Monthly Archives: April 2015

Questions on Special Education

At the April 16th school board meeting which I was unable to attend, Special Education Director, Ms. Rincon, went through 14 evaluation measures submitted annually to the Department of Education.  This report is so deeply buried on the DOE site that despite years of familiarity with the site, I was unaware of it and only by learning the actual name of the report was it possible to find it.  In the video, you will hear Ms. Rincon talk about the 14 measures of SPED performance and Timberlane’s strong showing.

That was good to hear but how, Arthur Green wondered, do the comparable districts do on these same 14 measures as reported to the DOE?   Here’s a table that shows just that (please “zoom” on it):

SPP Comparison

This is all information submitted to the Department of Education. Detailed explanations of the measurement criteria are here, and the source profiles are here. (“CS” means there were not enough students to make a statistically valid response. “N” means “no.”)

In the context of other school districts our size in the state, our overall SPED statistics seems generally on pace – neither stronger nor weaker than our peers, except for a few critical areas.

  • Why does Timberlane have significantly more IEPs than comparable districts our size?
  • Why do our students lose so much ground in reading between elementary school and high school when the reverse seems to be true in most other comparable districts?
  • Why is our high school reading proficiency so low compared to our peers and below even the state actual?
  • What are we doing to bring up our math proficiency in SPED?

Special Education by Town

The chart above shows the broad numbers for Timberlane’s Special Education program, but when you break them down by town more questions arise. Here is information Arthur Green culled from studying the Adequacy Aid each town receives for Special Education. IEPs are increasing even though our student enrollment is falling, and there is a vast disparity in the number of IEPs between Atkinson and Sandown.

IEP ADM Comparison 2013 to 2014

Questions Posed

Ms. Rincon asked at the board meeting, “What do you want to know that I can’t tell you?”  I have compiled a list of questions that I have just sent over to Ms. Rincon, Ms. Steenson and Dr. Metzler. Given that it is vacation week and that the answers will take a little time to compile, I will be patient.  The answers will be published on this blog when they are received and I thank Ms. Rincon in advance for her kind assistance in helping all of us learn more about Timberlane’s Special Education program.

1) What are the number of IEPs as reported to the DOE each year starting in 2007 broken out:

  • by ages 3-5, 6-21
  • by grade level of student
  • by town of residence

2) Why has the 5-year graduation rate fallen so significantly over one year?  What is the actual number of students reflected in the percentage of graduates reported to the DOE?

3) Where the DOE reports the percentage of graduates, please provide the actual number. Why is there no 2013 four-year graduation number?

4) Please provide the number of students who have not graduated after 5 years broken out by town.

5)  Please provide the NUMBER of students

  • in each identified area of primary need
  • broken out by town.

6)  Out-of-district programs:

  • please state the names of the programs being used out-of-district,
  • the cost per year,
  • the number of students sent to each program beginning with 2007 broken out by students’ town of residence.

7) With respect to the cost per town of SPED services, please provide the government assistance relating to these services broken out by each type of financial payment for each town beginning with 2007.

8) Why are we significantly lower on Early Childhood programs (re: 6A) ?

9) How is preschool rate of growth assessed?

10) How does the district know the post-graduation employment of SPED students?

Why Did I Ask to Discuss an Audit?

Although the school board chair, Ms Steenson, could have easily postponed discussion of my request for a special education audit given my notice to her of my absence, this courtesy was not granted me. I asked for the board to consider a SPED audit because:

  • the sheer numbers of students in our district with IEPs is large compared to other districts with a similar sized student population;
  • there is a vast disparity among towns of identified students;
  • the number of IEPs is growing while student enrollment is going down which means a larger percentage of students are using special education services than in the past.

These facts lead me to wonder if our primary instruction is failing students in some way?  This is not a rhetorical question.  I simply don’t know the answer and I believe an outside audit would help to answer this fundamental question – as well as assess how the initial identification of students is being done compared with other districts in the auditors’ experience.

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SB Discussion of Business Partnership Program – continued

Here is the explanation of the Business Partnership program and the board’s own questions from the April 16, 2015 meeting.

I was, regrettably, absent from this meeting, but you can see my concerns and why I asked for it to be placed on the agenda from my previous posting of yesterday.

I should say that my concerns about the program are in no way a criticism of the able staff involved in this initiative.  My concerns are at an administrative/board level.

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Business Partnership Initiative Should Be Questioned

I first learned that the Business Partnership was not what I understood it to be in an odd but instructive way.

Unauthorized School Board Newsletter Published

The Timberlane District webpage in March featured a newsletter from the school board. The main feature of this newsletter was an article about the Business Partnership program.

