Monthly Archives: June 2016

“Half the truth is often a great lie.”

 By Arthur Green with Donna Green

Benjamin Franklin said, “Half the truth is often a great lie.” Did he know Rob Collins?

School board representative from Danville, Rob Collins, is the author of the annual Timberlane District Report Card, otherwise know as the Bible of Spin. This document has recently been approved by the School Board, released by the district and promulgated over social media.

Here is the great lie:  “Timberlane has seen continued declining enrollments and with those declines in students there have been proportional declines in teachers, administrators and staff.”  [Page 21 of TRSD Report Card]  This is not true at all. Total staffing has not declined in proportion to falling enrollment, as you shall see.

Mr. Collins has illustrated his great lie in a lovely graph that is no doubt groping to find a cloth by which to cover its embarrassment:

District Report Card page 22 Students and Teachers

This graph shows the number of classroom teachers declining with enrollment. What it doesn’t say is that this is not TOTAL enrollment nor is it TOTAL staffing.  The truth is that TOTAL STAFFING has declined very little while administration has filled the vacuum; furthermore, the enrollment here does not include Pre-K and Kindergarten.

The graph selectively shows classroom teachers plotted against grades 1-12 enrollment. Both of these measures, while true, are far less than half the story. Therein lies the deception.

Let’s start with enrollment.  Here is the district’s enrollment for ALL students, including  Pre-K and K:

Enrollment chart comparison with Report Card page 22

This shows total enrollment (including Pre-K and K) at its peak in 2007/08 year.  The blue bars show grades 1-12 enrollment, matching the graph in the district Report Card.

2007/08 was the first year Kindergarten was offered, resulting in an enrollment increase and the peak of district enrollment.  If the number of teachers decreased from 2006/07 to 2007/08, it was not a response to decline, it was a program reorganization associated with the startup of kindergarten.

Yes, classroom teachers have declined while administration (and support – defined below) has taken up much of the difference:

Staffing composition teachers vs admin

Since 2006/07, a year selected by Mr. Collins, classroom teachers have declined as a percentage of total enrollment by 7.4 percentage points while administration (and support) has grown by 5.2 percentage points – in the context of steep enrollment declines.

Let’s look at the decline in teachers:

Teache staffing comparison with Report Card page 22

The solid line is data as presented on the Report Card.  The dotted line is TOTAL classroom teachers.

When you look at total staffing, our district has not, as Mr. Collins and the district claims, seen “proportional declines in teachers, administrators and staff.”

Total staffing comparison with report card page 22

Classroom teachers have declined somewhat in proportion to the decline in enrollment, but total staffing has hardly changed.

The district’s own report card proves that the teachers are bearing the brunt of protecting the district staffing levels in the face of declining enrollment.  Since 2006/07, the year Mr. Collins and the district chose as its starting point, 69 teachers have been cut while total staffing is down by a mere 11.
This is a telling echo of Deliberative.  Do you remember Dr. Metzler’s response when Kim Farrah of Danville moved to reduce the proposed 2016/17 budget by $300,000 (on $69 million budget).   The Superintendent immediately shot back that this would result in the loss of 6 teachers.  Ah, how we long for the giant red bull’s eye!

This blog has long criticized the bloated overall staffing numbers of the district. In reply, the district has done their best to divert the discussion to teacher numbers.  This dishonest and manipulative tactic is squarely aimed at parents’ natural concern that education should not be put at risk by heedless budget cutting.  Despite the talk, truthful numbers show the administration sacrificing teaching positions first in order to protect the overall staffing level.

 If there had been proportional declines in “teachers, administrators and staff,” then overall staffing of the district in 2015/16 would be 557, not 677.  Here’s how that was calculated:
  • When we had 4,535 students and 688 staff (2006/07), gross student/staff ratio was 6.6
  • Now we have 3,673 students and 677 staff (2015/16), gross student/staff ratio of 5.4
  • If staffing had really declined in proportion with declining enrollment, the student/staff ratio of 6.6 would still hold, which would mean overall staff of 3,673/6.6 = 557 staff.

