Category Archives: 2015 Warrant ARticles

Bait and Switch at Sandown Central: Consolidation Report Recommendations

Sandown has been in turmoil since December 4, 2014 when the school board voted to support Dr. Metzler’s removal of operational funding for Sandown Central in the 2015-2016 budget.

First:  The Bait

We were given the following arguments for closing Sandown Central:

1) the building had the highest cost per pupil of the entire district

2) all Sandown students could be accommodated in Sandown North

3) closing SC would save $744,000 every year to infinity after consolidation costs.

Now:  The Switch

This morning, the Sandown Schools Consolidation report was leaked to me. It is due to be presented to the school board tomorrow night.  If what I’ve been given is genuine, and I have reason to believe it is, the study recommends:

1) District-wide consolidation of pre-school programs at Sandown Central

2) all Sandown kindergarten programs at Sandown Central

In order to accomplish this the report says Sandown North should have:

  •  a bus-only additional access road to relieve traffic issues
  • A new one acre fenced off playground
  • building-wide sprinklers

If ever a project was sold under false pretenses, this is it.

There was never an educational argument in this consolidation. There is no educational advantage to Sandown students or any others who will have to spend more time on buses to get to programs. The argument was always a financial one and that turned out to be a promise more false than the hope of spring in March. There will be no money whatsoever saved in this re-organization, and certainly nothing saved that couldn’t have been done without the consolidation. Furthermore, this has the potential to be a big waste of money. How can the district be proposing a major program reorganization to a Sandown location when Sandown is exploring leaving the district potentially as early as July 2017?

Is This Even Legal?

Now let’s look at the legality of all of this.  The voters denied operational funding of Sandown Central when they defeated two warrant articles to keep the school open with funding. The district is keeping the school open anyway. “No” means “No” except in the Timberlane School District where the school board chair signed a five-year contract without school board vote and budget laws are mere leaves of paper in a dusty book. The district also voted against a new playground at Sandown North but, with the large influx of older students, Sandown North very much needs a new playground.  Let’s watch the magical logic and twisted legal opinions coming soon that rationalize a new playing field despite a failed warrant article.

For the record, I am relieved Sandown Central is staying open as a school because I believe this consolidation was precipitous, and we clearly still need two facilities. In my opinion, the Sandown schools should stay as they currently are configured for at least one more year until the voters approve necessary changes to Sandown North and permit whatever reasonable operational and capital improvement funding is needed for both schools’ new use – and we see the results of the withdrawal feasibility studies.

If the district is going to break the law by violating the will of the voters in keeping Sandown Central open without district approved operational funding, why not leave things as they are for another year and finally do it right?

Transition to Public/Private Model without School Board Approval?

The idea of a dedicated special education facility for pre-school is an interesting one that could have benefits to the district if it does indeed make space for more tuitioned pre-K and full-time K students. But this should be a deliberate decision and not one forced on us by “closing” a school.  We now have tuitioned full-time kindergarten.  We may now be encouraging an expanded tuitioned pre-school program. Are we turning into a public/private model something akin to Pinkerton without an explicit plan by the school board?

It Was Never Truthfully About Money

Interestingly, the consolidation committee was instructed not to concern themselves with the financial consequences of their recommendations. This tells me right from the start that the Superintendent never had any intention of making good on the statement that “closing” Sandown Central would save the district money.  It was never truthfully about saving money.  It was never about education.  So what was it about except retribution to Sandown?

The school board meets tomorrow at 7:30 pm.  The report is to be presented to the school board at that time. I will post the report to this blog on Friday.  Thank you to the Sandown patriot who leaked it to me. Thank you, also, to the dedicated Sandown residents who volunteered their effort to the study. The study gives no indication as to how many members of the committee endorsed the recommendations.

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Filed under 2015 Warrant ARticles, Closing Sandown Central, Sandown Issues

Warrant Article Recommendations Done in Error

Seems we’ve been inadvertently doing something wrong with warrant article recommendations for a long time.  It comes with an edge of irony this year.

After the Jan. 15th Public Hearing on the school district budget, the school board met in a music room at the PAC to vote on their recommendations.  This was a non-televised meeting so unfortunately the public has no insight into the reasoning of  members (namely, me) who voted apart from the majority on the recommendations that are found at the bottom of warrant articles.