There were two problems:

  • The school board did not know about this newsletter nor had thy approved it for release;
  • The Business Partnership program described had additional information from what had been presented to the school board; namely, most of the items listed below.

When I asked about the newsletter at a school board meeting, no one owned up to knowing anything about it.  Mr. Collins, did indeed know about it. He was the one who worked with the hired PR person, Mrs. Grosky, to write it.  Someone authorized its release without bothering to inform the school board of its content or get their approval.

You may recall that Mr. Collins attempted to have me censured for supposedly speaking on behalf of the Timberlane Budget Committee in 2013 when I spoke independently to the Sandown Board of Selectmen even though I said clearly during that talk that I was not speaking on behalf of the budget committee. But Mr. Collins can be associated with the unauthorized release of a publication under the name of the entire school board and no one says a word.

In fact, the board rewarded the behavior. At the April 16th meeting, the board voted to entrust approving subsequent newsletters to a few people on the Community Relations Committee so the board as a whole doesn’t have to trouble itself with knowing what is going out under its own name. The board won’t even see it beforehand. If you think this takes laziness to a new level, join the club.

Business Partnership Program 

As for the Business Partnership Program itself, I learned from the newsletter that in return for a partnership, schools may

  • Provide music groups for company functions
  • Provide space and teachers for corporate training
  • Feature your business in school publications
  • Assist with community service projects
  • Support your public events
  • Serve on your Boards or Committees
  • Provide complimentary tickets to school events

You can see this at the program’s website:    http://wp.timberlane.net/scp/

Here’s my problem with these offerings in exchange for a partnership arrangement:

1) Children should not be used to advance an adult agenda. Kids are busy enough.  Children who are accomplished at an instrument may wish to volunteer for a public performance, but their willingness to help should be not made into a program whereby the school is directing their gigs for the schools’ benefit.

2) Public property should not be used by private companies.  And certainly teachers being paid by the public should not be doing corporate training unless this is outside of class time (and therefore business hours) and is strictly voluntary.  The board has been given no assurance that this is the case.

3) Serve on boards?  Who is going to be serving on boards?  Teachers/Administrators?  During business hours which is when board meetings take place?

What I am seeing in this is public money subsidizing a partnership initiative that also co-opts student service. Sure, this may accrue to the benefit of students, but couldn’t we obtain the same cooperation of public spirited private companies without these inducements?  These partnership benefits also accrue to employees of the district who get employee discounts through this partnership arrangement. This is almost certainly a minor consideration, but it nevertheless makes me uncomfortable. Too many lines are being crossed in this program.

Students certainly should be encouraged to assist in community projects and there is nothing wrong with including the community outreach of private business in the opportunities given to students.  Why does that have to come as a payback for a “partnership” with the district which may involve a monetary or in-kind donation?

Mr. Strainge, who is a highly paid administrator, spent many weeks working on this program flat out.  He and an assistant personally went to hundreds of companies to promote this arrangement.  Is this really how we want our education dollars spent?

Our schools are generously funded.  We do not need to be asking private companies for monetary donations. Yes, job shadowing, mentorships and occasional sponsorships from private businesses in our community are a great thing for our students, but these things should and can be accomplished without co-opting student labor and teacher time.

I asked for the program to be included on the agenda.  I regret that I could not attend the April 16th meeting to put forth my considerations.  I provided The Chairman with 48 hours advance notice.

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“Advisory Committees” Subverting District Governance and Accountability

The governance structure of the school district is being seriously undermined by a proliferation of superintendent “advisory committees.”   What is developing is a shadow government, “hand-picked” by Superintendent Metzler.

First there was the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on the Sandown Schools Consolidation.  Many conscientious citizens were tapped to serve on this committee almost certainly not initially knowing that their meetings would not be open to the public and that their deliberations would not be recorded in minutes.  They also weren’t told that the extensive staff “hand-picked” by the superintendent to provide their expertise would be paid.

District residents should know that this committee was formed without the knowledge or consultation of the school board – and that its rules of engagement were also not discussed with the school board. I have publicly objected to the secrecy with which this committee is working and I profoundly dislike the whole notion of a  committee that does not report to the school board.

Unfortunately, I did not object as vociferously as I should have because it is happening again.  Today the SAU made the following announcement:

Hello Board members, 
The Superintendent is in the process of establishing an advisory Campus Development Committee to be comprised district administrators, teachers, parents, budget committee members, school board members and possibly selectmen.  He will be announcing his selections shortly as well as defining the scope of their work. 
Please note this is an advisory committee to the Superintendent as opposed to a school board established committee; thus the committee meetings will not subject to the Right-to-Know meeting requirements.  
He looks forward to providing an update to the board at an upcoming board meeting. 
Have a good afternoon,
Cathy

This disturbing announcement came with District Policy CE attached, which supposedly justifies the existence of “advisory committees” independent of the school board. The policy does not at all permit what is going on. The entire policy is copied below, but here is the first and most instructive sentence:

The Board authorizes the Superintendent to establish such permanent or temporary councils, cabinets, and committees, as he/she deems necessary for proper administration of Board policies and for the improvement of the total educational program.

