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.