Monthly Archives: January 2015

Town Deliberative Tomorrow Starts at 10 am

Dear Sandown Residents,

Our annual Town Deliberative Session start time has been delayed by two hours due to snow.  It is now scheduled to begin at 10 am, tomorrow, Jan. 31. at Town Hall.

Best to check the town website, Sandown.us or Channel 17 for cancellation information in the event of a major snowfall overnight.

Hope to see you all there tomorrow and even more at the school Deliberative Session on Feb 5th, 7 pm at the high school gym in Plaistow.

By the way, today is the last day to put your name on the ballot for public office.  5 pm Town Hall to become a local hero!

 

 

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Arthur Green Hits the Radio Again

This morning Arthur Green appeared on the Girard at Large radio show with host Rich Girard.  Arthur spoke about the difficulty we are having trying to understand a difference of 23-27 full-time equivalent positions between figures given to us in Jan. 2014 and those filed with the Department of Education in October 2014.   He spells it all out here with general observations about the proposed 2015-2016 Timberlane budget:

Green on “Bad or Worse” Choices for Timberlane Taxpayers

Thanks to Rich Girard for his ongoing interest in Timberlane issues and school board politics in the state.

By way of clarification, Arthur said I went to the Attorney General’s office in an attempt to obtain  staffing information. I did not make a formal complaint at that time but I did threaten to do so if the staffing information was not given to us.

 

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Sandown Central Closure Staff Reduction – Less Than Meets The Eye

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

Despite being sold as a reduction of 9 positions,  the district will actually lose only 7 positions in the closing of Sandown Central.

Here are the announced staffing cuts from Sandown Central closure (all numbers are Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) staff:

  • 2.4 Teachers
  • 1 Guidance
  • 1 Nurse
  • 1 Principal
  • 1 Secretary
  • 2.4 Custodians

… for a total of 8.8 staff.  The associated salary and benefits reduction is about $700 thousand.

This year’s staffing of Sandown Central is 35.6 staff.  Let’s look at the reductions in context:

2014/15 FTE Staff Reduction Remaining
Regular Education Classroom Teachers 10.4 2.4 8
Special Education Classroom Teachers 3 3
Regular Education Aides 3 3
Special Education Aides 6 6
Principals 1 1 0
Guidance Counselors/Directors 1 1 0
Media Specialists 0.4 0.4
Media Aides 1 1
Non-teaching Professionals not included above 3.9 1 2.9
Clerical support staff 1 1 0
Other support staff 4.9 2.4 2.5
Total 35.6 8.8 26.8

 

How many of the 26.8 remaining staff are directly needed to service the relocated students?

We know that there will be 6 grade 4/grade 5 classes in the consolidated Sandown North.  That’s 6 classroom teachers.  There are 3 regular ed aides who directly support the existing classes, so they will be equally required in the consolidation. The 9 Special Ed teachers and aides workload is driven by IEPs, and we can assume that will be unchanged by consolidation.

So we can directly associate 18 staff with the transfer of 6 classrooms plus relocating special ed services.  That is half of the original staff.

What are the other nine needed for?  We would like to be told.  This has not been discussed at School Board or Budget Committee, and there is no plan which lays out the rationale for how many positions are deemed necessary.

But wait, the administration proposed, with approval of the budget committee, to add the following positions to the 2015/16 budget:

  • Principal  (with no assignment as yet)
  • Floating Nurse
  • Danville assistant principal change to full time from part time
  • Special ed teacher
  • Technology specialist

… at a total cost of $390 thousand.

Coincidentally, the principal and nurse positions correspond to positions removed from Sandown Central.

So realistically, the closure/consolidation has resulted in only 7 real staff reductions which makes one question the real savings in  the proposed consolidation.  And don’t forget the cost of upgrading Sandown North’s playground and adding a sprinkler system – expenses the superintendent says he would do anyway but were not part of the facilities five year plan.

