Category Archives: SAU petition

SCHOOL BOARD OFFICIALS ADVANCE DECEPTION

The absolute, unmitigated truth is that the amount taxpayers will be asked to pay to support the school district ( including the SAU) is a 4% increase over this current year.  The school board is claiming it is business as usual and the historical annual 2% increases of the past continues unchanged.  This is about as deceptive as it can be.

Here is an excerpt from a letter penned by  school board officials published in the Eagle Tribune on Jan. 30, 2014:  “While striving for excellence, the school district has continued to be respectful of taxpayers. Since 2008, the average annual budget increase has been just over 2 percent. That trend continues with the proposed 2014-15 district budget which is 2.2 percent higher than the 2013-14 budget. It is noteworthy that there are no large renovation or building projects envisioned. We are not building schools! Our focus is on improving instruction.”

Here is my scathing reply, published in the Eagle Tribune today, Feb. 3, 2014:

Many statements in Timberlane School Board member Peter Bealo’s letter last week (”Timberlane advances while keeping budget modest,” Jan. 30) cannot stand unchallenged.

1) Mr. Bealo claims the school district budget went up only 2.2 percent this year. It is actually up 4 percent because the SAU budget has been removed from the school budget this year. In previous years we paid for the school and the SAU in one bill, so to speak. This year, it is in two bills figuratively speaking. Only by ignoring one bill can the district say its budget went up just 2 percent. If you ran your household by this way of calculating, you’d always be going to relatives for a loan, which may explain why Timberlane cannot come to grips with its budget growth.

2) Mr. Bealo further claims the budget went through an “extensive and very thorough process with the District Budget Committee.” I am a member of that Budget Committee and I can tell you it did not go through any such thing. As just one example: More than 70 percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits yet the committee gets no information whatsoever about current or future staffing metrics. I requested this as a committee member and did not get it. I then made a Right to Know request and was refused. I made another Right to Know request and was again refused. The information is “not available” I was told by Mr. Collins, the School Board chairman. This was my reply: “So I’m to understand that the SAU drafted a budget that includes salaries and benefits for an UNKNOWN number of employees/positions? And that the current budget is also paying salaries and benefits for an UNKNOWN number of positions? I will be going to the attorney general next as this is patently incredible.” After I blogged about this situation on TimberlaneandSandown.wordpress.com, I received the information – in mid-January, more than a month after the budget had been approved by the Budget Committee.

Just so taxpayers know, the proposed budget was approved by the Budget Committee without staffing matrices for three years: 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. Does that sound thorough to you?

As for full-time kindergarten paying for itself, that remains to be seen. Ultimately I believe it will replace part-time kindergarten and become free. Neither the School Board nor the budget committee respected voters enough to recommend this program “extension” to warrant, and the School Board’s deliberation on the matter was so cursory that the topic never even made it into their minutes.

As for Sandown residents’ “shortsighted efforts to decrease taxes,” the district should remember that institutions collapse when their inability to restrain themselves exceeds the ability of people to pay. We have gotten to that point in Sandown. If this current budget passes unchanged, the district’s budget will have gone up 20 percent in just seven years while having lost 17 percent of our students – more than 800! Who is shortsighted here? Those who recognize budgets cannot go up indefinitely when the population they serve is shrinking, or those who reflexively stick their hand out for more rather than managing staff numbers and benefits?

It is true that Dr. Metzler has made some laudable changes at the district, and I believe he will continue to do so. The list Mr. Bealo provides is leadership accomplishments, none of which required much money. Management has been the problem at Timberlane, not a lack of financial resources.

At the school Deliberative Session on Feb. 6 in the Timberlane Performing Arts Center, taxpayers have a very real chance to vote to change this out-of-control budget. This is not an attack on education, it is an attempt to save public education from itself. Years from now, people will look back on this opportunity and either be inspired that people finally took control or be confirmed in their cynicism that nothing can ever change. Be in the PAC and vote to save our district from itself.

Donna Green

Sandown

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, DELIBERATIVE 2014, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition, School Board Behavior

What Does the District Have to Hide? PART II WITH CORRECTION

This year is very special.  It is the first year people in our district will be able to vote to reject the SAU budget. It is the first year the SAU budget will have to stand up to voter scrutiny. Because this year is so special and so much is on the line for the SAU and its budget, the SAU is keeping some sensitive information out of the public eye; namely, what it pays to each of its employees.