Similarly, after the Deliberative Session, the school board met in a room in the high school, untelevised, and voted once again on their recommendations for the warrant articles.  This year I did not attend this meeting to re-vote on the recommendations and Mr. Collins made a federal case out of it on Friends of Education at Timberlane Facebook page.  Here is what he said:

Just so people understand the type of person Donna Green is I’d like to share what happened this morning. I risk losing some in the detail and the nuances but I think, at this point, it needs to be made clear exactly who she is and what she represents…or in this case misrepresents…as she attacks the credibility of the rest of the Board. To what end? I don’t know…

It came to my attention that she posted some information that was incorrect. This is the relevant portion of her post from February 6th 11:01 am:

~~~~~~~~

Donna Green wrote:

Deliberative Session ended at 12:10 a.m. after which the school board held a meeting. The agenda included a “first reading” of a new math curriculum. The materials for this math curriculum were sent to us at 3 pm, three hours before we were to arrive at the Deliberative. This is how seriously your board takes decisions of this magnitude. A new math program is the most important decision the school board will make – even more important than closing a school – because this will affect our students’ future in the modern world to a person.

I asked the chairman to reschedule that agenda item. She did not respond. I did not attend the meeting as I do not believe any member of the board could possibly have had time to read the voluminous material concerning the curriculum and no intelligent discussion could be expected.
~~~~~~~~

There are several things in this post that are incorrect and/or misleading.

She discusses a “first reading” of a math curriculum that was on the agenda. She is absolutely correct in stating this and I agree with her in her concern regarding the addition of this curriculum to a post-deliberative meeting at the last minute, it was voluminous. Where she goes off the rails is her depiction of this being a “decision” or there being any “discussion.” She knows “first reading” does not include any decision and/or discussion, it is the dissemination of information only.

What we did do at this meeting was take another look at the warrant articles and re-vote on our recommendations. That is all we did.

In response, I posted the following comment which she quickly deleted.

~~~~~~~
Rob Collins wrote:

Donna,

The math curriculum was not addressed at the post-deliberative board meeting. Even if it was, no decisions were expected to be made. It was a first reading which simply means the materials are made available.

You know this so I’m not sure why you’d portray it any differently?

Why would you discredit the board inappropriately for doing something you know wasn’t being done?

As a result you walked away from your duty to represent Sandown. If you truly believed we would make a decision on a curriculum we had only just received that day you should have spoken up in the meeting we were trying to do it in! The reality, of course, is that we never planned to do that, as you know.

So, what was the real reason you abdicated your duty as the Sandown rep to the SB and instead sat in your car waiting for Arthur?
~~~~~~~~

As I said before, she quickly deleted my comment.

If she had simply attended the meeting, or asked Nancy Steenson, she would have discovered the curriculum had been removed from the agenda completely.

Instead she sat in her car in the parking lot.


Now here’s the funny thing about this nastygram.  It turns out the school board should not have been re-voting the warrants except for the one warrant article that was amended during Deliberative, and this is the budget.  I abstained on the budget the first time round and of course I would have done so again. Neither budget option is acceptable to me.
The Eagle Tribune newspaper yesterday (Feb 11, 2015) ran a front page story about Salem’s Budget Committee violating the law by re-voting all the warrant articles after the Deliberative session, instead of just the articles which were amended at the session.
The RSA in question is under the Municipal Budget Law 32:5 V  (b) “If the article is amended at the first session of the meeting in an official ballot referendum municipality, the governing body and the budget committee, if one exists, may revise its recommendation on the amended version of the special warrant article and the revised recommendation shall appear on the ballot for the second session of the meeting provided, however, that the 10 percent limitation on expenditures provided for in RSA 32:18 shall be calculated based upon the initial recommendations of the budget committee;”
And lest a school board member come bellowing back, as has happened before,  that Municipal Budget laws don’t apply to school districts, let me remind all that the introduction of RSA 32 says this:  RSA 32:1-13, shall apply to all towns, school districts, cooperative school districts, village districts, municipal economic development and revitalization districts created under RSA 162-K, and any other municipal entities, including those created pursuant to RSA 53-A or 53-B, which adopt their budgets at an annual meeting of their voters, except …. [not applicable.]
I sincerely hope the school board and the budget committee’s first recommendation votes will be the ones we see on the ballot come March – with the exception of Article Two, the budget.

And by the way, First Readings should be discussion filled and substantive. The First Reading of the Envision math program a few years back lasted more than one hour. The Second Reading, where it was rejected with no reason whatsoever, lasted exactly two minutes.
 

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Filed under 2015 Warrant ARticles, Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, School Board Behavior

Threats and retaliation

$64M spent in 2014, 
Why do they need  $67.7M  in 2016?

$65M is the right number

 Go to Deliberative to vote for common sense spending!

