Category Archives: Budget 2014-2015

PR Bids Opened Tomorrow at 6:30 pm

UPDATE TO READERS:  Contrary to this notice below, the bids were opened at 3 pm on Nov. 5.  Post one thing, do another and don’t let the public in on the switch – or board members either. Timberlane doesn’t need a PR person, it needs some ethics.

NOTICE OF MEETING

The Timberlane Regional School Board’s Community Relations

Committee will meet on Thursday, November 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm at

the Superintendent’s Office, 30 Greenough Road, Plaistow. The

agenda will include the opening of public relations bids.

The public is welcome to attend.

———————————————————–

I will report back on how many bids were received.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Pinocchio Academy, School Board Issues, Taxes

Your Sandown Representatives – Getting Results

                                            Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

Timberlane’s administration and school board are taking some mitigating action against rising taxes and taking some steps to improve financial transparency. We think that our efforts, together with our colleague Cathy Gorman, have been key to these results.  This is what we’ve helped to accomplish so far:

  • Reduction of planned 2014 tax increase
  • Restraint of spending to build a 2014/15 surplus

  • School Board acknowledgement of taxpayer impacts and concerns

  • Improved transparency – staffing reports, enrollment forecasts, monthly financial statements are now being made available to the public on the District web site, after months of persistent Right to Know requests

  • Elimination of intrusive student surveys

Several important pieces of financial information emerged from the Sept. 18 School Board meeting that will lower the formerly anticipated tax increases.

  • Upon closing the books on the year which ended June 30, the administration has found an additional $350,000 to add to the surplus from that year.
  • This extra money is available either to be deposited in the Contingency Fund (“Fund Balance Retention”), as voted by the Board in June before the entire amount of surplus was known, or applied as revenue to the 2014/15 year to reduce taxes.  The Board plans to discuss the options at the Oct. 2 meeting.
  • The LGC HealthTrust refund of surplus issue is producing a further $387,000 to Timberlane coffers over and above the amount previously anticipated and included  in the 2014/15 revenue budget. About 20% of this money will be returned to employees and retirees, but the remainder, about $320,000, will be unexpected revenue to the district.
  • The administration stated that the LGC HealthTrust funds will be reported to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration as part of current year revenue, and consequently will reduce the amount of taxes required from taxpayers in this current academic year (2014/15).
  • The financial summary presented by the administration showed revenue from Medicaid and Catastrophic Aid higher than the budget presented at deliberative, by $275,000
  • The administration reported that there are 12 unfilled staff positions.

The good news from these announcements is that up to $950,000 (round numbers) has become available  to reduce the planned tax increase for the current year. The March vote which resulted in a default school board budget, a default SAU budget and approval of the support workers contract, resulted in an increased assessment to the district taxpayers of $2,100,000, or 4.6%. If the full $950,000 is applied to offset taxes, the anticipated increase of 4.6% would be reduced almost half, to $1,113,000, or about 2.4%. Town-by-town impacts vary significantly, but this would be welcome relief to all taxpayers.

The unfilled staff positions indicate that the district is moving in the direction of preserving a surplus in the 2014/15 year. Unfilled positions result in underexpenditure on salary and benefits line items, which is how the surplus is usually produced. We have called for a cap on expenditure at $2 million below the approved budget. These unfilled positions are not enough to produce a $2 million surplus, but the movement is in the right direction.

Superintendent Metzler went out of his way to emphasize that the announced mitigation of this year’s tax increase discredits our tax increase forecast. On the contrary, it shows that we were right and they decided to do something about it.  We did, after all, base our forecast on the administration’s own tax impact disclosure at Deliberative in February, adjusted for the March vote results.

The administration is responding to taxpayer concerns by using discretionary means to mitigate this year’s taxpayer impact. We will certainly not criticize the administration for doing this, and will continue to encourage more movement in this direction.

A few observations on how the LGC HealthTrust revenue is being handled:

We have learned from the administration’s action this year – declaring the unanticipated revenue as current revenue – that the same course of action was available last year, when LGC HealthTrust returned $1,054,000 to the district in August. Setting aside about $200,000 owing to employees and retirees, the administration could have applied $855,000 against the very heavy tax increase last year. The existence of this alternative was never publicly discussed. – which is why a public hearing is so important and mandated by law.

If the district had used the LGC money to partially offset the tax increase last year, then the only way to produce last year’s $1.9 million surplus would have been through spending discipline.

