Monthly Archives: December 2015

More Criticism of Contrived Default Budgets

Here is another in the chorus of those unhappy with school district default budgets, but this is a singularly well-written article from the Union Leader.

An excerpt:  It is not difficult to see how the default budget can be shamelessly manipulated to deny voters an opportunity to put the brakes on the runaway train of spending. All that a school board has to do is to conveniently forget about making the subtraction of the one-time expenditures from the default budget. Since nobody is watching, presto, the two budget numbers on the ballot come out about the same, and the board creates a classic “heads the board wins, tails taxpayers lose” situation. Voters cannot say no. However we vote, the schools get not only the guaranteed raise in operating funds, to which they are entitled under the law, but also the one-time expenditures that are supposed to be decided by the rest of us.



Filed under Sandown Issues

The Big Lie about Staff Cuts

                                                                          Guest contribution by Arthur Green

I have argued that in the years since enrollment peaked in 2007-08, the district has protected its staffing level despite plummeting enrollment. Plugging in this year’s figures from state filings, we have

2007-08 2015-16 % Change
Enrollment 4,653 3,673 -21.1%
Staffing (FTE) 697.5 676.7 -3.0%


At Deliberative in February 2015, the district made a grossly misleading comparison in order to claim that the district has made fiscally responsible staffing adjustments in response to the long term enrollment decline.  They have not.

The School Board Chair presentation (page 11) stated:

  • Since our peak year of 2007- 08, enrollment has decreased by 851 students or 18.4%.
  • During that same time, the number of teachers has decreased by 44.7 or 12.22%.
  • This decrease in enrollment has resulted in an average reduction of one teacher for every 19 students lost.

This is misleading because:

  • The truth is that overall staffing is hardly changing at all despite declining enrollment. While decreasing the number of teachers, the district is increasing staff in other categories particularly “non-teaching professionals.”  Since the overall staffing is hardly changing, why does TRSD boast of changing the balance of staff away from teachers providing classroom instruction in favor of non-teaching support and administrative staff?
  • The chart accompanying the Chairman’s claim contains a small but critical caveat –  the teacher decline they show is NOT measured from 2007-08, but from one year earlier, 2006-07.   This is important because from 2006-07 to 2007-08 the number of teachers dropped by 17 FTE positions at the same time as overall staffing increased by 9 (to 697 FTE staff ) and enrollment increased by 75 due to introduction of the Kindergarten program.  So the decline of 17 teachers in that year had nothing to do with responsible management of staffing levels for declining district enrollment, particularly since overall staffing actually increased at the same time.

I made these points in detail at my town hall presentation on the budget in December 2014, in response to the original claims authored by Rob Collins in a presentation to the Budget Committee.  My commentary was posted online in writing and in Vimeo and was closely scrutinized by supporters of TRSD overspending.  Yet disgracefully, the misleading claims were repeated and amplified in the school board chairman’s presentation to Deliberative in February.

  • The Chair’s presentation states “During that same time, the number of teachers has decreased”.  This statement is simply false, since the decrease covers an additional year, and is not during the same time as the decreased enrollment.
  • The Chair’s presentation states: “This decrease in enrollment has resulted in an average reduction of one teacher for every 19 students lost.” This statement cannot be defended, since it includes 17 reductions from before any students were “lost”.

Preparing for another big lie?

The district could be preparing to double down on this path of misinformation by crediting themselves now with the reduced teacher numbers in the current staffing.  They can add the 11.6 teacher reduction this year to the prior claim of 44.7 reductions, for a new claim that 56.3 teacher positions have been reduced – a 15.4% reduction in teachers.

Yes, classroom teachers have been reduced, but other staff positions have been created that offset to a very large extent overall staff cuts – as my table above demonstrates. It’s shameless to boast to the community about how many teaching staff have been reduced while being busy stuffing the org chart with administration.

Remember the basic facts:  enrollment down 21%.  Staff down 3%.  No spin.

                                                                                                                Edited by D. Green


Filed under Sandown Issues

Hitting the Bull’s Eye

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

 At last school Deliberative, the SAU administration emphasized how they constructed their budget around the bull’s eye of priorities, our students. The farther away from student impact, the lower the priority. Remember that giant red bull’s eye that was up on the screen for ever so long?

