Monthly Archives: October 2017

A Reply to Karen Yasenka

In the October 26, 2017 edition of the TriTown Times, Hampstead School Board Chairman, Karen Yasenka, had this to say about three Timberlane School Board members, myself included:

“I find it deeply concerning that three Timberlane board members voted against a code of ethics that simply and clearly defines the way we do business as a board and how we interact with each other. It’s especially concerning to me that members of the leadership team at Timberlane have such little regard for ethical behavior. Brian Boyle representing Atkinson, chair of the Timberlane Board, Dr. Kim Farah representing Danville, vice-chair of the Timberlane Board and Donna Green representing Sandown, chair of the Timberlane Policy Committee voted against conducting business in an ethical manner. As leaders of public education and fiduciaries of public funds, ethical behavior on the part of all board members is of the utmost importance. One can only wonder why someone is reluctant to adopt a code that sets a standard for what is considered ethical behavior. It’s concerning, but not necessarily surprising. This behavior is typical of rogue board members who often refuse to support majority decisions of the board and who work both openly and subversively to disrupt and undermine board authority when it conflicts with their own interests and preferences. In general, rogue members do not subscribe to a code of ethics, instead they favor whatever actions further the cause at hand on their personal agenda. The real danger here is that a dysfunctional board ultimately impacts student achievement. The negative climate created by chaotic board meetings is not confined to the board room, but permeates the entire district inclusive of student classrooms. Given today’s political environment where anything goes, it’s time to stand up against actions that are not in the best interest of the common good. Voting against ethical behavior is certainly not in the best interest of conducting board business, nor is it in the best interest of the district’s personnel or students. And it is short-sighted to think it is in the best interest of the towns we serve.”

Three Timberlane board members voted against the proposed SAU Code of Ethics because it contained the following statement:  “Final board actions will be supported by all members of the board.  Members will take no private action that will compromise the board or administration and refrain from private actions which would undermine or compromise official board action.”

What Mrs. Yasenka wants is for elected officials to join hands and sing Kumbaya at the end of every meeting. Anything less is failing to act ethically and going “rogue.”  Why, my very blog entry is a prime example of going ‘rogue,  refusing to support majority decisions of the board and working openly and subversively to disrupt and undermine board authority when it conflicts with my own interests and preferences.’ Oddly enough, my own interests and preferences are to align my actions and those of all elected boards with the state and federal Constitutions.  This provision in the “Code of Ethics” is clearly unconstitutional and violates the free speech rights of elected officials. Mrs. Yasenka wouldn’t know a First Amendment Right if it rolled off a lobotomy table and hit her on the foot.

It is an outlandish and dangerous notion that those who wish to protect their free speech rights are “rogue” and somehow deleteriously affecting student achievement.  The next step is burning dissidents at the stake.

Ironically, the Code of Ethics also says this:

“Encourage and respect the free expression of opinions by fellow board members and participate in board discussions in an open, honest, and respectful manner, honoring differences of opinion or perspective. Final board actions will be supported by all members of the board.”

Mrs. Yasenka wrote the Code of Ethics with two others.  Did she just not read the part about honoring differences of opinion?  Who, by this policy, is acting unethically now?

The truth of the matter is that Mrs. Yasenka and her hand-holding, singing band of followers are using an unconstitutional so called “Code of Ethics” to silence dissenting board members and the voters for whom they speak.  The SAU board majority is doing what they accuse me of, namely, “openly and subversively [disrupting and undermining] board authority when it conflicts with their own interests and preferences.”  There is no greater harm to a board’s moral authority than taking unconstitutional action.

While Mrs. Yasenka is busy calling those who disagree with her, “unethical,” let’s take a look at Mrs. Yasenka’s own record of moral probity.  She is perfectly happy with abusing the Hampstead board’s authority to persecute a man who effectively and repeatedly thwarts their bond ambitions.  Hampstead local treasure, Mr. Mesa-Tejada, has a completely unfounded No Trespass order against him courtesy of the Hampstead Board.

This SAU Code of Ethics is scheduled to be given final approval on Nov. 15. Code of Ethics” 

 

 

 

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Timberlane Taxes Skyrocket… Again

When you Google “management,” this definition pops up:  “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”

I’ll let you judge if Timberlane’s budget and our associated taxes are being “controlled.”

New Hampshire’s Department of Revenue has released Timberlane’s cooperative town apportionment for 2017.  This document sets out the amount of money each town in our cooperative school district must pay to Timberlane.  Comparing the amount of money paid last year to what must be paid this year, you can determine the school tax increase for each town.

Timberlane School Tax Increase 2017:

Atkinson 4.7%
Danville 8.5%
Plaistow 7.7%
Sandown 9.3%

(Thanks to Arthur Green for these calculations.)

It’s important to note that this is not the same as the increase in each town’s tax rate.  Many factors affect the town tax rate.  Timberlane’s budget is what affects the apportionment.

