Tuesday, March 10, 2020

$50M Middle School Bond Passes!

The middle school passed on the first try with 76% voting YES, greatly exceeding the required 60%.  I had been pessimistic -- I need to remember that facebook isn't the actual world.  Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to persuade the voters.

Otherwise there were no surprises.  Congratulations to Denise Day and Michael Williams on their reelection to the board, Denise for her third three year term.

462 folks (15%) are so ornery or so clueless they voted to raise their own taxes 1.5% by voting NO on the school district budget.  Of course YES won so there is no consequence to their vote.

We had historic district turnout, with 3274 ORCSD ballots cast overall.  The last time over 3000 was that great day back in 2012 at 3106.  We got 1600 last year, 1100 the snowy year before that, 1800 before that.  Please see the end of this post for a summary of the last nine years of ORCSD voting.

There's no separation of the results by town. 1627 folks voted in Durham, 1220 in Lee and a rumored 400 in Madbury, probably more like 3274-1627-1220=427 assuming everyone turned in a ballot. I usually expect the pizza to have 7 slices, Durham:Lee:Madbury = 4:2:1 = 57%:29%:14%. We got 1627:1220:427, about 4:3:1 or 50%:37%:13%.  So turnout was up most in Lee.

Lee Results: The Town Center in Lee failed, getting 46% of the vote, falling short of the 60% needed. Write-in candidate Jon Moss gathered 14% of the votes for selectman, losing to incumbent Scott Bugbee.  Congratulations, Scott.  Tom Coakley was elected Library Trustee with 37 write-in votes.  Congratulations Tom.  Everything else passed, including infrared cameras, radios, zoning rules, Parish House...

Here are the unofficial ORCSD election results, thanks to Todd Selig (percentages are from me).

ARTICLE 1:  Moderator

Richard Laughton - 2684      ELECTED

ARTICLE 2:   School Board at Large (Vote for not more than two)

Denise Day         - 2488   ELECTED
Michael Williams - 2387   ELECTED


Shall the District raise and appropriate the sum of $49,847,732 (gross budget) to construct and equip a new middle school on the site of the current Oyster River Middle School, including new athletic fields and demolition of the Oyster River Middle School, (the "Project")...(3/5 Ballot vote required)

YES - 2467   76.0%  PASSED
NO    - 778    24.0%


Shall the District raise and appropriate as an operating budget, totaling $47,538,867...

YES - 2720  85.5%  PASSED
NO    - 462   14.5%


Shall the District vote to approve within the provisions of New Hampshire RSA 273-A:3
the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Oyster River Teachers Guild and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:  FY21 $627K, FY22 $772K, FY23 $701K, FY24 $702K, FY25 $709K...

YES - 2635  82.3%  PASSED
NO   -  568  17.7%

ORCSD Election History

I've compiled this from the election reports I've written since I started paying attention in 2012.  The '>' means I don't have a turnout number reported for that year so I used the maximum number of voters of any article.  There's usually around a 2% undervote so a better estimate would be to add 2% to those numbers.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Middle School Vote this Tuesday March 10

Election Day is this Tuesday March 10. 

I usually write an election guide; let's call this it. It's municipal voting day in NH on Tuesday; vote at your usual town polling place.  Last year's guide has details. Lee used Mast Way for the recent presidential primary but on March 10 the polling place is back to the usual Lee Safety Complex. It's a regular election; it's best to bring state ID and, if you need to register, proof of address like a utility bill, but if you're willing to swear an affidavit you can get by without even those.
Ballot from minutes,
click to enlarge

Here's a brief guide; please see here for more detail.  The ballot has five questions, called warrant articles. The first two elect people as described in the next section.   Article 3 asks the voters for a $50M bond for a middle school and requires a 60% YES vote to pass.  Article 4 is the district budget, asking to spend $47.5M to run the schools.  If NO wins on that one, the budget actually goes up $700K more to $48.2M, so vote YES.  Article 5 is the five year teacher contract; claimed to be a three percent annual raise in exchange for health care concessions.

I'm definitely voting YES on the Middle School; we need the school and interest rates are absurdly low right now.  In fact I'm voting YES on everything.

