Category Archives: Budget 2015-2016

Haverhill Superintendent Calls for Audit of His Own Special Education Program

[Note:  Since this posting was made, kind readers have researched the numbers published in the Eagle Tribune and which I relied on in this post.  The district budget number for Haverhill is incorrect and the per pupil number is also incorrect – both are considerably larger.  Please see the comments to this blog.  Nevertheless, the point about both districts’ special education budgets stands.]

Haverhill has more than double the number of special education students in Timberlane, but both school districts have nearly identical special education budgets.

The Sunday (May 3) edition of the Eagle Tribune quotes Superintendent James Scully as calling for a study of his own special education program – because it is costing too much.

In an article entitled, “Special ed hikes hurt schools,”  the superintendent was quoted as saying,”We’ve asked for a study on how we can provide more special education services in-house in a more efficient manner.”  He went on to say, “We’ll also have to question whether children are being identified correctly in terms of special education needs.”

Here we have a superintendent calling for an audit of his own special education services.  When I ask for a discussion of something similar at Timberlane, I am told there is nothing that an auditor could find that the special education director couldn’t tell me.  Then when I ask for some very reasonable basic information, Dr. Metzler says he’ll figure out which of my questions he’ll answer. I’m waiting….

Haverhill’s overall average cost per pupil is $9,000*.  Timberlane’s: $15,500.

Haverhill’s total budget is 67.8 million – very close to  Timberlane’s ($67.3).  Haverhill teaches 7,240 students while Timberlane educates 3,773.

Timberlane has half the students…. but virtually the same budget! It gets even more eye-opening when we compare special education numbers.

Haverhill’s special education budget is $9.1 million.  Timberlane’s special education budget is $8.8 million – nearly the same.

Haverhill has 1567 children in special education this year.  Timberlane had 735 (ADM) last year (most recent figures available) – less than half the number that Haverhill teaches, with virtually the same special education budget.  Nothing to see here folks.

Haverhill’s superintendent is calling for a study because of high special education costs while Timberlane, with fewer than half the children in special education than Haverhill but with almost the identical budget, wants to keep its workings to itself and your school board thinks that is just fine. More money, please and thank you.  That’s all we hear.

I called Haverhill School District to learn what their $9.1 million includes to compare it to Timberlane’s $8.8.  If and when I get that information, I will do a subsequent posting should their budget include significant differences from our budget.

For the record, special education services are vitally important.  I am not out to destroy needed services. I simply want to point out that our resources are generous and ample to do a good job, and to find out why special education services are increasing while our student population declines.

* All figures concerning Haverhill School District come from the Eagle Tribune’s reporting except for their total number of SPED students, which came from Haverhill School District’s website.  http://www.eagletribune.com/news/haverhill/special-ed-cost-hikes-hurt-haverhill-schools/article_41a41efc-5c78-5719-9ac0-b2ea98a12af4.html

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Expenditures

My VOTE on the Ballot

Sandown voters, I’d like to thank you in advance for casting a considered vote.

Here is how I am going to vote on the school ballot and why:

  • Article ONE  Election of officers:  Donna Green  (See below)
  • Article TWO:  BUDGET:  ABSTAIN   (Neither budget options are acceptable and a lot of abstentions will send a message.)
  • Article THREE:   Capital Reserve Fund:  NO  (We have enough money in there now and little planning seems to go into capital expenditures)
  • Article FOUR:  Sandown Central School and Kitchen:  NO  (Why put a new kitchen in a school they want to close and at such an exorbitant price?)
  • Article FIVE:  Sandown North Playground:  NO   (The children there need a large field – not a small playground with equipment, which is the plan.)
  • Article SIX: Timberlane Support Staff Collective Bargaining Agreement:  YES  (The increase was reasonable.)
  • Article SEVEN:  Authorize Special Meeting:  YES
  • Article EIGHT:  Acceptance of Reports:  YES
  • Article NINE:  Free Full-day Kindergarten:  NO  (There is no funding attached to this warrant, nor do I think it is educationally necessary.  It should stay tuitioned.)
  • Article TEN: Amend Article of Agreement to change funding formula for the school district:  NO  (Paying by the number of students we send to the district is the fairest way to fund a cooperative school district. Even though this will considerably lower Sandown’s school taxes, it is not a fair solution to the problem.)
  • Article 11:  Continue Operation of Sandown Central:  YES  ( There has been very inadequate information about the consolidation plan and I believe consolidating the schools now will ultimately  lead to building a very expensive addition onto Sandown North so that in the long run this will cost us more money than keeping Sandown Central open for at least one more year in order to do a proper study.)
  • Article 12:  Conduct Impact and Consolidation Plan:  YES  (This shouldn’t need a warrant article but it does because we have not been given enough information to judge the long-term cost of a consolidation and even the classroom accommodations for all the students.)