Timberlane’s budget committee hasn’t a clue about the tax impact of the budgets they approve.  Ask them at Deliberative.  No idea.  Neither does the school board.  Not even on the radar.  When the default budget is manipulated to give you no choice, who cares? Heads we win, tails you lose.

I believe some members of the board are committed this year to delivering an honest default budget.  If this doesn’t happen, the district will have no spending restraints whatsoever.

 

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TRSB Neuters Itself and Sells Out Voters

The school board’s primary function is setting policy.  I’m sorry to report that the Timberlane Regional School Board is poised to pass a policy so deeply and profoundly flawed that it betrays every voter and parent in the district.  Please don’t think this an exaggeration.

A year after Dr. Metzler came on board, the (then) school board adopted a “governance team” approach to policy development.  They changed the name of the school board’s policy standing committee to “Board/Superintendent Leadership Team Policy Standing Committee.”  They gave a co-chair position to the superintendent and they gave majority votes on the policy committee to the Superintendent’s Leadership Team (SLT) members.

This has had very, very bad consequences for Timberlane’s policies.  Policy changes have since directed authority to the superintendent at the expense of the school board, your elected representatives.  This has happened, in my opinion, by the design of some but mostly out of laziness by many.

The superintendent controls the majority votes on the school board’s Policy Committee but he has seldom needed this majority because the school board members on the Policy Committee have been eager to give up their authority for the convenience of having the superintendent do their job so that meetings can be about shaking students’ hands and flattering staff instead of making hard decisions.

Some other school board members are equally happy to let the superintendent do their work.  They further advance their own emasculation by not reading the revised policies before meetings.  This is, of course, my speculation and I so speculate to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If they really knew what the policy committee was recommending, I would like to think they would value their personal appendages a little more.

Let us take a case in point from the Policy Committee meeting of October 5.  (I was absent from that meeting as I was celebrating the Nackey Loeb School of Communications First Amendment Award being given to my dear friends at Right to Know NH.)

With Brain Boyle acting in my stead, the committee dealt with what I believe to be the most important policy in our policy manual, Policy BDE, “Board/Superintendent Leadership Team Standing Committees.”  Previously, I had submitted draft changes to the policy committee with the goal of removing the voting authority of all non-elected persons on school board standing committees.  I had also deleted “Superintendent Leadership Team” from the title and had stripped the superintendent and other  SLT members of co-chairmanships. My intention, which I had discussed with Mr. Boyle some months previously, was to reassert the school board’s authority and control over our own committees and their work.

What happened instead on Oct 5th?  The Policy Committee made the policy even more egregious while keeping all the other objectionable provisions in place. They removed THREE school board standing committees and required all future recommendations to be vetted with the superintendent’s leadership team BEFORE they are moved to the school board. Not only does the Policy Committee, and all other standing committees, continue to have a majority of votes controlled by the superintendent, but now all the policies and all standing committee recommendations must get the blessing of the superintendent’s leadership team before the school board gets to weigh in on them.

The irresponsibility of this arrangement is honestly breathtaking.  What this means to voters and parents is that the board would not have the ability to set policy that you might want but the administration does not.

Because this nightmare only gets worse, the TRSB voted to approve this policy and a whack of others for first read on Oct. 19.  Not everyone may have known Policy BDE was among the large group they precipitously pushed forward, but I’m not betting against this policy getting final approval at the next school board meeting. When the choice is between doing our job or selling out our voters, you can always rely on the TRSB.

And almost on cue, as if we needed more evidence,  the Department of Revenue has released the cooperative town tax apportionments.  Sandown’s school taxes are going up up 9.3%.

Current Policy :  BDE Board Superintendent Leadership Team Standing Committees (21)

Current Proposed Policy:  Proposed BDE

Donna Green’s Proposed BDE:  DG’s Proposed BDE

 

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SAU 55 Budget Up 10%: 1 new position

In ten years, SAU 55’s operating budget will have gone up 85%.  Since Dr. Metzler assumed his position, the SAU budget will have gone up 68% – all while SAU 55 had significant declines in student enrollment.

At last night’s SAU 55 Board meeting, the board approved a staggering $2,185,511 budget for 2018-2019, an increase of 9.7% over this current year’s budget.

The board also voted to provide the superintendent with one additional full-time employee with unspecified duties for a maximum salary of $40,000 and full benefits. With this new position, SAU 55 will have grown by two full-time positions since Dr. Metzler began.

The budget includes a 3% merit pool.  I motioned to eliminate the merit pool and freeze salaries, since we have the highest paid superintendent in the state, the second highest paid Assistant Superintendent in the state and the third highest paid Business Administrator in the state. This motion failed for lack of a second.

The 18-19 budget includes more than $10,000 for a new fingerprinting system when no satisfactory answer was given to me as to why our fingerprinting can’t be done by the Plaistow Police Department. This will have an ongoing annual cost of more than $1000 in maintenance fees.  We were told the district does about 180 fingerprints a year.