Neither the consolidation of schools nor “campus development” have anything to do with board policies or the improvement of an educational program.  What is really going is is three-fold.

1) The SAU is by-passing the authority and responsibility of the school board and in doing so is conducting public business behind closed doors.

2) “Campus development” is rightly the purview of the Capital Improvement Plan Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee – both subcommittees of the school board and both subject to the full view of the public.

3) Private committees create insiders and outsiders and extend the superintendent’s influence where it doesn’t belong.

Publicly minded citizens and elected officials who are tapped to participate in “advisory committees” should refuse unless they become sub-committees of the school board and  also fully comply with New Hampshire’s open meeting laws.

All the Boards of Selectmen in all our four towns should refuse to participate in this and should repudiate any cooperation with these closed-door committees among their own members.

ADMINISTRATIVE COUNCILS, CABINETS, AND COMMITTEES

The Board authorizes the Superintendent to establish such permanent or temporary

councils, cabinets, and committees, as he/she deems necessary for proper administration

of Board policies and for the improvement of the total educational program.

All councils, cabinets, and committees created by the Superintendent will be for the

purpose of obtaining to a maximum degree the advice and counsel of district staff, students,

and district residents and to aid in district communication. Functioning in an advisory

capacity, such groups may make recommendations for submission to the Board through

the Superintendent. However, such groups will exercise no inherent authority. Authority

for establishing policy remains with the Board and authority for implementing policy

remains with the Superintendent.

The membership, composition, and responsibilities of administrative councils, cabinets,

and committees will be defined by the Superintendent and may be changed at his/her

discretion.

Expenses incurred by such groups for consultative services, materials, and any travel will

be paid from the general operating funds of the district, but only when within budgetary

allotments and as approved by the Superintendent in advance.

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School Board Stonewalls Danville Board of Selectmen

The Danville Board of Selectmen has asked to be added to the school board’s agenda.  The answer from the school board chairman:  no.  (See below for actual email response.)

Danville is one of four towns in our cooperative school district.  The two most powerful people on the school board, Chairman Steenson, and former chairman, Rob Collins, both represent Danville. One might question what “representing” means in this context.

At the April 2 school board meeting, Superintendent Metzler read a request from the Danville Selectmen asking the school board to provide the grade level and addresses of students in Danville.  This information was requested by an experienced consultant who has been hired by Danville to update their impact fees.  (Impact fees are charged to developers to offset capital costs that are incurred due to new development.)

In order to provide this information, the board would have had to waive their policy with respect to student information. The board was reluctant to do so especially given that the Danville school board representatives could not fully explain why the Danville Board of Selectmen needed this information. Since Sandown might also want to review its impact fees, I made a motion to put this issue on a future agenda and invite the Danville selectmen to explain their request to us. Like most of my motions, it didn’t even get a second. The board rightly did not want to waive policy given the paucity of information given to it at that time, but then denied Danville an opportunity to present its case as an agenda item.

Since then, there has been a lively exchange of emails among Rob Collins, Shawn O’Neil (Danvile BOS Chair), and Nancy Steenson. Ms. Steenson invited Mr. O’Neil to present his information during the five minutes currently allotted to individuals for public comment and during which comments from the board are not encouraged.

Fans of Pride and Prejudice might be reminded of the recurring expression, “Such affability!  Such condescension!”

Not being fond of Jane Austen, I view this less jocularly.  A town, which is a member of the cooperative school district, is making a serious request to be added to the school board’s agenda.  The school board is uninterested in hearing them and kindly throws out the welcome mat for them to speak to the hand.

Ms. Steenson controls the agenda with an iron fist in the service of the superintendent. She refused to postpone the special education discussion that I requested, despite knowing about my absence more than 48 hours in advance of the meeting. As a result, the discussion involved building straw men, then knocking them down to the edification of no one. (More on that later.)

It is no wonder one town in the district is exploring separation. With treatment like this, Danville will be next.


April 9, 2015

Dear Chairwoman Steenson,

     I would like to formally request that the Danville Board of Selectmen be added to the next School Board meeting to clarify some of Board’s discussion at their previous meeting relative to our request. The information that I would like to present will help explain the rationale behind our request.