Well, a funny thing has happened.  A close examination of staffing information reveals some facts that are uncomfortable to the administration.  This information has been withheld from the public and the budget committee through this year’s budget deliberations, and only made available to me via Right to Know.

In this current academic year (2015/16),

  • 11.7 FTEs were cut from the district (Full-Time Equivalents)

This was done by

  • 11.6 FTE teachers reduced
  • 5 FTE regular education aides reduced
  • 5 FTE  professional non-teaching and support staff ADDED

You can see that the entire net reduction of 11.7 FTE positions was accounted for by the elimination of classroom teachers.

I have argued strongly that Timberlane is overstaffed in both the classroom and administrative levels and that many more reductions could be taken without harming education.  What I am simply trying to point out is the administration’s hypocrisy in secretly making reductions which were portrayed a few months ago as catastrophic.

The Numbers

Here’s the staffing breakdown for 2015-16 as reported to the NH Department of Education in October.  Source is the A12b staffing report, which I had to obtain this year by a Right to Know request, although the information for prior years had been posted to the  district website.  The numbers in the charts are “Full-Time Equivalent” (FTE) positions, so some of the positions are composed of multiple part-time employees.  This also takes into account the Timberlane employees in the SAU office whose time is fractionally allocated amongst the schools.  The A12b report covers actual staffed positions, and does not include budgeted-but-vacant positions.

Staffing Summary 2015-16

Overall Staffing in 2015/16 is down from the previous year by 11.7 positions.

In last winter’s budget cycle, we were told that 12 vacant positions were removed from this year’s budget. Sandown Central closure was supposed to result in a reduction of 9 positions, but 4.5 new positions were added into the budget, for a net reduction of just 4.5 budgeted and filled positions.

So, the budget called for a reduction of 4.5 FTEs but in fact, the district reduced filled positions  by 11.7 FTEs.  This means that the district has chosen to operate with 7.5 fewer FTEs than budgeted.

Nothing prevents the superintendent from staffing to the full level budgeted, so it is reasonable to conclude that the administration does not believe they are putting the quality of education at risk despite their dire warnings to the contrary at last deliberative session.

What We Were Told Isn’t What Was Done

We were told that Sandown Central had to be closed in order to deliver a flatline budget in 2015-16 compared to the previous year.

As things have turned out, Sandown Central did not close, and the combined staff of Central and North schools is the same as the combined staff last year.

Nevertheless, the district-wide Learning Center may have generated some efficiency in teacher staffing.  The district-wide total of pre-K and Kindergarten teachers is down by 2 (FTE) from 17.5 to 15.5.

Let’s review what was presented during last year’s budget cycle.  First the reductions from closing Sandown Central (all of the following is laid out in the budget draft support documents on the district web site):

  • 2.4 Teachers
  • 1 Guidance
  • 1 Nurse
  • 1 Principal
  • 1 Secretary
  • 2.4 Custodians

Next, the positions added back in the final budget:

  • Principal
  • Floating Nurse
  • Danville assistant principal change to full time from part time
  • Special ed teacher
  • Technology specialist

Net impact of the budget:

  • remove 1.4 teachers
  • remove 1 guidance counselor
  • add .4 of a principal
  • remove 1 Secretary
  • remove 2 custodians
  • add 1 technology specialist

In other words, a 1.4 FTE reduction in teachers and 3 FTE reductions in support positions were to be taken.

However, the positions that were supposed to be cut as presented in the budget did not actually end up being cut.  Instead of removing a secretary and a guidance counselor, the district kept those positions and then added a secretary and another guidance counselor.  Instead of adding a technology specialist,  a media aide was removed.

All of the actual reductions made this academic year (save for the 1 media aide) were in educational personnel. 

All of the increases were in non-classroom personnel.

To put this in terms of the famous bull’s eye, the money was removed from the circle closest to the students and added to a circle farther from the students.

Mine is not a criticism so much as an observation.  What we are told is not what is happening. First Sandown Central, now staffing reductions. Your school board should be demanding staffing information.


At the April 9, 2015 budget committee meeting, I made public comment asking the superintendent the following:

I have been made aware, through multiple personal connections to employees of the district, of a rumor that layoff notices have been issued to 14-16 teachers for the 2015-2016 school year.  I would like to ask Superintendent Metzler if he can confirm this rumor.

The superintendent did not respond to this question but later in a private email he wrote the following to me:

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. [My emphasis.]

