Tag Archives: Value

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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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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Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning, Taxes

Our Bidding Policy Must Be Thrown Out

There is something seriously misguided with how we handle contracts in our district.  I only just discovered how misguided.

Our current bidding policy, changed just last year, does not require a contract, once awarded, to ever be put out to bid again. Feeling uncomfortable about our policy, I took a look at the New Hampshire School Boards Association’s recommended Bidding Policy.  My jaw nearly impaled my chest.

The School Boards Association suggested policy says this:

  • ALL contracts of $5,000 or more must be put out to competitive bid
  • All bids are to be addressed to the board (and presumably opened by the board)
  • the board approves or rejects bids
  • the district enters into the contract, which means the board signs the contract, not the superintendent.

Timberlane’s Bidding Requirements (DJE) policy say this:

  • First-time contracts of $10,000 or more must be put out to bid
  • Bids are opened by the superintendent
  • Bids are accepted or rejected by the superintendent
  • Specialized educational and related services are exempt from the bidding policy
  • Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district do not need to go out to bid.

WHAT TIMBERLANE’S POLICY DOESN’T SAY:

  • The school board shall open bids in public
  • The school board shall accept or reject bids
  • A vote of the school board shall be the sole authorizing authority on all district contracts

Our bidding policy has left everything in the hands of the superintendent and taken your elected representatives right out of the loop. Our policy also authorizes contracts for life with a single one-year contract, and don’t think that doesn’t happen. Our athletic trainer contract was not put out to bid for 28 years. (Thank you Dr. Metzler for selecting a new provider two years ago.) The FLES consultant’s contract could be the next. (See April 6th post, Mrs. Metzler’s Contract Renewed for Five Years.”.)

Almost all bids are opened without any knowledge of the board.  Many contracts are signed without any knowledge of the board as a whole and contract renewals seem to go completely unnoticed by the board for the most part. The board does not see facilities contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Terms of the recent FLES consulting contract renewal for $250,000 was not revealed to the board. In my one year on the board, I remember voting on only one contract — a one-year Public Relations consultant’s contract for $18,000.

Even major contracts, like food service, are without board overview. Here’s a quote for the June 5, 2014 minutes:   ‘Motion: Mrs. Green motioned to delay approving the Food Service contract until the contract is reviewed by the board. The motion failed for lack of a second.’

TRSD’s Purchasing Policy (DJ) says in part : “The Business Administrator will be solely responsible for the final approval of all non-educational purchases.  The Superintendent or his/her designee will approve educational purchases beyond budget limitations.”

This purchasing policy may be why facilities improvement and maintenance contracts, food service contracts, and others are not signed by the school board – leaving the board to approve educational contracts such as consultants and athletic trainers. If I think I’ve finally got it figured out, why, then, did the board approve the Public Relations contract? That isn’t educational.  Or maybe the board only ever approves first time contracts and not subsequent contracts?  Or maybe the board approves consultants while the SAU approves contractors?

Whatever the logic is that I’ve yet to discover, to my mind it is fundamentally irresponsible for the school board to not be reviewing and approving substantial contracts that bind the taxpayers to financial obligations. If nothing else, it is a check and balance on the administration. The board doesn’t even have knowledge of the bidding process or the number of bids received before a contract is awarded. Would you allow your selectmen to run your town this way?

Here is the  New Hampshire School Boards Association Recommended Language for “Bidding Requirements,” DJE. Please compare it to Timberlane’s immediately below it.

All contracts for, and purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $5,000 or more, shall be based, when feasible, on at least three competitive bids. All purchases less than $5,000 in amount may be made in the open market but shall, when possible, be based on at least three competitive quotations or prices. All purchases made in the open market shall be completed after careful pricing.

When bidding procedures are used, bids shall be advertised appropriately. Suppliers shall be invited to have their names placed on mailing lists to receive invitations to bid. When specifications are prepared, they will be mailed to all merchants and firms who have indicated an interest in bidding.

All bids must be submitted in sealed envelopes, addressed to the Board, and plainly marked with the name of the bid and the time of the bid opening. Bids shall be opened at the time specified and all bidders and other persons shall be invited to be present.

The Board reserves the right to reject any or all bids and to accept that bid which appears to be in the best interest of the District. The Board reserves the right to waive any formalities in, or reject, any or all bids or any part of any bid. Any bid may be withdrawn prior to the scheduled time for the opening of bids. Any bid received after the time and date specified shall not be considered. The Board also reserves the right to negotiate with a bidder when all bids exceed the budgeted appropriation.

The bidder to whom the award is made shall be required to enter into a written contract with the District.