The district kept the budget very tight this year so that the new school and new five year teacher contract all fall within the district's usual 3.25% tax impact goal.  The expected tax rise if all the warrant articles pass, including the middle school, teachers contract and district budget, is 0.3% in Lee, 2.0% in Madbury and 3.2% in Durham.  [This only refers to the local school tax line of your tax bill.]

[EDIT: Lee voters, please write in Tom Coakley for Library Trustee as well as voting for Deborah Schanda.  I believe this is two candidates for two slots but I can't find a sample ballot with the names on it anywhere.]

Articles 1 and 2: Denise Day and Michael Williams Likely to Be Reelected to School Board

Article 1 elects the moderator; I assume only Rick Laughton is running because he's the only one who ever runs.  Congratulations Rick.

Article 2 elects two school board members to three year terms.  This year only serving members Michael Williams and Vice Chair Denise Day are running so they'll both be reelected, not much excitement there.  Congratulations Denise and Michael and thank you for your continued service.

The superintendent and board cancelled Candidates' Night because the candidates were running unopposed.  I objected -- as often the only public attendee besides the PTO rep, my only problems with Candidates' Night were the lack of gluten-free snacks and the curiously disappearing video record.  I would always ask a question about suicide to get the party started.   

In its wake, the district has posted YouTube videos of the candidates.  Here they are; they're up to 5 and 2 views respectively.

Moderating Candidates' Night is/was the main responsibility of the District Clerk, which is a paid position ($400/year for now even less work) usually given to a former school board member.  It's been ably held for many years by William Leslie, who recently announced his retirement as District Clerk.  Thanks Bill for all your service.  I'm not sure if there's video of Bill moderating Candidates' Night with Margaret Redhouse; that one's worth digging out of the archives.  

I have no idea how the district fills the District Clerk job.  The newly elected school board confirms the appointment.  David Taylor, this job's for you!

Budget Unchanged in Well-Attended Deliberative Session

The district's plan to get attendance up at the DS went pretty well.  They had a free community dinner and free concert before the DS.  The concert was great, but that didn't stop most of the folks who attended from leaving right after.  I tried to talk a few into staying for the DS to no avail. Still about 125 voters attended DS, much better than the 50 or so the last few years. (Please click here for video of the DS.)

Jesse Morrell was the recipient of this year's ORCSD Distinguished Service award, presented by Denise Day.  I've known Jesse since I was first welcomed into CSDC fifteen years ago by her son Joe, who was then CSDC's unofficial ambassador though not yet three years old. While I've been griping all these years, Jesse's been volunteering in the district, especially around athletics, and Joe grew into a ORHS senior basketball star. Congratulations Jesse, this is a very well-deserved award.

There was some excitement right after Jesse's award when the superintendent fell off his chair.  Probably due to the preceding concert, the district set up temporary staging for the board table in front of the actual stage.  The staging had various gaps where the panels came together and the leg of the superintendent's chair went through one.  He was a bit bruised but ultimately fine.  The fall and its aftermath were not captured on the official video; we need to talk to Alexander about his directorial choices. I said the accident could have been avoided if we only were in a recital hall with the stage at floor level, which is of course part of the plan for the new middle school.

There was another drawn out pitch for the new middle school, which I suppose was inevitable.  About the only controversy at the DS were the three questions I asked.  I intended them all to be softballs too.  The district whiffed all three at DS, though they have since recovered on the first.  I'll talk about them in separate sections.

Five Year Middle School Finance Plan

As I mentioned, the district kept the budget very tight this year in an effort to get the school passed.  It looks like a regular budget year, total impact kept within 3.25%, not a year where a giant new expense was added. If passed, bond payments will consume six or seven percent of the ORCSD budget.

I've been going to school board meetings, so I believe there's actually a plan to keep it this way for the next five years; to totally incorporate the new school into the usual budget increases.  The plan mostly bridges the next three years; after three years the high school bond is paid off and that money is freed up to help carry the middle school (It's about 30% of the new bond payment).   It's a combination of some creative financing (interest only first year), some drawing on existing trust funds, some delaying of capital projects, retirement incentives and some genuine belt tightening.  They didn't mention this multi-year plan at all when they presented the budget at DS so I asked.