Salary figures are public information subject to the Right to Know law. Mr. Jorge Mesa-Tejada an eagle-eyed Hampstead resident, requested the salaries of all the SAU staff as is normally published in the SAU’s  proposed budget information package.  This year the salary information was missing.  Mr. Mesa-Jeada has made numerous requests to the SAU for this information.  To date, they have not provided it, making me now keenly interested to see it, as you should be, too.

Just so you know, the SAU budget is up 10%.  Timberlane’s SAU bill is up 10.66%.

[CORRECTION: IN A PREVIOUS VERSION OF THIS POSTING I SAID THE SAU BUDGET CAN BE CHANGED AT DELIBERATIVE. THIS WAS AN ERROR. I FAILED TO REVIEW RSA 94:C PART b. APOLOGIES TO MY READERS. THE SAU BUDGET CANNOT BE CHANGED AT DELIBERATIVE.]

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition

Timberlane Board Rescinds Previous Vote; SAU Board Ignores Urging to Question Budget

I’ve said it before and sadly I will say it again: the next time I praise the Timberlane School Board, someone please hit me with a wet noodle.  Tonight, Oct. 23, in a special meeting, the Timberlane School Board rescinded their vote of last week to recommend that the New Hampshire School Boards Association call for the elimination of the federal Department of Education.  Chairman Collins began the meeting by taking the floor and diving into his own presentation to rebut Mr. Barczak’s presentation of the previous week, for which Mr. Collins was not in attendance.  Mr. Barczak tried to raise a motion to block reconsideration but Mr. Collins refused to cede the floor and continued with his Powerpoint. Afterwards Mr. Barczak countered Mr. Collins’ points and exceptionally lively discussion ensued.  It should be noted that the special meeting announcement did not provide notice of a reconsideration which, though not strictly required, would have been more forthright.

NOTICE OF SPECIAL MEETING
The Timberlane Regional School Board will meet on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 immediately following the 7:00 pm SAU Board meeting at the Superintendent’s Office, 30 Greenough Road, Plaistow, NH. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss their NHSBA Resolutions voted on at their October 17, 2013 Board meeting.

The word “propaganda” was used numerous times with respect to Mr. Barczak’s material which was highly insulting to him and all those who believe, as I do, that federal involvement in education is a hindrance to achieving our own excellence. One member expressed the opinion that politics should not be part of school board matters to which Mr. Barczak responded that if we don’t change the politics, we can’t change our outcomes, and our outcomes nationally are flat lined academic achievement in the high school level for decades.  Well, Mr. Barczak, it was a fight worth having and my hat is off to you. [See TRSB Votes on Eliminating the DOE for his presentation.]

Board Ignores Request to Question Budget

In matters closer to my heart,  a staggering $93,000 has been added to the SAU’s proposed and default (2014-2015) budget for employee insurance benefits.  I made an impassioned plea to the Timberlane members of the SAU board to question Mr. Stokinger as to how that $93,000 figure was determined.  There has been no public explanation and not one of them asked for details.  They accept that it’s perfectly reasonable to budget for every single SAU employee to now take health insurance and their intellectual curiosity stopped dead at the idea of asking how much insurance costs per employee, how many employees currently take the insurance, and how much the buyout is for those who don’t take the insurance.  Why question something you know nothing about?  It is only other people’s money after all.

The SAU has 13 employees and a budget  now of $288,000 for health insurance for 2014-2015.  This is up 48% over one year. Dr. Metzler has said repeatedly that this increase is because the SAU budget must now stand alone rather than being a line item in the school districts budgets.  He says this without blushing.  How can a separate corporation’s budget be affected by going before the voters as a stand alone budget rather than being parsed into two different school district budgets as an untouchable line item?  The answer is, that it isn’t affected at all.  The SAU is telling the taxpayers that they now have to budget for the worst case scenario of every single SAU employee taking insurance benefits.  Why didn’t they have to do this before even to a small extent, and how is that possibly related to the budget now having to stand on its own?   If you think there is something else going on here, you’re not alone.