During the debate for the 2015/16 budget, we argued for a “responsible budget” based on overall staffing of 649.  We were excoriated for advocating Draconian cuts.  Now is there any doubt the district could have operated perfectly well with 649 staff?

Some technical notes:

  • FTE = “full-time equivalent” staff.  All staffing numbers are FTEs.
  • Our source for enrollment numbers is the annual reports, which reproduce the enrollment reported by the district to the DOE at the beginning of October.  The current year has not appeared yet in the annual report, but is posted on Timberlane’s Budget Committee folder on the district web site.
  • Our source for staffing information is the A12B report– these staffing reports are filed by the district with the DOE each October.  Reports covering 2006/07 through 2014/15 are on the district web site.  The 2015/16 report was provided to us in response to a Right to Know request but is not (yet) published by the district online
  • Administration and Support is a grouping in the A12B report which does not include teaching aids but does include:
    • Principals and Vice Principals
    • Guidance
    • Media specialists and Media Aides
    • Clerical
    • Non-teaching professional staff
    • Custodial and maintenance
  • Mr. Collins’ source for enrollment and staffing comes from DOE reports calculating student/teacher ratio.  These figures are not appropriate for the use to which he is putting them and results in a self-serving half-truth. (The DOE’s definition of student/teacher ratio covers only grades 1-12.)

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Empire Building the SAU Way

As promised, here’s more on the untelevised, unrecorded SAU meeting of June 15.

Green “votes against Copsync program”

CopSync 911 is an emergency alert software system.  The cost of implementing this program is largely offset by a FEMA grant for the first year. Subsequent years are expected to have modest costs without grant assistance.

Mr. Collins motioned to purchase this program through the SAU budget. (Since draft minutes aren’t published, I can’t reproduce the exact motion made at the meeting.  The approved minutes for this meeting won’t be available until Oct 5.) I attempted to amend Mr. Collins’ motion by striking the SAU’s involvement in the purchase. That amendment failed (but did get a second, thank you Mr. Dinsmore!)

My political opponents will claim I voted against the program. In fact, I’m in favor of this program.  I voted against the MOTION to have the funding for this program come out of the SAU budget. It is the financial arrangements for this purchase that I voted against, not the program itself.

Purchasing this through the SAU budget is wrong, wrong and wrong.

Why would the motion specify the SAU budget?

In agreeing to purchase the program through SAU55, the boards of Hampstead and Timberlane are allowing the SAU to inflate their budget.  It is a small gift of empire building for the superintendent on top of his sizable raise and bonus.

Here’s why I say this.  There is currently no budget for this $5,000 expenditure in SAU55’s budget SO they must bill Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts for the program. So far so good.  This is the way a purchasing agent, such as an SAU, is supposed to function.

Next budget year, however, the cost of the CopSync program will be built into SAU55’s budget (thanks to Mr. Collins’ motion) and it will almost certainly stay there forever whether or not there is a justifiable expenditure requiring it. That’s because there is very little transparency with respect to the SAU budget preparation and ZERO oversight over it. The board has never struck down an SAU budget expense – actual or not – in my living memory.

Empire Building

Once the SAU board rubber stamps the SAU budget, as they do every year with hardly any discussion except for what I might prevail upon them to discuss, it cannot be changed by the public.  Read this again:  the SAU budget cannot be changed by the public.  This is the primary reason Mr. Collins and the SAU55 board are so eager to stuff it full of expenditures that rightfully belong in the school districts’ individual budgets.  Those budgets are subject to public scrutiny and public change. The SAU budget is not and so can easily incorporate and hide legacy expenses. This money then gets redirected to salaries and travel expenses and whatever else the SAU might like.  It’s all bottomline budgeting, after all, as we are always reminded.

Yes, we want Copsync, but there is no legitimate reason in the world it should be going through the SAU’s budget.

Why would Danville’s Rob Collins make such a motion?  Why would all those present at the June 15th SAU meeting support it?  I believe the majority of your representatives are more interested in cozying up to the SAU than they are in representing your interests.  But that’s just me.

