Category Archives: Expenditures

On Sandown North Playground Space

Last night’s public presentation on expanding Sandown North’s playground space was attended by just three members of the public.  That is too bad because a good slide was produced showing the various locations for expanded parking and field/playground enlargement.

The original idea of placing a playing field on the hill in front of the school seems to have been dropped in favor of other possibilities though it was not specifically addressed.  No mention was made of the outdoor classroom but I did ask Kelly Ward after the meeting where it would go and how large it might be and how it would relate to the new structure that is now in place. Mr. Ward provided some information on that project which is still preliminary.

Any Changes Must Tie in with Future Expansion Plans

At the May 11 Capital Improvement Plan meeting, a request was made for a $1.73 million expansion to Sandown North to include 8 new classrooms in 6 years. This proposed expansion and how it might affect playground plans was mentioned at last night’s presentation only after my inquiries.  Facilities Director, Mr. Hughes, said the expansion should not impact the current driveway; nevertheless, the plans presented to the CIP committee need to be studied relative to playground changes.  From my understanding of the plans, the 60 x 60  expansion looks like it pokes right out into the driveway off the C Wing.

All Changes Should Comply with  Best Practices for Playground Space

For best practices, I found this through the National Institute of Building Sciences (

Estimating Square Footage Needs

Since the Gross Motor Play Zone is typically the largest and main zone within a playground, it is helpful to determine the square footage that will be needed for this area early in the design phase. The inclusion of additional zones in the design will require additional square footage. Research indicates that the greater the number of square feet allotted per child, there is a corresponding decrease in the number of injuries. The chart below gives guidelines for sizing the area of the playground that will contain the Gross Motor Play equipment.

Quality Square Feet per child*
Substandard 60
Good (Minimum) 75
Better 100
Best 200

*These square footages include the use zone that is strongly recommended around playground equipment for safety. This zone is typically 6′ minimum extending in all directions from the perimeter of play equipment; however, there are variations for slides and swings. The recommended use zones of playground equipment are discussed in both ASTM F1487 and on pages 6-8 of the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook (PDF 1.2 MB).   Source:

Although not applicable to a renovation situation, the state of NH requires 5 acres of contiguous buildable land in order to approve state funding for a new elementary school of SN’s size.

Ed 321.03  Minimum Standards for School Sites.

(f)  The minimum site size approvable for school building aid for new construction, including additions to existing buildings, for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools shall be as follows:

(1)  For an elementary school the minimum site size shall be 3 acres of contiguous buildable land for schools with a design capacity of less than 150 students and 5 acres of contiguous buildable land for schools with a design capacity of 150 students or higher;

Before any public money is spent on badly needed expansion to the grounds, the public and the school board should be given quantitative information about

  • the square footage of playing space around equipment
  • square footage for all fields
  • total outdoor playing area square footage with and without new “outdoor classroom”
  • current and projected student enrollment figures
  • plot plan for the entire site showing boundaries and topography
  • proposed expansion plans for the building and its impact on the grounds and driveways

I’d also like to be assured we haven’t missed any state or federal requirements or recommended best practices.  A letter from DOE about playground space requirements would be a good idea.

Rectangles on a Google map are a nice start, but they are just that.  A start.

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Filed under Expenditures, Sandown Issues

Subcommittees and Non-public Meetings

Board subcommittees should not be meeting in non-public to the exclusion of other board members.  Period.  A recent action by your school board will show why.

On April 14, the TRSD Safety Committee along with police went into non-public to have a discussion with Homeland Security.  The Safety Committee co-chairman, Kelly Ward, refused to allow me to be present during this non-public meeting even though I was there (during the public portion) and requested to attend.  (I am not a member of the Safety Committee, which is a standing committee of the school board.  I am, however, a member of the school board.)

At their previous Safety Committee meeting, that committee once again met in non-public with a Homeland Security representative.

Subsequent to this non-public safety committee meeting, the school board was asked to approve a Homeland Security matching grant for $48,000 in total.  ($24,00 in TRSD commitment.)  The board was not given any written material to support this need for money, nor was the board given, despite my request, the terms and conditions of the matching loan itself. The most sketchy details were floated of what would be done with this money, and a vote was taken, as it often is at our board, “on faith, and trust.”  My personal account of those TRSD commodities is in overdraft right now.

Fortunately I was able to obtain more detailed information through public documents made available by the Manchester School District.  They applied for the same grant.

