Speak to the Hand: Business as Usual

Last night’s school board meeting ended at 1 a.m. Unfortunately the board does not make up in meeting length what it lacks in fundamental responsibility. To avoid being shut down, I spoke at the beginning of the meeting under public comment. I detailed the history of the controversial Sandown bus stop, a student safety issue that is being willfully ignored by the board chairman, along with the pleadings of Sandown’s police chief.

I’ve seen the board shirk its responsibilities before but next to the fiasco of “closing Sandown Central,” this takes the cake. I can only say that if Sandown had its own school board, our children would not be left at an intersection that has seen 9 accidents in the last 6 years.

When we finally limped to the latter part of the agenda somewhere around 11:45 pm, Stefanie Dube wanted to address correspondence.  She intended to read a letter to the board from Danville resident, Mary-Jo Thomas-Conlon. Oddly enough, this letter was  left out of the correspondence folder; nevertheless, Ms. Thomas-Conlon had asked that it be read at the meeting and Stefanie was preparing to do that when Mr. Bealo forbade it.  He said we don’t read letters out loud.  What he really meant to say is that we don’t read letters at all. Ironically, the letter is about how we treat correspondence as a board. (A word to the wise:  Ms. Conlon, if you are upset that your letter was not in the correspondence folder, please be very circumspect as to how you communicate your dismay or you could find yourself the subject of a complaint to the police, as I was on this very issue!)

The message is clear: don’t bother writing to your elected school representatives.  Your thoughts will not be publicly discussed. They’re not privately discussed either.

Don’t bother complaining to your elected representatives.  The board will not entertain any local issues as an agenda item even when the laws of the state say the issue is under the school board’s purview. You may get a pointless advisory committee meeting with no authority to do anything and which will not report back to the board, that’s the ways we like it.

Please, though, continue shelling out your abundant tax dollars to send board members to Denver for a conference, and to allow them to give the superintendent fat raises, maximum bonuses and a lavish travel budget.

My public comment about Sandown’s bus stop issue can be found beginning at 10 minutes (00:10:09)

http://livestream.com/TRSD/TRSB?origin=stream_live&mixpanel_id=f1e62a1bfb4a8-0d93d57cc-43681f0a-2ee000-f1e62a1bfcc4a&acc_id=17403847&medium=email

Ms. Dube’s attempt to read a letter aloud from one of her constituents can be seen at 4:11:46   right at the very end of the recorded portion of the meeting.

Here is Ms. Conlon’s letter to the board:

Timberlane Regional School Board,
 There is something very broken about the way correspondence is received and responded to at the School board, Budget Committee and SAU levels. While these public bodies announce and insist that they seek public input, questions, transparency and to share as much information as possible, in reality, it often seems that the opposite is true.
     Letters from constituents, no matter the topic or gravity of the concern, receive little if any public acknowledgement. Though letters may be written to the entire board, they are usually directly received by only the chair, who decides when/if a response will be sent, then relegated to the infamous “correspondence” folder, to perhaps be briefly glimpsed as it makes it way around the table during an ongoing meeting. It’s not even clear that all letters make it to the folder or who sees/reads them.

     Though someone has taken the time and energy to bring their concerns to a public body, unless specifying privacy/confidentiality, they know that their letter becomes a public document, but it is not read or shared with the public during open meetings. Public letters , comments and  concerns, receive no commentary or discussion. In some cases the letter may be months old, whatever response was sent, is not included or available. ( ie:recent budget committee meeting 9-8-16) and constituents are not informed about the nature of the correspondence, unless apparently you happen to chair another board?

As Mr Cipriano acknowledged in his recent correspondence to the TRSB
:”…Nothing prevents a Hampstead parent from talking with anyone (including Timberlane Board members) about their experience in Hampstead…however, While the Hampstead and Timberlane districts share a Superintendent, and closely collaborate, neither has the authority or mandate to influence the operations of the other…”

 

    I think many agree with that portion of his letter, while vehemently disagreeing with the extrapolation and unsubstantiated assumptions and accusations that followed in the rest of his letter and Mr Bealo’s reply.

   If as he states neither board has authority over the other, his standing as chair in Hampstead, is irrelevant. Without a vote from the board, he acts as a private citizen outside of meetings. as does Mrs Green, neither having any authority over the actions of the other, nor whom they speak with, regardless of subject.

   Why was Mr Cipriano’s letter given special treatment and public attention that is denied to most every other private citizen correspondence within our district? When I wrote previously, I was told by the chairman that he had no choice, because Mr Cirpriano was very upset, he wanted him to know the TRSB took his complaint seriously and RSA91a, dictates that any discussion of a school board member must be held in public. I am quite certain this is not the first letter received by TRSB, that addressed/discussed a school board member,  was written by  citizen(s) who “were really very upset”, or wanted a demonstration that they were being taken seriously, yet I have never seen the chair read such letters nor his response during public session.  There have been prior instances, (as well as ongoing instances) ,where specific members of the school board, SAU board and budget committee have had an “issue” brought to the attention of the board, but aside from perhaps a minor public comment, after resolution, the matters were addressed privately.

  Why  was the choice  made to handle this letter differently thus designating it as more important than correspondence from other citizens and especially actual stakeholders? It gives the appearance that either preferential treatment or a personal negative agenda toward another member was in play. If that’s not the case I would expect to see all letters given the same sort of public acknowledgement and attention going forward, or a public apology and correction of this error in judgement.

More often than not, recent meetings, public comments and actions seem more about dividing the district than uniting, with intentionally provocative remarks, baiting, ostracizing certain members from assignments and committees, as well as ignoring, dismissing or verbally insulting members of the public who voice concerns or disagree with the “status quo”. It’s both unprofessional and unproductive. If it is the chairman and/or SAU making these decisions, I implore the rest of the board to intercede. If the majority of the board agrees with this sort of dynamic and dysfunctional atmosphere, I predict a very bumpy ride, further divide and dramatic change(s) when the towns and district next vote..

   I respectfully submit my letter of concern, because I too, am really very upset about the way this specific situation was handled as well as what appears to be a negative tone or general dismissal of more pressing and important concerns from stakeholders, that should take priority over personality conflicts or posturing among boards. I hope it will be given the same attention, and be read aloud during a public meeting,  as well as any/all responses read on the record.
Mary-Jo Thomas-Conlon
Danville, NH
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2 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

2 responses to “Speak to the Hand: Business as Usual

  1. Oy! The train wreck in process continues to be fascinating, even from Toronto. It’s astonishing to me that residents are not up in arms about the board. I can understand parents being apprehensive and being prepared to have a higher tax rate in the (vain) hope that their kids will get a better education. Or maybe it’s a justifiable fear that if they do allow taxes to drop, the same money will be wasted on the superintendent and his cronies and the decreases will all come out of real education in the classrooms. But surely parents are a minority of taxpayers. Where are the others? Simon

  2. Where are the others? Most people are busy with their lives and do not pay attention to school board meetings even though the vast majority of their tax dollars goes to the school district. It’s hard to blame them. The meetings are long and often dull, and things are arranged such that little can be done to influence much of anything. Hopelessness breeds indifference. I think taxpayers feel trapped and utterly frustrated but know of nothing to do but work harder and pay more taxes.

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