The LGC Return of Surplus has several pieces (round numbers quoted):

$1,054,000 received as unanticipated revenue last year, of which $855,000 placed in surplus and transferred as revenue to the 2014/15 year

$320,000 budgeted as anticipated revenue in 2014/15

$320,000 received as unanticipated revenue in 2014/15, and notified to DRA for inclusion in the 2014/15 tax calculation

In total, the district is benefiting in the 2014/15 year from almost $1.5 million in one-time windfall revenue. And taxes are still going up by 2.4% (best case) average across the district.

Next budget year, even if there is no spending increase, we will need a district-wide tax increase of $1.5 million just to replace the one-time LGC windfall we had this year. This means if the budget committee passes a flat budget for 2015-2016, taxes will still go up considerably. The district has to cut spending by $1.5 just to keep your taxes at the same level as they will be when you get your next tax bill in November.

There was a heated dispute over the need for a public hearing to accept the LGC revenue in 2013/14. The School Board position on the issue, backed by a questionable legal opinion, was that no public hearing was needed if all the funds were to be applied to surplus, but that a hearing would have been needed if the funds were to be spent. Even on this basis, there is absolutely a legal requirement for a public hearing on the unanticipated portion of the LGC revenue, because those funds are being applied to the current appropriated expenditure budget. We know this because they are reducing the amount to be raised from the taxpayers.

At the Sept 18 meeting the board voted down Mrs. Green’s motion to hold a public hearing on acceptance of unanticipated revenue.

The $275,000 increase in Medicaid and Catastrophic Aid is also interesting. No details were provided on the reasons for this increase, but both line items represent payment for services rendered by the district. The expenditure appropriation is not going up, so these increases imply that the district is obliged to provide related services from the existing approved appropriation. The fact that the district is operating this year on a default budget implies that such services (to the value of $275,000) were not included in the expenditure plans. Conclusion: the financial help is good for the taxpayers, but the related expenditures will have to be covered from the existing spending plan, and therefore will tend to reduce the surplus for the next budget year.

The $350,000 increase in the year-end surplus from 2013/14 raises many questions. At the July 16 School Board meeting, the administration distributed a variance analysis showing underspending of $680,000, and extra revenue of $1,176,000 (of which $855,000 was last year’s LGC money), for an estimated surplus of $1,856,000. At that time the year-end numbers were preliminary; nevertheless, it is surprising that the surplus for the past year can change by as much as $350,000 between mid-July and mid-September, when the fiscal year had ended on June 30. We will analyse this change further when we have full and final account-level details.

Good news for the taxpayer – the district’s new-found urgency of using any possible discretion around timing and reporting of revenue in favour of mitigating taxpayer impact.

Bad news for the taxpayer – most of this movement is designed to protect a high and growing level of spending. We can’t count on getting an LGC windfall every year.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, DELIBERATIVE 2014, Expenditures, School Board Behavior, Taxes

Per Pupil Costs Rocket!

                                                    Guest contribution by Arthur Green

The 2013/14 Timberlane budget was advertised as a modest 3.2% increase compared to the previous year. This spin ignored the fact that enrollment was decreasing at the same time.  From 2012/13 to 2013/14, enrollment dropped about 150 students, or -3.6%.  (4,072 to 3,924)

We have pointed out that this will affect per-pupil costs.  Timberlane likes to say that its per-pupil cost is $13,329, which is below the state average of $13,459.  However, these figures are 2 years old.. and there have been 2 years of substantial budget increases in Timeberlane since then.

We have been forecasting that the per-pupil cost for 2013/14 at Timberlane would be $14,233.  Now the district has reported its official per-pupil cost to the NH Department of Education, and it turns out our forecast was too cautious.  The district’s number is $14,414, an 8.1% increase in a single year. (This information is from the MS-25 form submitted to the Department of Education and recently posted on the Timberlane Budget Committee website.)

The NH DOE will not publish its statewide 2013/14   per-pupil cost average for several months, so Timberlane will be able to continue to advertise the outdated $13,329 (as it does in the district Report Card) on the grounds that the statewide comparison point is not yet available.

Residents and taxpayers should keep in mind that as enrollment declines, even a flat budget means more resources available for the smaller student body, and more money spent per pupil.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015

Press Weighs in on Lawyer’s Letters

Attorney Richard Lehmann’s letters have made quite a stir in the press.

Rich Girard, radio commentator, was first off the mark devoting an hour to the controversy at Timberlane.  You can listen to his September 19th segment here:

Girard on Timberlane Sept. 19, 2014

Rich’s outrage is absolutely well founded.  I’ll be going on Rich’s show on Monday morning, Sept. 22, 2014 starting around 6 am.

The Union Leader’s story said: “She [Green] was issued a formal censure for violating open meeting laws and posting ‘disrespectful, inappropriate’ messages on a personal blog.” This sentence gives the reader the impression that the accusations in the censure letter were proven fact.  They are not and I dispute them.

