Monthly Archives: November 2015

Threats

One of the few budget items the budget committee discussed at the Nov. 24th meeting was an additional $40,000 to plow Sandown Central. Sandown Board of Selectmen has said repeatedly that they intend to continue plowing SC at the town’s expense, but the school district has plowed a staggering $40,000 into the proposed budget just in case Sandown changes its mind in 2017.

Lee Dube and I have spoken publicly about this unnecessary increase in the district budget. I attempted to make a motion to remove this money from the district budget at the last school board meeting but the chairman would not accept the motion because the meeting was not about changing the budget – or some such thing.  Then Mr. Dube, Sandown’s rep on the school budget committee motioned to remove this money on Nov. 24th. Mr. Horns from Danville seconded. That’s when things got interesting.

Superintendent Metzler said that he would be holding that money no matter what the budget committee did and that it would be frozen from the Sandown schools’ budgets if it was removed from the district budget.

Then another interesting thing happened.  The vote to remove the money was a tie, with Mr. Sapia of Atkinson sitting in for the school board rep and alternate who were both absent. Mr. Sapia was the deciding vote which made the motion fail.

Mr. Blair is the designated SB liaison. Mr. Collins is the designated alternate. Somehow Mr. Collins deputized Mr. Sapia and voila, $40,000 unnecessary dollars stayed in the budget.

But wait!  It gets more interesting.  After the motion was defeated, Superintendent Metzler said that the $40,000 would be something he would look at in a lower budget going forward.

Ah, the dynamics of threats!

 

 

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues

“She Doesn’t Know What She is Talking About.”

The budget process in our district is as broken as it could possibly be.  The budget committee has three scheduled meetings with the entire budget and most often the third meeting is cancelled. $69 million will be rubber stamped, “APPROVED,” with less haggling than buying a Turkish carpet at a flea market.

Nov. 24 was the first meeting of the TRSD Budget Committee with the full budget.  Rather than look at it line by line,  they very quickly fell to a negotiation over a bottom line number – but not before Superintendent Metzler hurled his bi-weekly quota of rude comments at me, this time saying  I don’t know what I’m talking about.  The truth is that the budget committee doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

The budget committee should be looking at staffing numbers, trends and enrollment statistics. They do not.  Neither does the school board. It is completely fallacious to say, as your school board members do, that the budget committee reviews budgets in detail.  They do not. A member of the public who just reads the budget for fun has found more unusual budget facts in two days than I have heard discussed in five years of following the TRSD Budget Committee. Just so you are not mislead by the bumph emanating from the board room table, department heads present only incremental changes.  They do not justify their entire budget nor do they ever present staffing or salary information to the budget committee.

The November 24, 2015 meeting was also  a joint meeting with the school board. What the budget committee learned is that the school board has no influence on the budget whatsoever and that the district’s budget is 100% a creation of the SAU.

Belaboring the obvious and oft said, Dr. Metzler gave a two and a half minute speech from 1:44:53 to 1:47:25 while a few other members of the board, including myself, were waiting to speak.  Neither the superintendent nor either of our chairman realize the superintendent is not actually a member of the board and should speak only when spoken to and keep comments to a minimum.

When I was finally able to speak, I referred to that 2.5 minutes simply with, “I almost fell asleep during that speech,” and began my comments about the paucity of information given to the budget committee and its critical importance in controlling the budget.

You can see the budget committee chairman, Mr. Heffernan, vigorously agreeing with Superintendent Metzler that the budget committee is, in fact, given ALL the information they could possibly request.  This is either the Stockholm Syndrome on display or the budget committee chairman is really at a loss to understand the budget committee’s actual job. The budget committee doesn’t even know what it doesn’t know (and six out of 10 of them like it that way.  To the other four, thank you.).

Watch this little exchange between me and the superintendent. You can decide who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Mr. Heffernan, the Budget Committee chair, references my “insulting” remarks about the budget committee at the last school board meeting. I simply stated then that the budget committee should be looking at staffing “if they were doing their jobs.”  If Mr. Heffernan finds this insulting, then you can conclude they are not looking at staffing.  If you think that is doing their job, you qualify for a seat on the school board.

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Default Budget Announced

An estimated default budget was announced at last night’s budget committee meeting.

Those of you furious at the games played with this year’s budget, the false threats of drastic cuts to sports and music and busing and so on, who are just waiting to vote against the proposed budget…. guess what?  The SAU has kept you in mind.

Next year’s default budget will almost certainly be higher than the proposed budget. You can take it on the chin or you can take it on the other chin.

The “estimated” default budget is $70,031,489.  The likely proposed budget will be close to $70 million. [See Update at end.]

The budget committee approved a tentative, working bottom line last night of $70,006,000 as a “guide” for the administration. If you watched the meeting, you would be excused for reading “capitulation” for “guide.”

Last night was the first time the budget committee met with the full proposed budget.  You might think they would review every line in the budget looking for unusual increases.  Or ask how the salary line is arrived at and how many unfilled positions it includes.  Nope….   but a few brave souls did try to fight for taxpayers who must have been watching TV with blanched faces last night. Mr. Dube and Horns tried to get $40,000 out of the budget, but failed.  Mr. Cantone tried to strike nearly 2 million based in part on unjustified increases. He failed.  Sandown’s Ms. Gorman was absent from the meeting and was sorely missed by this observer.

By law, the school board is supposed to prepare the default budget. At Timberlane, the omniscient SAU prepares it on the board’s behalf.  Last year, the default budget was treated with a breathtaking lack of scrutiny by your elected officials.  I argued against an increase in utility costs that are not contractually obligated and so should not be included in a default budget. I also withheld my signature.

