A Meeting to Remember: 30 Turn Out and Why I Support the Study

Sandown’s own Feasibility Study Committee, otherwise known as the Minority Committee, met last night at the Sandown fire station. About 30 concerned citizens attended. The discussion focused on getting the Minority Committee to stop its study.

As I had to attend a Capital Improvement Plan meeting at the SAU building last night, I arrived two and a half hours late to the meeting, but it was still going strong and continued to 10:30 p.m. Even after the meeting ended a number of us stayed for animated and courteous debate.

A few people asked me my opinion on withdrawal and on stopping the study. So here, for the record, are my responses to the salient points brought up at the meeting.

Objection:  We were lied to

Some expressed the opinion that they had voted under a false belief that the withdrawal study was “just a study.” They didn’t think a study would result in consequences.

I don’t believe anyone was lied to or deliberately deceived at all. The reason this process has morphed from a study to potential action is because of poisoned politics, not because anyone was lying. Here’s the way the process should have worked.

The school board should have immediately struck a study committee with a sincere goal of actually exploring the issues of educational alternatives for Sandown. Instead the district denied responsibility for striking a committee despite the obvious law, chose their own lawyer for legal advice instead of a neutral third party lawyer, dragged their feet on providing information and quickly threw a gigantic buy-out number on the table with the hope that that alone would put an end to the whole discussion. Arthur Green and I heartily dispute the interpretation of the law that the district is propounding to come up with that buy-out ransom.  We believe Sandown must be given credit for all the capital contributions the town has paid to the district, which more than offsets what the district has paid for in Sandown. Ours is a serious argument.  The district’s argument leads to utter absurdity because by their lights every town wanting to separate from Timberlane would have an enormous ransom to pay and that makes no sense whatsoever. [See previous posts on this topic on this blog.]

When the Giant Number didn’t work to put the breaks on things, then a threat had to be insinuated into the discussion.

Objection:  Sandown Could Be Expelled from the District

Rob Collins has promulgated a destructive fantasy that Sandown could be expelled from the district by a runaway withdrawal study process. Think about this for a minute.  The Board of Education is charged with ensuring that the children of our state receive a quality education. Would these responsible people allow a town to be thrown out of a cooperative district against their will and with a giant bill to pay that would hobble that town’s ability to provide education to its children? The notion is beyond ridiculous and that any member of our school board could create such fears reflects very badly on them.

Objection:  The Minority Committee Wants to Withdraw

The people on the Minority Committee are committed to doing a fair and thorough exploration of Sandown’s educational options taking into account educational quality, extra curricular opportunities and financial feasibility. Are some of them motivated by a desire to leave this district?  Perhaps. Will this mean that their motivation will cloud their judgment and the ultimate recommendation? I don’t think so for a minute.  I know all of these people and their primary concern is to provide the best possible education for our children. If Sandown doesn’t have the means to do that, they will recognize that. Of this I am absolutely certain. I do not share the same conviction about the school board members on the Majority Committee. Others share my skepticism which is why the Minority Committee was formed in the first place.

The two committees should be working in tandem to arrive at their conclusions. Instead, Sandown’s own committee is steaming ahead with a thorough plan based on school visits, educational and financial research, and a study of other districts. The district’s committee has done nothing but come up with a big scary number.  Their most recent accomplishment was getting the school board to approve spending $30,000 to hire someone to go through the books beyond 2001 to tally up all the capital expenditures in Sandown. This is premature, in my opinion. First the Minority Committee should determine if withdrawal is feasible and only then should the district spend our tax dollars on making their argument for an even bigger ransom. The report submitted to the Board of Education does not require an exact buy-out number.  That is something that could be left to be determined. But here was another example of the district’s spiteful use of our money against us. Take that, Sandown.

