Monthly Archives: August 2015

$4 million surplus announced; Danville’s Josh Horns in Bull’s Eye

At tonight’s school board meeting , the district announced a $4 million surplus for the year ending June 30, 2015.  They actually announced a $3.5 million surplus but that’s after they subtracted $250,000 that was put into the fund balance retention fund and another $250,000 that was put into the capital reserve fund.

Yes, all this on a default budget!

Dr. Metzler praised his staff for running a tight ship.

Or, the district is flush with cash and was scaremongering at Deliberative. You choose your version of reality.

The board also decided to urge Josh Horns of Danville to resign one of his public positions. (He is in his second year on the Timberlane Budget Committee, and was recently appointed to the Danville Board of Selectmen). This was announced after an illegal non-public called on reputation and litigation.

I pray that Mr. Horns stands up to this, and blazes a path for competent people to populate both the Boards of Selectmen of our towns and the school district’s board and budget committee.

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A Picture Worth 1000 Words

This is from Dr. Metzler’s Twitter feed this morning:

Supt. Metzler ‏@SuptSAU55
Sandown North Parents and students are ready for a great year! #timberlane
Sandown ready for another great year!

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What Happens When a Board Member Tries to Contact the Auditor

Here is an exchange between SAU chairman, Peter Bealo, and myself tonight following my attempt to ask the SAU auditor some pointed questions:

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Donna,

From your experience last year, I believe with TRSB, you know better than to try and contact the SAU55 or TRSD auditor.

They will not be returning your call. The Board, as a whole, can discuss issues with the auditor should they decide to do so. I cannot allow one member to act for him/her self in contacting them.

My suggestion is to allow the SAU Board to meet, if the Board is unsatisfied with Mr. Stokinger’s report of the audit, then bring up a vote to have the auditor come in. Do be aware that the auditor charges $165 per hour, including transport time of approximately 1 hour each way, during business hours for a consultation, they may (I do not yet know) charge more for evening visits. Just my suggestion.

Best Regards,

Peter Bealo

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8:37 PM
Peter,

I feel like I am living in North Korea. I knew he wouldn’t return my call.

The fee is insignificant given the amount of money we are responsible to the taxpayers for. The district has paid in the order of $4000 for needless “training” but balks at a few hundred dollars to explain an unfavorable audit.

If Mrs. Steenson can sign contracts without board authorization, I see no reason why you can’t have the auditor present for an SAU meeting on your own initiative, but I know that initiative works only in the SAU’s favor and never in favor of transparency or the taxpayers.

Best regards,

Donna Green

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Mr. Bealo should have learned from “my experience” last year that it is counterproductive to try to censure me. Let’s be clear in all this.  Mr. Stokinger and his staff are the ones being audited.  We have an adverse opinion and we need to hear what that means from the professionals we are paying to give us their opinion – not from the people whose work is being audited. Here is the email I sent to the auditor this afternoon asking for explanation.

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Dear Mr. Campo:

I have been reviewing the report for SAU 55 today and have a number of questions concerning it. A phone call would be most appreciated but to give you an idea of my questions here are some:

The adverse opinion this year is stronger than that of last year.  This year you state that the the financial statements referred to above do not present fairly the financial position of the government-wide financial statements of the School Administrative Unit No. 55, as of June 30, 2014, or the changes in financial position thereof for the year then ended in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.

How are the “government-wide financial statements” different from the government activities statements and what is the significance of the change in language?

SAU 55 is overexpending its appropriated budget and covering the overexpenditure with an unassigned fund balance from the previous year.  I thought the only way an unexpended fund balance from the previous year could be used was via an encumbrance; otherwise, all the previous year’s “surplus” must be included in revenue.  You seem to indicate otherwise in your Note 2A so your help would be appreciated in helping me understand the significance of your findings.

What is the significance of the restatement with respect to the compensated absences from the previous year?  Is this a common occurrence? In so far as it affects the deficit position of the SAU, this does concern me.

Basically I’d like some background on all the notes.

Thank you so very much,

Donna Green
Sandown representative to the Timberlane Regional School Board and a member of the board of SAU55 (on my own behalf)P

P.S. You can verify my identity by going to school board members on the Timberlane school board website.  There you will see my phone and email.  Timberlane and Hampstead school boards make up the SAU 55 board.    https://public.timberlane.net/sau/trsb/Lists/Members/AllItems.aspx


I will be contacting the Department of Revenue Administration in Concord tomorrow. Mr. Bealo, you are welcome to put in a preliminary call to them first to tell them not to speak to me.

