale for using this alternative rather than the NESDEC number, and the methodology by which the number of 3,733 was obtained?

UPDATE (Dec 29, 12:30PM):   Mr. Grosky replied to the email that he did forward Mr. Green’s questions to the administration, and was under the impression that the questions had been answered.  He promised to look into the matter.

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Closing Sandown Central, Expenditures, Right to Know issues, Sandown Issues, The Mushroom Farm

Tax Impact of the 2015/16 Budget – It’s Going To Be a Bumpy Ride

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

The Timberlane budget going forward to public hearing (Jan. 15) and Deliberative Session (Feb 5) will likely mean tax increases for all four towns in the district.

Here are my estimated  numbers:

The budget approved on Dec. 23 by the Timberlane Budget Committee will almost certainly result in a tax increase.  The amount of the increase depends mainly on how much unspent money from the current year is passed forward as revenue to the next year.  The district provided the 2015/16 revenue forecast for the first time on Dec. 12.  It included a surplus of $1.9 million.  This should be taken as highly preliminary because it does not include paying for a sprinkler system and playground expansion to Sandown North in the current budget year.  These two projects were removed from the 2015/16 budget by Budcom on Dec. 23, but the administration said they would likely be done and paid for from the current year surplus.

Lower surplus means higher taxes.  My estimates are based on a range of possible surplus figures.

Residents hoping that the default budget will provide relief will be disappointed.  The default is higher than the BudCom-recommended budget, and could (pessimistically) lead to higher tax increases than experienced under the current default budget this year.

I presented a motion at BudCom for a responsible budget – responsible for families, responsible for quality education, and responsible for the long-term fiscal soundness of the Timberlane district.  The Responsible Budget would result in a modest tax decrease for all four towns (although under the most pessimistic forecast of surplus, Danville’s decrease would disappear).

The Responsible Budget

  • Includes a staffing reduction of 39, just half the staffing reduction justified by comparison with similar high-achieving districts, leaving Timberlane with abundant resources
  • Allows a staffing level which could, if the school board chooses, keep Sandown Central open while a proper closure process is followed
  • Protects all staffing for Special Education teachers and aides, and Kindergarten teachers and aides.
  • Continues to provide a staffing level far exceeding similar districts delivering more with less.
  • Over $1, 250,000 higher than the district operated on for the 2013/2014 year just ended.
  • Represents a cut of just $500,000 from what the district is tracking to run on this year (assuming a $1.9 million surplus).

THE ONLY WAY WE CAN ACHIEVE THIS RESPONSIBLE BUDGET IS TO VOTE FOR IT AT DELIBERATIVE SESSION

ON  FEB. 5TH. 7 PM, Timberlane Regional High School.

Note on tax rates:  My % change estimates on property tax impact are done by calculating how much money the towns are required to recover from the property tax payers, compared to the previous year.  This is the most unambiguous way of discussing property tax impacts, because it avoids the “noise” created by unrelated moves in property valuations, either individual or townwide.  For example, in 2013 Sandown had a major drop in valuations averaging about 20%.  Individuals receiving their valuation notices assumed that they would see a decrease in property tax burden, but because the drop applied generally across all properties, the decreased valuations were offset by higher rates per thousand.  My focus on the dollar amount to be gathered rather than fluctuating valuations creates a clearer comparison from year to year.

My numbers are based on the percentage increase in the overall amount of money each town must provide the district.  My numbers do not forecast the percentage change in the tax rate per thousand dollars of property value, although if valuations are unchanged, the resulting % change will be the same.

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Staffing Up in New Budget. Sdn Central Out (updated)

Timberlane’s staffing problem just got worse.

For starters, Sandown Central is not in the 2015-2016 budget that was approved by the Timberlane Budget Committee last night. Of the 35 staff in that building, only 9 positions were removed.  Even the principal has retained a job but we don’t know what that job will be.  Dear Mr. Rolph is a principal without a school.

And if that weren’t bad enough, the district has added a technology assistant as well as a fractional Assistant Principal position at Danville Elementary to bring that position up to full time despite continuing enrollment decline. Throw in a floating nurse and an Intervention teacher and you’ve got a $389,298 increase in salaries and benefits — the amount that the budget exceeds a flat line.

Here’s what was cut from the first draft budget:

  • $744,000 Sandown Central operation
  • $500,000 for transformer replacement in the middle school (because this is being done for $290,000 from this current year’s surplus.
  • 12 unfilled staff positions  (not counted in staffing statistics)

Here’s what was introduced and then cut from draft 3

  • $265,ooo sprinkler system for Sandown North
  • $90,000 playground expansion for Sandown North

That is the totality of cuts.  Close a school and look no further for other cuts to your expenditures!  This shows a lack of budgetary discipline and willingness to do serious introspection.

Superintendent Metzler will probably be looking to the school board to spend more surplus money this year for the last two items. This is the consequence of a toxic combination of irresponsibly big structural surpluses, “bottomline” budgeting, and a school board that looks for “emergencies” and “safety issues”  at the end of every fiscal year with a lip smacking surplus glinting in the spring sun.

 UPDATE 12/29/14:  It’s been pointed out that this post needs clarification.  Closing Sandown Central resulted in a cut of only 9 positions. In the third draft of the budget, 4.5 positions were added, so the district-wide effect is a net loss of 4.5 positions.  Is it worth closing a school for 4.5 positions?  This is how Timberlane’s staffing problem just became a lot worse.