Here is Timberlane’s Bidding Policy:

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.
When bidding procedures are used, bids shall be advertised appropriately. Suppliers shall be invited to have their names placed on mailing lists to receive invitations to bid. When specifications are prepared, they will be mailed to all merchants and firms who have indicated an interest in bidding.
All bids must be submitted in sealed envelopes, addressed to the Superintendent, and plainly marked with the name of the bid and the time of the bid opening. Bids shall be opened at the time specified and all bidders and other persons shall be invited to be present.
The Superintendent reserves the right to reject any or all bids and to accept that bid which appears to be in the best interest of the district. The Superintendent also reserves the right to waive any formalities in, or reject, any or all bids or any part of any bid. Any bid may be withdrawn prior to the scheduled time for the opening of bids. Any bid received after the time and date specified, shall not be considered. The Superintendent also reserves the right to negotiate with a bidder when all bids exceed the budgeted appropriation.
The bidder to whom the award is made shall be required to enter into a written contract with the district with appropriate bonding. Contractors shall be required to provide a certificate of insurance.
Specialized educational and related services are exempt from this policy when the interests of children so dictate (i.e. textbook purchases, psychological services, etc.).
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.

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Mrs. Metzler’s Contract Renewed for Five Years: Count the ways this is wrong

Mrs. Metzler’s consulting contract was renewed for 5 years and a total expense of $250,000. This renewal was “problematic” in two ways.

  • ONE:  The board did NOT vote on this contract amendment;
  • TWO:  multi-year contracts are not permitted without a vote of the legislative body – in others words, multi-year contracts must go to warrant and be approved by voters.

Sneaky doesn’t begin to describe how this contract renewal was handled.  I, a board member, didn’t even know it had been renewed until nearly five months after the fact. This is how that happened.

Realizing that the contract was up for renewal on April 1, 2015, and having heard something that suggested it was already a done deal by watching the March 5th school board meeting Vimeo,* I inquired after it at the March 19th board meeting and learned the contract had been renewed for 5 years. Then I pressed to see the contract which was subsequently released on the board’s confidential Sharepoint site. To my utter astonishment, the contract had been signed by Chairman Steenson in October 2014.

School board chairmen have no authority to sign contracts without an explicit vote of the board.

FLES contract renewal 5 yrs.

Indifference and apathy on the board and in the public allow these abuses of power to continue.

*I was absent for the last part of the March 5th meeting when Superintendent Metzler made the revealing statement.

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Tax Outlook for the 2015/16 Budget

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

We’ve noted before that a small increase in the expenditure budget leads to a disproportionate tax impact.

Going into Deliberative, we had a proposed budget increase of 0.5% – yes, one half of one percent.  But the documents published by the administration at deliberative show an overall school tax increase of 2.3%, with some significant differences by town:

  • Atkinson – 2%
  • Danville – 3.9%
  • Plaistow – 2.6%
  • Sandown – 1.3%

These were “optimistic” numbers, which depend on the district delivering on the $1.9 million surplus stated in the revenue budget.

But we know that the district is planning to spend at least part of that surplus:

  • Transformer replacement at the middle school – $300,000 to $500,000
  • Sandown North sprinkler system – $260,000
  • Warrant Article 3 – capital reserve contribution if passed will be funded out of the surplus – $250,000

Lower surplus means more must be collected from taxes.

At deliberative, the budget was increased by $250,000.  At the election in March, the voters will likely approve Warrant Article 6 for the Timberlane Support Staff collective agreement – $97,783.

With these changes, the budget will be $68,071,710, up 1.1% from this year.  The amount to be gathered in taxes will be up 3.1%.

This is almost the same as the default budget of $68,160,616, which is still higher than the likely budget but by only $90,000.

Here’s my forecast from December of the tax impacts of the (then) proposed budget.  The range of impacts for the default budget is a good forecast of what we will likely face in December.

Tax Impact Summary Table

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Expenditures, Taxes

Trumpeting Dropout Rates

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

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

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

Dropout Rate Comparison Table

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

Dropout Rate Comparison Chart

Observations:

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

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

Words Which Must Be Silenced

Guest Contribution by Arthur Green

At Timberlane Deliberative on Thursday night, supporters of the administration insisted that the body invest one hour in order to prevent my ten minute presentation. The moderator had previously agreed to give me 15 minutes to make a  presentation on the budget.  Twenty-six hours before deliberative, I received notification to cut this to 10 minutes.  Due to an orchestrated motion from the floor, I was ultimately allowed 3 minutes, which I had to respond to on the fly.

Here is the 10-minute presentation – my speaking notes interspersed with the slides I had prepared.

Presentation for Timberlane Deliberative Feb 5

 

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Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee, Taxes