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Closing Sandown Central, Expenditures, Sandown Issues, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

SAU has Police, Lawyer, on Speed Dial for Critics

When Leon Artus went to his mailbox today, he was surprised to find a card notifying him that a certified letter awaited him at the post office.  It was our tax dollars at work!  The firm of DrummondWoodsum,  which represents our SAU, was instructing Mr. Artus to no longer communicate with Superintendent Metzler. Metzler Attorney Letter to Leon Artus

Here’s a timeline of recent events in Mr. Artus’ life:

Dec. 4, 2014   While quietly waiting in his car around 8:30 pm in the Vic Geary Drop in Center adjacent to the SAU building, Mr. Artus is approached by two Plaistow Police officers.  He told them he was waiting for a school board member. As he handed them his identification, his concealed carry permit fell out which led to Mr. Artus to tell the police that he had a gun with him. The police also remarked that there was mouthwash in the car which Mr. Artus uses to freshen his breath after smoking. The police asked Mr. Artus to park his vehicle at a different angle so his headlights would not annoy households across the street, which he did.

Subsequent to this encounter, the police officers went into the SAU building still full of people from a just-adjourned school board meeting.  The police shared their encounter about Mr. Artus with someone on the board or the SAU.  Three days later  the incident was being discussed on the Atkinson Reporter 2 blog with innuendos about Mr. Artus “drinking mouthwash”.

Dec 11, 2014  An armed Plaistow Police officer  present for the Budget Committee meeting. An officer appeared at all subsequent meetings of the budget committee and school board – without a vote of either body.

Dec. 18: 2014  Timberlane School Board holds a non-public meeting on the grounds of reputation to discuss an incident in the parking lot of the Vic Geary Drop In Center.

Jan. 13, 2015  Mr. Artus submits a citizen petition warrant article to Atkinson Town Hall asking the voters to approve the first step in a process to begin withdrawing from the Timberlane School District.

Jan 15, 2015   Timberlane Public Hearing on the proposed 2015-2016 budget.  Mr. Artus asked pointed questions of Superintendent Metzler and refused to call him “Dr.”

Jan. 20, 2015  The Plaistow Police interview Mr. Artus over the phone concerning two emails Mr. Artus sent to the superintendent in Dec. 2014.  A few hours  later, the investigating officer called Mr. Artus back to say they were dropping the investigation.

Jan. 22, 2015   At the School Board meeting that evening, Mr. Artus took  great exception to the school board holding a non-public meeting which he believed concerned him without giving him the opportunity to be present. He requested his issue to be placed on the agenda of a future meeting.  He was denied. (That’s what Ms. Steenson means when she takes things under advisement or consideration.  History has never shown her ‘advisement’ to have resulted in any subsequent action.) I made a motion for same; it failed for want of a second.

Jan 24, 2015  Lawyer’s letter mailed to Mr. Artus.

Mr. Artus is the head of Atkinson Taxpayers for Fair Evaluations.

Readers might want to refresh their memory concerning Dr. Metzler’s police complaint about me “harassing” his assistant, Ms. Belcher.   Green Threatened with Criminal Charges

The Timberlane School District uses the services of the Plaistow Police department for police details throughout the year for sports, cultural and other events at the schools. Now can be added protecting elected officials and staff from “harassment.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Non-public session abuse, School Board Behavior, Withdrawing from District

Staffing Discrepancies – Administration Digs the Hole Deeper

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

As I reported a few days ago, here, there is a sizable discrepancy between staffing numbers reported to the Department of Education for this current year, and the staffing numbers give to us by the Superintendent in  January of 2014.

Quick recap:

  • 723.5 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) staff planned for 2014/15, provided via Right to Know response in January 2014
  • 688.4 actual FTE staff reported to the NH DOE in October 2014
  • 35 fewer actual than planned, with 31 “District” staff shown on the January plan

I asked about this discrepancy in writing in October, 2014 shortly after the NH DOE filing on staffing was submitted.  A response was finally provided on January 9 which gave no explanation of the discrepancy.  Full details are in the linked post above.

