Category Archives: The Mushroom Farm

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

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.

 

 

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

School Board Shuts Down Info Requests

Here are some clips from the Nov. 19th school board meeting.  They concern two motions I made for information – one about the Smarter Balanced results and the other about a question of out-of-district tuition fees for students with IEPs.

Why would the school board not want timely, actionable data on test results?  Why would the school board not want to know how tuition is charged out-of-district students?

You will note that Mrs. Steenson lets the administration speak without being acknowledged and she allows the superintendent to speak to me disrespectfully and in a bullying fashion. I asked for specific data.  He tells me we are not getting it until he decides we are prepared to understand it  – sometime next spring when it is bundled with school action plans. Yippee.

I admit to having a hard time articulating a crisp motion in the last clip, but the thought was simple enough.

P.S. I do not control the photo that the software selects for the clips.  At least, I don’t know how to control it. The intention was not to single out Mrs. Sherman.

 

 

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Filed under School Board Behavior, 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

SB Posts Agenda: “Sandown Consolidation Plan Action”??

School board members are always the last to know what is going to be on their own agenda; nevertheless, I was extremely surprised to see “Sandown Consolidation Plan – Action (45 minutes) on the agenda.

We just dealt with the consolidation at the last meeting.

45 minutes too?  Nothing short of declaring nuclear war on Bedford (so we can move up in the rankings) would make the chairman allot 45 minutes to any agenda topic. Last meeting’s agenda allotted just 30 minutes to the momentous decision that was dreaded since November.

I previously emailed a request to the chairman asking to revisit the issue of student information for the purposes of impact fee calculation since new information has come out that parents have (for the most part) given pre-authorization for the release of this information at the beginning of the year.

An agenda item that affects the taxes of every property owner in Danville is ignored but something we already dealt with gets 45 minutes.  Hmm…..

I personally welcome more considered discussion of the consolidation decision taken at the last meeting which was rushed and superficial, but this is a procedurally odd thing to do considering the vote was unanimous.

It would be a courtesy of the chairman to inform the board as to the reason this item has returned to the agenda so we are not sideswiped at the next meeting, but that isn’t the way things are done at the mushroom farm.

AGENDA

Regular Meeting – 7:30 PM   Thursday, June 4,, 2015

Dr. Earl Metzler, II, Superintendent

Dr. Roxanne Wilson, Asst. Superintendent

1. 7:30 PM Call to Order – Chair (15 minutes)

2. Roll Call – Clerk

3. Pledge of Allegiance

4. Approval of Minutes

a. May 21, 2015 public and nonpublic sessions

5. Delegations or Individuals

6. Current Business

a. 7:45PM DI Team Presentation* – INFORMATIONAL (10 minutes)

b. 7:55PM English Language Arts Curriculum – ACTION (15 minutes) – 2nd Read

c. 8:10PM Dual Enrollment* – INFORMATIONAL (15)

d. 8:25PM TTA Update – INFORMATIONAL (10 minutes)

e. 8:35PM Project Lead the Way* – ACTION (10 minutes)

f. 8:45PM Sandown Consolidation Plan – ACTION (45 minutes)

g. 9:30PM Tuition Rates – ACTION (5 minutes)

h. 9:35PM Policies – ACTION (5 minutes) – 2nd Read

i. 9:40PM School Board Goals – INFORMATIONAL/ACTION (5 minutes)

7. 9:45PM Administrator’s Report

a. Update on School Activities – INFORMATIONAL

8. Personnel Report

9. 9:55PM Committee Reports

10.10:00PM Reports of the School Board

11.Correspondence Folder

12.Vendor and Payroll Registers

13.10:10PM Other Business

14.Non-public (if needed)

15.Future Dates

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Filed under Closing Sandown Central, Sandown Issues, School Board Functioning, The Mushroom Farm

Responses to My Deliberative Speech

Gentle Readers,

Some very interesting comments have been posted to my last posting, “My Deliberative Speech.”  Please scroll down to it and click on the comments.  After the first 6, things get interesting.

For instance, it is news to me that there is a certified Foreign Language in Elementary School instructor already employed at Timberlane High School. We did not need to hire the superintendent’s wife.  I knew that there were other FLES instructors in NH, but right at our own high school, this is rich.  Pinocchio Academy and the Mushroom Farm strike the school board once again and hit you in the pocketbook, too.

And of course, the no big secret, that Mrs. Grosky, the budget committee chairman’s wife, was hired to combat “The Greens.”   Mr. Collins said so at a Danville Board of Selectman meeting.

As I said before, Timberlane does not look for the best people in its own backyard; it climbs up on ladders and peers into bedroom windows. And nepotism is far from the only hiring problem.