[Absent from the June 15 SAU meeting were Greg Spero and Stefanie Dube.]

Press release: SAU Board Authorizes Contract with COPsync

 

 

 

 

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Timing: Morse Settlement and Metzler Raise

Below you can see the slow and painful release of public information versus the timing of the superintendent’s raise and bonus.  (As of July 1, 2016, Superintendent Metzler will be making  $161,000 which includes a bonus for 16/17 of $6,000.)*

The Morse settlement was fully settled and executed on April 28, 2016.  The terms of the settlement became public thanks to Danville Selectman, Shawn O’Neil, who made a Right to Know request of SAU 55 (and threatened to sue if the information was not forthcoming).

  • April 28, 2016   Morse settlement fully finalized. The letter dated April 28 from our insurer, Primex, which enclosed the settlement documents, states in part, “Persuant to RSA 91-A:4, VI, …these documents must be retained on file at the Superintendent’s office for no less than 10 years from the date of settlement.” Neither the SAU board nor the Timberlane School Board was told the terms of the settlement or that the documents were available for their inspection.
  • May 12, 2016  Without knowing the terms of the settlement, the SAU board votes in non-public to award Dr. Metzler a 3.75% raise and a 4% performance bonus (the maximum bonus allowed by contract). The board votes to seal the non-public minutes. The meeting was not televised or recorded and no member of the public was in attendance as the discussion was largely in non-public. In public session towards the end of the meeting and after I had left, the chairman announced the raise and bonus to dead cameras and a room absent an audience. I had left the meeting early from a sense of futility. Significantly, no one subsequently disclosed that the raise and bonus had been announced in public session.
  • May 12, 2016  Shawn O’Neil’s submits a Right to Know request to SAU 55 for settlement information
  • May 23. 2016 settlement documents are made available to Mr. O’Neil
  • May 24, 2016  Mr. O’Neil posts settlement documents on SpeakoutTimberlane Facebook page. This is the first time they are seen by the public and thereby allows board members to learn of the settlement terms.
  • May 24, 2016  Mary-Jo Thomas Conlon emails SAU 55 requesting public minutes of the May 12 SAU meeting. Her undisclosed purpose was to learn if the superintendent was awarded a raise at the May 12 meeting.
  • May 25, 2016  Mrs. Belcher replies to Ms. Conlon that her Right to Know request for the SAU meeting minutes are available for pickup at the SAU office during regular hours for 50 cents a page.
  • May 25, 2016 Ms. Conlon replies to Mrs. Belcher that the request for minutes was not a Right to Know request and that she had previously been sent draft minutes by email or given a link to where they were posted online. She asked why the protocol had changed. She also noted that her work hours preclude her from getting to the SAU office during their [far more restrictive] business hours.
  • May 26, 2016  Ms. Conlon learns that another SAU meeting was scheduled for June 15. She emails Mrs. Belcher saying she was willing to wait until June for the draft minutes of the May 12 SAU meeting to be approved and published online “…rather than losing a days pay or having to find someone else who might be available to pick-up for me.”
  • June 15, 2016 SAU board approves public minutes disclosing Superintendent Metzler’s raise and bonus. My motion to unseal the non-public minutes of May 12 went without a second.
  • June 16, 2016  This blog is first to inform the public of the superintendent’s raise and bonus – more than a month after it had been voted.

Conclusions

The terms of the settlement with Mrs. Morse were final and subject to public knowledge well before the SAU board was to take up the superintendent’s evaluation and annual raise and bonus – yet this information was not given to the board. It took a Right to Know request to obtain information vital to the board’s business. Further, a citizen, trying to understand the workings of her government, (was the superintendent given a raise?) makes a simple request for draft minutes and is told it is a Right to Know request and that she must upend her productive life to obtain these minutes at an additional monetary cost to her.

SAUs were conceived as service organizations.  SAU 55 has become a self-serving organization that controls information for its own purposes.  It stymies oversight by elected officials – should any of them come to understand their duty and obtain the courage to act on that understanding – and thwarts those who want to understand its functioning.