On the TOWN ballot, I hope voters will support Warrant Article 19 which asks the school district to conduct a study into the feasibility of Sandown withdrawing from the school district. This is just a study, but it is an important one in order to explore if we could get a better education and better value doing it on our own or in partnership with another town more similar to ours in tax base.

If the school warrant passes to change the funding formula for the school district (thereby giving Sandown much lower school taxes but increasing Atkinson’s and Plaistow’s) there is a possibility Atkinson could desire to leave the district. They already have a withdrawal study on their town ballot,  as we do.  Sandown will not  want to be left to absorb  the costs of keeping the lights on in the district if Atkinson leaves, so this study at the very least is necessary for defensive purposes.  In my opinion is it critical to vote to conduct a study.

WHAT I STAND FOR:

  • A steadfast commitment to quality education with more effective use of our tax dollars.
  • Pro-active oversight of the SAU,
  • Financial transparency,
  • Asking the tough questions in order to increase effectiveness and efficiency of our schools,
  • Calling out issues that need public attention,
  • Requesting serious discussion and appropriate supporting documentation prior to taking action on issues that impact Sandown and the entire district,
  • Pressing for SB policies to be followed and changing ones that do not serve the public interest.

All this must be done to provide the quality education we want for our students.
Thank you and I look forward to a new start working with a new board.

As for my lawsuit against the school district and SAU,  I’d like to state that the district did not have to fight the suit nor did they have to do the things they did to bring on the suit itself.  Beyond that, I respect the court and its deliberation and do not want to debate the merits of my case in public at this time.  My pleadings and the district’s pleadings can all be found on this blog.

See you at the polls on Tuesday!

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Closing Sandown Central, Fill-time Kindergarten, Sandown Issues, Taxes, Withdrawing from District

Tax Outlook for the 2015/16 Budget

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

We’ve noted before that a small increase in the expenditure budget leads to a disproportionate tax impact.

Going into Deliberative, we had a proposed budget increase of 0.5% – yes, one half of one percent.  But the documents published by the administration at deliberative show an overall school tax increase of 2.3%, with some significant differences by town:

  • Atkinson – 2%
  • Danville – 3.9%
  • Plaistow – 2.6%
  • Sandown – 1.3%

These were “optimistic” numbers, which depend on the district delivering on the $1.9 million surplus stated in the revenue budget.

But we know that the district is planning to spend at least part of that surplus:

  • Transformer replacement at the middle school – $300,000 to $500,000
  • Sandown North sprinkler system – $260,000
  • Warrant Article 3 – capital reserve contribution if passed will be funded out of the surplus – $250,000

Lower surplus means more must be collected from taxes.

At deliberative, the budget was increased by $250,000.  At the election in March, the voters will likely approve Warrant Article 6 for the Timberlane Support Staff collective agreement – $97,783.

With these changes, the budget will be $68,071,710, up 1.1% from this year.  The amount to be gathered in taxes will be up 3.1%.

This is almost the same as the default budget of $68,160,616, which is still higher than the likely budget but by only $90,000.

Here’s my forecast from December of the tax impacts of the (then) proposed budget.  The range of impacts for the default budget is a good forecast of what we will likely face in December.