Those who care about education are going to wake up one day to realize that all these things that look like minor financial and ethical irregularities have completely corroded our ability to deliver a quality education.

 

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Pinocchio Academy, Spanish Consultant Contract, The Mushroom Farm

Sandown Central Closure Staff Reduction – Less Than Meets The Eye

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

Despite being sold as a reduction of 9 positions,  the district will actually lose only 7 positions in the closing of Sandown Central.

Here are the announced staffing cuts from Sandown Central closure (all numbers are Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) staff:

  • 2.4 Teachers
  • 1 Guidance
  • 1 Nurse
  • 1 Principal
  • 1 Secretary
  • 2.4 Custodians

… for a total of 8.8 staff.  The associated salary and benefits reduction is about $700 thousand.

This year’s staffing of Sandown Central is 35.6 staff.  Let’s look at the reductions in context:

2014/15 FTE Staff Reduction Remaining
Regular Education Classroom Teachers 10.4 2.4 8
Special Education Classroom Teachers 3 3
Regular Education Aides 3 3
Special Education Aides 6 6
Principals 1 1 0
Guidance Counselors/Directors 1 1 0
Media Specialists 0.4 0.4
Media Aides 1 1
Non-teaching Professionals not included above 3.9 1 2.9
Clerical support staff 1 1 0
Other support staff 4.9 2.4 2.5
Total 35.6 8.8 26.8

 

How many of the 26.8 remaining staff are directly needed to service the relocated students?

We know that there will be 6 grade 4/grade 5 classes in the consolidated Sandown North.  That’s 6 classroom teachers.  There are 3 regular ed aides who directly support the existing classes, so they will be equally required in the consolidation. The 9 Special Ed teachers and aides workload is driven by IEPs, and we can assume that will be unchanged by consolidation.

So we can directly associate 18 staff with the transfer of 6 classrooms plus relocating special ed services.  That is half of the original staff.

What are the other nine needed for?  We would like to be told.  This has not been discussed at School Board or Budget Committee, and there is no plan which lays out the rationale for how many positions are deemed necessary.

But wait, the administration proposed, with approval of the budget committee, to add the following positions to the 2015/16 budget:

  • Principal  (with no assignment as yet)
  • Floating Nurse
  • Danville assistant principal change to full time from part time
  • Special ed teacher
  • Technology specialist

… at a total cost of $390 thousand.

Coincidentally, the principal and nurse positions correspond to positions removed from Sandown Central.

So realistically, the closure/consolidation has resulted in only 7 real staff reductions which makes one question the real savings in  the proposed consolidation.  And don’t forget the cost of upgrading Sandown North’s playground and adding a sprinkler system – expenses the superintendent says he would do anyway but were not part of the facilities five year plan.

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Closing Sandown Central, Expenditures, Sandown Issues, Taxes, The Mushroom Farm

Public Salary Information Kept Hidden

[Sent Jan. 21, 2015 at 2 pm]
Dear Ms. Steenson:

As a member of the Timberlane School Board, I am formally requesting that the administration provide me and the school board with the financial system’s salary detail output for the 2014-2015 budget.  I similarly request the same for the proposed 2015-2016 budget as per that which is given the Hampstead Budget Committee as attached. Both requests are to include all district staff. The information is to include the full code for each staff member, FTE information and all else included in Hampstead’s attached salary detail.
As I am sure you are aware, the salaries of all public employees are a matter of public record in New Hampshire.
If the administration requests a vote of the board to provide this information, I will ask why this information is given to the people of Hampstead and not to the people of Timberlane.  Are we somehow less worthy of the same level of disclosure as the people of Hampstead?  
Hamsptead and Timberlane share the same SAU administration and the same financial software.  Because I know this to be a simple printout from your financial system, as attached, I look forward to receiving this information at the school board meeting on Thursday night.
Thank you,
Donna Green
Sandown representative
re:  “Reported Staffing Numbers Don’t Add Up,”  TimberlaneandSandown.wordpress.com

Here is her response received 10:36 am, Jan. 22, 2015

Mrs. Green,

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.

Nancy


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?

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Right to Know issues, School Board Behavior, The Mushroom Farm

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.

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

Cost Per Pupil : Facts, Not Spin

Guest contribution by Arthur Green

Timberlane has long and loudly declared that Timberlane’s per pupil cost is below the state average.  The implication is that Timberlane is a sound financial manager, pinching pennies and making do on less money than other districts.

To compare ourselves to the state average is self-serving and misleading. And with the most recent number just released by the Department of Education, Timberlane is now well above the state average in Cost per Pupil (CPP).

