Category Archives: School Board Issues

Transparency Wins More Ground

In one week, NH had two big advances in citizen’s right to know what their government is doing.  On April 19, the NH Supreme Court ruled that public bodies must provide electronic documents if they exist in electronic form and if they are so requested. This puts an end to public bodies insisting on providing paper copies exclusively, as did the Timberlane Regional School District until that ruling.

Four days after that seismic ruling, Governor Hassan signed into law HB 1418, a bill requiring the same level of detail in non-public minutes as in public minutes.  HB1418 was initiated by Right to Know NH and will become effective on January 1, 2017.

Thanks go to the sponsors of HB1418 for their commitment in shepherding the law through two judiciary committees and the House and Senate: Rep. Sylvia, Rep. True, and Rep D. Brown.  Chris True, representing Rockingham 4 from Sandown has been in the House just a year but his responsiveness and tenacity has already made a difference. Both House reps from Sandown, Chris True and James Devine,  sponsored important and meaningful legislation this session.

See what Timberlane’s non-public minutes look like now:  NonPublic TRSB 02 18 16 (2)*

For more information on Right to Know legislation this year, both successful and unsuccessful, see RightToKnowNH.wordpress.com.

*UPDATE (5/6/16):  A previous version of this article contained non-public draft minutes from April, 2016 that were subsequently sealed (over my objections) at the May 5, 2016 school board meeting.

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Filed under School Board Functioning, School Board Issues

More Exploits from the Mushroom Farm

Social media has been abuzz since Cindy Buco announced at Sandown’s Town Deliberative Session on Jan. 30 that the consultant supposedly hired by the school district’s withdrawal study committee  was never actually hired and never actually did any work – despite Rob Collins’ assertions in the past that this consultant had verified the preliminary buyout number.  Something isn’t making sense.

To clear things up I sent the school board chairman, Mrs. Steenson, an email yesterday:

Dear Mrs. Steenson:

Please add to the next School Board meeting agenda the following:
   Discussion and action on communication to the school board concerning the engagement and pay of the consultant associated with the TRSB’s Sandown Withdrawal Study Committee.
I await confirmation that this will in fact be placed on the forthcoming agenda.
Thank you,

Donna Green


Here is the reply I received today:

Mrs. Green

If you have a question about the  consultant, feel free to contact Rob. He’d be glad to answer any questions you may have. There is no need to put this on the agenda. Furthermore, we won’t have a meeting for two and a half more weeks. I’d like you to get any questions you may have answered a lot sooner than that.

Nancy


My reply:

I’m overwhelmed by your kind solicitude. Do you ever get tired of putting your head in the sand and covering for Rob?


Mrs. Steenson’s reply:

Mrs. Green,

I am trying to get your questions answered in a timely manner. I am sure Mr. Collins would be happy to clear up any confusion for you.

Nancy


My reply:

It should be evident that mine are not questions that need to be cleared up but rather to discuss an issue of Mr. Collins’ conduct.


Mrs. Steenson’s reply:

No, Mrs. Green, it was not evident. I suggested you contact Mr. Collins because you appeared to have a question about the consultant for the committee which Mr. Collins chaired. If you have specific concerns about the conduct of another board member, I’d be happy to set up a meeting between the vice chair, you and me to discuss your concerns. But I would suggest that an open dialogue with Mr. Collins would be a very productive first step for you in understanding his actions.

Nancy


My reply:

 This is an issue for the entire board and the public as a whole as it goes to the credibility of the district’s withdrawal study committee and apparent deception to the school board as a whole.  This needs to be dealt with in public at a board meeting.  You had no hesitation whatsoever in discussing issues with my behavior in public without so much as a notification to me in advance.  I see no reason why something much more seriously such as what appears to be outright dishonesty to the board should not be placed on the agenda for public discussion.

The agenda for our next meeting on Feb 18 was posted two and a half hours later with no inclusion of my requested agenda item.  Talk to the hand while it feeds the mushrooms.

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Filed under Pinocchio Academy, School Board Functioning, School Board Issues, The Mushroom Farm

Information Games at Your SAU

Faithful readers will remember the MS-25 (or DOE-25), the SAU’s official statement to the Department of Education of the school district’s year-end financials.  This form is one way to know what is going on financially with the district. It is also necessary for setting the district towns’ tax rates.