Why I support the Study 

If Sandown stops its Minority Study, it would leave Sandown vulnerable to sly games by the district. Suppose the District’s study recommends that withdrawal is feasible and suitable and submits this to the Board of Education.  If Sandown is not there to say “No! It isn’t suitable!” or to say, “We won’t pay a ransom!” the Board of Education would have only the district’s plan to judge from. The Board of Education would believe from our silence that Sandown agrees with the district’s findings.

We have learned from recent past experience with Sandown Central that the district cannot be trusted. They say one thing and do another. Even if the Majority Committee says now they would find withdrawal not feasible, we cannot leave ourselves vulnerable. Sandown’s study must go on.

If Sandown’s own study finds withdrawal feasible, Sandown’s withdrawal plan would set out the terms and conditions in which it is feasible. This cannot be left up to the district, obviously.

From the beginning, I believed we would have a town vote to approve the withdrawal plan before it is submitted to the Board of Education, if the study concludes in favor of withdrawal.  Now I’ve heard that the Sandown Selectmen may not be able to appropriate the money for a special election before March 2016, in which case Sandown’s withdrawal plan (if there is one ultimately) should state emphatically that the Board of Education should not act until the voters of Sandown have approved the study’s conclusions and the withdrawal plan. I see no reason why the Board of Education would not do this. The law does not stipulate when the BOE must render a decision.

Objection:  This is All about Personalities

My father used to say that small minds talk about people, and great minds talk about ideas. Reducing this issue in our town to the personalities of the school board and the superintendent is to miss the fundamental issues at play here. By the very structure of a regional school board, Sandown will never have control over the educational choices for its children. Look at our district’s transition to Common Core.  Did you have a say in that?  Not one iota. We will be forever two votes out of 9. Forever.

Similarly, Sandown will never be able to control our own taxes because we are just two votes out of 10 (Budget Committee) with two other towns not feeling the pain of rising budgets the way Sandown and Danville do.

Right now it is very difficult for Sandown to get financial accountability from the district.  There is a culture of financial obscurantism there that is both frustrating and puzzling. The administration refuses to provide the budget committee with even the most cave-man tools of an Excel spreadsheet format to study the budget. This financial obscurantism leads some to suspicion, as was expressed last night.

Having our own school board would address every single one of the issues of contention we now have in our current district. It has nothing to do with personalities and everything to do with a structural and cultural state of affairs in a school board that cannot be changed by the voters of Sandown no matter what.

Objection:  We Will Still be With the Same SAU

“Why go through all this only to have the same superintendent and SAU?” it was asked.  By having our own school board, we would be directing the superintendent and the SAU rather than being subject to them as we are now as part of a do- nothing school board that hands over its authority to the superintendent as willingly as someone holding a hot potato.

Furthermore, there is a statutory process for withdrawing from an SAU, but that has to start after establishing a new district.

Objection:  Our Property Values Will Go Down

Some expressed last night the conviction that Sandown’s property values would go down if we withdrew from Timberlane. To this I would direct people to Hampstead.  They are their own district with their own school board under our SAU.  They tuition their high schoolers to Pinkerton. Their property values are much higher than ours, so why – if we were to adopt exactly the same educational model as Hampstead – would our property values go down?  It seems obvious to me that they would increase.

My Position on Withdrawal

I have seen how things are done and decisions are made at Timberlane. This has gradually pushed me to the conclusion that the people of Sandown should control the educational destiny of their children, and they can do this only by being in control of their own school board, which requires their own district. Do I think it feasible or suitable to withdraw from Timberlane? Honestly, I just don’t know and neither does anyone until at least one comprehensive study is completed.

The devil is in the details and the minority committee has to convince me and the majority of parents in this town that we can deliver on our own as good or better an education than our children are currently receiving at Timberlane. As the study is not yet done, no one yet has the evidence by which to judge. I’m a little concerned about accommodating middle school in Sandown, so I want to see a plan for that.

I hope everyone in Sandown will keep an open mind and allow Sandown’s own study to come to its reasoned and prudent conclusion.

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11 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

11 responses to “A Meeting to Remember: 30 Turn Out and Why I Support the Study

  1. If only Danville would be expelled (assuming TRSD keeps Mr. Collins). The era of Big School Districts is over. They bring waste and fraud without adding value. The argument has always been about diversity of educational opportunities. We have never seen that. Today, we can actually achieve that lofty goal utilizing resources like the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. 100% of the district’s students would benefit from the dissolution of the TRSD.

    • The parent organizing the opposition in Sandown to withdrawing from Timberlane told me last night that she was concerned that her child would not have the same opportunity in drama, sports and music at a bigger school and that these were critically important to her. So VLACS is not the total answer.

      • Help me understand the drama, sports, and music opportunity. How many kids are parlaying these activities into something else? What percentage of TRSD grads go on to make a living leveraging these ‘opportunities’?

  2. Lou Farrell

    Ms. Green,

    You write: “I don’t believe anyone was lied to or deliberately deceived at all. The reason this process has morphed from a study to potential action is because of poisoned politics, not because anyone was lying. Here’s the way the process should have worked.”

    Having watched the 2014 Sandown Deliberative Session, I must respectfully disagree with this statement. This WA was most certainly “sold” to the citizens of Sandown as “just a study.” With that in mind, I can’t help but ask if you knew the consequences of this WA. If so, why was this not communicated to the people you represent?

  3. Property values have already dropped and the tax burden hasn’t decreased. Metzler and Stokinger need to be reminded, often, its NOT their money, its the taxpayers. Disrespect us, disrespect our elected representatives, its time part company and go our own way.

  4. Len
    Responding to your question “What percentage of TRSD grads go on to make a living leveraging these ‘opportunities’?” I do not know the answer. I can tell you however that four of my classmates from Timberlane are earning their living as professional musicians (one as a composer, one as a Jazz pianist, and another as a flute player in St Louis Symphony, the fourth as a music educator). There certainly may be more that after nearly 30 years I have fallen out of contact with. Additionally, both of my brothers were involved in the music program, it allowed one acceptance into an IV league school and the other a %50 music scholarship into the Hartford Conservatory of music as a music minor. So for my family and friends these “extra” activities have been more useful than the Trig they took.

  5. Curt Springer

    I posted my reply first in one of the FB pages because it was combined with a reply to somebody else and also I thought it would get a wider read there. FWIW I am posting it here now, with one change to reflect that I no longer think that the minority committee has any statutory role.

    I don’t understand where you are coming from with some of the things you wrote in your blog.

    You wrote “The reason this process has morphed from a study to potential action is because of poisoned politics…” It did not “morph” at all. It has been potential action since the town of Sandown voted for it, as provided by state law.

    You wrote: “the district ……chose their own lawyer for legal advice instead of a neutral third party lawyer …”. Well, why wouldn’t they choose their own lawyer. The only person who could be described as a “neutral third party lawyer” is a judge. All other lawyers work to advance the interests of their clients.

    You wrote: “Arthur Green and I heartily dispute the interpretation of the law that the district is propounding to come up with that buy-out ransom.  We believe Sandown must be given credit for all the capital contributions the town has paid to the district, which more than offsets what the district has paid for in Sandown. Ours is a serious argument. “ As far as I can tell you two are the only ones who support your position. I and most others think that the plain text is absolutely clear. My guess as to legislative intent was that the primary goal was expediency, the secondary goal was that the cooperative district not be harmed financially and overall fairness was perhaps the tertiary goal. You and I have both paid for legal advice on our own dimes in town and school affairs. If you feel so strongly that your opinion is correct I suggest that you engage a lawyer with experience in municipal law to draft an opinion and present it to everybody.

