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.