What I learned from Manchester

  1. The equipment has to be purchased and installed by September 30, 2016 and the paperwork for reimbursement must be completed by Oct 31, 2016. I do not recall this being mentioned during our brief discussion of this grant because I would certainly have asked after our manpower to get all this ordered and installed in such a short time – as well as the bookkeeping followup during SAU summer hours.[Note: other board members got a single sheet of paper that I’ve subsequently learned did say that the equipment had to be installed by Sept. 30.  That paper was absent my packet.]
  2. The equipment purchases must comply with OMB Circular 2 CFR 200 which requires in part that:

    §200.62   Internal control over compliance requirements for Federal awards.

    Internal control over compliance requirements for Federal awards means a process implemented by a non-Federal entity designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the achievement of the following objectives for Federal awards:

    (a) Transactions are properly recorded and accounted for, in order to:

    (1) Permit the preparation of reliable financial statements and Federal reports;

    (2) Maintain accountability over assets; and

    (3) Demonstrate compliance with Federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the Federal award;

    (b) Transactions are executed in compliance with:

    (1) Federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the Federal award that could have a direct and material effect on a Federal program; and

    (2) Any other Federal statutes and regulations that are identified in the Compliance Supplement; and

    (c) Funds, property, and other assets are safeguarded against loss from unauthorized use or disposition.

Oddly enough, this is exactly the issue Timberlane’s own auditors pointed out that we fell down doing – complying with the conditions of Federal program for equipment given to us or bought with Federal money.

“Basis for Qualified Opinion on CFDA No. 84.010 Title One Grants to Local Educational Agencies: As described in the accompanying schedule of findings and questioned costs, the Timberlane Regional School District did not comply with a requirement regarding CFDA No. 84.010  Title One Grants to Local Educational Agencies as described in finding number 2014-001 for Equipment and Real Property Management. Compliance with such a requirement is necessary, in our opinion, for the Timberlane Regional School District to comply with the requirements applicable to that program. ” (page 27 of the TRSD audit 2014, the most recent one available and not posted publicly.)

What else don’t we know?

Who knows what else about this rushed grant we don’t know. If I didn’t learn of this from another school district with a more robust commitment to transparency, I’d not even know this much. This is just one of the many problems with letting a subcommittee conduct its affairs in non-public to the exclusion of the rest of the board. The imaginable problems are countless because the board as a whole must operate on trust and faith rather than knowledge and facts when one of its sub-committees conducts its business in non-public to the exclusion of other board members.

Security: Yes;  Blind Faith, NO

There is no doubt security matters must be discussed in non-public. There is also no question that these non-public meetings should not exclude other members of the board who just so happen not to be assigned to these particular sub-committees.  If other members are content to operate on blind truth, that is their constituents’ loss.  I plan to do my job and trust is a luxury for non-elected persons.

Manchester Board of School Committee also approved a Homeland Security grant, but  their board had a detailed, written accounting of everything the grant money would be spent on as well as ALL the associated grant documents AND they posted this publicly.  Manchester B of SC Agendas   (See April 18, 2016 meeting materials.)

Is TRSD so transparent it is translucent, as Dr. Metzler claims?  Really?

Why are TRSD’s audits not on public pages of our website? Why aren’t the SAU audits on the public pages of the SAU site?




Filed under Expenditures, School Board Functioning

Policy vs. Practice

Timberlane Policy DJE

The Superintendent is required to get written competitive bids on purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $10,000 or more. As a general rule, purchases of $1,000 or more per item will require at least three competitive documented quotes for the open market. All purchases made in the open market shall be consummated after careful evaluation.

In May 2014, your current board added the following: “Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review and may not need to go out to bid.”

This is the pernicious result:

To me, the most flagrant example of the mismanagement of your money is the board’s refusal to insist that all contracts go out to bid on a regular basis. Our auditing arrangement is badly in need of a change because our annual audits are regularly 8 months late and are given to the SAU instead of the school board which is the authority that nominally commissions the audit and is the responsible body for dealing with weaknesses.



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Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning, Taxes

Plaistow Didn’t Get Homeland Grant

This just out from the SAU:

Hello board members,

We have learned this morning that the Town of Plaistow was not awarded the Homeland Security grant that would have partially funded the proposed generators at the high school and PAC.  Please find attached a revised agenda for next week’s board meeting as there is no need to move forward with this agenda item at this time. 


The previous agenda had this as the first order of business:

Homeland Security Grant (Shelter Designation) – ACTION (15 minutes)


Thankfully we will not now need to hurriedly vote on making the high school an emergency shelter, with so many unknowns about the requirements and the cost. It will also save us $217,000 from the facilities budget for two generators (at half cost), one for the HS and one for the PAC.


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Filed under Expenditures, Taxes

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:

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Filed under Budget Committee, Expenditures, Taxes

Draft Minutes and Recording of May 6 CIP Meeting

Timberlane’s Capital Improvement Plan Committee is having a hard time gaining traction.  The organizational meeting was held August 26, 2014.   May 6, 2015 was its subsequent meeting. The date of the next meeting has not yet been confirmed by the co-chair, Rob Collins.*  Implementing a Capital Improvement Plan was one of just four school board goals for the 2014-2015 year.  Community outreach, public relations, and academic excellence were the other three goals. How would you mark your board’s achievement?

Mr. Collins  had made no previous provision for a recording secretary so I volunteered to take the minutes.  I also announced that I was recording the public meeting. Mr. Collins arrived nearly one hour late to this meeting that was expected to last just one hour.  Sue Sherman stepped in to chair the meeting.

My personal recording of the May 6 CIP meeting (made with the knowledge of the participants) is here

The DRAFT minutes I prepared are reproduced below with correction throughout for spelling of Ms. Buco’s name and Dr. Farah’s name and title. These will not become official until they are approved by the CIP committee and there may be changes/corrections.  (The draft minutes of the August 2014 meeting were not approved or discussed at the May meeting, nor have they been posted on the CIP Committee’s web page.)

Mr. Collins subsequently made a Right to Know request of me for the audio recording of the meeting which is sweet irony indeed.

* Update since posting:  next meeting scheduled for June 10.



Meeting date: May 6, 2015

SAU board room 7 p.m.

Present: John Sherman, Kim Farah, George Stokinger, Earl Metzler, Sue Sherman, Dennis Heffernan, Ellen Beckwith, Debra Armfield, Donna Green.

Arrived late: Cindy Buco (approx. 7:10), Jack Sapia, (approx. 7:30), Rob Collins (approx 7:50 pm)

In the audience: Peter Bealo

Sue Sherman conducted the meeting which began shortly after 7:00 pm.

Status of Committee

General discussion about the status of the CIP Committee raised by Mrs. Green. Is it an advisory committee? If so, then it can appoint its own chairman and its own members without school board approval, but it would not be permanent. If it is a standing committee of the school board, then Policy BDE must be changed to include the CIP as a permanent standing committee. Policy FB also would need to be changed since that policy instructs “the administration prepare a six-year Capital Improvement Plan and update and extend it every two years.”

The consensus of those present was that the school board intended for the CIP Committee to be a permanent standing committee. By consensus the committee requested that the status of the committee be clarified by the school board and the policy committee in whatever order is required.

Chairman and Members

Mrs. Green argued that because Policy BDE does not list the CIP Committee as a standing committee of the board, then the CIP Committee is currently an advisory committee and as such could designate its own chairman and appoint its own members. She also expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Collins’ leadership of the committee to date as evidenced by the long delay between the organizational meeting and the first full meeting of the committee.

MOTION: Mrs. Green motioned to make Kim Farah chairman of the CIP Committee.

Dr. Farah seconded for discussion, but declined the position.

Motion failed by a vote of 1-6-2

MOTION: Mrs. Green motioned to make the facilities manager, Mr. Hughes, an ex-offico member of the CIP Committee.

Motion failed for want of a second.

MOTION: Mrs. Green motioned to recommend to the school board that Mr. Hughes be made an ex officio member of the CIP Committee.

Motion passed: 5-3-2

CIP Committee’s mission statement

MOTION: Mr. Sherman motioned to adopt the following as the committee’s mission statement:

The mission of the Timberlane Regional School Board Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Committee is to develop and continuously update the district’s CIP in order to forecast the district’s capital needs over a 10-plus year period.

Motion passed unanimously.

Definition of a Capital Improvement

Mr. Sherman then introduced discussion about the dollar and life expenctancy of an expenditure in order for it to be considered a capital expense of interest to the CIP Committee. He suggested $10,000 and a five-year life expectancy. Mrs. Green suggested $10,000 with a three year life expectancy. Discussion to be continued.

Next Meeting and Date

Dr. Farah expressed the need to establish a process for gathering information. General agreement that the next meeting would address goals and process.

Date of next meeting was set tentatively for Wed., May 27, with Mr. Collins to subsequently confirm once everyone checked their personal availability.

Prepared by Donna Green

Based on notes

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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.


Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Expenditures