The budget passed by a vote of 9 -3-0.  Those opposed were me, Brian Boyle and Kim Farah.  (Stefanie Dube and Kelly Ward were absent.) The Hampstead board votes in unison like a brain-dead zombie, but instead of searching for brains, it lurches around looking for scapegoats like Jorge Mesa-Tejada and me. [But that’s another story: SAU Board Attacks Green,  Mesa-Tejada Villified]

In 2008/2009, SAU 55’s annual operating budget was $1,181,438. Next year it will be $2,185,511.  That is what happens when voters can not touch a budget. No SAU budget in a multi-district SAU such as ours can be changed by voters.  Here is the consequence of that – and elected officials who think pleasing the superintendent is more important than defending the interests of their citizens.

Buckle your seat belts.  The November tax bills are going to be shocking for Sandown. Oh well, what can you do?  Let’s not ever talk of forming our own school district with our own SAU.

And because insult needs to be added to injury, last night the SAU 55 board approved a SAU 55 Board Code of Ethics.  It contains similar language to that which prompted the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union to write a sternly worded letter to Timberlane almost four years ago for violating their board members’ First Amendment rights.  Here’s the objectionable language your SAU board clutched to is bosom:  “Final board actions will be supported by all members of the board.  Members will take no private action that will compromise the board or administration and refrain from private actions which would undermine or compromise official board action.”

I motioned to table the proposed “Code of Ethics” on the grounds of unconstitutionality.  I was the only vote in favor of that sensible motion.  The Hampstead board lurched in unison with their eyes rolled into their heads.  Brian Boyle, Kim Farah and Greg Spero of Timberlane abstained. My motion failed by a vote of 1-8-3.

The “Code of Ethics” was subsequently approved 9-3-1. Me, Kim Farah and Brian Boyle voted against.

See the SAU staff salaries for 17/18 RTK SAU Salaries

See the “Code of Ethics”Code of Ethics

Read how the Timberlane board had to slink away the last time it tried to intimidate elected officials into zombie mode Unconstitutional School Board Rules

 

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Proposed SAU 55 Budget up 9%

SAU 55 has just distributed its proposed budget, less than 6 hours before board members are supposed to deliberate it.

Remember, the public has no way to modify this budget once your elected officials on the SAU board approve it.

You’ll notice this budget is absent a break down of individual salaries, and a breakout of revenue (or ‘receipts”).  “District support” is so all encompassing, it is useless.  What exactly are the districts paying to SAU 55 and for what?

When a budget cannot be changed by the public it deserves better scrutiny than this stick figure of a budget outline.

2018-19 Proposed SAU Budget 10 04 17

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National Trend to Sue Citizens Asking for Documents

Reproduced by permission of Right to Know NH

Tuftonboro’s Noxious Lawsuit, Part of National Trend

by Max Ledoux

“These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.” That’s how the Associated Press quotes University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, speaking about a troubling trend in recent years of government bodies suing citizens who seek disclosure of public documents through open-records laws. You can read the whole article at AP (“Governments turn tables by suing public records requesters”).

I know all about these types of absurd lawsuits. Last year the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (at the time: Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) sued me and another Tuftonboro resident, Bob McWhirter, when we requested to inspect government records. They spent around $20,000 (and counting) in a vain attempt to charge us $.25 per page to inspect the records, even though New Hampshire’s Right to Know law states that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.” The selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager of Ossipee, argued in court that the law doesn’t make sense because, if read literally, it meant that the selectmen couldn’t charge us a fee. And they wanted to charge us a fee.

They lost their lawsuit when Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius ruled that they couldn’t charge us a fee. But as the AP quotes Mike Deshotels in its article, “You can lose even when you win.” Deshotels was sued by the Louisiana Department of Education when he requested school enrollment data. The DOE lost in court, like the Tuftonboro selectmen, but Deshotels incurred legal costs, like Bob and me, defending himself from an attack on his right to know what his government was doing.

These types of abusive lawsuits are happening all over the country, according to the AP. But in Michigan, the state House of Representatives unanimously (108–0) passed a bill this spring that would prohibit government bodies from suing citizens who are requesting documents. The bill needs to be passed by the Michigan Senate before becoming law.

Tuftonboro selectmen spent $20,000 of taxpayers’ money in an effort to make it more difficult to get access to public records. Would they have done that if it was their own $20,000? It’s easy to spend other people’s money. Even after the court’s ruling on August 8, the selectmen have yet to turn over a single email to me or Bob.

New Hampshire should make it illegal for government bodies to sue citizens who are requesting documents.


DG’s note:  Right to Know New Hampshire  is being honored as the Nackey Loeb First Amendment Award winner for 2017.   http://www.loebschool.org/first-amendment-award/event.aspx

Also see RighttoKnowNH’s blog for the original article:  RighttoKnowNH.wordpress.com

Noxious Lawsuits

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