Instead of talking about this plan, Chairman Newkirk punted.  He said next year would be difficult (yes, they have to come up with a million dollars or so) and started going on about a committee.  I had been telling you folks that the district had a plan to keep the tax increases down, and here the chair wouldn't even say that in public.  I was a bit shaken; like I said I thought the question was a softball.

The superintendent straightened it out at the next board meeting.  He reiterated the plan.  He confirmed that next year will be the hardest. Overall there are no guarantees that the plan will be executed as the current board cannot bind the decisions of future boards.  But I believe I'm correct in telling you the middle school bond budget is not intended to be a one year bait-and-switch with taxes shooting up next year.  There is a plan to keep all increases over the next few years within the usual 3.25% goal, at which point the district will have absorbed the now constant bond payments (probably around $2.7M) into the usual operating budget.

Three Percent Raise for the Teachers Guild

The warrant shows the aggregate raise for the teachers for the next five years, ranging from $627K to $772K a year.  The superintendent rather offhandedly said this was a 3% raise.  I searched the budget but couldn't find the total spending on the guild members (that's the teachers' union).  So I asked at the DS "3% of what?"  Business Administrator Caswell replied $16 million, of which $772K is 5% not 3% as I pointed out at the podium.  Sue offered we had to add 25% to reflect benefits, which brings the first year raise to 700/(16000*1.25) = 3.5%.  Close but something's not adding up.

They don't seem to know the total spending on the guild, so saying the raise is 3% of it is at best an estimate.  My pet peeve is when someone makes up some numbers and then presents them to me as fact.

Motion to Restrict the Article from Reconsideration

After the voters voted to move each article to the warrant, member Brian Cisneros moved to restrict the article from reconsideration.  This was new; it hadn't happened in the eight or so previous DSs that I'd paid attention to.  After the last time, near the end of the meeting, I asked why.  Member Cisneros withdrew the motion instead of answering.

The reason for these motions is to avoid the scenario where the Deliberative Session runs long, most folks leave before the end, and the few folks left reopen the articles and redo all the votes the way they want.  That hasn't happened during my time, but I suppose you can never be too careful. It didn't seem particularly warranted (ha!) for the last article, which was the one I questioned.

ORCSD Informs the Citizenry About the New Middle School

The superintendent reported they did over 120 information sessions for the new school, presenting the plan at gatherings from small house parties to big community events. The district itself is not allowed to advocate; presumably they only informed.

All this week through Monday before election day the district continues to give tours to demonstrate how awful the current middle school building is.  Informational only, of course.  All the stuff they used to cover up on parent's day are now the big stops on the tour.  I'm guessing broken HVAC, rusty pipes, leaky sewage, the worse the better.  There's still this afternoon and Monday left; I really want to find the time.

Corona Virus May Disrupt Official and Unofficial Field Trips in April and May

At the last board meeting there was a long discussion of issues around the Corona virus.  The district is making preparations to handle local cases.  There's already been a staff member returning from Italy who's been asked to quarantine.  In order to discourage sick workers from coming in so they get paid, the board gave the superintendent permission to continue to pay hourly workers asked to voluntarily quarantine and to not consume sick days for such a quarantine.

The superintendent was greatly concerned with pending field trips in April and May.  The high school Studio Orchestra is sending 40 kids (including my daughter) to New York City to play at Lincoln Center among other things, quite an honor.  That's an official field trip, run by Mr. LaForce, which the district can choose to cancel as conditions warrant.

That's in contrast to the unofficial field trips planned.   These are international travel, including the string orchestra going to England, students volunteering in Tanzania (again including my daughter) and I think a trip to France as well.  These are trips organized by an ORCSD teacher, but not officially run by the school district.  I'm not sure but I don't believe the board approves these like a regular field trip, though they are generally kept informed.

The decisions whether these unofficial trips are cancelled are in the hands of tour companies or travel agencies.  The district doesn't make that decision.  The London trip requires a large group; it would only take a few parents pulling out their children to cause the entire trip to be cancelled.

There was concern about whether the parents would get their money back under various scenarios.  The superintendent claims that they were very up front with the parents that these were not official district trips.  Each trip came with travel insurance offered (but not required) so reimbursement will depend on the fine print of the various policies if the parents availed themselves of the insurance.

I personally have no idea if I was offered and if I bought travel insurance for the Tanzania trip -- gotta look into that.