Dr. Metzler explained the matter at the Jan. 22 school board meeting  as follows:

She’s comparing projected numbers in a budget that failed with a default budget with 3 different reporting forms which she knows nothing about and so the numbers will never match, they never have matched and they never will match on those three different things.

Leaving aside the gratuitous insult, Dr. Metzler is saying that the plan which budgeted 723.5 staff was rejected by the voters, and that staffing under the default budget would naturally be different (lower).

Let’s examine this.  The proposed budget for the current year differed from the default budget by $502,000, and 12.7 staff.  Five of these staff were needed to institute the Full-Time Kindergarten program, which was implemented despite rejection of the proposed budget.  So the rejection of the proposed budget accounts for only 7.7 out of the 35 FTE positions we are asking about.

Dr. Metzler’s comment does not answer the question, although it reduces the apparent discrepancy from 35 positions to 27 positions – or 22 at best if we assume that the Full-Time Kindergarten was implemented by repurposing existing staff positions.

Most recently, Donna Green requested a full staff list which would include salaries and budgeted hours per position – information which is definitely in the public domain in NH.  This listing would definitively substantiate the number of actual staffed FTE positions. The school board chairman refused to provide this. Donna Green then submitted a Right to Know request for the school board chair and Dr. Metzler. We await a reply.

The underlying question is, why is the district so determined to prevent transparent disclosure of staffing plans and staffing levels?  Dr. Metzler taunts a School Board member for “knowing nothing”.  If “the Greens” know nothing, it is because the administration does everything possible to avoid responding to requests for specific information (as documented in the linked post above).

Let’s look at it another way.  The district reported that actual staffing in 2014/15 dropped from 695 to 688 – a drop of 7 positions.  At the same time, the Full-Time Kindergarten program was initiated, requiring 5 additional FTE positions from amongst the (lower) 688 staff.  That could mean that all other programs had a staff reduction of 12 positions in order to repurpose staff to the Full-Time Kindergarten program at the same time overall staffing dropped.

Keep in mind that we supposedly need to close a school this year to get just 9 staff reductions.

Is it really credible that 12 FTE staff were removed from other programs while existing headcount was repurposed to kick off the Full-Time Kindergarten program with no visibility or discussion at the School Board level?

To be clear, I am skeptical that other programs were reduced, and therefore my level of confidence in the administration staffing numbers is lower than before Dr. Metzler addressed the matter.

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On Closing Sandown Central… the no choice option ahead

Let me present the district’s line of argument about the closing of Sandown Central in a timeline.

2008:  Capital Improvement Plan recommends consolidating the two Sandown Elementary schools with an extensive addition to Sandown North.

March, 2009:  District voters reject a warrant to provide funds to plan and design an addition to Sandown North in order to consolidate it with Sandown Central.

Jan. 2014:  Rob Collins, School board chairman, writes an email saying Sandown Central will have to close if the budget is cut. He also introduces the threat of user fees and program cuts.   Watch this email challenged by Mrs. Copp at a Sandown Board of Selectman meeting with Mr. Collins and Dr. Metzler.   http://vimeo.com/85950991#t=36m35s

March 2014:  Voters elect default budget which is just $500,000 less than the district’s proposed budget, or 0.75% less.

Dec 4.2014:  At a school board meeting, Dr. Metzler announces that the second draft of the 2015-2016 budget removes the operating expenses of Sandown Central. Financial information presented  shows Sandown Central with the highest per pupil elementary operating costs. School Board votes to support Superintendent’s budget.

Dec. 5, 2014:  Second budget draft published on Budget Committee website (with SC operating expenses removed). First time Sandown Central closure is placed before Budget Committee.

Dec. 11, 2014:  Deliberation on second draft budget by Budget Committee. Mr. Cantone pressed Dr. Metzler for any other costs associated with the closure. Administration said the total picture was a savings of $744,299.

