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:
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.
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:
… 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
Regular Education Classroom Teachers
Special Education Classroom Teachers
Regular Education Aides
Special Education Aides
Non-teaching Professionals not included above
Clerical support staff
Other support staff
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)
Danville assistant principal change to full time from part time
Special ed teacher
… 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
As a member of the Timberlane School Board, I am formally requesting that the administration provide me and the school board with the financial system’s salary detail output for the 2014-2015 budget. I similarly request the same for the proposed 2015-2016 budget as per that which is given the Hampstead Budget Committee as attached. Both requests are to include all district staff. The information is to include the full code for each staff member, FTE information and all else included in Hampstead’s attached salary detail.
As I am sure you are aware, the salaries of all public employees are a matter of public record in New Hampshire.
If the administration requests a vote of the board to provide this information, I will ask why this information is given to the people of Hampstead and not to the people of Timberlane. Are we somehow less worthy of the same level of disclosure as the people of Hampstead?
Hamsptead and Timberlane share the same SAU administration and the same financial software. Because I know this to be a simple printout from your financial system, as attached, I look forward to receiving this information at the school board meeting on Thursday night.
Here is her response received 10:36 am, Jan. 22, 2015
If you feel that board members would be interested in this report, please make a motion to request it on behalf of the board during other business tonight. The Hampstead and Timberlane districts may share SAU administration, but are run completely separately, as you know. We have done many things differently for many years. Nobody at the SAU is depriving the Timberlane board of documents; the reports you reference have not been requested nor needed by the Timberlane board in the past. Perhaps you’d like to briefly explain why they would be of use for the benefit of the rest of the board tonight.
Of course the school board does not want to release the salaries of all the staff at Timberlane and a motion would go down in flames as most all my other motions. Public officials want to keep as much information secret as they possibly can. Mrs. Steenson’s suggestion that I put it to a vote of the board is a taunt and an insult at the same time. A request to examine public records does not require any vote by any body. I am entitled as a citizen to see this information and as a school board member it is my duty to see this information – and this time I’m not going to pay for it either.
Timberlane has been allowed to function in darkness for too long. Some school districts publish this information in their annual report but in Timberlane school board members cannot even see it.
To be clear, my goal in requesting this is not to criticize teacher’s salaries but to find out the exact number of full-time equivalent staff we are paying for since there is an inconsistency between what I’ve been told and what has been reported to the Department of Education. No explanation has been forthcoming to explain this discrepancy despite earnest efforts to obtain an explanation. A Right to Know request would cost hundreds of dollars at 50 cent a page.
Taxpayers, citizens, students, are you being served by this kind of behavior? To those who would give the district all the money they ask: do you think this secretive behavior is indicative of responsible governance?
Staffing numbers are at the heart of this year’s budget fight. It is critical that we have correct information about Timberlane’s actual staffing, but it looks like we don’t. The numbers are off by almost exactly the number of staff Mr. Green’s Responsible Budget wants to cut, so this is no minor matter.
My very first Right to Know request was in December 2013. Timberlane’s 2014-2015 budget had just been precipitously approved without a word about staffing. The Budget Committee was told salaries and benefits consumed about 70% of the budget but we were given no information about the number of staff the budget encompassed. Why would we? Staffing, we were told, was beyond our control.
As a member of the Budget Committee then, I had a hard time believing that people elected to oversee the district’s gigantic budget would not have control over the lion’s share of it – or any part of it for that matter. Before the last budget committee meeting in December 2013, I had asked for a staff break out for the budget year we were working on, as would be reported in our district annual report. That information request was ignored. I had intended to bring up staffing and projected revenue when the budget got pushed through over my objections at what turned out to be the last budget committee meeting of the season. But instead of going away, I filed a Right to Know request to obtain the staffing information I was entitled to as a budget committee member and as a citizen.
The SAU’s first response and second response was that the information doesn’t exist. My reply was one of incredulity. We have completed a budget for which we don’t know how many staff in what broad general capacity that budget is paying for? I threatened to go to the Attorney General’s office. Then Superintendent Metzler undertook to provide the information. Here is what he said to the Sandown Board of Selectmen on April 14, 2014 about my staffing information request which was my only Right to Know request to that time :
The superintendent’s statements raise some questions. I believe he did stay in his office working to provide us with staffing figures for the budget that had been approved back in Dec. of 2013, which means one of two things. Either the district actually doesn’t know the breakdown of their payroll by broad category OR Dr. Metzler was creating staffing information that was different from the district’s own figures which somehow took him hours to do. I didn’t request any particular format. I simply asked for the staffing categorized in the same way as is reported in Timberlane’s annual reports and as reported to the NH DOE.
Why does this matter? Well, there turns out to be a large discrepancy of 35 Full-time equivalent positions between staffing numbers reported to the State Department of Education via the required A12 Report which reports all staffing, and the Jan. 2014 information Dr. Metzlter laboriously provided to us.
Here is the staffing plan from Dr. Metzler for 2014-2015 versus the report filed by Timberlane to the Department of Education on October 2014 for the 2014-2015 year:
Timberlane is reporting 35.1 fewer FTEs to the Department of Education for the same academic year than they provided to me in Jan. 2014. On Oct. 26, 2014 Arthur Green asked Dr. Metzler about this discrepancy. The email was totally ignored. Then on Dec. 14 Arthur Green asked Mr. Stokinger about this large discrepancy through Budget Committee Chairman, Jason Grosky. Arthur asked if the District staff is not reported to DOE and if vacant positions are reported on the A12.
After many weeks of delay, Mr. Grosky replied on Jan. 9, 2015 that Mr. Stokinger answered as follows:
“District level is Timberlane staff (not SAU, we never mix the two as they are separate legal entities) and is a combination of district wide staff (multi-school) and Central Office staff. The district/multi-school staff are allocated to the schools they serve for the A12B.”
“The A12B is a staffing report and does not include vacant positions.”
In other words, Timberlane’s long-serving Business Administrator said that District employees are apportioned to each school they serve and that vacant positions are not reported on the A12 form.
Could the administration please explain to the public, then, why filings with the Department of Education concerning the number of Timberlane’s Full-Time Equivalent positions should be so different from what Dr. Metzler so laboriously provided to us in January of 2014 for the very same academic year? There is probably a perfectly logical explanation for the discrepancy, but given that we’ve asked for it repeatedly and not gotten it to date, we’ve become concerned.
Statistics about school districts are made public as a way of allowing elected officials and the public see what is going on in their schools, where their money is going and how efficiently their schools are running. These numbers must be accurate especially when staffing is the center of the battle.
UPDATE JAN. 21, 2015: A reader provided me with this information from Hampstead: Dr. Wilson gives the Hampstead Budget Committee a complete financial system printout of all the projected staff by name, salary, department and FTE included in the 2015-2016 budget for Hamstead! Please note that Hampstead and Timberlane share the same SAU administration and the same financial software – only their elected officials are different.
This Thursday night at 8:30 pm, the Timberlane School Board is inviting all parents to attend to air their views on the closing of Sandown Central. If you can’t make it, please send emails to me or the other Sandown representative, Kelly Ward.
The meeting takes place in the basement of the SAU building on Greenough Rd. adjacent to the Vic Geary Center.