*In an earlier uncorrected post I mistakenly included the bonus in the base salary figure.  This was an error.  Dr. Metzler’s total compensation of salary and bonus is $161,000 for 16/17.

To see the salaries of other superintendents in New Hampshire: Administration Salaries as per DOE

Here is the email exchange between Mary-Jo Thomas Conlon and SAU 55 regarding a simple request for draft SAU meeting minutes. (Please note that nothing in this post or in my belief holds Mrs. Belcher responsible for the SAU’s position and action in the emails that follow.)

From: MJ Thomas-Conlon
Date: Tue, May 24, 2016 at 6:19 PM
Subject: Meeting minutes
To: trsb@timberlane.net

I  would like to request the meeting  minutes for the SAU  55  board meeting of May 12, 2016.

Thank-you

Mary-Jo Thomas Conlon [address redacted]

From: <pbealo@comcast.net>
Date: Tue, May 24, 2016 at 7:55 PM
Subject: Fwd: Meeting minutes
To: Jason Cipriano <cip@usna2002.com>, mjthomas
Cc: “Belcher, Catherine” <catherine.belcher@timberlane.net>

Mrs. Conlon,

You need to discuss this with the Chair of the SAU Board, copied on this email.

While I am the Chair of the Timberlane School Board, I am just another member of the SAU Board.

Best Regards,

Peter Bealo

x
From: MJ Thomas-Conlon
Date: Tue, May 24, 2016 at 8:09 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Meeting minutes
To: Peter Bealo <pbealo@comcast.net>
I looked for a separate email listing for SAU and was unable to locate.
I previously used the TRSB email to make the same sort of request, which was answered by both you and Cathy Belcher, so not sure what needs to be “discussed”?
Could you provide the correct email to use, please?
Thanks…mjc

x

From: <pbealo@comcast.net>
Date: Tue, May 24, 2016 at 9:00 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Meeting minutes
To: mjthomasciprianoj@hampstead.k12.nh.us

I copied Jason Cipriano, SAU Chair, on my first and on this email.
I thought the word “discussed” was just a benign polite term. No hidden meaning.

Best Regards
Peter Bealo

x

From: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomasc
Date: Tue, May 24, 2016 at 9:02 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Meeting minutes
To: Peter Bealo <pbealo@comcast.net>

Sorry it confused me…lol…translation: ask him lol…..thanks…mjc

x

From: Belcher, Catherine <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Date: Wed, May 25, 2016 at 9:57 AM
Subject: Meeting minutes
To: “mjthomas
Cc: Peter Bealo <pbealo@comcast.net>, Jason Cipriano <cip@usna2002.com>

Please allow this email to serve as confirmation of receipt of your right-to-know request for SAU Board meeting minutes of May 12, 2016 meeting.  A draft (unapproved) copy of these minutes (public session only) are immediately available for pick up (hardcopy or electronic version) at the Superintendent’s Office during normal business hours.  The cost for hardcopies is $0.50 per page; there are 2 pages to these minutes. See attached Right-to-Know procedure for securing electronic copies.

On another RTK matter, please allow this email to also serve as a reminder of a previous request made by you on July 7, 2015 for a copy of the May 20, 2015 SAU Board meeting minutes.  Those materials (2 pages) are still awaiting your pick up.

Thank you

x

From: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomas
Date: Wed, May 25, 2016 at 10:15 AM
Subject: Re: Meeting minutes
To: “Belcher, Catherine” <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>

Good Morning Mrs Belcher,
Actually, as stated in my email, it was a simple request, not a “RTK” , which is what Mr Bealo had previously informed me to do, simply ask for the minutes, or link to where available in draft form, before official minutes are approved and posted, and the information would be sent/linked.
My request last May , after some confusion, was answered in that way, so I followed that suggested procedure this time. I had sent you a reply in July 2015 as well, explaining that Mr Bealo had already replied and clarified matters and  the link you provided answered my question/request, so there was no need for additional documents.
Has recommended process changed now? Are minutes no longer available via a link? I work 8 to 5 in Massachusetts, so it’s really quite impossible for me to visit the SAU building during the hours you are open.
Mary-Jo Thomas Conlon

x

From: Belcher, Catherine <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Date: Wed, May 25, 2016 at 2:56 PM
Subject: Meeting minutes
To: “mjthomas

Dear Mrs. Conlon,

Thank you for your email.  The protocol for the posting of minutes for both the SAU Board and the Timberlane School Board is to post them to a public online folder after they have been approved by their respective boards.  Kindly note this does not render the unapproved/draft minutes unavailable to the public; they are just not available online. Anyone may request a copy of the draft minutes or may inspect them in person as provided under RSA 91-A.

