Category Archives: Budget Committee

Many Steps Too Far

Our superintendent has announced yet another Advisory Committee, this time one called the “Timberlane Parents Advisory Forum.”

You may think this initiative is an invitation to dialogue, but it is actually a dead end to elected irresponsibility.

Here is today’s announcement:

Superintendent Dr. Earl Metzler is pleased to announce the establishment of TPAF, the Timberlane Parents Advisory Forum. TPAF will meet every other month, beginning in January, and be co-chaired by parent Julie Hammond, former Citizen Advisory Committee member Kate Delfino, and District administrators Deb Armfield and Christi Michaud. TPAF is charged with providing a forum for parents of Timberlane students to share their concerns and offer feedback to District leaders regarding program, curriculum and instruction. All parents of Timberlane students are invited to attend these meetings. Dates, times and locations of these meetings will be posted at ttps://public.timberlane.net/projects/paradv/default.aspx .

Parents may suggest agenda topics for these forums by emailing forum members at TPAF@timberlane.net.


This is a major initiative involving the community, parents and students, yet it was done completely without approval or even knowledge of the school board.  The school board should have been consulted to decide the scope of this “forum” and how it was to be composed – if at all. You will notice that there is no school board member involved with this “forum.”

You may think it alarmist for me to say again, yet even more forcefully in this case, that these advisory groups which have grown more numerous than mushrooms on a damp lawn are turning the school board into a Potemkin Village.

Every issue, every problem you have will now be directed to some advisory committee or forum or other and your elected officials will know nothing but what the SAU chooses to put on our agenda – of which individual school board members have no control. Under the guise of open dialogue, you are being stripped of accountability from your elected officials on the school board.

If the superintendent intended to isolate and emasculate the school board, he couldn’t have been more effective than his current course of action. The most disturbing element of these groups constructed by our superintendent is that they are being allowed and even encouraged by a board that doesn’t recognize how its own authority and avenues of information are being curtailed and undermined.

Here is the primary symptom of a lack of meaningful elected oversight: a $69.3 million budget for 16/17 was approved by the budget committee last night after only two meetings with the full budget. The proposed budget is up 1.5% over this current year’s budget.  Three new deans were added to the high school administration, a behaviorist, and one teacher/management position added to the music department in the proposed 16/17 budget. Enrollment in the district is expected to decline by 148 students next year.

Twenty-three positions were cut from the budget but despite my direct inquiries, the superintendent would not say how many of these cut positions were actually filled. TRSD has long carried an undisclosed number of vacant positions in the budget.

Going to warrant in March will most likely be a new teacher’s contract and a few facilities upgrades.

 

 

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Budget Committee, School Board Functioning, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

Facilities Budget Doubling

Timberlane’s Facilities Committee has put forward budget requests totaling $1.9 million.  This is more than a doubling of last year’s facilities budget.

At the November 5th school board meeting, the board discussed how they could strip items out of the facilities request either by moving them to warrant or cutting them altogether for inclusion in another year (via the Capital Improvement Plan).  They cut just $180,000 worth of projects. Projects retained included the future purchase of generators for the PAC and the high school with 50% of the acquisition costs funded by a federal grant. Cost to Timberlane for two generators would be $217,000- after 50% paid by government.

Another large item in the budget request is $370,000 to repoint the exterior bricks of the gym.  You are reading that correctly:  $3-7-0  THOUSAND.  To put such a gargantuan number in perspective, Sandown’s road paving and repair budget for 2015 is $327,500.

Here is a video clip of me questioning the Facilities Director, Mr. Hughes, as to whether he has explored other solutions for the wall.  What follows is instructive. For the record, you should know that despite Ms. Steenson’s avowals, an alternative approach to fixing the gym wall was not discussed at a Facilities meeting and my question was both new, to the point, and certainly of interest to taxpayers.

How do I know the repointing of the gym wall was not questioned?  I attend all the Facilities meetings. Furthermore, despite Ms. Steenson’s implication to the contrary, neither the Facilities Committee nor the Budget Committee are ever provided with any written third party quotes, bids or estimates for the facilities and site work numbers being requested in the budget. You hear a lot of things at school board meetings.  Not all of it can be taken at face value.

I can only hope the budget committee questions some of these projects and puts some of them to warrant for the voters to decide.