Union Leader article Sept. 19, 2014

I do not believe I have violated any Open Meeting laws.  Writing to a quorum of a board is not a crime in New Hampshire. Furthermore, my blog is about Timberlane school district issues and is both accurate and professional.  Before moving to New Hampshire, I was previously a freelance writer with a number of respected publications.  (I was, for instance, the Canadian stringer for the Economist‘s Finance and Economics section for two years.)  The superintendent and my school board peers simply don’t like what I say so they discredit it as inaccurate and disrespectful when it is simply truthful or a fair expression of opinion.

The press has also reported that the letter of censure detailed 60 examples of inaccuracies in my blog.  The letter in fact pointed out 16 quotes and did not state what was inaccurate or otherwise objectionable about them.  I stand by every single word I have written. See these quotes for yourself.

Here is the letter of censure in its entirety: Letter of Censure Aug 28

The Eagle Tribune did a much better job of reporting the story, though it, too, reported inaccurately about the censure letter when the reporter wrote: “Last month School Board Chairman Nancy Steenson wrote Green a letter, outlining about 60 specific blog entries she said were inaccurate.”  The Eagle Trib’s James Niedzinski  did an otherwise outstanding job on a complicated subject with a long history and he has my thanks.

Here is the Eagle Tribune story:  Board Member Stirs the Pot

UPDATE:  Sept. 22, 2014:  Listen to Rich Girard interview me at the crack of dawn:  Girard interviews Green     Thank you, Rich!

 

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, DELIBERATIVE 2014, Expenditures, Fill-time Kindergarten, My censure, Non-public session abuse, Right to Know issues, School Board Behavior, Spanish Consultant Contract, Taxes

Chairman Undermines Agreed Budget Committee Process

Here is an email exchange between Timberlane Budget Committee member, Cathy Gorman, and the chair of the committee, Diane Rothwell. This correspondence took place on September 15, 2014.  Ms. Gorman cites the Vimeo recording timestamps to prove that the budget committee had agreed at a previous meeting in April that they would be systematically interviewing department heads in a process similar to that taken by town budget committees.  You will note that the chairman’s response to this is to deny the agreement and attempt to rewrite history.  As taxpayers, you should be wondering what would motivate a chairman to reply in such a fashion. You should also note that Mrs. Rothwell doesn’t know her own committee’s by-laws which state that a special meeting can be called anytime at the request of three committee members.
Dear Mrs Rothwell,
(.PDF attached also) 
I would like the committee to reconsider the request for an additional meeting to following the facility tour on 25SEP2014. The agenda would be limited to 1 agenda item: Budget Process. This would allow us to put the process in writing. If you would kindly confirm we will be following the process outlined below based on BudCom consensus and motions from the 10APR2014 BudCom meeting then we could forgo a meeting on 25SEP2014.
 
On 10APR2014 we discussed in some detail the process the BudCom would like to follow for the 2015-2016 session. NOTE: I am paraphrasing but feel free to review the verbatim language; I have included time stamps that are “approximate”.
 
The discussion regarding the budget process started at 1:36;43 and ended for all intents and purposes ~ 2:54 – approximately 1.5 hours of how we wanted the budget presented and how we would go about generating and approving a budget (highlights are listed at the end of this correspondence)
~ Vimeo time stamp 2:42:10: Mrs Rothwell – I think there is a consensus that what we are looking at is administrators come to present at our meetings – time stamp:2:42:24: is that correct? (consensus) OK
~2:42:33: Mr Stokinger – starting in OCT14 [we will] sit down here [BudCom meetings] with the departments and schools
Mr Grosky: would like to have documents in advance
Ms Gorman: having documents 1 week in advance in order to review and pose questions throughout that week for any clarifications or information we would want presented regarding a particular budget
Mrs Rothwell: we would meet with the department heads and make motion to adjust the budget once we have the entire budget
~2:44: Mr Cantone: is that process written down
Mrs Rothwell: there is no process
 
Based on the entire discussion I would like to confirm with the BudCom the following was agreed to and is how we are moving forward since I got the impression we were back at square one when our 11SEP14 meeting adjourned. The 10APR2014 consensus was as follows:
 
Budget process agreed to by the BudCom:
·         The Chair and the Administration will to generate the OCT14 agendas for the department heads to come before the BudCom to discuss/defend their budget as needed
·         Appropriate personnel  will be scheduled for 30 minutes each to discuss their budget and answer BudCom questions
·         The BudCom will receive the budgets 1 week in advance along with supporting documentation for increases will be provided
o   Regarding increased line items – Supporting notes will also be included in the budget
·         The BudCom will make motions to increase or decrease line items once the entire budget is available
o   Motions to increase or decrease should be entertained during the meeting with the department heads
 
Note: acknowledgement by the Chair to the entire committee is NOT a violation of the RTK RSA 91-a since this is what was discussed during public meeting. This email must go into the correspondence folder so it is available to the public and I will comment at our next BudCom meeting during BudCom members updates that this email was sent to the entire committee for confirmation only (in lieu of an additional meeting) of the decisions of the 10APR2014 meeting regarding the budget process. 
 