Today I requested to see the draft default budget.

Dear Mrs. Steenson,

This is an official request to examine the full accounting for the 16/17 “estimated” default budget.
I would also like to see  the official filing for the 15/16 default budget.
Thank you,

Donna Green


This is the reply I received from our superintendent:

Dear Mrs. Green

This is your official response to your multiple requests. The first does not exist. That was made crystal clear last night. As for your second request…see pages 31-32 in the annual report.

Respectfully, Earl


Dear Superintendent Metzler:

Perhaps my request was not clear.  I am asking to see the official submission to the DRA of the default calculations for 15/16. 

And just so my concern for the 16/17 default budget does not go overlooked, I’d like to advise the board chairman and you that I expect the default budget to be presented to the board well in advance of its deadline so it can be studied and adjusted as is the responsibility of the school board and which I expect you to fully respect by managing to present this information to the board in a timely fashion.


So, there is a back of the envelope “draft” default budget announced last night with nothing to support it but the proposed budget minus two items?  Default budgets are supposed to be built from the previous year’s budget.  Was this nothing more than a weather balloon?  Something inflated that the budget committee could feel good about coming in under?

THIS JUST OUT:  SECOND BUDGET DRAFT: $69,468,458

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Filed under Sandown Issues

Danville Takes SAU to Task for Chronic Tardy Reporting

Danville’s Board of Selectmen chairman, Shawn O’Neil, sent a very revealing letter to Superintendent Metzler and the school board on Nov. 20.  It details years of missed filing deadlines set by the state’s Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) for district documents.

TRSD_DRA_Doc_Submittal

  • The research stopped at 2013.  It is not known how long DRA filing deadlines have been slipping in our district.
  • Mr. O’Neil concentrated on DRA filing deadlines. One has to wonder if filing deadlines to the Department of Education are treated with similar elasticity.

I’ve personally been aware of a few late filings, not in my capacity as a school board member, but as a cohort of Arthur Green who is ever on the watch for financial information about the district. He discovered that the end-of-year financial report was weeks late.

You may recall that the SAU wanted to charge us $39.50 for copies of this and other public information (such as the staffing report) on November 3.  Finally, on Nov. 19, the SAU saw fit to distribute copies of the end-of-year financials (DOE-25) and the NESDEC enrollment report to the school board (at no charge).  The staffing report,  which has been filed with the Department of Education, has not been given to the board – or the budget committee. Staffing costs make up the overwhelming part of our budget. What possible use could the budget committee make of knowing how many staff we have?

Mr. O’Neil’s letter is yet more evidence that the school board doesn’t have a clue what is going on at the SAU, and that the SAU requires supervision and oversight.

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, School Board Functioning

School Board Shuts Down Info Requests

Here are some clips from the Nov. 19th school board meeting.  They concern two motions I made for information – one about the Smarter Balanced results and the other about a question of out-of-district tuition fees for students with IEPs.

Why would the school board not want timely, actionable data on test results?  Why would the school board not want to know how tuition is charged out-of-district students?

You will note that Mrs. Steenson lets the administration speak without being acknowledged and she allows the superintendent to speak to me disrespectfully and in a bullying fashion. I asked for specific data.  He tells me we are not getting it until he decides we are prepared to understand it  – sometime next spring when it is bundled with school action plans. Yippee.

I admit to having a hard time articulating a crisp motion in the last clip, but the thought was simple enough.

P.S. I do not control the photo that the software selects for the clips.  At least, I don’t know how to control it. The intention was not to single out Mrs. Sherman.

 

 

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Filed under School Board Behavior, The Mushroom Farm

Plaistow Didn’t Get Homeland Grant

This just out from the SAU:

Hello board members,

We have learned this morning that the Town of Plaistow was not awarded the Homeland Security grant that would have partially funded the proposed generators at the high school and PAC.  Please find attached a revised agenda for next week’s board meeting as there is no need to move forward with this agenda item at this time. 


 

The previous agenda had this as the first order of business:

Homeland Security Grant (Shelter Designation) – ACTION (15 minutes)


 

Thankfully we will not now need to hurriedly vote on making the high school an emergency shelter, with so many unknowns about the requirements and the cost. It will also save us $217,000 from the facilities budget for two generators (at half cost), one for the HS and one for the PAC.

 

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Filed under Expenditures, Taxes

SAU Budget Increased at Public Hearing

Nearly $49,000 was added to the SAU budget last night in anticipation of higher health insurance rates. I made numerous motions to cut the budget from travel allowances to an unfilled human resource administrative position ($80k with benefits). Every single motion failed spectacularly.

Since the 2013/14 year, the SAU budget has gone up 44%.  Taxpayers, has your property value gone up 44% or your pay?

Mr. Dinsmore, member from Hampstead, said the problem is the federal government driving costs, such as Obamacare, down onto the districts and the SAU.  We are helpless to do anything about it at the SAU level, he believes.  I guess that is why no one supported cutting the travel expense line in the budget from a luxurious $17,000 to $10,000 which is what was spent in 14/15. Or cutting the 3% “merit pool” for SAU employees.

The SAU is a service organization to the Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts. It is also a monopoly. Districts cannot seek services elsewhere without a district vote and years of transition. I neglected to ask at last night’s public hearing how much of a raise for the superintendent (to 2022) was built into the budget. The superintendent’s most recent raise was 6.75% with a 4% bonus. The SAU does not publish the salaries of the SAU staff – even for the benefit of the SAU board – despite the fact that this is public information. The SAU board likes it this way because the less information they have, the more effectively they can administer the budget. Information gums up the rubber stamp.

 

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, Taxes