Dec. 12, 2014: SAU publishes draft three of budget that adds $260,000 for a sprinkler system and $90,000 for a playground expansion at Sandown North – never before mentioned at Budget Committee, School Board or Facility Committee meetings – nor were they on the five-year plan for facility enhancements published by the facilities manager.

Jan. 8, 2015:  At a school board meeting, Peter Bealo motions to move 4th and 5th grades from Sandown Central to Sandown North.  Motion defeated. Donna Green tries to get the operating expenses separated from the kitchen renovation cost by introducing two separate warrant articles.  Motion defeated.  All warrant articles approved for public hearing, including  a warrant for $1,160,544 to keep Sandown Central open and renovate and equip a new kitchen. (Vote of 6-1-1)

Jan. 13, 2015  Two Citizen Petition warrant articles about Sandown Central are submitted for the March ballot. One asks voters to approve $602,528 in operating funds to keep the school open (without a new kitchen).  Another instructs the district to do a study and have voters decide on all school closings. (Advisory only).

Jan.15, 2015 Budget Public Hearing: Dr, Metzler responds to a question by Donna Green  about what would happen if neither warrant article passes to keep the school open and what if one does pass.  The Superintendent replies that if both warrants fail, then by law the district can’t keep the school open; however, if one does pass the school board could vote to close the school in any event.  “‘No’ means ‘No,'” he said, “but ‘Yes’ doesn’t mean ‘Yes.’ ”  Mr. Cantone questions if closing the school is strategically the best thing to do, then why did the school board put forward a warrant article to fund keeping the school open with a new kitchen?  Acting school board chair, Kate Delfino replies that the board wanted to give the voters a choice even though the school is inefficient and could be consolidated.  Dr. Metzler promises that if a new kitchen is put into Sandown Central, he would not recommend the school be closed in the short-term.    

Jan.22, 2015:  Kelly Ward, Sandown school board representative, motions to table any further vote on closing Sandown Central until after the March election.  The Board defeats this vote.  Green decries the irresponsible lack of information or study on the closing. Peter Bealo from Plaistow motions (again) to move 4th and 5th grade from Sandown Central to Sandown North.  That motion is also defeated.  The board is made to understand that a future vote on the closing of the school can be made at any time at future meetings.

So here we have it.  The school board thinks the best use of taxpayer money with the least impact on students is to close a school.

  •  They do not require anything that might be called a study to support their blithe pronouncements that a consolidation will be unproblematic and will not lead to much greater costs in the future.
  • The administration takes two meetings to reveal to the budget committee the full extent of the costs to consolidate the schools which includes a sprinkler system and a new playground — previously unplanned expenses.
  • The school board puts forward a warrant article to fund the school with a new $416,000 kitchen because they say they want to give voters the chance to keep the school open. They reject a motion to split the article into two choices.
  • The school board repeatedly votes to close the school and undertakes to make no promise about when they will finally vote on the issue – possibly before the election.
  • We learn from public hearing that even a yes vote by district voters to keep the school open could result in closing the school.

Here’s what I have concluded from this comedy of errors:  the school will be closed unless district voters agree to invest $416,000 in a new kitchen.   Just how does this reduce the cost of running this school?  It only inflates the capital expense of keeping it open and does nothing at all to reduce the operating per pupil cost.  Evidently the primary issue was not the per pupil operating cost of the school after all.

What was the real purpose of putting the school board’s warrant for operating expenses and a new kitchen on the ballot?

To give the voters a say?    Nope

To take the responsibility off the school board?  Nope…. they are still trying to take votes

Why indeed?  Every which way is illogical. But it does have some happy consequences for the district’s goals.

If both warrant articles concerning SC are defeated:  school closes and the board is forbidden from opening the school – decision made for them.

If the warrant article that includes the kitchen passes:  School stays open for at least the short term and the district  loses the opportunity to gain saving by a consolidation.