Timberlane’s Cost Per Pupil  (CPP) for the 2013/14 school year ended in June shot up 8.8% from the previous year – almost $1,200 per student.  Both the percentage increase and the absolute number are well above the state average.  (See chart below)

If the state average CPP is not a suitable comparison, what is?

The state has over 160 school districts, many of them small and rural, with average enrollment of about 1150.  The average district in New Hampshire has much different challenges and cost drivers from Timberlane.  To say, as Mr. Collins does, that over 100 districts have higher cost per pupil is a meaningless and misleading comparison.

There are only 9 school districts which have a composition similar to Timberlane

  •  Enrollment in the range of 3,000 to 5,000
  •  Service all grades K – 12
  •  Southern NH
  •  Single HS, MS, cluster of feeder elementary schools all administered as a single district

These comparable districts are Bedford, Concord, Dover, Hudson, Keene, Londonderry, Merrimack, Rochester and Salem. To make the comparison more useful, I will focus just on those districts which have stronger NECAP results in both Grade 11 Reading and Math.

Here is the CPP  for just these 5 “Leading Districts,” with comparison to the state average and to Timberlane:

The Cost Per Pupil average for the “Leading Districts” is well below the state average. It makes sense that districts in the 3,000 to 5,000 enrollment range have more opportunity for economies of scale. In this group, only Keene is higher than Timberlane. Comparing to the cohort of “Leading Districts,” Timberlane’s CPP is significantly higher, and grew faster. CPP for the “Leading” cohort increased 4.8% last year, but Timberlane increased 8.8%. No district in the “Leading” cohort had as large an increase as Timberlane.

And keep in mind, all five of these districts deliver stronger academic results.

What can we say about Cost Per Pupil for the current year 2014/15?

The CCP can’t be known with certainty until the end of each year, but it is possible to estimate it based on our best current knowledge of the budget, spending and enrollment.

I’ve estimated the CPP for this current year ending in June 2015 at $15,484.

I have been criticized for making estimates, but I consider it a duty of people in office to do their best to understand the consequences of their actions and to to tell people honestly about them.

Here’s the math.

Cost Per Pupil has a numerator and a denominator.

The numerator is cost.  Not all costs are included in the DOE calculation, but the percentage increase should provide a good estimate.

Actual costs in 2013/14:  $63,689,780

Forecast costs for 2014/15:  $65,436,000 (based on the budget of $67,736,000, minus the district forecast of a $1.9 million surplus passing forward to 2015/16.)

Percentage increase: 2.7%

The denominator is number of students. For the Cost ­Per ­Pupil calculation, the DOE uses the Average Daily Membership (ADM), which is based on recording actual daily attendance through the year. However, the annual changes in ADM track very closely with changes in the enrollment figure, which is reported as of Oct. 1 each year.

Actual enrollment Oct. 1 2013: 3,922

Actual enrollment Oct. 1 2014: 3,773

Percentage change: ­- 3.8%

Putting it together we have:

Cost: ($14,498 x 1.027 [2.7% increase]) Divided by Number of Students:  (1 – 0.038 [3.8% decrease]) = $15,484 per pupil

This would be an increase of 6.8% ­ – almost $1,000 per pupil – from the year ended in June 2014.

And this estimate is very generous to the administration, because it incorporates the forecast of $1.9 million surplus. We know that the Board and the administration are already planning to make expenditures which are likely to significantly reduce the surplus, increasing this year’s CPP.

Cost Per Pupil is going up dramatically because we are losing students rapidly while allowing our budget to grow.  Do you think paying an estimated $15,484 for every student from kindergarten to 12th grade is value for money when other comparable districts our size with better academics are doing it for less?

Responsible Decision Making

The Cost Per Pupil discussion highlights a key difficulty of making reasonable judgments about the school budget – lack of up-to-date information.

The 2013/14 school year ended last June.  The final CPP number was published by the NH Department of Education on Dec. 15.  Between those dates:

  • Timberlane published as District Report Card on Aug. 7, reporting the old 2012/13 number – $13,329 per pupil – as the most current available.
  • The SAU submitted its “DOE-25” filing to the state on Aug. 29, reporting a preliminary CPP figure of $14,414
  • The fall budget season began.  The complete Draft 1 budget was published on Nov.17.  By Dec 11, Draft 3 was being reviewed.  In all the deliberation to this point, the only “official” CPP number acknowledged by the school district was the 2012/13 number, $13,329

For those who prefer to avoid acknowledging the rapidly rising costs in the district, it is very convenient to have a rear-view mirror which only shows the data once actual events are 18 months in the past.

My view is that CPP is an example of an important financial metric which needs to be understood by everyone involved in the budgeting process, and which needs to be actively used as a tool (one amongst many) to gauge spending plans.

 

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