The form was due to the government on September first. It was not filed until some time past mid-October.

Yesterday (Nov 8) Dr. Metzler sent this email to the board:

Good afternoon! Several of you asked questions about this form the other night…and I have been assured that this is the final version of MS 25 for the NHDOE. I am sending it to you now because I intended having it your packets at the last meeting. I simply forgot to include it. I also intended on posting it once you had the final copy. We will be updating the folders later this week. Please direct any questions to Mr. Stokinger regarding this form.

In regards to next year….My hope is that you will have it in your hands at our first meeting in late August prior to the 9/1/2016 deadline.  

Respectfully,

Earl


This message from our superintendent raises a great many issues.

  • The MS-25 should be publicly available to the entire population of the district and not secreted in the  “agenda packets” on a private section of the school board website.
  • Dr. Metzler mentions a “final copy,” “final version.”  School board members signed the MS-25.  This IS the final copy. If anything is changed, those signatures are invalid. So, what is it that is being posted to “Agenda Packets”: the original signed form, or a modified, “final” version?
  • Is Dr. Metzler telling us that despite being 6 weeks late in producing the year-end information, the numbers signed and thereby attested to by the school board members who made the trek into the SAU during business hours on Oct. 13, really weren’t the true and accurate numbers?

Arthur Green has been asking after this form since October 5 because  it also reports a preliminary cost per pupil. At a school board meeting, I asked why this critical report was so very late to be told by our Business Administrator that he has had “many distractions.”

When the MS-25 was finally ready for the board’s signature, Cathy Belcher sent out an email to board members asking them to go into the SAU office on October 13 to sign the document. There was no discussion of the information with the board whatsoever. I did not sign it. Instead, I sent this reply to Ms. Belcher’s request:

I would be happy to assist but as I hope you and Mr. Stokinger are aware, I do not sign things on faith. If the underlying documents can be provided to me in enough time for me to vet and fully understand what my signature is vouching for, then yes; otherwise, my signature will not be forthcoming.

Thank you,
Donna Green

That email was sent October 13. The document was filed with the state some time subsequent. On October 13, Dr. Metzler sent out a note to our district towns apologizing for the delay in getting this information filed and the attendant delayed this caused the towns in setting their tax rates. No explanation for the delay was given but suggesting it would be filed that day.

After that note from Dr. Metzler, Mr. Green asked the Department of Education to provide him with a copy of the form. They unhelpfully directed him to obtain the form from our SAU; however, Mr. Green had already made a formal Right to Know request of TRSD to obtain this public information on October 5  (Link to blog post on this topic).  On Nov. 3 he was finally told by our SAU that the information was available – well past the time the form was filed with the state and well beyond the statutory deadline for providing information as per Right to Know requests, which, for those who don’t know, is immediately when the information is immediately available which it was the moment it was filed with the state.

Hello Mr. Green,

This email serves as notification that the item you requested under RSA 91-A (DOE 25 Form) is available for pick up or inspection at the Superintendent’s Office. There are a total of 27 pages.  The cost for copies associated with right-to-know requests are $.50 per page, thus your total (should you want copies) is $13.50. 

Kindly note our business hours of Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.

Thank you,

Cathy


On November 6,  I spent well over an hour at the SAU scanning public documents requested by Mr. Green and that have not been given to the board or made public: the staffing report filed to the DOE, the MS-25, and the 2015 NESDEC enrollment projections report. The district wanted to charge me a total of $39.50 for copies of the MS-25, the staffing filing, and the NESDEC enrollment report – all information that should be posted online and available not only to the board but to the public.

District taxpayers should be wondering why your elected officials are not given this information as a regular part of their oversight, and why the SAU thinks it is perfectly acceptable to charge for public information that other districts post to their website. Of course, it will eventually be posted to Timberlane’s website somewhere or other – in a public or private area – but only after it has inconvenienced conscientious citizens and elected officials who care.

Well functioning districts committed to accountability to those they serve automatically post such critical information on their website for the benefit of the public.  Never assume your elected officials are seeing information that you are not.

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Filed under School Board Issues, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

Joshua Horns Asks for Complaint Status

Danville Selectman and TRSD Budget Committee member, Joshua Horns, wrote this email to the school board yesterday at 8:35 a.m.  I do not know the answer to any of his questions nor am I aware of a reply to him yet.