Mast Way Principal Search Nearing its End

The district has narrowed the field to two candidates for principal of Mast Way.  One of them is current acting principal Misty Lowe; the outside candidate was unnamed, at least at the board meeting.  There's a plan for a meet & greet and question session with each candidate for parents after school at Mast Way.  The event is this Monday, March 9, 4-6 at Mast Way.

ORYA Corrects Misstatements Without Admission

The ORYA saga continues.  This time the issue is scheduling field time.  The district approved a new policy detailing the procedure.  In order to give preference to groups with ORCSD students the policy requires the groups submit a roster with the name and address of the athletes along with their application. 

The story, as I gather from the discussion at the board table, is that the rosters were due on a certain date and ORYA failed to turn theirs in.   The athletic director gave them a poke and few more weeks but still no roster.  He then allocated to field time according to policy, generally favoring Maximum Velocity, a group that fully complied with the procedure.  This apparently resulted in an email or two from ORYA unfairly blaming ORCSD for their poor schedule.  I haven't seen these; it would be great if somebody out there please posts a copy as a comment.

The superintendent met with the executive director and president of ORYA to try to get things back on track.  At the superintendent's request, ORYA drafted a letter to their athletes and parents stating what a wonderful and mutually beneficial relationship they have with ORCSD.  Board Member Klein points out that the letter fails to address the actual mischaracterizations in the emails.  The superintendent said he didn't ask ORYA to do that.

A few people have been asking about the letter I drafted to the Lee Select Board about ORYA.  I wrote it on facebook group Neighbor Lee, which not everyone in the district can access.  Here it is; I haven't actually sent it to the board yet.

Dear Lee Select Board,

It has come to my attention that the Town of Lee favors ORYA, the Oyster River Youth Association, over other similar youth associations operating in the region. ORYA is a non-profit corporation with over six hundred thousand do
llars of annual revenue, including a direct cash grant from the Town of Lee. Additionally, ORYA enjoys free and preferred use of Town of Lee fields. Other youth associations in the area, such as Seacoast United and Maximum Velocity FC, do not receive a subsidy and actually pay to use our facilities.

To my knowledge, none of the youth associations besides ORYA is roiled in a national scandal involving a coach plotting to injure one of the child athletes in his care. There are further questions involving brazenly large salaries and expenses at ORYA which were to be resolved by a public audit that seems to have occurred but for which the report does not appear to be publicly available.

I think in the interest of fairness, and frankly liability, the Town of Lee must not favor a disgraced youth association over all the others. I urge a parity in which the town funds no youth organizations and allows each access to town facilities under identical terms.

I could conceivably support a plan where the money formerly allocated to ORYA was used to directly subsidize the child athletes of Lee when joining a qualified youth association of their choosing.

Very truly yours,
Dean Rubine, Lee NH

I suppose that's enough for this news dump.  See everybody at the polls on Tuesday.  I'm urging everyone to please vote YES on the new middle school!

Monday, February 3, 2020

First Annual Oyster River Deliberative Dinner Party, Tuesday Feb 4, 5pm, ORHS

Dinner and Music before the Deliberative Session

I'll see everybody at the high school cafeteria at 5 pm Tuesday February 4, which hopefully will be today or tomorrow by the time you read this.   This year the district is making a concerted effort (quite literally) to get folks to attend the Deliberative Session.  Here's the schedule:

5 pm  FREE spaghetti dinner (RSVP requested, not required)
6 pm  Concert by the ORMS Jazz Band and the ORHS Studio Orchestra
7 pm  Deliberative Session, a real election, free child care available

(My daughter is in the high school band and she was surprised I knew about her gig before she did.  That's just one example of the useful information that goes by at a school board meeting.)

The school district operates under what I think is called "SB 2", a form of government in which our election is divided into two parts. Tuesday Feb 4 is the the first part, the Deliberative Session, which is the vestige of the traditional Town Meeting.  A majority of district voters present may amend the warrant articles, which are the ballot questions.  On March 10 we have the second part, election day, where the eligible citizens of the district get to vote YES or NO on each question.

For serious voters in the district the Deliberative Session will be the first of five or six elections this year.  There's the presidential primary next week on February 11 (teachers' workshop day at school), municipal elections on March 10, state primary on September 8, the general election on November 3, and some of the towns have their own Deliberative Session.