The Facebook page which shall remain unnamed and the rumor mill say that a lower bottom line budget will result in athletic fees, charging for bus transportation and the elimination of the music program. Here’s a posting from Jan. 3, 2015:

They tried to cut the budget last year, this year and they’ll try again at the Deliberative Session in February.

They believe the firing of 39 staff will cut over $3M from the budget but the cuts will end up being much deeper than they say.

Teachers, programs, athletics, arts and AP courses are on the chopping block.

Tell them, “we are not a number!”  [typo corrected]


Here’s the truth.   Arthur Green’s proposed budget of $65 million does not cut a single line in the budget except for staff (and the elimination of the Public Relations consultant ).

  •  The budget for special education is exactly as the administration asked it to be.
  • The budget for AP, including a requested $50,000 increase, is exactly as the administration asked it to be.
  • The budget for student transportation, including the full requested increase, is exactly as the administration requested.
  • All programs, all facilities improvements, all EVERYTHING, is exactly as the administration requested, except for cutting $18,000 for  a Public Relations specialist which a public school system doesn’t need and shouldn’t have.

The $3 million savings Mr. Green will be asking voters at Deliberative to support is coming out of salaries and benefits – and no other place in the budget.

“Yes,” you might say, “but cutting staff hurts programs!”   Not when you have way more staff than you need to deliver your programs.  How can we say this?  Well, look at all the other districts of our size in the entire state who also run K-12 schools.  They are doing it with a lot less staff than Timberlane and in  a number of  ways, doing it better.
Arthur Green has shown convincingly that Timberlane is  greatly overstaffed compared to other districts of a similar size in the state. See his presentation here: Town Hall A Green Presentation Dec 7 rev Dec7   He is calling for just 39 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to be cut of the 76 FTE positions he believes are excessive.
Hardly any of  these will come out of classrooms.  How do we know?  The class sizes of the comparable districts are virtually the same as our class sizes while having a lot less overall staff.  See:Class size comparisons with comparables.  And no positions have been or would be cut from Special Education in what we are calling the Responsible budget.
If the voters support a lower budget, and radical user fees are subsequently  imposed, you will know that retribution  and politics- not necessity – drove the “cuts.”  Just like during the Ontario teachers’ dispute with the Ontario government when kids were told to bring toilet paper  and boxes of tissues to school.  Just like when the federal government shut down parks, even parks that were not funded federally, during the budget stalemate.  We are not a number, nor are we stupid.
Companies are required to cut their budgets all the time.  They do not choose to hurt their customers rather than downsize staff.  If you believe those who are charged with caring for our children would do that, are we funding our district out of fear? Those who are trying to intimidate parents by threatening users fees, let those people show that  comparable districts like Salem, Hudson and Bedford  charge fees for these services.
There is no legitimate reason for these threats.  All of Mr. Green’s staff cuts were explained perfectly clearly during the Dec. 23rd budget committee meeting.  There is no reason for misunderstanding.  What we are seeing  isn’t misunderstanding at all.  It is propaganda by insiders determined to protect jobs whatever the impact on families. Education isn’t on the table. Services and programs aren’t on the table.  Only jobs are.
Today’s Union Leader had an excellent editorial about the steep decline in enrollment versus the ever increasing school budgets and asked some pointed questions about the way we are failing to respond to a pronounced demographic change at a painful cost to taxpayers.  Our particular situation is exacerbated by the fact that we have not been reducing staffing to reflect the declining enrollment.  It is a must read: Fewer Students? Fewer Schools?

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Filed under 2015 Warrant ARticles, Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Sandown Issues, Taxes

School Board Delays Closing Vote

Sandown Central’s fate has still not been made official.  The vote has been put off to the next school board meeting, Jan. 22.  Tonight’s meeting approved school ballot warrant articles.

Sorry, Sandown.  You will not be given the choice of voting for the school to stay open unless you also approve putting in a new kitchen to the tune of $416,245.

Citizen’s petition anyone?  (You’ve got to Jan. 13 at 5 pm )

The district’s slap dash  “closing plan”  was given to the board at the meeting tonight.  It will be posted here tomorrow for your own critique and disappointment.  They had to throw something together so as not to be in blatant violation of their own policies, but really, would you give it a passing grade?  Stay tuned.

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Filed under 2015 Warrant ARticles, Budget 2015-2016, Closing Sandown Central

Petitions Circulating to Change Funding Formula and Withdraw from District

It’s to be expected. Citizen’s unreasonably taxed will strike out for relief. Citizen’s who fear being unreasonably taxed will do the same.