Tax Impact Summary Table

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Taxes

Trumpeting Dropout Rates

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

One of the things we learned from Dr. Metzler at Deliberative is that dropout rates are one of the Timberlane district’s most important measures of success.  The Timberlane dropout rate of 0.85% was compared favorably against at least one of the “Leading Comparable” districts, and was used to vindicate the budgetary and academic policies of  the administration.

As usual, let’s get some context.  First as a table – here are the dropout rates from the NH DOE web site covering the period 2007/08 up to 2012/13 (which is the most recent year available on this metric):

Dropout Rate Comparison Table

Now let’s see that in a chart.  I’ve eliminated the individual schools in the “Leading Comparable” cohort, and just kept the average of that group, plus the NH state average and Timberlane:

Dropout Rate Comparison Chart

Observations:

  • We are looking backward at 2 year old results.  Since then, we have had rapid cost increases over the last 2 years – cost per pupil is up from $13,329 to (estimated) $15,498 in the current year.  This reported dropout rate does nothing to vindicate spending levels over the past 2 years
  • The trumpeted Timberlane dropout rate of 0.85% is actual up 2 years in a row, from the low of 0.28% in 2010/11.  Are we supposed to celebrate a worsening dropout rate?
  • Timberlane’s dropout rate has been consistently below the state average.  This is a good thing.  But we also know that the state average is not a meaningful comparison.  Looking at comparable districts with stronger academic results, Timberlane has been above that average, dipped below, and in the final year has crept back above.  Not bad results, but not outstanding.
  • What about the relationship to spending?
    • Bedford cost per pupil: $11,540, $1,800 less than Timberlane. Dropout rate 0.08%, far better than Timberlane
    • Salem cost per pupil: $12,383, $1,000 less than Timberlane.  Dropout rate 0.42%, half Timberlane’s number.
    • Keene cost per pupil $14,975, $1,500 more than Timberlane.  Dropout rate 0.86%, a fraction worse than Timberlane
    • Merrimack cost per pupil $13,440, about $100 more than Timberlane.  Dropout rate 1.01%, significantly worse than Timberlane
    • Conclusion:  A district can spend much less, and achieve a far better result.  A district can spend far more, and achieve a worse result.  A low dropout rate does not vindicate high spending.  We should be able to achieve a low dropout rate as other districts have done with lower spending.

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

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

Words Which Must Be Silenced

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

At Timberlane Deliberative on Thursday night, supporters of the administration insisted that the body invest one hour in order to prevent my ten minute presentation. The moderator had previously agreed to give me 15 minutes to make a  presentation on the budget.  Twenty-six hours before deliberative, I received notification to cut this to 10 minutes.  Due to an orchestrated motion from the floor, I was ultimately allowed 3 minutes, which I had to respond to on the fly.

Here is the 10-minute presentation – my speaking notes interspersed with the slides I had prepared.

Presentation for Timberlane Deliberative Feb 5

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Taxes

Responses to My Deliberative Speech

Gentle Readers,

Some very interesting comments have been posted to my last posting, “My Deliberative Speech.”  Please scroll down to it and click on the comments.  After the first 6, things get interesting.

For instance, it is news to me that there is a certified Foreign Language in Elementary School instructor already employed at Timberlane High School. We did not need to hire the superintendent’s wife.  I knew that there were other FLES instructors in NH, but right at our own high school, this is rich.  Pinocchio Academy and the Mushroom Farm strike the school board once again and hit you in the pocketbook, too.

And of course, the no big secret, that Mrs. Grosky, the budget committee chairman’s wife, was hired to combat “The Greens.”   Mr. Collins said so at a Danville Board of Selectman meeting.

As I said before, Timberlane does not look for the best people in its own backyard; it climbs up on ladders and peers into bedroom windows. And nepotism is far from the only hiring problem.

Those who care about education are going to wake up one day to realize that all these things that look like minor financial and ethical irregularities have completely corroded our ability to deliver a quality education.

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Pinocchio Academy, Spanish Consultant Contract, The Mushroom Farm