Supporting this process is the Vimeo starting at 1:36:43 and ending ~ 2:54:00
 
At (~) 1:36:43 discussion begins and I am paraphrasing – please confirm via vimeo
At ~ 1:41 Superintendent Metzler – we are certainly open to suggestions {for the budget process] … we can do it however you want
~ 1:47 Madam Chair – I want to discuss how we want the budget first presented to us by the administrators
Mrs. O’Neil discussed the Bedford school budget process
~ 1:52:10 Ms Gorman discussed the Sandown [town] budget processes a model for the TRSD budget process
~ 1:53 Mr Heffernan agreed with Ms Gorman; stated Plaistow budget is managed the same way. Mr Heffernan goes on to say haing the appropriate people before us to be able to ask specific questions was helpful … and having the budget beforehand, review and come to the meeting with questions was more productive
~ 2:40 :17 Mrs. O’Neil – I think we are going back to the old model where we are having presenters come here … rather than the 10,000 ft view
~2:45 Madam Chair: I think there is a consensus that what we are looking at is administrators come to present at our meetings – time stamp:2:42:24: is that correct? (consensus) OK
~2:42:33 Mr Stokinger – 2:42:33: Mr Stokinger – starting in OCT14 [we will] sit down here [BudCom meetings] with the departments and schools
Mr Grosky: would like to have documents in advance
Ms Gorman: having documents 1 week in advance in order to review and pose questions throughout that week for any clarifications or information we would want presented regarding a particular budget
Mrs Rothwell: we would meet with the department heads and make motion to adjust the budget once we have the entire budget
 
~2:44: Mr Cantone: is that process written down
Mrs Rothwell: there is no process
 
~2:48:58 Mr Blair made a motion that the Chair work with the Administration to generate the agendas for the department heads  –  passed unanimously
 
Mr Heffernan requested having the details [of increases/modifications] with the budget and included in the budget
Ms Gorman requested the budget in excel and was told it is not possible with the financial platform. % change from for line items year to year was requested
(Please note: somewhere during this conversation Mrs ONeil said “sounds like we are going back to the old [School BudCom] process. I did not document the time stamp])
Primary conversation ended ~ 2:54
Kind regards,
Cathy

Cathy,
Mr. Stokinger is working with administrators to set up meeting presentations with principals, and directors.
The committee voted down the request to have an additional meeting on September 25th.   If you feel there should be an additional meeting you may bring it up again for a vote at the next meeting.  I don’t believe we can do it any other way unless there is an emergency that needs to be dealt with.  I can only foresee that to happen with the school board, not the budget committee.
There were some requests discussed at earlier meetings but no consensus or vote on the issues requested or discussed.
I believe a committee member is going to present a detailed list of the process the budget committee has used in the past which has worked very well.  I know the complaint has always been there is not a process which is not true just not the one you want.
Diane

Mrs Rothwell,
 I am rereading your email response: I am not sure who requested this as an agenda item for our next meeting nor do I know which “committee member” will be presenting a process from a previous BudCom. I do hope however with the limited time we have during the limited number of meetings scheduled, we are not going to go through yet another process after we spent an 1.5 hour on 10APR2014 deciding on “this” committee’s budget process. We agreed to our path forward and you were responsible to work with Mr. Stokinger to schedule department heads to come in and present their budget – not give a presentation.
There was consensus to no more power point presentations. There was concensus we would receive the budgets in advance. There was consensus we would come prepared to the meetings to ask questions of the department heads. This is a very simple process that works well for the Town of Sandown, Plaistow and Danville; as Mrs O’Neil stated during the 10APR2014 meeting it is also how this School BudCom used to prepare the budget and conduct their meetings.
If there was any thought of having this as an agenda item it should have appeared on the 11SEP2014 agenda as I did on 31JUL2014 (see below). I certainly hope we are not going to waste any additional time “not” reviewing the the 2015-16 budget. If anyone wants to review what we decided on they can watch the 10APR14 vimeo.
Cgormanconsulting

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, Pinocchio Academy, The Mushroom Farm

School Budget Committee: Everything but the Budget

Last night’s school budget committee meeting was a disappointing display, but a revealing one.  Like school board meetings, substantive issues are kept off the agenda despite members’ agenda requests.  This may sound radical and insulting, but I believe that agendas are deliberately kept to insubstantial issues so,  with a budget committee in chaos and a school board dwelling on irrelevancies, the administration can run the show.