 Thank you,

Shawn O’Neil

Chairman

Danville Board of Selectmen

April 16, 2015

Shawn,

As you know, the Board discussed this issue at our last meeting, based on a request from Dr. Metzler, who, I understand, spoke with you about this request. It was clear that no one on the Board was comfortable making a motion to waive policy. I’m not clear why you withheld some vital information prior to this. If you have any additional information, you are more than welcome to submit it to me or to the superintendent, or come and present it during Delegations and Individuals.

 I’m sorry for the delay in responding to you; are you aware that this email was sent to Rob Collins, with a “cc” to me, although you addressed the body of the email to me? Thus the confusion…

 Thanks so much,

Nancy

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“A Tale of Four Towns”

The local paper captured a revealing exchange between myself and Superintendent Metzler from the April 2 meeting.

http://tritowntimes.net/2015/04/metzler-produces-verbatim-transcript-of-meeting-for-board/

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Answers on Layoff Rumors? Not Yet.

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

My questions  at the April 9 Budget Committee meeting related to rumored staff layoffs were reported on this blog here.

At the meeting, Dr. Metzler declined to comment, but subsequently responded by email on April 11.  Since the questions were asked in public, I think the response should be shared (my emphasis in boldface):

Good evening! I am not sure who provided you misinformation regarding staffing. We have many decisions to make over the next few months. You can assume that all positions approved by the voters will be filled prior to the start of the 2015/2016 School Year. I don’t anticipate any open positions as we enter then 2016/2017 budget season. As you already know, we operate with a bottom line budget. I am certain that we will not need to exceed the approved appropriation.

We also may not be a member of NESDEC next year. Therefore your assumption that a audit would be free is false. I am considering our memberships for next year over the next couple of months. I will be sure to inform the Board once we have made those decisions final. We can expect changes and the repurposing of resources. I suggest your review our Board policies on how these decisions are made. That review may help you understand the business operations of our district. As always, I am available to help you understand and answer any questions that you may  have.

Respectfully,
Dr. Earl F. Metzler

My comments:

  • Dr. Metzler continues to neither confirm or deny that layoff notices have been issued, the principal question I asked.  If the answer is “no, there were no layoff notices”, then it is an odd choice of words to recommend that I assume all positions will be filled by the fall.  Why is Dr. Metzler reluctant to state a simple “no”?
  • Nowhere in my remarks did I assume that a professional audit of Special Ed would be free, or even that it would be conducted by NESDEC.  I mentioned NESDEC as an example of an experienced organization which would be capable of carrying out such a study, but the requirements could and should be put out for a proposal to multiple qualified providers.  NESDEC does indeed provide some services to member school districts at no cost.  One such service is a trending report on the Special Ed program within the district, a report which Timberlane district has chosen not to engage.  But this is not the same as what I am requesting – an evaluation of service delivery quality, gaps, costs, and comparison with best practices.

It is very interesting that Timberlane is considering dropping NESDEC membership.  NESDEC provides the district with an extremely accurate enrollment forecast which has been made public last summer through the efforts of Donna Green.  This disclosure demonstrated that the enrollment drop we have experienced since 2007/08 is part of a long-term trend which was being accurately forecast by NESDEC since at least 2007 but not, to my knowledge, disclosed to the public.

At the Oct. 16, 2014 School Board meeting, Dr. Metzler reported that the disctict’s budgetary plans for 2015/16 are predicated on a forecast enrollment drop of 40 students.  The NESDEC forecast is a drop of 140 students.

Since the district has been consistent in minimizing or ignoring the ongoing enrollment decline, it is understandable that the NESDEC forecasts, now public, are a significant embarrasment.  I don’t know if there are other reasons to conclude that Timberlane is not getting value for the costly NESDEC membership (I do not have the fee at hand).

Background Notes on the NESDEC enrollment forecast 

Forecasts going back to 2007/08 are posted on the district website here.

NESDEC targets a forecast accuracy of 1% per year – i.e. the margin of error (MOE) of the forecast of next year’s enrollment is within 1%, the forecast MOE 2 years out is 2% and so forth.

Here’s a table of actual enrollment compared to NESDEC’s forecast from prior years:Forecast Accuracy

Observations:

  • the forecasts more than achieve the target accuracy rate.  The highest margin of error is 1.72%, and that is forecasting 4 years into the future.  All of the 1 and 2 year forecasts are within 1% margin of error.
  • In October 2007, the five year-out forecast for the district was 4,123 – a difference of only 1.58% from the actual enrollment in 2012/13 of 4,059.  At the time this forecast was made, the district enrollment was 4,625.  In retrospect, NESDEC clearly and accurately forecast the persistent enrollment decline we are still experiencing.

This year, the district is forecasting the 2015/16 enrollment as 3,733, a drop of 40 from the current year.  The NESDEC forecast is 3,613, a drop of 140.

The entire meeting is below. From 3 minutes to 8 minutes is public comments and the subsequent discussion.

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