Building Projects historical budget:

  • 2011:  $608,850;
  •  2012: $273,400;
  • 2013: $472,400;
  • 2014: $457,310;
  • 2015: $457,310; (default budget)
  •  2016: $647,310
  • ASK 2017: $1.632 million

Site projects Budget:

  • 2011: $67,250
  • 2012: $79,800
  • 2013: $143,500
  • 2014: $159,050
  • 2015: $159,050 (default budget)
  • 2016: $217,600
  • 2017: ASK $349,000

Yes, our facilities are aging but our budgets to maintain them have also escalated.

You can watch the entire school board meeting here:

1 Comment

Filed under Budget Committee, Expenditures, Taxes

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

14 Comments

Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Expenditures

April 2 SB Meeting: SAU a Power onto Itself

Thursday night’s school board meeting convinced me that the board allows the SAU to behave as a power unto itself.

Within the first fifteen minutes of the meeting, Superintendent Metzler handed out a verbatim transcript – only partially complete – of the Feb. 28 public hearing on amending the Articles of Agreement (Petitioned Warrant Article #10 on the March ballot).  At the March 19 school board meeting, the board, dissatisfied with the skeleton minutes offered for approval, had instructed the recording secretary to go back to make the minutes more reflective of what actually transpired at that historic meeting.

Superintendent Metzler took it upon himself to send the Vimeo out to a transcription service charging $1.20 a minute, an expenditure not approved by the board. Perhaps the Superintendent would like to pay for this indulgence himself?  The recording secretary was tasked with the job.  That is why we have a recording secretary.  At the board meeting I called it malicious compliance: You challenge the minutes?  You must pay!

After 45 minutes concerning athletic and booster programs, the board turned discussion to the troubling issue of the district’s use of the Turnitin software. The issue of student privacy in blogs and in work submitted to Turnitin became of concern to the board and the administration following hair-raising public comment by two parents at the March 5th school board meeting,  According to the parents, two years of work submitted to the global database of Turnitin had been submitted in violation of federal privacy laws (FERPA) because parents had not given permission for their children’s work to be placed in this databank and  personally identifiable information had in many cases been included in these submissions. The administration has since sent out parental permission forms and has changed practices in the schools so that student privacy is protected.  The administration came to the board on Thursday night to explain corrective steps taken which included plans to delete all the work previously submitted to Turnitin without parental consent. After much discussion, the board decided that this work should not be deleted. The vote was not unanimous and was, in my opinion, a bad decision which could expose the district to legal risk.

Sometime later Superintendent Metzler called for a non-public meeting under “reputation.”  Once the non-public session was underway and I learned of the topic, I objected that it did not fall under the legal criteria for a non-public session. Superintendent Metzler invited me to leave. I did not leave.  Instead I stayed to hear a discussion of important administration action that should have been discussed in public and was of great public interest. I suggest those of you who are concerned about these things write to your board representatives and to Superintendent Metzler to insist that this matter be raised in public session as it should have been during this meeting.

I am currently researching whether my duty of confidentiality applies to matters in non-public session which are not properly non-public.  While I look into this, I cannot individually disclose this matter.

The board then took about three minutes to approve teacher renominations for the forthcoming academic year – explaining for the new member what a “continuing contract” was. Then a science  curriculum on “second reading”  was approved with no discussion. This was followed by brief discussion about starting a strategic plan and also a district-wide Wellness Committee. The board also briefly discussed their own self-evaluation and the administration’s evaluation of the board.

After this there was a vote on the Sandown withdrawal study, but not what you might think.  It was merely a vote to support Mr. Ward as a member of the study, without taking any responsibility themselves for this study. The school board consistently denies its legal responsibility to conduct a withdrawal study as per the explicit requirements of RSA 194:25.Procedure for Withdrawal.

Finally, around midnight, there was disrespectful discussion about the requirement voted by the school budget committee for a preliminary end-of-year-financial report in late July or August.  Superintendent Metzler was adamant that the budget committee is not going to get this because it is earlier than the SAU’s normal timeframe for producing such a report.  SAU personnel also made unsupportive comments about the budget committee’s apparent willingness to hold a meeting in the summer in order to help direct the budget process that starts in September. This, it seems, is an unreasonable imposition on the SAU’s resources.

What we have is not an overweening budget committee, but rather an SAU that doesn’t understand that its job and purpose is to support the elected officials who protect the interests of taxpayers and parents.

Mr. Collins said that if the budget committee doesn’t back down on its requests, the SAU will need more staff.  I wonder what would happen to the timeframe for budget committee requests if, instead, the SAU staff were reduced?

The meeting is here: 

Gentle readers, a happy Easter and Passover greeting to all.

2 Comments

Filed under Budget Committee, Changing Funding Formula, Expenditures, Non-public session abuse, Right to Know issues, Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning

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.
 