Last night Mr. Cantone, new Budcom member from Plaistow, expressed frustration that so much of the discussion consisted of arguments that would be settled or moot if there were an established process in place.  Mrs. Rothwell, the chairman, replied that there used to be a process but now members want more information. That was a  most candid statement.  The process has long been a giant rubber stamp.  Now some members from Sandown aren’t happy with that and want more financial information in a form they can actually analyse and study.

For the third time, Ms. Gorman from Sandown spoke about the need to have all budget information delivered in live spreadsheets so it can be parsed at will – and as is the case with all town budget committee practices.  Arthur Green moved to have monthly expenditure reports provided in live spreadsheet format. In a 3 -7 vote, the motion was defeated with some saying that expenditures weren’t the committee’s business and others saying a live spreadsheet is not a good idea.  Either way, the committee as a whole, for whatever reason, voted to keep themselves ignorant and powerless. I excuse the new members because they don’t yet know how little useful information they will ultimately receive, but the members past their first year know better.

Even Michelle O’Neil of Danville expressed frustration with the absence of budget work going on at the meeting. She should be asking the chair why the agenda was as thin as Gulag gruel.  On July 31 Mr. Green requested numerous budget related issues be added to the September 11th agenda:

  • that the committee receive monthly financial reports;
  • discussion of comparative district information gathered by Mr. Green;
  • notice to change the by-laws to allow more meetings throughout the spring and summer;
  • discussion of segregating the budgeting for full-time kindergarten.

Mr. Green also endorsed  Ms. Gorman’s request to examine current email policy and Mr. Grosky’s request to discuss a report on overexpenditures in 2013-2014.

Without explanation, only Mr. Grosky’s agenda request was included on the agenda.  This is the same old game the school board plays with their agendas…..dissident members and their constitutents’ concerns are frozen out of the agenda

67 million dollars are at stake here.  There are just five precious meetings left (with a sixth scheduled for Dec. 23 which will inevitably be cancelled).  A majority last night also defeated a motion to add another meeting to the schedule. There is no way possible the committee will be able to interview the necessary department heads as they discussed doing in the spring meeting .  Schedules for interviews haven’t even been made or circulated.  Surprised?  I predict the next meeting will be taken up with arguing about whether or not to have department heads in and if so, who.

A Budget Committee floundering without direction – unwilling to add meetings, unwilling to demand the very basic spreadsheet tools that are required to do any serious budget analysis, unwilling to stick to decisions made in previous meetings and accepting of vacuous agendas that shut out the requests of some hard-working committee members,  this is what you have and it does not work to the taxpayer’s advantage. The Sandown reps, Gorman and Green, are doing their best and a few others can be excused for being new –my first year was a total loss — but the majority should be keenly aware that they are not doing what the taxpayers of this district expect.

In the good news department, Arthur Green will be presenting a Town Hall on the forthcoming school budget on Dec. 7, 2014 at Sandown Town Hall. There you will be able to see the presentation on comparable school districts, their budgets and academic results – all with less money than we extract from our district taxpayers every year.  It will be even more explosive than what we revealed at last year’s Deliberative Session.

Also last night,Chairman  Diane Rothwell announced her resignation from the budget committee effective September 29th.  She is a kind-hearted person with a long association with the district and I wish her well in her move.  Now it is time for some new, independent-minded leadership to take command of this perennially ineffectual committee that has collectively sunk into irrelevancy.

In case I haven’t yet proven my point, here is the next School Board agenda – an agenda so light and superfluous it could waft away in a cold draft.  There should be, but isn’t, an item about the unanticipated extra return of surplus from HealthTrust that we’ve learned will be coming this month on top of the $400,000 we’ve already received. The only issue of substance will be the policy discussion where the Policy Committee will drive through objectionable changes to two policies – one to the now famous policy DBJ about transfers of appropriations changing from $5,000 to a whopping $25,000, and a vendor relations policy aimed squarely at me for calling the auditor to find out why our annual report was 7 months late.