Danville Wants to Spread the Burden

Danville’s Board of Selectmen is in unanimous agreement that the school district’s funding formula must change.  They have spearheaded a petition for the Timberlane School District ballot to ask voters to approve a change to the district’s Articles of Agreement that would determine the way each town in the district contributes to the operational expenses of the schools. Right now each town pays on the basis of their student enrollment (Average Daily Membership). If Danville’s petition passes, each town would pay exactly the same school tax rate which means that towns with higher valued properties pay more in total than towns with lower valued properties.  Under this arrangement, Danville and Sandown would benefit at the expense of Atkinson and Plaistow.

Is this fair?  That all depends on your political philosophy.  Should each town pay for their own children’s education, or should wealthier towns subsidize poorer towns?  The warrant article draft is at the end of this posting.  Their tax rate proposal can be found here.   FY15 School Calculation – V04   (Danville’s school taxes would go down $6 per thousand while Sandown’s would go down $3 per thousand.  Atkinson’s school tax rate would go up $3.50 per thousand.)

As a representative of Sandown, you might think I would be in favor of helping our overtaxed town get out from under its burden. I wish I could embrace Danville’s initiative but I can’t because I think it is short-sighted and does not address the fundamental issue which is that the cost per student is way too high. (See forthcoming post, “The Truth about Cost Per Pupil.”)

Petitions to Study Withdrawing from the School District

Sandown and Atkinson have citizens circulating a Citizen’s Petition for inclusion on their respective town ballots to begin a study into the feasibility of withdrawing  from the school district.  If the voters of these towns pass this warrant article, then the school board must convene a committee to explore the feasibility of letting the petitioning towns out of the district (and presumably the SAU as well).  Since it is unlikely the school board would ever see any feasibility in such a possibility, the individual towns can and certainly would simultaneously prepare a minority report for the State Board of Education, advancing their arguments for separation.

If we cannot get the bottom line of the budget lowered at Deliberative this year, I would support these petitions because I would like to see a study into what would be involved in allowing Sandown to manage the education of their own children.  The possibilities are numerous.  We could possibly send our high school students to Pinkerton at a much reduced cost from what we are paying to send them to Timberlane now.  ($10,700 vs. approx. $15,200).  We could also open a charter middle school in Sandown Central with emphasis on math and science  while keeping Sandown North for elementary.  Sandown would have control over its own educational costs and have a chance to establish a quality educational system that reflects its values. At the very least a study into these possibilities is a study whose time has come, most certainly if we can’t get control of the budget.  Sandown currently provides $15,507,268 in taxes and education grants to Timberlane to educate our 986 students.  That is $15,727. per child from kindergarten through to high school. Can you imagine a private kindergarten or elementary school charging that much money?   Tuition for Central Catholic High School In Haverhill is just $12,260 this year including athletic fees.  Suffice it to say, there is a  case to be made that Sandown can do better on its own

Danville’s Draft Warrant Article

The signatories below request the following Warrant Article to be placed on the Official ballot for Town Meeting 2015.

Article 2015-X Timberlane Regional School District Article of Agreement

To see if the Timberlane Regional School District shall replace Article #5 and Article #6 from the April 30, 1964

agreement to read as follows:

5. The operating and capital expenses of the Timberlane Regional School District payable in each fiscal year shall be

apportioned at a rate so each pre-existing district pays the same local school rate of taxation based upon the equalized

valuation as most currently available as determine by the State Tax Commission. All forms of aid and local school impact

fees from each pre-existing district will be applied to reduce the operating and capital expense before apportionment.

6. Repealed

Sandown’s Citizen’s Petition

Shall the Town of Sandown, New Hampshire direct the Timberlane Regional School Board to conduct a study

of the feasibility and suitability of the withdrawal of Sandown from the Timberlane Regional School District

and to be completed before October 1, 2015 as per the provisions of RSA 195:25? (Majority vote required.)

________________________________________________

Teachers and students are not simply numbers, as Support Timberlane says, but but numbers have the power to hurt families when those numbers arrive in the form of an unaffordable  tax bill.  What is happening before our eyes is the destruction of a school district because its elected officials have allowed the budget to grow wildly undisciplined.  Some may characterize this as a fight between quality education and stingy taxpayers, but if you are of that persuasion, ask yourself at what cost per student is it reasonable to expect a school system to run?  The majority of the other comparable high performing districts of the same size are doing the job for a lot less than Timberlane, and they all have to meet the same special education mandates as we do.

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Filed under 2015 Warrant ARticles, Budget 2015-2016, Changing Funding Formula, Sandown Issues, Taxes, Withdrawing from District