Although we understand your limitations for coming to the Superintendent’s office during normal business hours due to your work schedule, your lack of availability does not affect the availability of the documents. They are available at the Superintendent’s office as prescribed by law.

I hope this information is helpful and, as previously stated, the unapproved/draft minutes of May 12, 2016 are immediately available at the Superintendent’s office in both electronic and hardcopy format.

As to your previous RTK request, you are correct in your recollection of its status.

Have a good afternoon,

Cathy

x

Ms Belcher,
Thanks for your response. Could you tell me when this protocol,was changed?
At least in July 2015, and perhaps later, draft minutes were posted online, as I received the link via email to access them. I did check the website and found no reference to draft minutes.
We will have to agree to disagree that it doesn’t limit the availability of public documents, since they could easily be posted, linked and emailed, as was previously done.
The change in protocol, limits availability to non- working citizens or those who have flexibility to take time off. Is someone else allowed to pick-up or copy the documents, even though I made the request?

Mary-Jo Thomas-Conlon

x

From: Belcher, Catherine <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Date: Thu, May 26, 2016 at 11:03 AM
Subject: RE: Meeting minutes
To: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomasc
Yes, you may send someone else in your place to pick up the requested information.  Our office is open Monday-Friday from 8:30am-4:00pm.  Our office is closed on Monday, May 30th in observance of Memorial Day.

Cathy

x

From: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomas
Date: Thu, May 26, 2016 at 4:06 PM
Subject: Re: Meeting minutes
To: “Belcher, Catherine” <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Ms Belcher,
I just noticed that another SAU meeting has been added for June, that wasn’t appearing on the calendar when I checked the website. At that time the next meeting was shown as  October, which is why I requested the minutes now. I can certainly wait until they are approved in early June rather than losing a days pay or having to find someone else who might be available to pick-up for me.
It’s unfortunate that the protocol has been change, to make access and availability more difficult. Could you please send a link or reference to where I might find notice, date and details of the change? I’ve looked again on the website, since asking previously, and still can not find any mention directly related to the minutes.

Thanks in advance, sorry for the extended back and forth, but I was unaware that the process Mr Bealo had previously suggested I follow was no longer acceptable.

Mary-Jo Thomas-Conlon

x

(Note from MJ: this email goes unanswered until I contact again on 6/7, my final email in the chain received no reply at all.)

x

From: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomasc
Date: Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 12:14 PM
Subject: Re: Meeting minutes
To: “Belcher, Catherine” <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>

Ms Belcher,

Perhaps my prior email slipped through the cracks, but I am still waiting for a response to my question about when the protocol for receiving draft minutes changed and where I might find that linked or referenced?
I”m assuming that both public and non-public minutes from the prior SAU meeting will be approved (usually) at the upcoming, June 16th meeting, could you tell me how soon after that they are posted online?
Thanks,

Mary-Jo Thomas-Conlon

Danville NH

x
From: Belcher, Catherine <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Date: Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 1:26 PM
Subject: RE: Meeting minutes
To: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomas
Thank you for your email, Mrs. Conlon.  In response to the posting of approved minutes, I try to post them within a day or two after the meeting in which they were approved; however, the timing of this may be affected by other responsibilities at hand.

Regarding a change in protocol to the posting of draft minutes, I do not recall any change. The SAU Board and Timberland School Board do not post their draft minutes to a public site.

In either case (approved or in draft form), the minutes are available for public inspection at the Superintendent’s Office as provided by statute.