Madam Chair,

It has been approximately two months from the date I was notified by the TRSD attorney about the filing of an election law violation complaint with the Attorney General’s (AG) office.  I had expected the AG office to notify me shortly after they received it, although I admit I am somewhat new to this process.

My understanding is, in the event the offices are thought to be incompatible, the AG will ask me to vacate one of the positions. Not having received such notification I can only assume either the investigation is ongoing, the AG did not find the offices to be incompatible, or has declined to take up the investigation.
Could you please tell me what day the complaint was filed?  Have you received any formal or informal response from the AG’s office concerning the filing?
Please consider this formal correspondence to the school board.

Thank you,
Joshua Horns

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Trumpeting Dropout Rates

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

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

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

Dropout Rate Comparison Table

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

Dropout Rate Comparison Chart

Observations:

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

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

Is This the Vote to Close Sandown Central?

Here is a video excerpt  from the Dec. 4, 2014 Timberlane School Board meeting where Superintendent Metzler presented the board with the budget documents that were predicated on closing Sandonw Central School.  The board deliberated this brand new information, just seen that very night at the meeting, for all of 46 minutes.  At 44:56:00 minutes, they took a vote on the following motion brought forth by Atkinson’s Mr. Sapia:

“I make a motion to support the superintendent in moving this proposed budget [draft 2] forward.”

And that, Gentle Readers, is what your superintendent takes as the school board’s decision to close Sandown Central.  (As usual, I was the only vote against.)

Below is the full 46 minutes the school board took to deliberate the brand new idea of closing a school in Sandown.  Unfortunately the software permits only 15 minute segments so the 46 minutes had to be split into four video clips.  The motion is in the fourth clip. I would urge you to watch the other clips because you will be shocked and appalled at the superficiality of the discussion. Keep in mind, this is the very first time the school board had seen any figures about this proposal or had heard about it at all. Nothing was communicated in advance of this meeting – at least not to me.  I give more thought to my weekly grocery shopping than this committee did to the closing of a school – if this is what you think they did.

I personally believe they voted to give the superintendent a poker chip to play against the budget committee. Does it look to you like the school board thought they were actually closing a school, as Superintendent Metzler is making this vote out to be?

Either they intended only to authorize a bargaining ploy, or they treated the closing of a neighborhood school with breathtaking superficiality.  You decide.

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Pinocchio Academy, Sandown Issues, School Board Functioning, School Board Issues

Metzler Backing Down on Moving 5th Grade

In the category of “Rockie, Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” this was sent from the SAU at 5 pm Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014

Hello Board members,

As follow up to the school board’s vote on December 4th to support the Superintendent’s plan to reduce the proposed 2015-16 budget by closing Sandown Central, Dr. Metzler directed Deb Armfield to meet with key administrators (Sandown building principals and Director of Special Education) to plan for a 2015-16 consolidation plan for the two Sandown schools. Dr. Metzler is now confident Sandown grades 4 and 5 will fit comfortably at Sandown North without the use of portable classrooms or additions to the building. The district-wide special education program currently located at Sandown North will be relocated to accommodate this consolidation and the specifics about this transition plan will be forthcoming over the next few weeks. Facilities Director Jim Hughes has also confirmed that additional playground space can be developed at Sandown North.

The next phase in this proposal will involve identifying options for the Sandown Central building and grounds once vacated by grades 4 and 5.

Dr. Metzler extends his thanks to you once again for your ongoing support.

Have a good evening,
Cathy
—————-
Gentle Readers: Please don’t presume my support of any of this as the superintendent disingenuously does in his communication. I am waiting to see an actual plan to support the practicality of this service relocation and ensure that when our elementary-aged child population starts to grow in 2020, we will not have to build a whole new school.

P.S. School Board Chair, Nancy Steenson, informs me there is no legal letter of opinion interpreting the Timberlane Articles of Agreement. Superintendent Metzler came up with his own interpretation of the agreement, it seems. I support Cathy Gorman’s interpretation that moving Fifth Grade out of Sandown is in violation of the Articles of Agreement.

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Filed under Sandown Issues, School Board Issues, The Mushroom Farm