Searching the internet, I found this most interesting piece from NY’s Office of the State Comptroller on how to make school district audits more meaningful for school boards and give better protection to taxpayers.  The very first recommendation is that the auditor should present the audit directly to the school board.  Is that before or after the school board member who asked for this is censured?     sch_audit_guidance (1)

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Latest update in Towns v. TRSD

Linked below you can view the latest legal filings by the towns of Sandown and Danville asking the judge for a reconsideration and clarification of his decision.

Below you will also find the public and non-public minutes of the Sandown Board of Selectmen wherein they discuss continuing the legal suit against the Timberlane Regional School District.

These documents were all made available by the Sandown BOS office.  The TRSD has not informed the school board of this latest development.

motion to reconsider and clarify 8 24 15

MOL for Motion for Reconsideration 8 24 15

08172015

08172015NP (2)

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SAU and Timberlane Audits Have Same Adverse Opinion

Linked below are the just released 2014 SAU 55 audit as well as Timberlane’s 2014 audit.


From SAU 55’s 2014 audit:

Basis for Adverse Opinion on Governmental Activities
As discussed in Note 9 to the financial statements, management has not recorded the long-term costs of retirement health care costs and obligations for other postemployment benefits in the governmental activities. Accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America require that those costs be recorded, which would increase the liabilities, decrease the net position and increase the expenses of the governmental activities. The amount by which this departure would affect the liabilities, net position, and expenses on the governmental activities is not readily determinable.
Adverse Opinion
In our opinion, because of the significance of the matters described in the “Basis for Adverse Opinion on Governmental Activities” paragraph, the financial statements referred to above do not present fairly the financial position of the government-wide financial statements of the School Administrative Unit No. 55, as of June 30, 2014, or the changes in financial position thereof for the year then ended in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.


This is exactly the same issue behind Timberlane’s adverse opinion, as well.  I have asked repeatedly for the auditor to be present at a TRSB meeting to explain the significance of these statements but the SB chairman will not do so. Today I sent an email out to a few Hampstead SB members asking them to request of the SAU chairman that the auditor be present at our next SAU meeting. I’m not a betting person but I’m willing to wager they will have no better success than I. Taxpayers should be asking why board members who have an obligation to protect your money and see that it is justly spent and fairly accounted for are restricted from talking to the auditor privately and thwarted from questioning her in public.

SAU 2014 – AUDITORS REPORT- FINAL.pdf (1)

2014 Timberlane – AUDITORS REPORT.pdf (2)

P.S. Yesterday I placed an official Right to Know request with the SAU to see the multi-year lease contract for the photocopiers mentioned in Timberlane’s audit. I had requested to see this contract two months ago. As my faithful readers know, RSA requires multi-year contracts to be approved by voters unless they contain a non-appropriation clause.

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Eagle Scout Projects Add to Sandown North

Two outstanding Eagle Scout projects were dedicated in Sandown this week.  Both were at Sandown North Elementary School, a hive of activity these days.

On Sunday, Cody Sears conducted a dedication ceremony for a shade pavilion he designed and built with the generous assistance of two well-known contractors in town, Hans Nicholaison and Paul D’Amore. Roofing materials were also donated. The quality of the construction is outstanding with perfect siting. It will be well used by teachers for outdoor classes and many other functions certainly.  The district attractively mulched around the structure and provided steps and a ramp up to it.

Shade pavilion

Yesterday during the bustling open house at Sandown North, Jake Chaput dedicated a new school sign that will allow more messaging – not to mention being a whole lot snazzier.

2015-08-24 18.05.56

Sandown has benefited from an extraordinarily high number of Eagle Scouts which is a tribute to the scout leaders of our community, parents and their hardworking, community-minded children. The school district is thankful for their tremendous contributions and we can all be very proud that these young people are among us and selected their former school as the site of their lasting contribution. Cody and Jake, jobs very well done.  Thank you!

As a side note, the school itself looked cheerful and beautifully maintained at the busy open house yesterday.  The enthusiasm for a new school year was evident in every smiling face and in the many creative preparations teachers had made to welcome their new students.

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How to Fix Non-public Meeting Abuse

Since issues with non-public meetings have come up on Friends of Education at Timberlane, as well as in the comment section of this blog, I would like to share my proposed solution for non-public meeting abuse. This essay was written last year in October and is not in response to anything recent.  It is not in any way an implied criticism of the selectmen of  Sandown and Danville nor is it intended to suggest that they have abused the Right to Know law with respect to non-public sessions.

