Monthly Archives: February 2016

History Repeats?

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

In 2013/14 year -just four budget years ago – TRSD presented a budget that was $5 million less than what they are asking for now, to educate 400 more students.  The proposed 16/17 budget is a 7.8% dollar increase for a 9.8% decline in students in four years.

Recent History of School Tax Increases

Sandown residents may remember November, 2013 when their property tax bills showed a huge increase of about 9.5% in the school portion.

What had led to that event?  The prior winter, the district had presented a budget of $64,272,000, a seemingly-frugal 1.98% more than the previous year.  True, there was also a new collective agreement with the teachers, which would add another $400,000, but altogether the increase would still be $1,650,000, or about 2.6% more than budgeted for the previous year.

The material presented to deliberative in February did include forecast tax rates.  In Sandown’s case, the increase was shown as $17.24 per thousand, up from $15.87 per thousand.  The deliberative materials did not mention that this represented an 8.6% increase.  With the teachers collective agreement, the forecast tax rate was 9.7%.

But with the top line budget increase of less than 2%, it seems likely that few taxpayers were on the alert for the impact which would arrive the following December.

In the spring of 2013, Sandown property owners received notice of the results of town-wide re-assessment, and most saw a significant decrease in their assessed valuation.  Without the awareness that almost everyone’s assessment had decreased, each individual was potentially expecting that their individual property tax burden would likely drop along with their assessed value.  No such luck.

In 2012, Timberlane had assigned Sandown $9,607,931 as the town share of school district costs, which would be collected from the property taxpayers.  In 2013, the amount, including the approved teachers contract, was $10,520,939.  This was a 9.5% increase.  So on average, Sandown property owners had to pay 9.5% more even though their assessed values had dropped.  Instead of school tax rates in the range of $16 or $17 per thousand, taxpayers were now seeing $20 or $21 per thousand.

So the headline frugal budget increase of less than 2% became a brutal tax increase of 9.5%.

Were taxpayers warned?  Yes, the information was there at deliberative, but few took notice, and none spoke out.

That was then.  This is now.

Fast forward to this year’s budget cycle – the TRSD 2016/17 budget.

On average, the Sandown property taxpayer can expect to see 13.8% added to the school portion of the tax bill in December 2016.

The total budget, $69,334,000, is presented to the public as a 1.48% increase from the previous year.   There is also a new collective agreement with the teachers which, if approved by warrant article, will add another $600,000, for a seemingly-modest increase of 2.4% over the previous year.

Just as in 2013, this ‘modest’ increase will cause taxes to skyrocket.

The TRSD handout at Deliberative included a 2-page “School Tax Rate Recap“.  This tells us that in 2015/16 year, Sandown was assigned $10,889,085 to be collected from the property taxpayers.  For the 2016/17 year, that increases to $12,226,396, an increase of 12.3%.  If the teachers collective agreement is approved, that will add a further $165,384, which will make the total increase 13.8%.  

Sandown cannot afford to remain in Timberlane.

What about impact on the other towns in the district?  Assuming that the collective agreement is approved, here are the tax increases:

Atkinson:   9.4%

Danville:     8.6%

Plaistow:     6.9%

Why the differential impact?  That’s a topic for another day.

By the way, if you’d like to see that page of the Deliberative handout, you will have some difficulty.  You won’t find it on the TRSD web site because their version of the Deliberative package ends at the page before the tax impact: document.

  • 2013/14: just over $64 million to educate 3,924 students
  • 2016/17: $69.3 million to educate 3,528 students

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes to 13: A Reply to Arlene Bassett

Arlene Bassett’s letter last week in the Tri-Town Times urged Sandown residents to vote “No” on Article 13 concerning withdrawing from the Timberlane School District.  Mrs. Bassett and her extended family are a very valued and active part of Sandown and I am sad we are on different sides of this issue. I believe many of her objections are based on incomplete information about the actual withdrawal plan.
She argued that:
  • Sandown North is already too crowded.  How can we put 6, 7, and 8th grades in there?  This year, Sandown North has 342 students  in grades 1 – 5.  The withdrawal plan has grades 4 – 8 at Sandown North. By 2020/21 when the new Sandown School District is fully transitioned, there will be just 291 students at Sandown North – 51 students fewer than currently – based on NESDEC enrollment projections.
  • We’ll still be a member of SAU 55 with the same superintendent with no vote on the board.  A Sandown School District would have a Memorandum of Understanding with SAU55, clearly delineating its business services to our independent district.  As part of SAU55, we will have voting seats on the SAU board. If down the road SAU55 provides unsatisfactory services, Sandown can vote to withdraw from SAU55 and either join another SAU or run our own.
  • No other high school has promised to take our students.  Only an independent Sandown School District can negotiate a legally binding agreement with any other high school.   After this warrant passes, we would have standing to obtain a letter of intent from  a high school such as Pinkerton, which would form part of the Board of Education review of our withdrawal proposal.
  • If taxes don’t go down, there is no going back.  No one can guarantee that taxes will go down with our own school district, though I firmly believe they willbut you can be sure that taxes will go up with Timberlane.  They are predicting an 11.5% increase for Sandown’s school taxes this coming November. 
But taxes aren’t the only consideration. Our own district will give our students access to a better high school, keep them in Sandown during their middle school years, and give you local control of your child’s education through a school board that you can change and influence by your vote, something we don’t have now.
A “Yes” vote on March 8th is giving our kids a chance at something better and our taxpayers a chance of some relief in the future.  A successful Article 13 will not give us our own district yet – a district-wide vote is required for that – but it will start a process for educational self-determination.
For the full plan, FAQs and replies to more objections, see CASE2018.wordpress.com