 The district generally wants the warrant not to be amended at DS.  Lately only around 50 people have been showing up at ORCSD DS, which means 25 of them can rewrite the school budget and seriously screw up next year's plans.  I'm not sure if the district's attempt at getting more folks to vote at DS helps that; we'll see tomorrow I guess.

Really the only possible amendments at DS this year are to screw around with the middle school bond, effectively tanking the middle school for this cycle even before the March vote, and to add or subtract to the general budget of the school. The recommended school budget we're to approve is already $700,000 below the default budget (what we get if NO wins) so it's hard to see anyone amending this.

I hope and predict the warrant will survive DS unamended.  The school district wants you to participate and has arranged dinner and a show for you beforehand.  I've unofficially called it The Annual Oyster River Deliberative Dinner Party. If it works out this will be the first of many.  Hope to see everybody there.

Please check out my last post for more information about this year's warrant and deliberative session.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

ORCSD asks voters to spend $97.4 million, taxes rise 0.3% to 3.2%

District asks voters to spend almost $100 million next year

[Edit: Board member Williams tells me the middle school money will be spent over two years.]

The public hearing on the ORCSD budget and middle school bond was last Wednesday, January 15. The warrant has three major articles: the middle school project, the teacher's guild contract and the operating budget for the next school year, FY21.

The warrant is subject to amendment at Deliberative Session on Tuesday February 4, 7pm ORHS, and to approval by the voters on municipal election day, Tuesday March 10, 2020 at your town's polling place.  You'll already know where it is and be registered if you vote in the presidential primary on February 11.

Article 3 is the 25 year middle school bond, principal $49.85M, call it $50M.  There's some creative financing going on as the district is asking for $625K for the first year's debt service.  The level debt plan they chose (constant interest+principal payment, like a typical mortgage) would have a typical annual cost of $2.6M (at 2.15%) but there have been moves to keep the debt service from growing too fast.  The high school bond is paid off in the 23-24 school year and I think our share of the service on that is about 35% of the expected service on the middle school bond.  The government aid on the high school bond is not available for the middle school bond.  Article 3 requires a 60% supermajority to pass.

Article 5 is the teachers' contract, asking for collective raises of $627K in FY21, $772K in FY22 and about $700K in each of the following three years.  It seems like this is a five year contract -- I thought the usual practice was a three year contract so I need to check up on this. [Edit:  Yes, this is the first five year contract.]  I think I heard the superintendent say this was a 3% raise, which would be historically large, in exchange for concessions on health care, namely an optional high-deductible plan.  I'd check the percentage myself but I couldn't find the denominator, the total spent on guild members.  If $772K is 3% that implies the guild is $27M out of $48M, 56% of the budget.

I'm always on the lookout for a meeting or a show to attend, so I accidentally wandered into a guild meeting in the ORHS auditorium, maybe the day before the first day of school in late August. They ushered me out about the time I realized what it was. Sorry about that, teachers' guild.

Article 4 is the usual budget, asking voters for $47.5M.  The default budget, what we get if NO wins, is $700K higher.  So this budget should pass easily.  Do the usual naysayers vote NO in this case?  Only the ones who can't understand the question as written or the truly ornery, I suppose. The board kept things tight this year, and plans to for the next few years, so the middle school won't cause a large tax spike, just the usual annoying 3.25%. It's out of the board's control how the increase is spread among the towns.

The expected tax rise if all the warrant articles pass, including the middle school, teachers contract and district budget, is 0.3% in Lee (a 7 cent predicted increase on the millage), 2.0% in Madbury (+44 cents)  and 3.2% in Durham (+57 cents).  This doesn't account for the new assessments which come out in October.  I believe Durham expanded its tax base last year so I expect the millage will not increase quite as much as predicted here, though the lack of an asterisk gives me pause.

Middle School Marketing Continues

The new middle school project has a great web page full of all sorts of information on the project.  According to the superintendent the district itself isn't allowed to campaign for the new school directly.  The superintendent has been attending informational dinners hosted by Oyster River residents where he presents the plan, presumably without any cajoling.