Regular Meeting – 7:30 PM

**The Board will meet from 7-7:30 pm for an appreciation reception for Michael

Mascola who recently tendered his resignation from the School Board effective

September 30th.**

AGENDA

1. Call to Order – Chair

2. Roll Call – Clerk

3. Pledge of Allegiance

4. Approval of Minutes

a. August 28, 2014

b. September 4, 2014

5. Delegations or Individuals

6. Current Business

a. Germany Trip Presentation* – INFORMATIONAL (15 minutes)

b. Donation/ExxonMobil – ACTION (5 minutes)

c. Policies – ACTION (10 minutes)

d. Summer Programs* – INFORMATIONAL (15 minutes)

e. NHSBA Resolutions – INFORMATIONAL/ACTION (10 minutes)

7. Administrator’s Report

a. Update on School Activities – INFORMATIONAL

8. Personnel Report

9. Committee Report/Reports of the School Board

10.Correspondence Folder

11.Vendor and Payroll Registers

12.Other Business

a. Non-public (if needed)

13.Future Dates

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, Expenditures, Fill-time Kindergarten, School Board Functioning, The Mushroom Farm

My Agenda Requests for August 28, 2014

UPDATE  August 20, 2014:  Mrs. Steenson has once again declined to include any of these items on the agenda and has also declined to invite the auditor for our planned discussion of the auditor’s report.  The agenda has not yet been posted.

——————————————————–

This is an email sent on August 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm addressed to the Chairman of the Timberlane School Board.

Dear Mrs. Steenson:

I would like to request the following items be added to the August 28 agenda:
  • Discussion and action on proposed spending cap on TRSD 14/15 budget
  • TRSB email policy and disposition of emails
  • Discussion and action on the No Trespass order issued to Donna Green
  • I would also like to have the auditor present for a the discussion of the auditor’s report as I have a number of questions.
Thank you.
Donna Green
———————————————

Since being elected in March, not a single one of my agenda requests has been placed on a regular agenda. I will now be posting my agenda requests every month for the benefit of voters.

 

Donna at SAU

Here I am at the SAU office today examining invoices (August 19, 2014).  My request to Dr. Metzler to enter the building today was made on August 6th.  A morning admission was requested but a 2 pm time was granted .  I was told that my usual desk in the SAU office was not available due to end-of-year paper work. Thank you to Tony Piemonte for accompanying me to the SAU office, helping examine the invoices and for snapping this photo.  It is an interesting experience having to seek permission from an employee (Dr. Metzler) to enter a building I theoretically supervise as a member of the Timberlane and SAU boards, but such is the nature of a no trespass order.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Expenditures, Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning

Timberlane Voters: Act now to prevent tax increase

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

Arthur Green and Cathleen Gorman sent the following to the local papers:

Dr. Metzler, Superintendent of the Timberlane Regional School District, told the Plaistow Selectmen on Jan. 27 2014 (quoting minutes on the meeting):

“ .. the district is accustomed to an approximately $2 million surplus consistently every year. If we were to come here without the surplus the tax rate would be hit hard the following year.”

But on March 14 this year, days after the voters imposed a default budget, Dr. Metzler released a video on the Timberlane web site with the very alarming suggestion that the coming (2014/15 year) would not be passing on a “significant” surplus to the 2015/16 year. This message was reiterated during the July 16 School Board meeting.

If our accustomed $2 million surplus is spent, in Dr. Metzler’s own words the tax rate will be hit hard… and this for the third consecutive year.

The impact would be equivalent to a $2 million tax increase next year, simply as a result of the district spending its full voted budget.

Here’s a snapshot of what we are proposing:

$67,336,000 : current voted budget for 2014/15

$65,336,000: spending cap with set-aside of $2 million for surplus

this is $1 million more than was spent in 2013/14

to educate 160 fewer students (4%) than 2013/14

enrollment has decreased by 300 students since the 2012/13 school year

In the 2013/14 year the just ended:

spending was up $3 million over previous year

enrollment was down 3.6% over previous year

The taxpayers need the district to limit its spending to preserve our accustomed $2 million surplus and prevent a third year of big tax increases in Sandown and Danville. Such a spending cap would be in keeping with voter expectations when the budget was deliberated last winter and approved in March.

When Timberlane School Board next meets on August 28, there will be a move to direct our administration to cap spending at $65,336,000 unless in case of unforeseen, non-discretionary emergency needs.

Timberlane taxpayers, call your school board representatives to make sure they understand how important you think this is to preserve affordable education in our district.

More details on this issue are available at timberlaneandsandown.wordpress.com.

The undersigned are not writing on behalf of the Timberlane Budget Committee.

Arthur Green and Cathleen Gorman

Sandown Representatives on the Timberlane Budget Committee

 
For the last six consecutive years, Timberlane has run on average a budget surplus of approximately $2 million dollars, mostly by underspending the approved budget.

At the end of each year, the unspent balance is passed forward to the next year as revenue, and offsets an equal amount of taxes in that year.