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Learn More about Right to Know in NH

Learn more about New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law during national Sunshine Week.  Come to a panel discussion on The Right-to-Know Law in New Hampshire: “Where are We? Where are We Going?” on Tuesday March 15, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.  This event is sponsored by the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Nackey S. Loeb School.

The discussion will cover your right to know what your government is doing, how to access information and when other societal interests compete with your right to know.

The panel will feature experts from all perspectives on the Right-to-Know Law:

  • William L. Chapman, attorney and Board member, New England First Amendment Coalition;
  • Lisa M. English, Senior Assistant Attorney General;
  • Rick Gagliuso, attorney and Board member, New England First Amendment Coalition;
  • Cordell A. Johnston, attorney and lobbyist, New Hampshire Municipal Association;
  • David Saad, President, Right to Know NH, a citizens’ group working to improve access to government in New Hampshire;
  • Trent Spiner, President, New Hampshire Press Association.

The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications is located at 749 E. Industrial Park Drive in Manchester, NH. We look forward to seeing you there!

Used with  permission of Right to Know NH, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving adherence to and strengthening the Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A). RighttoknowNH.wordpress.com

Sunshine Week poster

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Pollard Flood an “Act of God”

TRSD board member, Jack Sapia of Atkinson said recently that the district’s responsibilities are safety, education and facilities, in that order of priority. I agree with him.  I disagree, however, with the level of conscientiousness our board has in addressing these responsibilities.

Two of these areas of responsibility came up at the Feb. 18th school board meeting.

Student safety.  The district has regular water quality testing done by a very reputable local company. Keep in the back of your mind throughout the discussion captured here, how an inexplicable 6-week lag in test results would play out if a non-trivial issue had been discovered.

 

Facilities

Pollard School in Plaistow had significant water damage when a pipe froze and burst in the foyer of the building and took out the sprinkler control panel. The school was closed for two days. From the discussion below you can see the board treating this as an unremarkable event. Mr. Sapia calls it an Act of God, which is hilarious in the extreme because a frozen pipe is eminently preventable. Mrs. Sherman says the important thing is is that the children were safe, and Dr. Metzler starts off without even the courtesy of truthful disclosure.

 

What the public doesn’t know is that a temporary employee was injured in a fall during the evacuation and was hospitalized.  Taxpayers have been told the district’s health insurance rates went up 21%.  A large part of that is because our risk pool statistics are not favorable because our usage is high. The attitude of your board and administration concerning this facilities event speaks volumes.

Unlike Sandown’s Town Hall which is nearly 100 years old, Pollard’s foyer is of a modern construction.

  • Will the insulation be improved in that area?
  • Will increased heating be directed toward that area in future?
  • What, if anything besides prayer, will we be doing to prevent this in future?

None of these questions were asked or answered so I will assume the answer to all of them is business as usual. See no evil, speak no evil and do nothing is the secret initiation motto of our board.

 

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Policy vs. Practice

Timberlane Policy DJE

BIDDING REQUIREMENTS
The Superintendent is required to get written competitive bids on purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $10,000 or more. As a general rule, purchases of $1,000 or more per item will require at least three competitive documented quotes for the open market. All purchases made in the open market shall be consummated after careful evaluation.

In May 2014, your current board added the following: “Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review and may not need to go out to bid.”

This is the pernicious result:

To me, the most flagrant example of the mismanagement of your money is the board’s refusal to insist that all contracts go out to bid on a regular basis. Our auditing arrangement is badly in need of a change because our annual audits are regularly 8 months late and are given to the SAU instead of the school board which is the authority that nominally commissions the audit and is the responsible body for dealing with weaknesses.