Enjoy your afternoon,

Cathy

x

From: MJ Thomas-Conlon <mjthomas
Date: Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 2:14 PM
Subject: Re: Meeting minutes
To: “Belcher, Catherine” <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>

Ms Belcher,
Thanks for the information on the time frame for posting approved minutes. There has definitely been a change in “protocol” related to receiving/posting draft minutes. As I stated in my previous emails, related to this request, I was told by Peter Bealo (7-10-15 email) that they were available by request and could be sent to me or viewed on SAU website. This was reiterated by your email (7-13-15) that provided me with a link to view the posted draft minutes of 5-20-15 SAU board meeting, posted on the SAU website. That seemed like best practice, in my opinion.

I think stakeholders should be made aware when such changes happen, why they came about, and the new “protocol” to receive information that is requested in the most transparent and accessible way. Instead, it’s unfortunate that this change makes it more difficult, rather than easier to view public information, and I haven’t been able to find any reference or answer to the when/why the change took place.

Mary-Jo Thomas-Conlon

Danville, NH

 

 

 

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More Wasted Legal Fees

Hampstead Budget Committee Chairman, Jorge Mesa-Tejada, received a love letter from the Hampstead School District lawyer yesterday. Devoted readers will recall that Mr. Mesa-Tejada has an outstanding No Trespass order against him, issued by Dr. Metzler and re-affirmed by the Hampstead School Board, for speaking his mind in his capacity as an elected official in a budget committee meeting.

Here are your tax dollars at work: DiNola Attorney letter

Here is Mr. Mesa-Tejada’s innocuous email to the principal of Hampstead Middle School which provoked the lawyer’s letter:

June 10, 2016   Subject: Street moniker for HMS…

Dear Maria,

You should be aware that HMS is referred colloquially in the street as Mailloux Middle School. 

Watch your back.

Jorge


In February, Mr. Mesa-Tejada opposed a bond issue promoted by the Hampstead School Board. Voters defeated the bond request in March.

 

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Metzler Raise Finally Made Public

On May 12, 2016 during a non-public meeting, the SAU board voted the superintendent a 3.75% raise and a 4% performance bonus effective July 1. They kept this information hidden from the public until the approval of the public minutes at last night’s SAU meeting.

The board also refused to unseal the non-public minutes which details the board’s discussion that arrived at this raise and bonus.  I motioned to unseal the minutes.  There was no second.

Mrs. Dube and Mr. Spero were not present at last night’s meeting.

Other postings about this meeting will follow in the next days. It was not televised or recorded.  That is always a red flag.

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NH ACLU Protects Rights at Pembroke School District

When it was reported that Pembroke Academy’s Dean of Students was arrested at school for the possession of heroin and a large number of needles, parent David Pearl wanted to know why parents were never informed.  He attempted to read a prepared statement at two school board meetings in May during public comment.  He was repeatedly shut down. Sadly, Mr. Pearl died suddenly of an apparent heart attack in early June.

Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, has once again come to the rescue of citizens’ free speech rights.  In a 7-page letter to the Pembroke School Board,  attorney Bissonnette calls their behavior “unconstitutional viewpoint and content-based discrimination.”

His letter is an interesting and enlightening read:  Bissonnette Pembroke School Board 6.14.16

 

 

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Congratulations, Class 2016!

June 11th was graduation for 335 Timberlane High School students.  The sky was overcast but spirits were high as we said a fond goodbye to a cohort of young adults who will continue to make us proud in the broader world.  Principal Woodworth spoke of the responsibility of living a life with meaning.  Dr. Metzler spoke of the nature of character. We all feel keenly the hopes and proud expectations of every parent as they celebrate the passing from one accomplishment onto the promise but uncertainly of the next.

This year’s class Valedictorian was Sandown’s Jamie Daley. (Well done, Jamie!  Hooray, Sandown!)  Jared Spang was class Salutatorian, and class Essayist was Alysha Assaf. There was also a good number of National Honor Society members in this graduating class.

Principal Woodworth singled out for special recognition the number of graduates who were going on to military service, continuing a historical tradition of strong military service from New Hampshire.