There's been a citizen committee formed, Go Vote ORMS, which will directly advocate.  I've been too busy to join but I do get their emails.  They seem like they're doing great stuff.  Around town I personally haven't really noticed much.  Presumably their efforts will become more visible as the voting date approaches.

The $50M bond doesn't include the $800K spent this year on planning, mainly with architectural firm Lavallee Brensinger.  Everyone understands that getting 60% of the voters to agree on the bond is a challenge, so much of the effort involves bringing the public along.  There are a series of pretty postcards on various aspects of the project.  The architects have also produced video fly-through animations, which are much easier to digest than architectural drawings. The people in the video are all frozen in place like statues. They're fine, just a bit shocked by the price tag.

Like everybody else I'd prefer not to pay for a new school, but it does seem like the old middle has outlived its useful life. It's a shame that the newer parts of the old building can't be repurposed (the gym area was built in 1996), say as a Durham Community Center, but space and safety considerations have nixed that idea.  

There doesn't seem to be anything to be gained by waiting, as maintenance costs on the old building and construction costs on the new one will only increase.  Currently municipal bond interest rates are really low, the most recent issues at 2.15%. I suppose we could try to hold out for some federal or state building aid, but there's no particular reason to believe any of that is forthcoming anytime soon. So I strongly believe a YES vote on March 10, 2020 is in the best interests of the district and its taxpayers.

Deliberative Session Tuesday February 4, 7 pm at ORHS

The Deliberate Session is February 4th, 7pm in the ORHS auditorium.  I can't emphasize enough that this is a real election. A majority of voters at the Deliberative Session can amend the existing warrant articles (also known as the ballot questions). The voters then vote on the amended articles on March 11th.

You must be eligible to vote in one of the three towns to be given a voting card at the DS. Sometimes but not always there's been same-day registration at the DS. So if you can legally vote in any of the three towns (i.e. you're a US citizen at least 18 who lives in the district) you can show up at the DS, (maybe) register if needed, and vote. It's best to show ID (and proof of address like a utility bill if you need to register), but if you're willing to sign an affidavit you don't have to.  

You might want to register to vote now if you want to participate.  Many of you will want to vote in the presidential primary on February 11 anyway.  Same day registration will definitely be available in the primary, but it's best to avoid the long line by registering ahead of time.

Hardly anyone shows up at DS, usually between 50 and 120 voters. So you and your majority of 25 may rewrite the budget. Or stop it from being rewritten. A few years ago the football question got mangled at Deliberative Session which complicated the discussion the following year. 

The law says warrant articles cannot be amended to eliminate the subject matter.  For a long time the accepted rule was that the wording on ballot questions could not be changed at DS, only certain dollar amounts. But a court ruling a few years ago now allows for broader changes.  It's usually just as easy to change dollar amounts for the same effect, potentially avoiding legal challenge.  For example if the middle school bond amount is amended to $50,000 instead of $50,000,000 that effectively kills the middle school project for this year because passed or not, a school can't be built for $50,000.

There are certain parts of the warrant prescribed by law (including the default budget and negotiated contracts) which cannot be amended at DS.  So besides the middle school bond, only the district operating budget may be amended.  Since it's already $700K below the default budget, it's not clear what amendment to make.  If some anti-tax folks successfully lower it even further, there would probably be a campaign to get the voters to support the district by voting NO.  We'd be taxed an extra $700K but the district probably would stick to its plan and that $700K wouldn't be spent, ending up in the year end fund balance and returned to the taxpayers the next year, in the form of a lower tax bill.

Unlike the past few years, I won't be traveling and I'll be able to attend DS this year.  See everybody there!  

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Issues Simmer as 18/19 School Year Ends

Wednesday was the last day of school and the last school board meeting of an eventful school year. Let's catch up on the news.

Principal Carrie Vaich Resigns

Letter to Mast Way Families
Mast Way Principal Carrie Vaich announced last month she would resign at the end of the school year. The announcement came as a shock to many in the community.  

The news made me sad as I'm sure it did many Mast Way families. I was fortunate to be part of the parent interviews when we hired Carrie back in 2012 after Kris Gallo moved on. Thank you Carrie for all you've done for us here in Oyster River. We wish you well in your future endeavors.

Carrie's accomplishments at Mast Way include full day K,  a new elementary math curriculum and successful completion of the construction, among many others.