            Edited by D. Green



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School Cancellation Protocol Itself Requires Protocol

When you wake up with 8 inches of snow in your driveway, or go to bed worrying about the overnight weather, our SAU has established a list of outlets for the announcement of snow days. This list was prudently circulated yesterday by press release. This time, though, there is a new twist.

For those who want the very earliest announcement about school cancellation, follow Superintendent Metzler’s Twitter feed – not Timberlane’s Twitter feed.

The press release says in part, “Earliest announcements will be made through Twitter. Those wishing to receive Twitter announcements may do so by subscribing to Twitter;”

Timberlane’s Twitter address is:

I have a suggestion.  How about using my blog as the earliest announcement media location?

Clearly, we need some protocol about the protocol. Do we want employees enhancing their social media profile as part of their professional duties?

You can be sure I will never have the opportunity to bring this up at a school board meeting because the chairman has imposed a hard stop to meetings at 10:30 pm, extended only to complete the most pressing topics.  It was ostensibly imposed to end long meetings, but it was really imposed to prevent “Other Business” topics and “Reports of the School Board” which are regular agenda items now never addressed. Since the chairman will not include agenda topics from me, especially ones that might result in some direction to our superintendent, there is no way for a dissenting board member to ask for discussion of runaway advisory committee propagation, the use of press releases to inform the board of important business, the superintendent’s use of social media, and so on.  School board meetings are all for show and have no substance. And please do not think profundity is going on behind the scenes.  What you see, is what there is.

Snow Day Announcements Press Release:   SNWDYS2015-2016




Filed under SAU 55 Issues, School Board Functioning

AG: No Incompatibility of Offices

Months ago the Timberlane District asked Danville Selectman and Timberlane Budget Committee member, Joshua Horns, to choose between one of his two elective positions.  The district claimed the two offices were statutorily incompatible.  The issue went to the Attorney General’s office for resolution.

Today the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office notified the school district and Joshua Horns that there is no incompatibility of offices for a town selectman to also sit on a cooperative school district’s budget committee. The two are politically separate entities.

Here is the letter.

1320157 (1)

By logical extension, this will open the way for town selectmen to run for district offices.  It is truly a cause for celebration that the talent pool for Timberlane elected offices has now been thrown wide open.

The letter was provided to me by Shawn O’Neil, Danville selectman.

Congratulations, Mr. Horns. Your resolve will certainly make a difference to our district going forward.


Filed under Sandown Issues

Many Steps Too Far

Our superintendent has announced yet another Advisory Committee, this time one called the “Timberlane Parents Advisory Forum.”

You may think this initiative is an invitation to dialogue, but it is actually a dead end to elected irresponsibility.

Here is today’s announcement:

Superintendent Dr. Earl Metzler is pleased to announce the establishment of TPAF, the Timberlane Parents Advisory Forum. TPAF will meet every other month, beginning in January, and be co-chaired by parent Julie Hammond, former Citizen Advisory Committee member Kate Delfino, and District administrators Deb Armfield and Christi Michaud. TPAF is charged with providing a forum for parents of Timberlane students to share their concerns and offer feedback to District leaders regarding program, curriculum and instruction. All parents of Timberlane students are invited to attend these meetings. Dates, times and locations of these meetings will be posted at ttps:// .

Parents may suggest agenda topics for these forums by emailing forum members at

This is a major initiative involving the community, parents and students, yet it was done completely without approval or even knowledge of the school board.  The school board should have been consulted to decide the scope of this “forum” and how it was to be composed – if at all. You will notice that there is no school board member involved with this “forum.”

You may think it alarmist for me to say again, yet even more forcefully in this case, that these advisory groups which have grown more numerous than mushrooms on a damp lawn are turning the school board into a Potemkin Village.

Every issue, every problem you have will now be directed to some advisory committee or forum or other and your elected officials will know nothing but what the SAU chooses to put on our agenda – of which individual school board members have no control. Under the guise of open dialogue, you are being stripped of accountability from your elected officials on the school board.

If the superintendent intended to isolate and emasculate the school board, he couldn’t have been more effective than his current course of action. The most disturbing element of these groups constructed by our superintendent is that they are being allowed and even encouraged by a board that doesn’t recognize how its own authority and avenues of information are being curtailed and undermined.

