After three years of blogging, this site has become large. My postings are organized by broad topic headings which you will find on the righthand side of the home page, but for those wanting a quick summary of the major issues, here you are…
2015/2016 School Year: Withdrawing from the Timberlane Regional School District
Curious about the plan for withdrawing Sandown from the Timberlane District and what it will mean for education and taxes? See CASE2018.wordpress.com
Curious about the reasons behind the withdrawal movement? Scroll through my blog.
In 9 years the district will have lost 24% of its students while its budget will have grown by 22% (as of 2016/17). Clearly this is unsustainable. Academics are still below the state average though our budget per student is $19,800. That’s enough to send each child from pre-K to 12th grade to a quality private school in Haverhill and have money left over for a nice used car. Our money is not working hard enough for our children or our taxpayers.
2014/2015 School Year
Our school district is now operating on a default budget of a little more than $67 million. This is just $500,000 less than the requested budget but this has somehow justified our superintendent in announcing that he intends to spend all $67 million, instead of passing on a surplus into the 2015/16 year. [The 2015-2016 budget shows $1.9 million in revenue from surplus. Guess we’ll see which conflicting statement is ultimately correct.] For the last 6 years, our district has reserved an average of $2 million as a surplus to carryover as revenue into the next fiscal year. Every dollar missing from surplus is another dollar needing to be raised from property taxes. In truth, our district is awash in money. What we don’t have is proper fiscal management.
1) Fiscal accountability and responsibility. This blog is highly critical of the Timberlane Regional School Board for abdicating its fiscal oversight responsibility to the superintendent’s office (the SAU). The school board exercises almost no oversight over expenditures. The SAU writes the budget without any input from the school board, then presents it to a budget committee beaten to an irrelevant pulp by the SAU’s financial obscurantism. Sound harsh? The SAU does not provide financial data to the committee in live spreadsheets, so members cannot analyse and parse the budget as they see fit. The outcome is to keep the budget committee ignorant and powerless which oddly, many members of the committee do not seem to mind.
2) Stop budget increases while enrollment plummets. Timberlane’s budget has increased 20% in the last 7 years while our enrollment has declined by 19%. In just 7 short years we have lost 900 students yet the number of full-time equivalent staff has remained the same. Your tax dollars are paying to protect unnecessary union jobs and benefits rather than being deployed in the most effective way for education. This claim can be easily proven by comparing our district with comparable districts in the state. We pay more per student than these comparables yet our student achievement is weaker. Extensive information on comparable districts can be found in the main body of this blog starting from Dec. 7, 2014.
3) Transparency and lawful process Timberlane has not been a model of transparency. Three of the four Sandown representatives to the district, (Donna Green, Arthur Green and Cathy Gorman) have had to file numerous Right to Know requests with the district to obtain financial, staffing, enrollment and student survey information. (As a result of these efforts, the district began this August to post some of this information publicly). The non-public minutes published by the district are, in my opinion, illegal in that they do not include a meaningful record of the discussion. This is an affront to every citizen of our district. You should be wary when any public body goes into non-public because in my experience non-public meetings are frequently abused and sometimes go beyond the provisions of the law in the topics that are discussed.
This blog also contains a series which will ultimately consist of four entries entitled “Budget Law Fudges” which you can find starting on Sept. 16, 2014. These postings will detail the failure of the district to comply with four different state budget laws in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
4) Academic accountability Ultimately, the fight over money is a fight over control of education. My mission is not just about taxes; it is very much about whether or not parents, through their elected representatives, direct education or whether the self-interested education bureaucracy steers the boat. Right now your elected officials are trailing behind a steaming ocean liner in a rubber lifeboat. The budget committee are curious dolphins. I believe no teacher contracts should be approved without some tangible academic accountability provisions. The same goes for the superintendent and the assistant superintendent. We have been throwing money at an issue that money cannot solve. We need strong academic leadership that includes holding our administrators and teachers accountable for student achievement. We will never improve our district if we don’t demand more — and if we continue to undermine ourselves by reflexively deferring all important decisions to the administration. The superintendent should be led by the school board – not the other way around.
[Updated Feb 27, 2015]