We’re told repeatedly that if the money is not spent on insurance it will be moved forward to the next budget as a surplus. That sounds reassuring, doesn’t it.  Let me remind you that this is a bottom line budget and money from any line can be used for any other line.  Furthermore, once funds become a surplus they then become part of the entire bottom line budget the next year and open for use as salary increases and anything else a growing, “understaffed” bureaucracy requires.  By the way, the SAU passed their proposed budget tonight, up 10% over this year’s approved budget, and there is no other opportunity to change either the proposed or the default budget.*

The SAU board did us all a disservice tonight, but they did do one thing for us.  They showed us what a “respectful” budget looks like and how a respectful board responds to someone asking some fundamental questions.

*Let me explain why I say there is no other opportunity to change the budget.  There will be a public meeting held on the SAU budget on Nov. 13.  As long as anyone I know can remember, the SAU budget has not been substantially changed based on public feedback. The SAU board is not required to change their budget based on the public hearing, and in practice they don’t.

This posting is corrected for some clarification as to budget years from its first posting at midnight Oct.. 23, and to clarify that detailed questions about the $93,000 were not asked. Mr. Barczak and Mr. Mascola did mention the $93,000 increase.  Also added is an explanation of how the public hearing affects the budget.

 

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Filed under Budget Committee, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition, School Board Behavior, School Board Issues

“Unintended Consequences” are Neither for Stand Alone SAU Budget

Watching the SAU  meeting on October 9th you would think that the wisdom of voters this March to separate the SAU budget from the school districts’ budgets was the worse thing that could ever befall an SAU.  Members of the SAU and its board noted many times the so called “unintended consequences” of stripping out the SAU budget from the school budget.   (Mr. Barczak, Sandown’s own, thank you for not disrespecting the voters by joining that chorus and for offering two extremely insightful questions during the budget discussion.) I encourage everyone to watch the first 35 minutes of the meeting , but here are the controversial highlights in which everything that ails a budget is blamed on the successful warrant article.

1)  EMPLOYEE HEALTH BENEFITS UP BY NEARLY 50%

Last year’s SAU budget allotted $195,000 for health insurance for the twelve SAU employees, many of whom opt for a buyout.  This year the proposed budget is at a whopping $288,000 (round numbers). The explanation?  What if every member of the SAU who is currently taking the buyout suddenly decides to take the insurance?  We have to cover ourselves!

Dr. Metzler had this to say:  ” In the past, [the SAU budget] was a line item in a much bigger budget…  What you saw [in previous SAU budgets] was what we really spent…   This is a direct result of the warrant article that  passed  … we need to budget for total exposure at the SAU for what it costs to run the SAU. … in the past it was just a line item in a larger budget. Now it is a stand alone budget. So if everyone were to exercise that benefit, we would not have the money in the SAU budget to pay for it.”

The SAU admits that they did not in the past budget for the contingency of more people opting in to the insurance program.  They did not do this in the past but now must do it BECAUSE IT IS A STAND ALONE BUDGET.   This  implies to me that the SAU was dipping into the district’s budgets when they had a shortfall.  In fact, this is what they admitted to doing with the superintendent’s search.

Mr. Stokinger:  “If you recall, the recruitment costs [for the new superintendent] the SAU couldn’t afford. .. so I apportioned it to the two districts…. because we didn’t have it in the [SAU] budget.”  [Vimeo 18:30 and on.  My emphasis.]

So I’ll let you judge if this result  of the SAU having to fully document all its expenses in a stand alone budget is indeed an unintended consequence for the voters.

2) VOTERS WILL REJECT THE BUDGET AND VOTE FOR THE DEFAULT SAU BUDGET

Previously, the SAU did not have to prepare a default budget because their budget never had to stand before the voters.  Now it does.

Jason Cipriano, member from Hampstead, asked what would happen if voters rejected the now larger SAU budget in favor of the default?  Here is Dr. Metzler’s reply:

“…[W]e’d have to look at the money allocated for raises, we’d have to look at the insurance costs, and we’d have to take a look at what we have for personnel here but we’d have to respect the will of the voters and work within the budget that they voted for. We put together what we believe is a respectful budget.  I will say it, that warrant article drove up our budget.  That’s the fact. It also drove up the default budget. Direct result of that warrant article. …”

Now how does making a budget stand on its own two feet drive up costs?  It doesn’t, unless it wasn’t standing on its own two feet before, which we now know is what was going on.