Here is the primary symptom of a lack of meaningful elected oversight: a $69.3 million budget for 16/17 was approved by the budget committee last night after only two meetings with the full budget. The proposed budget is up 1.5% over this current year’s budget.  Three new deans were added to the high school administration, a behaviorist, and one teacher/management position added to the music department in the proposed 16/17 budget. Enrollment in the district is expected to decline by 148 students next year.

Twenty-three positions were cut from the budget but despite my direct inquiries, the superintendent would not say how many of these cut positions were actually filled. TRSD has long carried an undisclosed number of vacant positions in the budget.

Going to warrant in March will most likely be a new teacher’s contract and a few facilities upgrades.




Filed under Budget Committee, School Board Functioning, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

Don’t Ask About Staffing at TRSD

When I ask about staffing, I get a stone wall…. to the point where it would be comical in its obviousness, if it didn’t involve taxpayer money.

Watch me bring up the topic twice at the last school board meeting.

First I ask about 23 positions described as cut from the draft budget. Watch Mrs. Steenson deflect it like a fast ping pong ball.  The conversation then goes to the bogus $125,000 added to the budget for a withdrawal study. When discussion finally wends its way back to my staffing question, watch Superintendent Metzler say something utterly incredible in the real meaning of the word.

To put this in context, compare this discourse with the Londonderry superintendent’s staffing  explanation in his school district’s 16/17 proposed budget:

Staffing Reductions for FY17 – $187,695 – Please note that since 2006, we have a net reduction of 65.2 FTE certified staff (1 for every 20.5 student drop in enrollment) and 85 FTE’s of non-certified staff (1 for every 15.7 student drop in enrollment) for a net reduction of 149.4 administrators, faculty and staff which represents the drop of 1 position for every 8.9 drop in enrollment or 21% since 2006. Additionally, we are projecting tuition revenue for FY17 of $1,226,954.

Londonderry runs 6 schools.  Timberlane runs 6 schools and a TLC.



Filed under Sandown Issues

Londonderry vs. Timberlane

Today’s Eagle Tribune is reporting that Londonderry School District’s Budget Committee is still working on a proposed $70.9 million budget.  That, the paper reports, is a 2.85% increase over the current budget.

Londonderry’s  11th grade students exceeded the NH state average in both language arts and math in the Smarter Balanced tests. (Timberlane did not.) The most recent enrollment figures available online from the Department of Education shows:

Londonderry district 

  • 4389 students (14/15 year)
  • 635 total staff  (14/15 year)


  •   3767  (14/15 year)
  • 673 total staff  (14/15 year)

RESULTS:  Timberlane had 622 fewer students last year but 38 more staff than Londonderry School District.

Draft three of Timberlane’s budget for 16/17 is $69,388,958. If you simply divide that eye-popping figure by the number of students projected to be in the district next year, here’s what you get:

$69,388,958 divided by 3425 =  $20,259.55 per student.

I don’t know Londonderry’s projected student population for next year, but it would have to plummet by 889 students to equal Timberlane’s $20,260 price tag.

This is from Central Catholic High School’s website:

Tuition for the 2015-2016 school year is $12,690, which includes all academic and athletic fees. 

Never enough

Timberlane’s draft three shows a 1.56% increase over current year’s budget.  That may seem like a modest increase but there will be a lot of warrant article asks this year, including an anticipated new teacher’s contract. And given how woefully over staffed we are, our district should be taking a serious budget cut, not receiving any sort of a budget increase.

Note:  Cost per pupil as published by the state is calculated differently from my simple method of total costs divided by number of students served.  This doesn’t not, however, mean that my simple calculation is without meaning.




Filed under Sandown Issues

Green’s Court Date Set

Oral arguments before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in the case of

Donna M. Green v. School Administrative Unit #55, Dr. Earl Metzler II, Timberlane Regional School District, and Nancy Steenson

will be heard on January 7, 2016 at 1:00 p.m.

Arguing for Green will be Richard J. Lehmann of Douglas, Leonard and Garvey.

Arguing for SAU 55 is Matthew R. Serge of Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon.

Here are my filings:

Donna Green Brief Case 2015-0274

appendix to donna green brief

I do not have an electronic copy of the SAU’s argument.  It came to me in a large bound volume that I cannot easily scan. It included legislation on the pubic’s right to electronic documents from 27 states.