If the $2 million surplus is consumed in 2014/15, then the budget for 2015/16 will lack that $2 million offset.  This money will need to be raised by an increase in property taxes.  For context, $2 million was added to the tax bill in the current 2014/15 year  and school taxes are estimated to go up about 8.2% in Sandown, and 9.1% in Danville.  We’ll know for sure when the tax bills come out in late November. Spending the surplus built into this year’s budget would result in 3 consecutive years of large tax increases for Sandown and Danville.

A spending cap would still provide ample resources for the district to provide a quality education, keeping in mind the ongoing rapid drop in enrollment.  Since 2008, enrollment is down 19%, and the budget is up 17%.

The Budget Committee  has been repeatedly reminded  when scrutinizing underspent lines that preserving the surplus is a necessary buffer against unexpected contingencies.  The budget committee has respected that and recommended budgets with margin for the unexpected.  It now turns out that the unexpected contingency is an administration prepared to fully expend the voted budget.

Taxpayers voted a default budget.  They expect it to be respected, and not turned into a punishment.

Timberlane School Board meets Aug. 28.  Call or email your School Board representative to urge them to support a spending cap.  Once spending plans are committed, the impact on next year’s tax bills will also be committed.

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, Expenditures, School Board Issues, Taxes

Reply to My Two Questions

A few posts ago you may recall two questions I asked of the Superintendent:  Where was the money coming from in the SAU default budget to pay for his raise, his bonus and the 2.5% merit pool for SAU staff?   I also asked what the hiring procedure was for new teachers.

By way of reply of a sort, Dr. Metzler forwarded me policy  GCF, which speaks to the hiring of professional staff.  The policy states that the school board may consider and select only those candidates nominated by the superintendent.  This answers one of my questions:  the school board does not see information about the candidates among whom the superintendent makes his selection.  

The policy, however, does not tell me if the school board sees the nominated candidate’s application or resume.  Are we voting blindly to hire new teachers based solely on the superintendent’s nomination?  I still don’t know and the chairman could not give a definitive answer.

The school board chair kindly spoke to me privately about my hiring procedure question.  She confirmed my own information that Dr. Metzler has changed the hiring procedure.  Previously, the school principal recommended their favored candidate to the superintendent.  Now, principals bring three unranked candidates forward to Dr. Metzler who then selects one.

Having the new procedure confirmed, I then asked how the school board could know that any candidate was indeed among the three put forward by a principal.  The fact is we can’t, because we are given no information about the pool of candidates.  This seems to me a very bad arrangement, not because I doubt Dr. Metzler’s hiring procedure but because I see this as a system that has the school board at a very bad knowledge disadvantage. Remember, school board members are not permitted to speak or communicate directly  with principals – a rule imposed a few months ago.  The school board could never know if a rogue superintendent were hiring his or her own candidates outside of the pool of three selected by the school principal.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not suggesting that Dr. Metzler is doing this.  Not at all.  Nor am I critical of the changes he has made to hiring. My point is only that as a member of the school board I can’t confirm how a candidate came to be presented for our approval. This makes the school board vote nothing but a rubber stamp. If our duties require our vote, it means it requires our knowledge as well .

As for my other question about where the money was coming from in the SAU default budget to pay for raises and a bonus, the chair of the SAU told me the budget line that will be affected is 100.2321.111.57.30.   The list of account codes given to the budget committee does not list a 2321 but it does list 2320 (SAU #55 Budget).  111 is the code for administrative salaries.  So, what I am being told is that the money for the raise, the bonus and the 2.5% merit pool will be coming from the salary line itself.  I find this  hard to believe, but perhaps the SAU is anticipating being half a  person short next year….  We will see come July 1, if – as I have been predicting – money will be taken from the health insurance line to increase the salary line.

A sincere thanks to both board chairs for replying to questions I asked of Dr. Metzler.

UPDATE  6/1/14:   At the last school board meeting, a thumbnail sketch for each of the recommended candidates was given to the board.  Although I was happy with the information given, it did not include  information about the other two top contenders for the positions which would give me more confidence in a vote, but our school board policy forbids this for reasons not known to me.  I appreciate this information but still feel I am being asked to vote for candidates without enough information.  As with all my concerns about inadequate information, it is not because I mistrust anyone but only because I must be convinced that I am doing the very best job I can otherwise my vote is neither useful nor needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Issues, The Mushroom Farm

End-of-Year Spending Spree Begins

This is how citizens lose control of their school district.

