Tag Archives: Board functioning

On Sandown North Playground Space

Last night’s public presentation on expanding Sandown North’s playground space was attended by just three members of the public.  That is too bad because a good slide was produced showing the various locations for expanded parking and field/playground enlargement.

The original idea of placing a playing field on the hill in front of the school seems to have been dropped in favor of other possibilities though it was not specifically addressed.  No mention was made of the outdoor classroom but I did ask Kelly Ward after the meeting where it would go and how large it might be and how it would relate to the new structure that is now in place. Mr. Ward provided some information on that project which is still preliminary.

Any Changes Must Tie in with Future Expansion Plans

At the May 11 Capital Improvement Plan meeting, a request was made for a $1.73 million expansion to Sandown North to include 8 new classrooms in 6 years. This proposed expansion and how it might affect playground plans was mentioned at last night’s presentation only after my inquiries.  Facilities Director, Mr. Hughes, said the expansion should not impact the current driveway; nevertheless, the plans presented to the CIP committee need to be studied relative to playground changes.  From my understanding of the plans, the 60 x 60  expansion looks like it pokes right out into the driveway off the C Wing.

All Changes Should Comply with  Best Practices for Playground Space

For best practices, I found this through the National Institute of Building Sciences (www.wbdg.org/resources/playground.php):

Estimating Square Footage Needs

Since the Gross Motor Play Zone is typically the largest and main zone within a playground, it is helpful to determine the square footage that will be needed for this area early in the design phase. The inclusion of additional zones in the design will require additional square footage. Research indicates that the greater the number of square feet allotted per child, there is a corresponding decrease in the number of injuries. The chart below gives guidelines for sizing the area of the playground that will contain the Gross Motor Play equipment.

Quality Square Feet per child*
Substandard 60
Good (Minimum) 75
Better 100
Best 200

*These square footages include the use zone that is strongly recommended around playground equipment for safety. This zone is typically 6′ minimum extending in all directions from the perimeter of play equipment; however, there are variations for slides and swings. The recommended use zones of playground equipment are discussed in both ASTM F1487 and on pages 6-8 of the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook (PDF 1.2 MB).   Source: www.wbdg.org/resources/playground.php


Although not applicable to a renovation situation, the state of NH requires 5 acres of contiguous buildable land in order to approve state funding for a new elementary school of SN’s size.

Ed 321.03  Minimum Standards for School Sites.

(f)  The minimum site size approvable for school building aid for new construction, including additions to existing buildings, for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools shall be as follows:

(1)  For an elementary school the minimum site size shall be 3 acres of contiguous buildable land for schools with a design capacity of less than 150 students and 5 acres of contiguous buildable land for schools with a design capacity of 150 students or higher;


Before any public money is spent on badly needed expansion to the grounds, the public and the school board should be given quantitative information about

  • the square footage of playing space around equipment
  • square footage for all fields
  • total outdoor playing area square footage with and without new “outdoor classroom”
  • current and projected student enrollment figures
  • plot plan for the entire site showing boundaries and topography
  • proposed expansion plans for the building and its impact on the grounds and driveways

I’d also like to be assured we haven’t missed any state or federal requirements or recommended best practices.  A letter from DOE about playground space requirements would be a good idea.

Rectangles on a Google map are a nice start, but they are just that.  A start.

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NH School Boards Association: not working for you

When your tax dollars work against your interests, something is wrong.

I attended the New Hampshire School Boards Association “Annual New School Board Orientation and Board Chair Workshops” on May 3, 2016. Since I am not a new board member, I asked to attend the board chair workshop and was kindly given leave to do so. This fried Timberlane’s chairman Peter Bealo who said during the workshop that he would not comment because I was present.  Mr. Bealo’s comment wasn’t the only objectionable takeaway from the instruction/discussion that night.

The workshop was broken into three parts.

PART ONE: “Conducting Effective School Board Meetings,”  a lecture by their resident lawyer, Barrett Christina, who is also NHSBA’s Deputy Executive Director. He suggested a number of things which are intended to serve boards very well, but which I heartily believe are not in the best interest of the public:

  1. Establish a consent agenda for “routine matters, such as minutes and monthly expenses, which can be approved together without discussion.”  I wish our board got monthly expense reports!  Your board, however, has no interest in “micromanaging” the affairs of the SAU so they don’t want to see any numbers ever, but you can be sure if we were given monthly expense reports that they would be worth a comment or two – and even a question to the Business Administrator. As for our minutes, these have often taken the form of political whitewashes for what actually transpires in our meetings. Not infrequently in the past, my vote has been mistakenly recorded.

A consent agenda works for legislation at the State House.  It does not work at the board level where everything should be open for comment and question. Why else is it being given to us for a vote?

Peter Bealo complained in the workshop that it takes his board forever to get through minutes.  He didn’t add that our minutes in the past have been riddled with issues. My objections to the inaccuracies and whitewashes in our minutes past has become an embarrassment to the board.  The correct response is to improve the minutes, which I’m happy to say have considerably improved of late.

2. Mr. Christina advocates that minutes should be nothing more than a record of the action taken by the board and need include no more than what is set out by statute – those present, time and place, motions and brief summary of discussion. He emphasized “brief.”  Following this advice would make our main minutes as skeletal as our non-public minutes.  This does not serve the public’s interest and is a prime example of how the NHSBA is advising school board chairman and school board members generally to put their interests above the interests of the public they have been elected to serve.

Attorney Christina’s advice on minutes should have been

  • don’t make your minutes political in any way
  • accurately and fairly capture public comment
  • fairly set out the reasons for votes both in support and against all motions
  • correctly record everyone’s vote

Please understand that I’m not criticizing the work of any employee in my comments because I know that what is expected in these minutes comes from higher authorities than the minute writer – and that is the issue here.

3. Mr. Christina also emphasized that “New Business” should not have any surprises. Currently New Business is the only place on the agenda where TRSB members can bring up issues.  Our opportunity to get issues included on the agenda is minuscule. All three of my motions to add things to future agendas were soundly rejected by the board at the April 21 meeting. TRSB also voted down discussing a registered letter we received with serious concerns about our Articles of Agreement.  Mr. Christina’s advice, in my opinion, erects another impediment to elected officials in conducting their representation.

4. Mr. Christina also said that policies should be ready for board approval when they come out of policy committee and that really there should be no need for multiple readings. Yes, this is what our board would like, too, so no one really has to think about their primary function and just entrust it to a few on the policy committee who are outnumbered by administration – if they should ever again have a difference of opinion now that I have been removed from the policy committee.

In fairness, a few good  suggestions did come out of the discussion.

  • Mr. Christina suggested that subcommittee minutes should be included in agenda packets.  TRSB as a whole never sees committee minutes.  Oddly enough, I motioned at the April 21th school board meeting to have all standing committee draft minutes emailed to the board when they are prepared.  TRSB  voted this down.
  • A chairman in the audience said that her board has an agenda heading; “Agenda items for next meeting.”  (Someone probably took this chairman aside and browbeat some sense into her later.)
  • Someone else in the audience suggested  a “two-week rule” whereby something introduced to the board in one meeting can be voted only only at the next meeting.  This prevents the board from being steamrollered.  TRSB has no such policy or procedure. We are as flat as cardboard cutouts.

PART TWO:   “Building Positive Relations with the Public and the Press.”

Much of this discussion was taken up with techniques for suppressing board members with minority opinions from speaking to the press.  By coincidence a chairman sitting next to me said, “I don’t agree with that. Haven’t they heard about Plaistow?”

“That was me,” I said.

“Thank you,” he responded. “I give that article to all my board members.”

He is referring  TRSB’s School Board Rules fiasco in 2014 that disallowed individual board members from speaking to the press or criticizing a board decision in public.  The NH ACLU stepped in to rescue our First Amendment rights, not to mention our duty as elected representatives of our towns.

Yes, despite the black eye Timberlane got when mightily beaten up in the press, the NHSBA is still urging board chairmen to reign in their members so that the press gets a unified message.  Not only that but School Board member ethics policy was brought up as a way to entrap board members into behaving as they are told.  The ethics policy, which all board members are asked to sign, requires members to support all decisions made by the board. (I refuse to sign this because of this provision and don’t you think Mr. Bealo piped up to say, “She won’t even sign the Ethics Policy!”) Ted Comstock,  NHSBA Executive Director, said that an elected board member could be removed from the board for consistently violating policy.

This is patently false, but why not instill this falsehood in chairmen to embolden their persecution of minority opinion on their boards?  By law, elected officials can be removed from office for only two reasons – stealing and violation of confidentiality with a material consequence.

Someone in the audience getting into the spirit of things said that the liability insurance provided to board members would not extend to rogue board members violating policy.  I wonder how that would work when challenged in court: unconstitutional policy leads to (illegal) withholding of board member’s liability insurance?

PART THREE: Board Chair Roundtable and Best Practices

Much of the roundtable discussion had to do with suppressing public comment at school board meetings.  It was received wisdom in the room that no boards should respond to public comment. It was said that meetings are not a forum for educating the public. And that, in a nutshell, is the attitude that travels like a virus from the NHSBA to every school board in the state. We, the almighty school board, do not have to answer to you, peon parents and taxpayers!   It is exactly this warped attitude that justifies chairmen in having parents shut down at meetings and/or seeking their arrest as happened in Alton, NH.  http://aclu-nh.org/aclu-nh-settles-alton-free-speech-case-for-42500/

Mr. Christina also encouraged chairmen to have their boards adopt a policy that limits public comment to agenda items only.

You got an issue?  You can’t handle an issue! Speak to the agenda or don’t speak at all.

CONCLUSION

Ask yourself, as I have, who these misguided opinions are serving. It is clearly not the elected officials who have an obligation to represent their constituents with every atom of their best efforts and to respond to their concerns. To me, it is clear that this organization exists to advance the interests of SAUs and puppet school boards. They do this also by active lobbying at the state legislature, too.

If NHSBA lost its funding, I would salvage only their model policy bank and their collective agreement database, both of which could be maintained by dedicated volunteers. What about their legal advice service? Since the district is NHSBA’s client, not individual school board members, the association does not give advice to individual elected officials. For those districts without boards that allow unlimited legal expenses as does TRSD, this function could easily be taken over by the NH Municipal Association.

Looking for cuts, Gov. Hassan?  Let me point the way.

The opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect any organization of which I am a member.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Subcommittees and Non-public Meetings

Board subcommittees should not be meeting in non-public to the exclusion of other board members.  Period.  A recent action by your school board will show why.

On April 14, the TRSD Safety Committee along with police went into non-public to have a discussion with Homeland Security.  The Safety Committee co-chairman, Kelly Ward, refused to allow me to be present during this non-public meeting even though I was there (during the public portion) and requested to attend.  (I am not a member of the Safety Committee, which is a standing committee of the school board.  I am, however, a member of the school board.)

At their previous Safety Committee meeting, that committee once again met in non-public with a Homeland Security representative.

Subsequent to this non-public safety committee meeting, the school board was asked to approve a Homeland Security matching grant for $48,000 in total.  ($24,00 in TRSD commitment.)  The board was not given any written material to support this need for money, nor was the board given, despite my request, the terms and conditions of the matching loan itself. The most sketchy details were floated of what would be done with this money, and a vote was taken, as it often is at our board, “on faith, and trust.”  My personal account of those TRSD commodities is in overdraft right now.

Fortunately I was able to obtain more detailed information through public documents made available by the Manchester School District.  They applied for the same grant.

What I learned from Manchester

  1. The equipment has to be purchased and installed by September 30, 2016 and the paperwork for reimbursement must be completed by Oct 31, 2016. I do not recall this being mentioned during our brief discussion of this grant because I would certainly have asked after our manpower to get all this ordered and installed in such a short time – as well as the bookkeeping followup during SAU summer hours.[Note: other board members got a single sheet of paper that I’ve subsequently learned did say that the equipment had to be installed by Sept. 30.  That paper was absent my packet.]
  2. The equipment purchases must comply with OMB Circular 2 CFR 200 which requires in part that:

    §200.62   Internal control over compliance requirements for Federal awards.

    Internal control over compliance requirements for Federal awards means a process implemented by a non-Federal entity designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the achievement of the following objectives for Federal awards:

    (a) Transactions are properly recorded and accounted for, in order to:

    (1) Permit the preparation of reliable financial statements and Federal reports;

    (2) Maintain accountability over assets; and

    (3) Demonstrate compliance with Federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the Federal award;

    (b) Transactions are executed in compliance with:

    (1) Federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the Federal award that could have a direct and material effect on a Federal program; and

    (2) Any other Federal statutes and regulations that are identified in the Compliance Supplement; and

    (c) Funds, property, and other assets are safeguarded against loss from unauthorized use or disposition.

Oddly enough, this is exactly the issue Timberlane’s own auditors pointed out that we fell down doing – complying with the conditions of Federal program for equipment given to us or bought with Federal money.

“Basis for Qualified Opinion on CFDA No. 84.010 Title One Grants to Local Educational Agencies: As described in the accompanying schedule of findings and questioned costs, the Timberlane Regional School District did not comply with a requirement regarding CFDA No. 84.010  Title One Grants to Local Educational Agencies as described in finding number 2014-001 for Equipment and Real Property Management. Compliance with such a requirement is necessary, in our opinion, for the Timberlane Regional School District to comply with the requirements applicable to that program. ” (page 27 of the TRSD audit 2014, the most recent one available and not posted publicly.)

What else don’t we know?

Who knows what else about this rushed grant we don’t know. If I didn’t learn of this from another school district with a more robust commitment to transparency, I’d not even know this much. This is just one of the many problems with letting a subcommittee conduct its affairs in non-public to the exclusion of the rest of the board. The imaginable problems are countless because the board as a whole must operate on trust and faith rather than knowledge and facts when one of its sub-committees conducts its business in non-public to the exclusion of other board members.

Security: Yes;  Blind Faith, NO

There is no doubt security matters must be discussed in non-public. There is also no question that these non-public meetings should not exclude other members of the board who just so happen not to be assigned to these particular sub-committees.  If other members are content to operate on blind truth, that is their constituents’ loss.  I plan to do my job and trust is a luxury for non-elected persons.

Manchester Board of School Committee also approved a Homeland Security grant, but  their board had a detailed, written accounting of everything the grant money would be spent on as well as ALL the associated grant documents AND they posted this publicly.  Manchester B of SC Agendas   (See April 18, 2016 meeting materials.)

Is TRSD so transparent it is translucent, as Dr. Metzler claims?  Really?

Why are TRSD’s audits not on public pages of our website? Why aren’t the SAU audits on the public pages of the SAU site?

 

 

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Filed under Expenditures, School Board Functioning

Policy vs. Practice

Timberlane Policy DJE

BIDDING REQUIREMENTS
The Superintendent is required to get written competitive bids on purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $10,000 or more. As a general rule, purchases of $1,000 or more per item will require at least three competitive documented quotes for the open market. All purchases made in the open market shall be consummated after careful evaluation.

In May 2014, your current board added the following: “Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review and may not need to go out to bid.”

This is the pernicious result:

To me, the most flagrant example of the mismanagement of your money is the board’s refusal to insist that all contracts go out to bid on a regular basis. Our auditing arrangement is badly in need of a change because our annual audits are regularly 8 months late and are given to the SAU instead of the school board which is the authority that nominally commissions the audit and is the responsible body for dealing with weaknesses.

 

 

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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

Another Elected Official Told Not to Trespass

One hour ago, long-time Hampstead resident and SAU critic Jorge Mesa-Tejada was served with a no trespass order from the Superintendent of the Hampstead School District, Dr. Earl Metzler.

The SAU conveniently had a press release prepared – which has not been circulated to the members of the SAU board.

Mr. Mesa-Tejada is chairman of the Hampstead Budget Committee which oversees the Hampstead School District budget in an advisory capacity. During last night’s public budget committee meeting in Hampstead, Mr. Mesa-Tejada was discussing whether or not the budget committee should recommend the school district’s warrant asking for a $4.5 million bond for school building and renovations. One of the arguments advance during a slick school building bond presentation played during the Hampstead School Board meeting a few nights ago, was that students were unsafe from harm when transfering from portables to the main school building.  Last night Mr. Mesa-Tejada ridiculed that safety concern by pointing out in more detail than necessary that the children were far more at risk on the playground than when transferring between portables. It is his ridicule, which you can see at 46 minutes into last night’s meeting, that was the superintendent’s pretext for disgracing a valued elected official and an outspoken critic.

video=bb8c5e404f68ea648cd9d1dd5e255714

Mr. Mesa-Tejada is also the lead petitioner for a citizen’s petition competing against the school district’s $4.5 million bond request. His petition asks for just $1.2 million for renovations only.

No trespass order

Hampstead School District Press Release 01 15 16

Since this is the second time Dr. Metzler has invoked police authority against an elected official who is also a critic, I have called for an emergency meeting of the SAU board. Mr. Mesa-Tejada clearly had no ill intent in mind. No fair minded person could possibly have construed his comments as a threat but only as disparaging the administration’s far fetched justification for what Mr. Mesa-Tejada considers an unnecessary expenditure.

The Hampstead School District has received a citizen’s petition to withdraw from the SAU.

The Hampstead Budget Committee voted not to recommend the school district’s bond warrant by a vote of 1 for and 4 against.

 

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Filed under Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, Withdrawing from District

School Cancellation Protocol Itself Requires Protocol

When you wake up with 8 inches of snow in your driveway, or go to bed worrying about the overnight weather, our SAU has established a list of outlets for the announcement of snow days. This list was prudently circulated yesterday by press release. This time, though, there is a new twist.

For those who want the very earliest announcement about school cancellation, follow Superintendent Metzler’s Twitter feed – not Timberlane’s Twitter feed.

The press release says in part, “Earliest announcements will be made through Twitter. Those wishing to receive Twitter announcements may do so by subscribing to Twitter; twitter.com/SuptSAU55.”

Timberlane’s Twitter address is: twitter.com/TimberlaneRSD.

I have a suggestion.  How about using my blog as the earliest announcement media location?

Clearly, we need some protocol about the protocol. Do we want employees enhancing their social media profile as part of their professional duties?

You can be sure I will never have the opportunity to bring this up at a school board meeting because the chairman has imposed a hard stop to meetings at 10:30 pm, extended only to complete the most pressing topics.  It was ostensibly imposed to end long meetings, but it was really imposed to prevent “Other Business” topics and “Reports of the School Board” which are regular agenda items now never addressed. Since the chairman will not include agenda topics from me, especially ones that might result in some direction to our superintendent, there is no way for a dissenting board member to ask for discussion of runaway advisory committee propagation, the use of press releases to inform the board of important business, the superintendent’s use of social media, and so on.  School board meetings are all for show and have no substance. And please do not think profundity is going on behind the scenes.  What you see, is what there is.

Snow Day Announcements Press Release:   SNWDYS2015-2016

 

 

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