Jim Stewart. another Hampstead member, adroitly noted that since both the budget and the default budget included extra money for insurance benefits: “Even if the budget got rejected, the default  still contains some extra money that may or may not be spent.”

Now default budgets are a funny thing, but they absolutely should not be stuffed full of unjustifiably large and indefensibly pessimistic expenses.  I don’t find that respectful in the least.

3) NOW WE CAN’T GIVE RAISES TO THOSE WHO DESERVE IT!

Dr. Hoppa:  “This is one of those unintended consequences of that warrant article passing… this warrant article takes away the executive power of this board that we’ve had very healthy debates …. as far as to how to assign executive raises and merit raises, for all the SAU staff . We lose that power due to the warrant article effectively… and now it limits our ability, depending on whether the voters accept or reject this, to provide appropriate feedback thru monetary awards…. ”

If voters, in their wisdom, reject a budget because the raises are too generous, their elected officials should take a message.  Rather than think voters stupid, they should view the result with some humility: “Hey, do you think a 3% raise every year might be too much?”

This year Dr. Metzler asked for a pool of money equivalent to an across the board 3% raise to award on merit.  Merit based raises are great, but a 1.5% pool is more than sufficient in my opinion.  But I’m happy to leave that up to the voters.  Clearly Dr. Hoppa isn’t.

So just what untoward unexpected consequences is the SAU complaining about?  Their raises will have to be subject to voter approval?  Their budget will have to fully reflect the entire costs of running the administration?

As for the large increase in insurance benefits, this is an insightful lesson in budgeting politics. The Town of Sandown budgets one extra insurance subscriber each year.  Given the uncertainty over Obamacare, maybe two new subscribers might be prudent for the SAU.  Anything more is padding the budget.  Watch the meeting here:   http://vimeo.com/76638920

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Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition

“Don’t listen to rumors” and other wisdom

I suppose I should be flattered that my March 18th posting that urged the SAU Board to consider doing without an Assistant Superintendent was hailed by one member of the public at last night’s SAU meeting as evidence that the SAU Board was actually thinking of this.  Though they should, they weren’t and aren’t; nevertheless, this misrepresentation of my blog did not prevent a board member from cautioning the public about listening to rumors and blogs. Let me give that board member some helpful advice, too:  don’t use a third party’s interpretation to slander a perfectly good blog.

One other word of advice for this board member:  don’t think the voters stupid.  When discussion arose about the citizen’s petition that passed concerning the SAU budget, this same board member said that voters will not understand that the SAU budget is now a stand alone budget.  Few voters follow budget issues, she said, and many will automatically vote “No” when they see another request for money on the school ballot.

Voters understood the issue well enough to vote in favor of the petition, and a complicated petition it was as the law required it to be expressed in dense legalese.  Now that the SAU budget will stand alone, voters will see the cost of this administrative layer.  Could this be the real worry?

Previous posts:   Do we need a new assistant superintendent?  https://timberlaneandsandown.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/do-we-need-a-new-assistant-superintendent/

SAU budget petition:  https://timberlaneandsandown.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/why-the-sau-budget-should-have-voter-oversight/

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Filed under Assistant Superintendent Search, SAU petition

SAU Budget Petition APPROVED!

Yeterday, Timberlane voters overwhelmingly approved the citizen’s petition to place the School Administrative Unit #55 budget on future school ballots.  This means residents in Atkinson, Danville, Hampstead, Plaistow and Sandown will now be able to vote to accept or reject the SAU’s budget each year, which is a good discipline for the SAU. 

Timberlane voters were convinced of the need for voter oversight on budgets funded by taxpayers and showed it at the polls.  Unfortunately, the petition failed in the Hampstead School District, but the combined vote in the SAU area was a sound majority:  2,544 – 2,072  (as per The Eagle Tribune).

In other very good news, Sandown elected Cathy Gorman to TRSD Budget Committee with a well supported write-in campaign.  Cathy is on the Sandown Budget Committee and demands value for money while very much wanting to improve public education.