We had much to celebrate this past weekend.  May Timberlane have served you well, graduates, and may our expectations and yours all come to pass.

Graduation 2016

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“Frivolous” Right to Know Requests TRSD Style

Right to know advocates are often confronted with complaints from public administrators that RTKs requests are sometimes frivolous and a waste of time. I have seen this used often as an excuse to fight legislative changes to broaden the public’s right to know about their government. The following email exchange gives some insight into the politics of RTK requests and how often unfair and self-serving is the charge of “frivolousness.”

Danville Board of Selectman Chairman, Shawn O’Neil, made a Right to Know request of SAU 55 for information concerning the legal settlement with a Timberlane teacher, Mrs. Morse.  The email exchanges associated with this request are reproduced below.  For those wondering about our “translucent” district, the exchange makes interesting reading. Mr. O’Neil paid $7.50 to obtain the public information, information which should have been announced publicly at a school board meeting, and certainly made available to the board when the settlement was finalized.

Mr. O’Neil’s RTK request was far from frivolous as it was necessary to make public information public, but it should have been entirely unnecessary; nevertheless, the administration subtly accused Mr. O’Neil of frivolousness in mentioning another request he had made which was not collected.  More on that at the end of the emails.

On Thu, May 12, 2016 at 6:58 AM, Shawn O’Neil <shawn_oneil@mail.rit.edu> wrote:

Dear Dr. Metzler,

Please consider this email as an official request under the RTK law (RSA 91A) to obtain any and all information related to the Morse case up to the writing of this email. This would include but not limited to any settlement agreements, attorney costs, insurance company expenditures, School cost expended on this case. I will provide a USB Thumb drive, in its original packaging when you have the information available. Please contact me at this email address when ready.

Thank you,

Shawn O’Neil

Danville


Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2016 7:07 AM
To: Metzler, Earl
Cc: Belcher, Catherine; Stefanie Dube
Subject: Re: RTK – Morse Case

Dear Dr. Metzler,

Today is now 7 days from my initial request. Could you please respond to my RTK request?

Thank you,
Shawn O’Neil

Danville


From: Belcher, Catherine <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Date: Thu, May 19, 2016 at 4:57 PM
Subject: RE: RTK – Morse Case
To: Shawn O’Neil <shawn_oneil@mail.rit.edu>

Thank you for your recent reminder of the Central Office’s obligation to respond to your right-to-know request within 5 business days of the original request.  In keeping within the timeframe allotted under RSA 91-A, please allow this email to serve as confirmation of receipt of your request for materials related to the Morse case.  The information you requested will be available on or before August 1, 2016 due to the research and redaction process of certain materials (legal invoices).  Furthermore, please be advised that these materials will be provided in hardcopy only as they are not maintained electronically. This office will contact you as soon as the redaction process is completed. For your convenience, I have attached the right-to-know procedures for costs associated with this request.


Sent: Sunday, May 22, 2016 7:01 AM
To: Belcher, Catherine; Metzler, Earl
Subject: Re: RTK – Morse Case

Dear Ms. Belcher and Dr. Metzler,
Thank you for your response. Please consider this response in receipt of your timeline for delivery for my request. I would like those documents delivered to me as they become available and do NOT need them to be delivered in one grouping. I am lead to believe that the settlement agreement can be easily produced. Please send me that document ASAP. A transparent (not translucent) school district is paramount in building trust. Please don’t stonewall or delay my request as I’m not afraid to take you to court if warranted, and I will have standing.


From: Belcher, Catherine <Catherine.Belcher@timberlane.net>
Date: Mon, May 23, 2016 at 9:54 AM
Subject: RE: RTK – Morse Case
To: Shawn O’Neil <shawn_oneil@mail.rit.edu>
Cc: “Metzler, Earl” <Earl.Metzler@timberlane.net>
Thank you for your email clarifying your request to accept your right-to-know materials in pieces; we typically provide the materials in one single batch.  Please note the settlement agreement and insurance expenditures associated with the Morse case are available for pick up at the Superintendent’s Office.  There are a total of 15 pages.  The cost for copies associated with this right-to-know requests is $.50 per page (these materials are not available in electronic format, nor were they generated from district computer programs), thus your total is $7.50.  Kindly note our business hours of Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. You will be contacted once the remaining item(s) become available.