If the Citizen’s Warrant Article passes:  the board has the discretion to keep the school open or to close it, BUT it will raise $602,528 either way. The law says money raised by warrant for one purpose cannot be used for any other purpose – but it can be put directly into surplus which will disguise the absence of other money that should have been in surplus but has been spent.

People accuse me of being conspiratorial, but I am merely presenting the logical possibilities.

This uncertainty provokes anxiety in the students, and causes resentment among parents and taxpayers.  Wasn’t there a better way to go about all this?

See the school warrant articles here:School Deliberative information

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Closing Sandown Central, Sandown Issues, School Board Functioning

No Vote Yet to Close Sandown Central

Someone should produce a TV show about cowardly/indecisive school boards. They could get years of material from Timberlane.

Last night’s school board meeting featured public comment from Sandown residents universally in favor of keeping the school open for at least one more year. (I read one email from two Sandown residents in favor of closing the school immediately.)  Kelly Ward, representative from Sandown, motioned to table the closing vote until after the election to give voters a chance to act on the three warrant articles on the ballot affecting the closure of Sandown Central.  That motioned failed by a tie vote because Mr. Blair abstained.  After that, Plaistow’s Mr. Bealo motioned to move 4th and 5th grades from Sandown Central to Sandown North.

Sandown resident, Mr. Lee Dube, rose from the audience to say that the board had already voted on Mr. Bealo’s motion at a previous meeting and the board could not vote on the same motion twice as per Robert’s Rules of Order.  At this the chairman called a much appreciated recess while someone looked up the rules.  When we reconvened, the chairman allowed the motion and noted that a “No” vote at that time did not mean the same motion could not be voted again later when the board was ready to make a decision. Mr. Bealo’s motioned failed by all but one vote – his own.

During the meeting I spoke against closing the school this year for the following reasons:

  • No exploration of alternate plans at the board level
  • No traffic plan
  • No classroom plan
  • No Special Education reassignment plan
  • The school board has not toured either school and furthermore I have been PROHIBITED from entering the schools during operational hours
  • Zero discussion about the adaptations needed at all the other elementary schools to accommodate the relocated Special Education programs
  • Zero discussion of the future use of Sandown Central as a building
  • No consideration of the cost in building code upgrades with the change in use of the building
  • No consideration of the tax impact to the district of changing the building from a school to another use

I could go on as that was a list made in five minutes.

The irresponsibility of your school board is breathtaking.  They have not given the administration any direction to provide the above information.  They expect to take a vote and have the administration figure everything out afterwards so that your elected officials don’t have to trouble their heads about any of the details that affect every elementary student in the district – not just the 138 students in Sandown Central.

The most outrageous statement of the night, if you can overlook the Atkinson snobbery behind Mr. Sapia saying that he was very proud of all the Sandown residents for speaking so well, has to go to Mrs. Delfino. She said that it pains her very much to close a school but with a cut of three quarters of a million dollars from the budget, something had to go.

A cut from the budget?  The proposed budget is UP over last year by 0.58% (while we anticipate losing 150 students)  and the default budget is even higher.  There is no cutting going on whatsoever.  When the board and administration say the budget was cut, what they mean is that they didn’t get everything they asked for in their first budget draft. And when they didn’t, the administration came back  saying peevishly that if they can’t get the 2.75% increase they want, then they are closing a school.  Like it or lump it. Does that sound like a genuine attempt to grapple with a $67 million budget, or is it budgeting by extortion?  With the sharp decline in district enrollment we are experiencing and will continue to see, budget cuts are the only responsible thing to be doing, actual honest to goodness budget cuts – not rushing to close a school without any board level planning at all and very little evidence of planning at the SAU level.

UPDATE: Jan. 24, 2015 An Atkinson resident justifiably upbraided me for insulting all Atkinson residents in this post. The resident also noted that Mr. Sapia was not elected by their town. The point was well taken and I apologize to the people of Atkinson.

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Closing Sandown Central, Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning