Category Archives: Right to Know issues
Jan.8, 2016 UPDATE:
The court’s live streaming was not functioning yesterday. So sorry for the frustration this caused. A clerk at the court has assured me the video and audio recording from the trial will be available before the end of day today. I will post it on my blog the minute I learn it is available.
Please stay tuned! The proceedings were fascinating and gave me enormous optimism.
Want to hear my Right-to-Know case being argued in New Hampshire’s Supreme Court tomorrow? The Supreme Court live streams the oral arguments from their website, http://www.courts.state.nh.us/index.htm
Scroll to the bottom of the page and in the middle you will see the symbol for the Supreme Court which looks like the Parthenon. Clicking on that will bring you to the audio and video archives as well as another symbol of the court. Clicking on the symbol will take you to live streaming of arguments.
Green v. SAU 55 et al will be argued around 1:30 PM January 7, 2016 and is scheduled to last approximately 30 minutes.
The video and audio archive of the arguments should be loaded to the site within 24 hours. I’ll link to it on this blog when it becomes available.
Here are the documents filed today at the New Hampshire Supreme Court to appeal Judge David Anderson’s ruling on my Right to Know case against the Timberlane Regional School District.
I will post the district’s response to this brief, as well as the hearing date, when they are available.
In other news, the chairman of the school board appointed Sue Sherman as co-chair of the Capital Improvement Plan Committee, in keeping with the vote of the CIP committee itself asking to replace Rob Collins with Sue Sherman. This is a good thing and shows some public commitment to the goal of planning capital improvements in the district.
[CORRECTION 9/22/15: A previous version of this post said that Mrs. Steenson did not have the authority to assign a co-chair to the CIP without a vote of the school board. Dr. Metzler pointed out that Policy BDE permits the SB chair and the superintendent to appoint standing committee co-chairs without a vote of the board. I heartily regret voting in favor of changing this policy and completely overlooked this unpalatable and misguided aspect of it.]
This just in:
NOTICE OF MEETING
The Sandown Withdrawal and Feasibility Study Committee will meet
on September 22, 2015 at 7:30 PM in the Timberlane Regional High
School library, 36 Greenough Road, Plaistow, NH. The committee is
tasked with conducting a study of the feasibility and suitability of the
Town of Sandown withdrawing from the Timberlane Regional School
This meeting is open to the public.
At the June 4th school board meeting, the board informally agreed that information requests coming from Sandown’s own Withdrawal Feasibility Study Committee (Minority) would have to go through Rob Collins and the committee he has usurped authority over.
The Town of Sandown has officially established a committee to explore separating from the Timberlane school district. This committee is in addition to the committee established by the school district to similarly explore the feasibility of Sandown separating from Timberlane. As a shorthand, the school district’s committee could be called the “majority” committee, and Sandown’s committee, the “minority” committee.
Sandown’s minority committee is chaired by Sandown Selectman, Cindy Buco. Last week the minority committee made detailed information requests to the school district so that all of us can understand the costs of withdrawal. Dr. Metzler wanted direction from the school board as to how to respond to Sandown’s information requests. Just answering the questions doesn’t seem to be an option at the SAU.
Mr. Bealo suggested telling the minority committee to go through the Right to Know process. Mr. Collins suggested the requests be sent to the majority committee which will then decide if the information is genuinely needed to determine the feasibility and suitability of Sandown withdrawing from the district. If not (in their opinion), the requests will be denied by both the majority committee and the SAU which will be free to ignore them or await a Right to Know request the results of which will be provided to Sandown at the cost of 50 cents a page.
Isn’t that a grand suggestion by Mr. Collins?
This is information control of the most pernicious kind intended to thwart the honest desire of Sandown to fully explore the issue the voters asked them to investigate.
The SAU, aided and abetted by Mr. Collins and an easily-led school board, control every drop of public information dispensed about the district that is not mandated by the government. That is why the school board discourages public comment and refuses to read letters written to them in public, because this is a source of information that can’t be controlled. That is why the annual audit is treated with complete disregard and is allowed to be 7 months late and counting; an audit is an uncontrolled source of information. Find a source of uncontrolled information about this district and you will see giant barriers to accessing it.
The SAU is a service organization for the four towns, but treats the towns as though they are beggars without rights and their requests for accountability are too burdensome to bear. How did we ever get to the point where we are fighting about information? Freely shared information should be a given and the discussion should be about the substance of that information. The SAU doesn’t put substantial contracts and purchases out to bid – the least we should be expecting of those charged with executing our business – nor will they willingly provide information about the financial affairs of the district. Just what justifies our payments to this self-serving, self-protecting organization?
Part One of the School Board discussion from June 4, 2015:
P.S. Contrary to Mr. Collins’ statement, the majority committee did not make any decision that the information Mr. Green requested was unnecessary. What they did was postpone further discussion pending legal guidance, but you can see where Mr. Collins wants the discussion to go. Furthermore, Mr. Collins deliberately misrepresents the information requested by Arthur Green at the Majority committee meeting on May 14, and subsequently by the Minority Committee. That official information request will be posted on this blog soon.
The Superintendent has announced the latest Advisory Committee, this one for athletic facilities and program improvements.
The announcement says: “Meet on a monthly basis beginning June 2015. Copies of meeting agendas and minutes shall be provided to the Superintendent.”
This, of course, suggests yet again that these meetings and its associated documents and minutes will not be subject to the Right to Know law – a completely untenable legal position for which the district has provided no written legal opinion.
Although motivated by good intentions and a laudable desire to address outstanding issues, it is abetting the subversion of the law for elected officials who are sworn to uphold the law to participate in these advisory committees when they conduct business outside of RSA 91-A. Here are your elected officials who are members:
- Lee Dube
- Dennis Heffernan
- Jack Sapia
- Sue Sherman
- Greg Spero
I expect these representatives to insist that all their meetings and documents be fully compliant with RSA 91-A. If the committee as a whole agrees otherwise, these elected officials should resign out of respect for the law and their constituents’ rights.
The announcement: ATHLETIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP
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.
At last night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Metzler provided the board with the membership of the Sandown Schools Consolidation Committee. Dr. Metzler said he “hand-picked” the members and I would say he did a good job of it.
The hardworking and effective Ms. Armfield co-chairs the committee with Sandown resident and Citizen Petition promulgator, Shawn Freligh. Also from Sandown are Erich Beyrent, Lee Dube, Jon Goldman, Deb Lytle and Kelly Ward. The entire membership list is here:Consolidation Advisory Committee Membership
As this is a superintendent’s advisory committee, Dr. Metzler has said repeatedly that this body will not be subject to New Hampshire’s Right to Know law. The claim that an advisory committee is not subject to the open meeting laws and other RTK provisions was emphatically contradicted by two lawyers at a Right to Know training session held in Plaistow last week from the New Hampshire Municipal Association. At last night’s board meeting, I asked if the Consolidation Committee meetings would be open to the public. I was told the committee has not yet decided on this issue. I expect, especially given the respected people populating the committee, that they will see their responsibility as encompassing full transparency.
In a related development, Dr. Metzler said that exploring the possibility of leasing Sandown Central to a charter school, which had approached the district, has been given to a sub-committee of the Consolidation Committee. They are to report back to Dr. Metzler in time for the charter’s school’s deadline of April vacation.
Although I have no issue with the committee’s purpose or its composition, I do worry about a few things:
1) Is it wise or even permissible for the superintendent to strike a committee independent of the board concerning the consolidation of schools? Timberlane’s Policy CE, “ADMINISTRATIVE COUNCILS, CABINETS, AND COMMITTEES,” states: “The Board authorizes the Superintendent to establish such permanent or temporary councils, cabinets, and committees, as he/she deems necessary for proper administration of Board policies and for the improvement of the total educational program.” I would argue that consolidating schools is not an educational program and it is clearly not an administration of board policy.
2) In what way should the consolidation committee be exploring – completely independent of the school board – the possibility of leasing a building to another organization? I am going to answer my own question with a surprising discovery: RSA 194-C which governs School Administrative Units seems to empower the superintendent to “hold and dispose of real and personal property for the establishment of facilities for administration and any instructional purposes…” (194-C:I. 1) and “[a]ssignment, usage, and maintenance of administrative and school facilities (194-C:4, II (k). By my reading this seems to indicate that the superintendent could lease or sell a building without school board approval barring a district policy to the contrary.HOWEVER, a kind and knowledgeable reader, Jorge Mesa-Tejada, pointed out that the SAU does not own any real property — only the individual districts do; therefore only the school board can sell or lease any facility.
3) When the Consolidation Committee’s report is finished, will it be presented to the public as a document replete with the benefit of public consultation for all its parent members? For that to be convincing, the meetings are going to have to be open to the public and allow generous public input received with an open mind.
In separate news, the board as a whole last night reached consensus on going ahead with a Capital Improvement Plan Committee. Oddly enough, here is policy (FB) : FACILITIES PLANNING
“It is the policy of the School Board that the administration prepare a six-year Capital Improvement Plan and update and extend it every two years.”
So it looks like we have a school board committee for work the SAU should be doing, and an SAU advisory committee for work the school board should be doing.
The Sandown Schools Consolidation Committee will meet every Tuesday at 4 pm for 6 weeks.
And finally, the Timberlane School Board voted to consolidate the Sandown schools last night.
This email just in from the Superintendent’s Executive Assistant. The school board was not consulted about this initiative.
11:47 AM (4 minutes ago)
My worthy opponent, Erich Beyrent, has said many times his wife is a teacher. What he has not said, is that his wife is a teacher at Sandown Central.
At the Meet the Candidates night graciously and efficiently organized by the PTA, the observation was made by Sandown resident Bob Nickerson that the school board has 9 members but just two opinions – the board’s and mine. That fact naturally leads one to wonder why that is. I have a hypothesis that I’d like you to consider after you review the list below:
- Mr. Feneberg, former acting superintendent of TRSD, Mrs. Feneberg is a teacher in Timberlane.
- Dr. Metzler: Mrs. Elizabeth Metzler, Consultant for Spanish in kindergarten
- George Stokinger, Business Administrator: Mrs. Stokinger works in the office at Pollard School
- Rob Collins, TRSB: Mrs. Collins is a Timberlane school nurse
- Sue Sherman, TRSB: Daughter is a senior nurse at Timberlane
- Jason Grosky, Chairman of Timberlane’s Budget Committee: Mrs. Grosky is Timberlane’s new Public Relations consultant
- Jason Cipriano, SAU board member: Mrs. Cipriano was hired last year as a teacher at Timberlane High School
These are just the relationships I know about and there may be others still unknown to me. Most other elected officials at the district have children in the system and as we all know, there is no parent who is confident that their child will not at some point require special accommodation from the administration.
I suspect that Dr. Metzler has encouraged individuals in his favor to run for public office and I strongly suspect he has encouraged others not to run so as not to dilute the vote. Donald Blaszka, a neighbor and acquaintance of Dr. Metzler, put his name on the ballot to run for school board in Hampstead which could have placed Mr. Blaszka on the SAU board had he won. (Attorney Blaszka is on the ballot but has announced that he cannot serve on the board for professional reasons not specified. ) And just by sheer coincidence, Don Blaszka’s brother was hired as a Timberlane art teacher in 2014.
Now there is nothing wrong with a few school board members having relations employed by the school district or SAU so long as the school board member’s tenure postdates that employee hiring. And there is nothing illegal with encouraging friends to run for elected office, but voters should be wary to not fill the board with these kinds of associations because it does not tend toward objectivity in voting and does compromise the willingness of elected officials to make decisions unfavorable to the administration’s wishes. Seeding oversight bodies with friends and neighbors, and filling Timberlane positions with personal associates of elected officials or the Superintendent undermines the objectivity of the oversight body.
I leave it to you to ponder whether my lone “outlier vote” is because I am nearly alone in having no personal or financial ties to the district. I can call it as I see it and not worry about consequences – except being made to obtain public information through Right to Know requests, being barred from schools and having to battle groundless police reports.
[Thank you to a commentator who corrected previously posted information on Mr. Fenegberg. He did not have a Ph.D. and he was only ACTING superintendent and assistant superintendent.]
If you feel that board members would be interested in this report, please make a motion to request it on behalf of the board during other business tonight. The Hampstead and Timberlane districts may share SAU administration, but are run completely separately, as you know. We have done many things differently for many years. Nobody at the SAU is depriving the Timberlane board of documents; the reports you reference have not been requested nor needed by the Timberlane board in the past. Perhaps you’d like to briefly explain why they would be of use for the benefit of the rest of the board tonight.
Of course the school board does not want to release the salaries of all the staff at Timberlane and a motion would go down in flames as most all my other motions. Public officials want to keep as much information secret as they possibly can. Mrs. Steenson’s suggestion that I put it to a vote of the board is a taunt and an insult at the same time. A request to examine public records does not require any vote by any body. I am entitled as a citizen to see this information and as a school board member it is my duty to see this information – and this time I’m not going to pay for it either.
Timberlane has been allowed to function in darkness for too long. Some school districts publish this information in their annual report but in Timberlane school board members cannot even see it.
To be clear, my goal in requesting this is not to criticize teacher’s salaries but to find out the exact number of full-time equivalent staff we are paying for since there is an inconsistency between what I’ve been told and what has been reported to the Department of Education. No explanation has been forthcoming to explain this discrepancy despite earnest efforts to obtain an explanation. A Right to Know request would cost hundreds of dollars at 50 cent a page.
Taxpayers, citizens, students, are you being served by this kind of behavior? To those who would give the district all the money they ask: do you think this secretive behavior is indicative of responsible governance?