On another RTK matter, please allow this email to also serve as a reminder of a previous request made by you on February 3, 2016 for copies of all emails regarding the consultant associated with the Sandown Withdrawal Committee.  Those materials (70 pages) are still awaiting your pick up.

Thank you,

Cathy


Not Frivolous

Mr. O’Neil’s previous RTK request concerned the district’s dealings with a consultant supposedly hired to do forensic accounting to determine Sandown’s buyout figure.  The identity and extent of the work of this consultant was kept from the board and the public by Danville board member, Rob Collins, who was the individual interfacing with this consultant. Because this consultant became something of a mystery man, Mr. O’Neil resorted to Right to Know to find out what the consultant was being paid and who he was. As it happened, Mr. Collins succumbed to public pressure and spilled the beans.  It seems the consultant was never paid, did very little work, and did not have a contract. He never considered himself hired.

Since this became public before the requested documents were available from the SAU, Mr. O’Neil had no reason to pay $35 responsive to his request. Clearly his request was not frivolous and could have been avoided with honesty from the get go.

The moral of the story is that honesty and openness avoid much wasted effort. Kudos to Danville Selectman and Chairman, Shawn O’Neil, for seeking answers when others wish to keep things under the rug.

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Signing Collective Agreements Without Reading Them?

Salaries and benefits for members of collective bargaining units make up the vast majority of Timberlane’s $70 million budget.  Those who watch the school board meetings will remember that I resisted voting on the new teacher’s contract in December because the final contract had not been given to the board.  We were being required to vote on merely a verbal summary of the contract given to us by one member of the negotiating committee. Our then board chairman, Nancy Steenson, said I was legally obliged to vote for the contract as I had been part of the negotiating team and that this would be an issue for our district lawyer. When I stuck to my guns, a non-public session was called then and there, and I was given “marked up” contract changes apart from the entire contract. No one else from the previous board cared to see anything in writing and we never did see the final contract. (Meeting video provided here.)

Well, it seems Timberlane is not alone when it comes to collective agreements. Here is an article written by Mike Antonucci and published on his blog, http://www.eiaonline.com/ on June 2.


“Is Your School Board Signing Contracts Without Reading Them?”  (Source: Signing Contracts Without Reading Them)

In April the Palatine Township Elementary District school board in Illinois approved an unprecedented 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the local teachers’ union. The union also approved the contract. But there were two more details about the negotiations that were also unusual, as reported by the Daily Herald:

“District Superintendent Scott Thompson said specific dollar amounts in the contract are still being worked out, but a news release from the district says annual increases for most teachers will average about 2.5 percent for the first four years and about 4 percent for the last six years.” (emphasis added)

“The District 15 negotiating team included Thompson, Chief School Business Official Mike Adamczyk, and Lisa Nuss, former president of the teachers union and now head of the district’s human resources department.”

People often claim that because of their campaign support for school board candidates, teachers’ unions can negotiate from both sides of the table. In this case it was literally true. But how did the board and the union approve a contract without knowing the “specific dollar amounts”?

Simple. A little more digging by the Daily Herald revealed the school board never read the proposed deal while unanimously approving it. Board members were briefed in closed session by the negotiation team and given a three-page summary of the contract. They then discussed the agreement for “about four minutes” in open session before ratifying it.

This discovery calls the legal validity of the contract into question, since it is unclear whether the two sides ratified an actual collective bargaining agreement and, if they did, if they both ratified the same document.

The Daily Herald found four other local school districts whose boards had ratified contracts without having the final document. One district still doesn’t have a final document even though it was ratified last December.


Timberlane’s support staff contract is coming up for renewal. Members of the public might want to take a look at our district’s negotiating committee for that exercise: Personnel Committee.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to see my previous blog posting about our collective agreement, the inaccuracies in summarizing it and the expectation that it be ratified without having been read. No-read contracts

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