 

 

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The Truth is Out There but Where? UPDATED

In the ongoing saga of school board meetings that address nothing, you should know that the school board chairman has ignored my request to discuss the flooding at Pollard School at Thursday’s school board meeting. Voters thinking about installing sprinklers in Danville should pay attention.

WMUR and the Union Leader are suggesting a sprinkler pipe burst because of cold weather. WMUR’s interview with Superintendent Metzler was kindly forwarded to me by Rob Collins. Additionally, the district sent out this notice to school board members:

“Due to the unusually cold weather, the district encountered a few issues today. The delayed opening began with an additional delay for a SN bus due to a traffic issue on Phillipswood.  Parents were notified of the student’s delay in arriving to school. Pollard experienced a water pipe burst in the overhead of the main entrance corridor causing significant water damage.”

This caused me to write the following email yesterday.

Mrs. Steenson:

I would very much appreciate having Mr. Hughes to our next SB meeting on Thursday to  help us understand how a pipe can burst given our considerable investment in software monitoring technology in all our schools – as well as a report on the damage.

Thank you,

Donna Green


 

Readers should know that every year we have budgeted $25,000 for Building Management System upgrades to one school a year for systems that are supposed to monitor interior temperatures and notify the Facilities Director when temperatures fall dangerously low, among other things.

So my questions concerning this incident are numerous:
  • Did the burst pipe located in the ceiling of the foyer happen because of freezing?
  • Does Pollard have an upgraded BMS?
  • How could an interior pipe get so cold that it burst?

    Mr. Kelly Ward kindly responded to me in an email this morning saying in part:

“The fire department stated that it was not believed to have been related to the cold temperatures but merely a coincidence. This makes sence in the fact that if the pipe had been frozen to the point of bursting, there wouldn’t have been any liquid until the outside temps had risen.  The other part of that is that the fire chief stated that while it was cold in the ceiling, it wasn’t cold enough to have frozen that size pipe.”


Now it is not impossible that the press got this wrong and just assumed the weather caused the problem, but then why would Mr. Collins be circulating a news story without a correction?  And why would the district attribute this to the cold as well?  Perhaps it’s as simple as people assuming it was the cold when the fire chief knew better. In any event, there is enough conflicting information out there that I would certainly like to hear from our own Facilities Director as to the cause of the flooding, the extent of the damage, and the remediations being done to prevent this from happening again.

Here are some of the other responses from fellow school board members on this issue.From the always insightful Mr. Sapia:

Nancy,

No need, we all understand  it was 20 below 0. Water freezes at 0.  We have more important things to deal with!
Jack


From Mr. Collins:

Donna, this is a non issue. Happens all of the time, especially in a structure of this type. I support not putting on the agenda, waste of time. My $.02


 No doubt our insurance company is happy to hear how casual we are about pipes bursting.  I’m certainly not happy with a school being closed for two days. Given that we are asking district residents to invest the better part of a million dollars for a sprinkler system in Danville, wouldn’t it be nice to know that these things don’t happen all the time?
Here are other issues that won’t be on the agenda but should be:
  • Water quality report at Sandown Central  dated Dec. 28 and notification to the board dated Feb 10.
  • Rob Collins’ contention publicly and to the board on numerous occasions that an accountant was hired by the district and had confirmed the preliminary Sandown withdrawal buy-out number. It has been learned that the SAU never hired anyone and no one has been paid for any such service.

The truth is out there, but where? Don’t look in board meetings. These are just for show and what they are showing is a profound unwillingness to discuss any substantive issues.

WMUR Pollard

UPDATE Feb. 18, 2016:   Sandown’s Town Hall experienced some flooding also though the Tri-Town Times reports that it was not due to freezing. The Sandown Board of Selectmen released their agenda today for their Feb 22 meeting.  They prudently and responsibly included the flooding under “New Business:” Status and update of flood from holding tank at Town Hall.

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A Note to CAW Commentators

Dear Citizens Against Withdrawal Facebook Page Members,

Please note that this page is my real estate.  I will not be posting comments that are mean-spirited, disingenuous and simply an assertion of opinion rather than a genuine weighing of the factual evidence.  You have more than enough organs to spout your bile. And you can sure bet that I am not giving real estate to those who have abused me and my cohorts far and wide on social media without giving us the opportunity to reply.

Post away elsewhere.  This page is open to honest debate and not open to those whose main weapon is, or has been, attacking the person instead of the factual issues.

CASE2018.wordpress.com has over 25 reponses to objections. I am certain all genuine questions can be answered by reading the blog post, “CASE Replies to Critics.”

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