As one Sandown citizen opined, “If we vote to provide money for one thing and then it is spent on something else, that is obtaining money under false pretense and is fraud.”  Well,  that is the way most of us would feel, but that is not the case with “bottom-line budgets” where extra money in nearly any line can be used for nearly any other line.  As a result of this arrangement, towns and school districts can go on a spending spree as they near the fiscal year end.  At town level, the Board of Selectmen decide how to spend excess funds.  They are directly answerable to the voters and in Sandown they give serious thought to taking money out of what would become the surplus at the end of the fiscal year.  At the school district; however, very sizable end-of-fiscal-year purchases can be done by the superintendent alone.

SPENDING SPREE BEGINS THIS YEAR

Yesterday, an hour and a half after the May 22 school board meeting was cancelled, Dr. Metzler announced that the district would be purchasing an elementary literacy program for $120,000.  Perhaps this came from the Educational Shopping Channel because if they acted now, they could save more than $26,000!  So, without discussion at the board level, without any explanation for the need for this program, $120,000 was spent.  Of course I protested, but it was a done deal. Dr. Metzler claims authority for such spending and yes he does have this authority without board approval due to a policy which I’ll explain later and which I consider seriously misguided.

A program of this expense should have been a planned purchase.  Its need should have been explained at a public meeting.  It should have gone through the school budget committee. I would like to have seen comparisons with other programs and an explanation for why what we have currently is not sufficient.  We are long overdue for an inventory of programs and software in the district. I would also like to know why this was not budgeted. All this is not to say that it is not a good purchase, because I cannot judge this based on being given no information about it whatsoever.  My objection speaks only to the way this has been purchased.

Dr. Metzler sent out a message to the board and  the elementary school principals this morning, thanking the board for its support of the purchase.  This was my reply:  Dr. Metzler, Please do not assume my support.  I would expect a need of this magnitude would have been planned and budgeted. This last minute sizable expense should have been defended in a public meeting. 

Let’s be clear.  The board did not give their support or approve this purchase.  We did not even discuss it.  Dr. Metzler broadcasted  thanks for support he did not receive while being well aware that mine was not forthcoming.  Mr. Collins, school board member from Danville, takes offense  that I would have the temerity to reply to a quorum of the board  to try to get the purchase discussed at a public meeting.  Mr. Collins, in an email to myself and the chairman, threatens  to call for an inquiry of my actions by the attorney general and for censure because, “[a]llowing her to project her opinion to the entire board regarding board business through email should not be tolerated.”  (Mr. Collins tried to censure me before on budget committee.  The ploy is getting old but I like the AG’s twist!) 

Now to explain the policy which allows gigantic purchases at the Superintendent’s sole discretion.

TRANSFER OF APPROPRIATION (FUNDS)   Policy DBJ

It is the intent of the School Board to limit its spending to the

amount specified for each line item. However, the

Superintendent is authorized to transfer funds between line items 

when necessary to achieve school Board policy goals, except that

excess funds may not be transferred from the Unemployment

Compensation line item.  Any transfer of non-grant funds

between object codes (expense code) that is $5,000 or more

requires School Board approval in advance.

Dr. Metzler says  the money for this purchase came from the same “object code”  within the budget. An object code describes a service or commodity.  Since both expenditures would be classified under the same very broad  object code, no vote by the board was required, as per the above policy.

The money that is being used was originally budgeted for a new math program. As a parent, as a taxpayer, do you think taking money budgeted and approved for one purpose  and putting it toward another without public discussion or scrutiny is a fair and respectful use of your money?  It seems to me our policy should state that any transfer between 15-digit budget lines greater than $2500 should be approved by the school board. Period. I can assure you, your current school board will not be making this change any time soon. They like things just the way they are – in the control of the SAU and not your elected representatives.

Plenty of other last minute  expenditures will be hitting the school board for approval soon no doubt,  and I hope this “object code” policy will not raise its head again this year. The school board and the SAU need to be reminded that unspent money belongs to the taxpayers unless the need can be defended at a public meeting.  Our policies may not require this all the time, and shame on them, but we all know this is the respectful and sensible way to do things.

ADDENDUM  (5/24) :  Dr. Metzler responds that a “program” was not purchased – just supplemental literacy materials.  This is what he informed the board of:  “$120k on Guided Reading Libraries curriculum with funds originally budgeted for math curriculum.”  Since I knew the math curriculum money was earmarked for a new math program, you can see how one could understand that a reading libraries curriculum was  a program.  This just shows the level of information given to your school board members. And by the way, since when are “materials” called curriculum?

This is taken from the Glossary of Educational Reform (http://edglossary.org/curriculum/) on the definition of curriculum:

When the terms curriculum or curricula are used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what the terms are referring to—mainly because they could be applied to either all or only some of the component parts of a school’s academic program or courses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Sandown Issues, School Board Issues, Taxes