Other like-minded write-in candidates were fielded in Atkinson, Plaistow and Danville but so far election results for these have not yet been released.

Stay tuned!  There could be more to get excited about.

And finally, a note of thanks to Sandown voters who  politely and most kindly stopped in the pouring rain yesterday to talk to me about the citizen’s petition. I was outside the polling station for 11 hours using my outside voice, but it was worth every lonely minute of it.  As one kind soul said to me, “This is what makes democracy work.”

Thank you to Jorge Mesa-Tejada for initiating this petition in Hampstead and getting me onboard for Timberlane.

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Filed under 2013 TRSD Warrant Articles, SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition

Why the SAU Budget Should Have Voter Oversight

As you may know, I’ve been promoting a citizen’s warrant article that will be appearing on the March ballot.  It asks voters if they are in favor of separating SAU 55’s budget from the Timberlane and Hampstead school districts’ budgets.

Stripping out the SAU budget from the much larger school district budget is logical, easy and prudent.

LOGICAL

Many people don’t know this, but the SAU is a separate corporation, completely independent from the school districts it administers. The SAU drafts its own budget.  This budget is then entered as an unchangeable line item in the school districts’ budgets and is automatically approved when the districts’ budgets are approved by voters.  Separate corporations with separate budgets should have a separate process of acceptance with voters directly.  There is no logical reason to put a budget within a budget.  The current arrangement deprives voters of a say with no offsetting benefit to the public whatsoever.

EASY

Since the SAU budget is a stand alone budget, it can easily be presented on its own to the voters.  Absolutely no additional administrative work would be required.

PRUDENT

Budgets that do not face the voters are budgets that do not face the highest scrutiny. When public money is on the line, taxpayers want as many eyes looking at expenditures as possible.  This a healthy discipline for any corporation being funded by public money.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

So far I’ve heard three objections to this citizen’s petition.

1) “It won’t make any difference, one way or the other.”   In other words, the SAU budget is so small that giving voters the chance to vote on it will have no effect on the overall costs of the school districts involved.  There is some truth to this, but the argument misses the point.  Yes, the SAU budget is a minnow swimming along side a whale.  The proposed 2013-2014 Timberlane budget is $64,000,000 .  The SAU’s budget for 2013-2014 is a mere $1,352,000. About $1 million of that is paid by Timberlane, the balance by Hampstead.

Why be concerned about $1 million when Timberlane’s budget is of such overwhelming consequence?  Well, let’s see.  There’s the fact that $1 million is buying us administrative services only — no teachers, no maintenance staff, nothing but administration.  We need administration, certainly, but $1 million is a lot of money and you can be sure the administrative costs are not going to stay a mere $1 million going forward. The SAU has given its employees a 2.5% raise for 2013-2014. In this academic year, the SAU staff got a 2% raise. If you compound the last four annual salary increases, the SAU staff has gotten a 9.5% increase in four years alone.

2) “This is really an issue of trust.  The SAU board, which approves the SAU budget, is made up of the elected school board members from Timberlane and Hampstead. They should be trusted to deal with the SAU budget.”  Whenever someone tells me to trust him, I immediately check my pockets and count the silver. Our government is wisely based on checks and balances, not trust.  Timberlane and Hampstead school board officials may look over the SAU budget, but nothing is better than the fear of voter disapproval to make them and the SAU turn a sharp pencil on the numbers.  Did anyone watch this year’s SAU board discussion of the SAU budget?  There was a commendable discussion about salary increases, and not a word about any other provision in the budget.

3) “The SAU budget goes before the public at a public hearing.  That’s when voters can have their say.”  It is true that the SAU does hold a public hearing on its budget. You may not know this because it is a sparsely attended hearing, for good reason:  there has not been an instance in living memory when the SAU responded to public feedback at a public hearing by changing the budget.  They are under no obligation to change the budget based on public feedback and they don’t.  The public hearing is why the Timberlane Budget Committee has no authority over the SAU budget even though it is included in Timberlane’s budget.

If removing the SAU budget from Timberlane’s budget won’t make any difference, then the SAU should not object to it at all.

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition