Tag Archives: Transparency

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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Filed under Expenditures, Sandown 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

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

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

Listen to my Supreme Court case live: UPDATE

Jan.8, 2016 UPDATE:

The court’s live streaming was not functioning yesterday.  So sorry for the frustration this caused.  A clerk at the court has assured me the video and audio recording from the trial will be available before the end of day today. I will post it on my blog the minute I learn it is available.

Please stay tuned!  The proceedings were fascinating and gave me enormous optimism.


 

Want to hear my Right-to-Know case being argued in New Hampshire’s Supreme Court tomorrow?  The Supreme Court live streams the oral arguments from their website, http://www.courts.state.nh.us/index.htm

Scroll to the bottom of the page and in the middle you will see the symbol for the Supreme Court which looks like the Parthenon. Clicking on that will bring you to the audio and video archives as well as another symbol of the court.  Clicking on the symbol will take you to live streaming of arguments.

Green v. SAU 55 et al will be argued around 1:30 PM January 7, 2016 and is scheduled to last approximately 30 minutes.

The video and audio archive of the arguments should be loaded to the site within 24 hours. I’ll link to it on this blog when it becomes available.

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Filed under Right to Know issues, SAU 55 Issues

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

Proliferation of Superintendent Advisory Committees at TRSD

The Superintendent has announced the latest Advisory Committee, this one for athletic facilities and program improvements.

The announcement  says: “Meet on a monthly basis beginning June 2015. Copies of meeting agendas and minutes shall be provided to the Superintendent.”

This, of course, suggests yet again that these meetings and its associated documents and minutes will not be subject to the Right to Know law – a completely untenable legal position for which the district has provided no written legal opinion.

Although motivated by good intentions and a laudable desire to address outstanding issues, it is abetting the subversion of the law for elected officials who are sworn to uphold the law to participate in these advisory committees when they conduct business outside of RSA 91-A.  Here are your elected officials who are members:

  • Lee Dube
  • Dennis Heffernan
  • Jack Sapia
  • Sue Sherman
  • Greg Spero

I expect these representatives to insist that all their meetings and documents be fully compliant with RSA 91-A. If the committee as a whole agrees otherwise, these elected officials should resign out of respect for the law and their constituents’ rights.

The announcement: ATHLETIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP

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