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Budget Approved at $67.7 Million

The number is $67,723,927

This is about $400,000 more than a flatline budget.

Add to this  another $98,000 for a new collective bargaining agreement with the support staff union if this passes the voters.

Timberlane’s 2015-2016 budget goes to public hearing  Jan. 15 at   7 pm PAC.

The Battle of the Titans continues to Deliberative,  Thursday, Feb. 5th, 7 pm.

More tomorrow, gentle readers.

 

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Danville Talks of Withdrawing from School District

Last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting in Danville was well attended by elected representatives:

  • Betsy Sanders and Steven Woitkum, State Representatives from Danville
  •  Nancy Steenson and Rob Collins from the Timberlane School Board
  •  Joshua Horns and Michelle O’Neil from the Timberlane Budget Committee

The topic?   Changing the school  district funding formula to give Danville (and Sandown) a break on their school taxes.  Mr. Collins did most of the talking on the issue.  He has proposed changing the funding formula (to 40% based on Equalized Property Value -EPV) which by his own calculations will result in a 12% increase in school taxes to Atkinson. One Danville Selectman argued strongly that only 100% EPV is a fair way to fund the school system. Yikes!

When the topic was finally put to bed after about an hour and a half of discussion, the BOS had decided to have a meeting with members of the other three district town Boards of Selectmen with an aim to agree on a warrant article to change the Terms of Agreement of the district with respect to the funding formula.  No provision was made for what will happen when this meeting fails to come up with a consensus.

It was said a number of times during the meeting that if the funding formula cannot be changed, then the town could appeal to the court to let them out of the district. From the tenor of the discussion last night and the upset in the room about school taxes, my guess is that there will be a citizen’s warrant article on the school ballot to change the funding formula.  When this fails to gain a tw0-thirds majority as it will because Atkinson will not agree to have it school taxes hiked by double digits, then I believe Danville will be looking to remove themselves from the district.

The solution to all of this, of course, is to cut the budget back to a sustainable level for Danville and Sandown.  Which is more prudent?  To watch the district split apart at the seams or to go on a diet?

 

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Arthur Green to Propose $65 Million Bottom Line

Timberlane’s Budget Committee will be meeting to finalize the budget on the evening of Dec. 23rd.  Arthur Green is going to propose a bottom line figure of

$64,940,900.

Mr. Green’s starting point was the budget committee’s own cuts voted on Dec. 11th:  removing all the unfilled positions (12) and the half million dollars for the transformer replacement which is being done in this current year from surplus funds.

Then Mr. Green removed $18,000 for the Public Relations Consultant and 39 staff positions (general staff, not exclusively teachers) at an average cost of $80,000 for salary and benefits.

If you think this is too radical, here’s what you should know about how academically stronger schools with virtually the same number of students  compare with Timberlane schools.

  • Memorial Middle School in Hudson District:  total staff:  110
  • Timberlane Middle School total staff:  158    (44% more)
  • Woodbury Elementary School in Bedford total staff:  66
  • Pollard School in Plaistow total staff:  105   (60% more)
  • Hudson School District as a whole total staff:  494
  • Timberlane School District total staff:  nearly 700  (42% more)

These excessive staffing numbers have nothing to do with being a cooperative school district and if they did then it would be a good argument for dissolving the district for wild inefficiency. What these numbers show is a long practice of not adjusting staffing to declining enrollment.  If you don’t think this is an issue with the culture at SAU#55, then tell me why even with the proposed closure of Sandown Central, the school’s principal, Mr. Rolf, is still included in the proposed third draft of the budget? It turns out closing Sandown Central ends up cutting just 4.5  positions out of 35 staff!

We have heard over and over that closing a school will have the least impact on services, yet we have not heard one specific service that would have to be cut should the school stay open with a zero percent increase in budgeted expenditures.

We’ve also heard over and over, “What staff would you cut?”  Well, that is not our job.  That is the job of management.  Superintendent Metzler is being paid to manage a district and it is his job to manage it as efficiently as other districts that we would emulate in outcomes.  Nothing proposed in the $65 million dollar budget reduces special education. What it does do, however, is give each town in the district a modest tax cut.

When our children were in school in Ontario in the late 1990s, we saw some very bad behavior from school administrators who refused to manage with the resources they were given.  According to Brendan Sweeney, a Post-doc fellow at Queen’s University, “the provincial Ministry of Education assumed control of funding for schools. Prior to this, individual boards could increase funding through a local property tax levy. This taxation was done to ensure equality in the funding of schools across the province and to increase government control over education sector budgets.” In retaliatory action, school principals said they didn’t have the money to supply toilet paper, tissues, pencil and papers.  My children were asked to bring rolls of toilet paper and boxes of Kleenex to school.

When the federal government shut down recently, National Parks were closed. We all know these are political moves to inflict pain in order to shift public opinion.

Superintendent Metzler has lavish resources to run an excellent school district. Other nearby districts of similar size get better academic outcomes with far fewer staff and financial resources. This proposal is simply requiring the district to manage itself better because we have hit the bottom of the seemingly bottomless well of taxpayer generosity.

Stay tuned for the meeting on Tuesday night.

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Filed under Sandown Issues