    You wrote: “If Sandown stops its Minority Study, it would leave Sandown vulnerable to sly games by the district. Suppose the District’s study recommends that withdrawal is feasible and suitable and submits this to the Board of Education.  If Sandown is not there to say “No! It isn’t suitable!” or to say, “We won’t pay a ransom!” the Board of Education would have only the district’s plan to judge from. The Board of Education would believe from our silence that Sandown agrees with the district’s findings. “ Actually there is no statutory provision for a minority committee separate from the district-wide study committee aka the majority committee. If and only if the study committee declines to submit a withdrawal plan to the state, then the members of the committee from Sandown will be allowed to submit a minority report including a withdrawal plan.

    You wrote: “From the beginning, I believed we would have a town vote to approve the withdrawal plan before it is submitted to the Board of Education, if the study concludes in favor of withdrawal. “ I have no idea where this notion came from. The law is absolutely clear. The study committee aka majority committee is to submit its findings directly to the state.

    You go on to write that if a withdrawal plan is submitted without first having been approved by a town vote, “Sandown’s withdrawal plan (if there is one ultimately) should state emphatically that the Board of Education should not act until the voters of Sandown have approved the study’s conclusions and the withdrawal plan. I see no reason why the Board of Education would not do this. “ Well for starters directions to the state about the approval process are not in the statutory scope of a withdrawal plan. Please don’t suggest that the catch-all RSA 195:26 VII. Any other matters, not incompatible with law, “ could be stretched to cover this. I actually think such a provision would be incompatible with law as it would try to change to process set out by the legislature.

    Regarding notions of local school boards and local control, I will just mention that my siblings and I were tuitioned to Portsmouth from a seacoast town with its own school board, decades ago, and it was understood and discussed in our household that our parents had no real say in the operations or curricula of the schools we attended.

    • Well, we certainly have a lot of points of disagreement here!
      From last to first:
      1) re tuitioning and local control: tuitioning towns can vote with their feet and go elsewhere if they are unhappy with the education their children are receiving. That is more than we can do now.
      2) The process does not exclude a town vote and is not at all incompatible to one. The law is not a straight jacket. It is a set of rules with the goal of achieving a fair outcome.
      3) No idea where the notion of a town vote came from? Because that seemed to me needed and not incompatible with the law which does not exclude the possibility.
      4) “If and only if the study committee declines to submit a withdrawal plan to the state, then the members of the committee from Sandown will be allowed to submit a minority report including a withdrawal plan.” The law does not say “if and only if.” Again this is a reading of the law to create a straight jacket. The BOE will accept anything the withdrawing town wants to submit and to think otherwise is to impose on the BOE the mentality that we are suffering with at Timberlane’s SAU. Just think of it: the BOE is going to accept a withdrawal plan done by one committee in what is usually an adversarial process of separation?
      5) “If you feel so strongly that your opinion [about the buy-out] is correct I suggest that you engage a lawyer with experience in municipal law to draft an opinion and present it to everybody.” We expect to present our argument to the BOE. Lawyers don’t know everything and in this case where there is no precedence for what we are doing, hardly anything. A fair outcome is what the BOE will be trying to achieve – not a straight jacket interpretation of a law that did not have our kind of cooperative district in mind when it was written in my opinion.
      6) “All other lawyers work to advance the interests of their clients.” We asked to use the NH School Boards Association lawyer. Instead we got the SAU’s lawyer. That’s like having your ex’s wife do your hair.
      7) The reason this process has morphed from a study to potential action is because of poisoned politics. I stand by that statement. I fully expected the TRSD committee (Majority) to oppose withdrawal because of the loss of revenue from the enrollment of Sandown’s children. With an expected not feasible recommendation, the whole process would have ended right there…. with absolutely no action…. unless the people of Sandown wanted to pursue it. Instead Mr. Collins has cleverly invented the absurd notion that Sandown could get expelled from the district, thereby inventing a potential action where it never existed before, and still doesn’t truly exist because the BOE would never approve a plan of withdrawal over the objections of the town that wanted to explore their educational options.

      • Curt Springer

        Actually the law is a straitjacket for the most part. I strongly suggest that you get a copy of the NHMA publication “Knowing the Territory.”

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