Filed under Sandown Issues

16/17 Budget Draft 2 “Cuts”


Draft 2 changes….. cuts and additions

Those wishing to impose some discipline on the school district’s budget are between a rock and a hard place.  The default budget will likely be higher than the proposed budget and both of them have more secret pockets than a magician’s jacket.

A long-time observer of Timberlane budgeting practices summarized the budget game as he has known it in a comment on my blog yesterday. He wrote in part,

“This BudCom DOES NOT write the budget Mr. Metzler and Mr. Stokinger do. They present the budget in a well orchestrated dog and pony show over four meetings. The first meeting they present the budget, declare it is up 4%, few if any questions are asked by the BudCom, NO due dilligence is EVER attempted.

Second meeting Mr. Metzler announces his great personal achievement of reducing the budget to only 3% growth. Budcomm nods like the bobble heads they have become.

Third meeting, Mr. Metzler declares how difficult any further reductions will be there is just no fat left (sounds remarkably like Nancy Pelosi) but he managed through Herculean effort to reduce it to 2.75% growth.

And the last meeting it was thought impossible but our erstwhile budget cutter managed to toe the line at 2.5% growth. Clapping, party favors and backslapping all around. WOO HOO!”

Let’s compare this commentator’s characterization to what has happened so far in the 16/17 budget process.

Draft 1:  4.48% increase over 15/16 budget   

Budget committee cuts just $217,000 from the budget in first meeting for generators which were dependent on a federal grant which did not materialize.  They agree to ask administration to come back with a budget of $70,006,000 based on putting some asks on warrant. Note that this tactic does not actually cut anything. No tough decisions are made.

Draft 2:    1.8% increase over 15/16 budget  

Nearly 12 hours from end of budget committee meeting, Draft 2 comes out with $1.9 million in cuts – each and every one a surprise to the budget committee except for  $40,000 for the unnecessary plowing of Sandown Central.

Although the total percentages may be different, I’d say our commentator is pretty well on the mark. Please keep in mind that any warrant articles approved in March will add to this budget so what looks like a 1.8% increase now could become much bigger than that after successful warrants.

Defend yourself from the budget spin

Twenty-three “teacher/specialist” positions in Draft 2 have been cut. Don’t be alarmed to see staff reductions. First, it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is being laid off.

The truth is that we don’t know if any of these cut positions are currently filled.  Timberlane has a nasty secret of budgeting for a large number of unfilled positions which are not disclosed to either the budget committee or the school board.  This is why staffing numbers and salary information are closely guarded secrets in our district despite being public information.

Even if position cuts do mean actual staff reductions, 23 positions is a quarter of what is needed to get us into fighting trim. When we are told staffing numbers about past budget years and compare these numbers with districts of comparable size and better academic achievement, we find that Timberlane is vastly over staffed.

You will be told that Facilities has been held to a strangulatingly tight budget for many years and that we are just now grappling with our true needs.  Somehow a number of these pressing needs don’t show up on facilities lists of priorities which are supposed to be project requests for years out.  It would be nice to think the Capital Improvement Plan will address this problem but my worry is that it isn’t a problem so much as a budgeting strategy.

$1.9 million in cuts still leaves a budget fatter than the Michelin Tire Man.

  • Utilities have been over budgeted.
  • Administrators should be cut.
  • Every single line item increase should be justified because our student population is declining and will continue to fall for a few years more.
  • Legal fees should not be increased because this only encourages legal fights instead of reasonable reconciliations with our towns and critics.
  • New software programs and existing licence fees should be justified. We spent $127,000 on a program called Schoolnet that was never rolled out. Turnitin and Reading 180 have been dropped. Surely others could be dropped as well and I would suggest the virtual tour program as a start.
  • We have $4,40o in Draft 2 for printing the school newspaper which isn’t printed!
  • $125,000 for “Withdrawal Study” when a study should cost nothing but some administration time to supply numbers – if there should be another warrant article requesting another study.
  • The salary line should be justified.  How many positions is it paying for and how many are unfilled?

The list could go on and on. And don’t forget all the warrant articles that will be coming at you  – including a new teacher’s contract which is due.

You can only hope that your elected officials on the budget committee push for a real budget and not this unexamined construct.  As my commentator above believes, experience has shown that this but a false hope.

Timberlane has the resources to deliver an excellent education with a budget, including warrant articles, that is below this year’s budget and it should be made to do so. If the budget committee can impose no discipline, the voters must at Deliberative.


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