Secrecy is to politics what vinyl siding is to termites which is why New Hampshire’s Constitution states “…the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.” Nevertheless, some government business does need to be done out of the public eye for everyone’s best interests. How can we balance the public’s right to access with government’s need for secrecy?

New Hampshire has addressed this question in its Right to Know law which sets out the legally permissible reasons for public bodies to conduct non-public meetings (specifically RSA 91-A:3). I believe this law is badly in need of revision because it is widely violated with impunity.

In my short seven years of civic participation, I have found that local public bodies go into non-public more than they strictly need to, their discussion often wanders off allowable non-public topics, and sometimes the very reason for the non-public session does not fall under the law’s allowable non-public topics. Citizens are helpless to stop these abuses because they are by their nature secret and when they are exposed, the only recourse is a private suit against a public body.

Before I share my simple solution, let me give you a few examples of non-public meeting abuse from my own experience. Earlier this year, the Timberlane School Board hired the superintendent’s wife as a consultant. Contract discussion was done in non-public citing 91:A:3(a) which relates to the “…dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee.” A consultant is not rightly considered a public employee. (The consultant’s contract was not made public. I obtained it via a Right to Know information request just after being elected to the school board.)

In 2013, the Timberlane School Board cited 91-A:3(i), to discuss mold in portable classrooms. This RSA allows non-public consideration of matters relating to emergency functions intended to thwart widespread damage or injury. Mold in portable classrooms or anywhere in school buildings may be a health concern, but it is hardly a security issue. The public had every right to know the condition of the portables.

Please don’t think that the Timberlane School District is the only one pushing the boundaries of non-public meetings. I could continue with examples involving other subsections of 91-A:3 from other public bodies. Some examples would be outright violations of the law, while others legally apply the provision to situations I believe are much better dealt with in public, such as performance reviews of superintendents, town managers, and other senior staff.

The Right to Know law does require documentation of non-public meetings by minutes. This is hardly enough because minutes can be sealed and kept from public view for decades. They can also be vacuous. My school district’s non-public minutes, as an example, contain one or two sentences about the discussion topic, as vaguely worded as possible, and nothing else concerning the discussion. Whether the non-public session went for five minutes or an hour and a half, the minutes are the same and absent details of discussion. Add to this the widespread misconception that everything said in non-public is absolutely confidential, and you have a perfect information blackout to the public even if the minutes aren’t sealed.

Any solution must:

  1. Create a disincentive to enter into non-public discussion so only those that are absolutely necessary and legal will be conducted;
  2. Shorten the length of non-public discussion to prevent wandering;
  3. Permit the public to see the legitimacy of every minute and topic in non-public discussion;
  4. Prevent unnecessary sealing of minutes and unreasonably long sealing periods which now are arbitrarily imposed without accountability;
  5. Free members to reveal abuses that take place within non-public meetings.

My proposal: require a verbatim transcript of all non-public meetings called under those subsections of the law frequently abused (viz; a,b,c,d, e and I). Transcripts may be redacted for reputation and privacy but the redactions (not deleted) must remain available for review by a judge. Any failure to completely transcribe or improperly redact will absolve all participants of their duty of confidentiality on the specific matter involved. Minutes may be sealed but the permitted length of time they may be sealed will be related to strict necessity, not arbitrary decision.

Such a simple requirement is a big disincentive and will quickly put an end to illegal secrecy. Elected officials are going to fling themselves against the crowbar as we try to lift off the siding. They will say this will impose costs. They will call it an unfunded mandate.

In fact, the costs of my proposal are almost certainly much smaller than lawsuits municipalities might fight and lose against citizens who pursue their right to know as a result of non-public session abuses. Not only that but towns and school districts can manage their costs by being much more circumspect about the length and frequency of non-public meetings.

As for being an unfunded mandate, the cost is entirely controllable and in many cases will not add to costs at all. School districts employ full-time people for whom minutes are just one of their responsibilities. The same can be said for many municipalities and towns. For those towns and commissions that pay a secretary by the hour, the solution would be to keep non-public sessions under ten minutes and everybody wins.

Donna Green is a Sandown representative on the Timberlane School Board and on the board of SAU 55. She is also a member of Right to Know NH, a group working to strengthen the Right to Know law. Her opinions are her own. TimberlaneandSandown.wordpress.com

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