7 Comments

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

 

15 Comments

Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Taxes

Reported Staffing Numbers Don’t Add Up

Staffing numbers are at the heart of this year’s budget fight.  It is critical that we have correct information about Timberlane’s actual staffing, but it looks like we don’t. The numbers are off by almost exactly the number of staff Mr. Green’s Responsible Budget wants to cut, so this is no minor matter.

My very first Right to Know request was in December 2013.  Timberlane’s 2014-2015 budget had just been precipitously approved without a word about staffing.  The Budget Committee was told salaries and benefits consumed about 70% of the budget but we were given no information about the number of staff the budget encompassed. Why would we? Staffing, we were told, was beyond our control.

As a member of the Budget Committee then, I had a hard time believing that people elected to oversee the district’s gigantic budget would not have control over the lion’s share of it – or any part of it for that matter.  Before the last budget committee meeting in December 2013, I had asked for a staff  break out for the budget year we were working on, as would be reported in our district annual report.  That information request was ignored.   I had intended to bring up staffing and projected revenue when the budget got pushed through over my objections at what turned out to be the last budget committee meeting of the season.  But instead of going away, I filed a Right to Know request to obtain the staffing information I was entitled to as a budget committee member and as a citizen.

The SAU’s first response and second response was that the information doesn’t exist.  My reply was one of incredulity.  We have completed a budget for which we don’t know how many staff in what broad general capacity that budget is paying for?  I threatened to go to the Attorney General’s office.  Then Superintendent Metzler undertook to provide the information.   Here is what he said to the Sandown Board of Selectmen on April 14, 2014 about my staffing information request which was my only Right to Know request to that time  :

 

The superintendent’s statements  raise some  questions.  I believe he did stay in his office working to provide us with staffing figures for the budget that had been approved back in Dec. of 2013, which means one of two things.  Either the district actually doesn’t know the breakdown of their payroll by broad category OR Dr. Metzler was creating staffing information that was different from the district’s own figures which somehow took him hours to do.  I didn’t request any particular format.  I simply asked for the staffing categorized in the same way as is reported in Timberlane’s annual reports and as reported to the NH DOE.

Why does this matter?  Well, there turns out to be a large discrepancy of 35 Full-time equivalent positions between staffing numbers reported to the State Department of Education via the required A12 Report which reports all staffing, and the Jan. 2014 information Dr. Metzlter laboriously provided to us.

Here is the staffing plan from Dr. Metzler for 2014-2015 versus the report filed by Timberlane to the Department of Education on October 2014 for the 2014-2015 year:

Timberlane is reporting 35.1 fewer FTEs to the Department of Education for the same academic year than they provided to me in Jan. 2014.  On Oct. 26, 2014 Arthur Green asked Dr. Metzler about this discrepancy.  The email was totally ignored.  Then on Dec. 14  Arthur Green asked Mr. Stokinger about this large discrepancy through Budget Committee Chairman, Jason Grosky.   Arthur asked if the District staff is not reported to DOE and if vacant positions are reported on the A12.

After many weeks of delay, Mr. Grosky replied on Jan. 9, 2015 that Mr. Stokinger answered as follows:

District level is Timberlane staff (not SAU, we never mix the two as they are separate legal entities) and is a combination of district wide staff (multi-school) and Central Office staff.  The district/multi-school staff are allocated to the schools they serve for the A12B.”

The A12B is a staffing report and does not include vacant positions.”

In other words, Timberlane’s long-serving Business Administrator said that District employees are apportioned to each school they serve and that vacant positions are not reported on the A12 form.

Could the administration please explain to the public, then, why filings with the Department of Education concerning the number of Timberlane’s Full-Time Equivalent positions should be so different from what Dr. Metzler so laboriously provided to us in January of 2014 for the very same academic year?  There is probably a perfectly logical explanation for the discrepancy, but given that we’ve asked for it repeatedly and not gotten it to date, we’ve become concerned.

Statistics about school districts are made public as a way of allowing elected officials and the public see what is going on in their schools, where their money is going and how efficiently their schools are running.  These numbers must be accurate especially when staffing is the center of the battle.

UPDATE JAN. 21, 2015:   A reader provided me with this information from Hampstead:  Dr. Wilson gives the Hampstead Budget Committee  a complete financial system printout of all the projected staff by name, salary, department and FTE  included in the 2015-2016 budget for Hamstead!   Please note that Hampstead and Timberlane share the same SAU administration and the same financial software – only their elected officials are different.

6 Comments

Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, The Mushroom Farm