The timing was unusual.  Typically these announcements are made earlier in the school year to allow the district to participate in the normal leisurely hiring cycle leading to a summer onset of work to prepare for fall.  It appears no explanations were given, no future plans announced.

The superintendent got approval from the board for a process that quickly appoints an interim principal from within for next year while searching for a permanent replacement.  At the June 5 board meeting he announced Misty Lowecurrently ORHS Assistant Director of Special Education, would be interim principal at Mast Way for  the 19/20 school year.  Misty started her career as a paraprofessional in the district so she's truly worked her way up from the bottom.  Congratulations and best wishes Principal Lowe.

Jay Richard, NH Middle School Principal of the Year

Congratulations to ORMS Principal Jay Richard, who was awarded 2019 NH Middle School Principal of the Year.  (FostersPress Release page 4).  The award was bestowed by the New Hampshire Association of School Principals Leadership Academy.  Jay was honored at the New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards (The EDies) in Manchester on June 8.  The party honor continues June 26 to 28 at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort in Bretton Woods at NHASPLA's Leadership Academy.

I was lucky to be coaching Mathcounts the day Jay got his cake. Though nominally for staff only, I'd like to thank the assistant principal for giving the last of the cake to my students.

ORMS Teachers to Swap Grades

At the April 17th meeting Principal Richard announced a plan to the board in which next year 15 of 40 middle school teachers will change the grade they teach. The board seemed a bit miffed with the Principal of the Year for springing this on them at this late date.  Some teachers and parents echoed the sentiment, in particular bemoaning the loss of Mr. Grove's annual civil war reenactment with the 8th grade Odyssey team.

The plan is for at least one teacher per grade (on each team? not sure) to remain at their current grade for continuity.  There is some dispute as to whether the actual assignments reflected this for every grade.  

The justification was to "encourage a culture of collaboration" as suggested by the soon-to-expire strategic plan.  In particular one goal is to get veteran staff to work with staff newly hired over the last few years. 

One thing I noticed rewatching the clip is Principal Richard said he was ready to implement last year.  He also said 5 of the 15 had requested the grade change and the remaining 10 moves were the result of his assignments.  Chairman Newkirk wanted to be sure these teachers being forced to change grades, to develop all new curriculum in five months, will have the support they need.  The board as a whole was pretty shocked to be first hearing of such a major change two years after the planning begun and two weeks after the teacher assignments went out. 

Parents Push Back on High School Competency Grading
Strategic Plan draft summary

The old strategic plan has run its course and it's time for a new one.  A group of folks, mostly concerned parents (Oyster River Competency-Based Education facebook page) successfully rallied the board to clarify its goals for Competency Based Education (CBE) in high school, included as part of the new strategic plan. The initial draft of the strategic plan made it seem like the high school was inevitably headed down the same path as the middle school, which has switched entirely to a Competency Based Reporting (CBR) system.  Feelings toward ORMS CBR among parents seem to range from confusion to loathing. 

The parents focused on drawing a distinction between Competency Based Education, which is an initiative imposed at the high school level by the state, and Competency Based Reporting, which is not required at any level. The board pretty much heeded the parents' demands, modifying the offending language from the strategic plan and leaving something vague in its wake.

Algebra I Competencies
Many of the parents are experienced with the new middle school report cards, where the A,B,C,D,F system of letter grades was recently changed to Competency Based Reporting.  The idea is to judge around ten listed competencies per class, assigning to each B, P, M, or E, which refers to Beginning, Progressing, Meets and Exemplary.  We've gone from a system of well understood letter grades to a system where the various levels can't agree on their part of speech. Parents are justifiably concerned about this spreading to high school, where it matters.

At the school board meeting tonight the superintendent announced two committees dedicated to the questions around CBE and CBR.  One was the administration doing work over the summer in preparation for a committee with broad community membership to evaluate CBE and CBR over the next school year.  The board approved the community committee 6-1, with member Williams voting no, perhaps because it seemed like something fishy was going on. 

$49 Million Bond for New Middle School

The district is in full middle school development and sales mode.  Many school board meetings this school year have started with a presentation from Ron Lamarre, architect from Lavallee Brensinger. All the presentations are available on the district's excellent Proposed NEW Middle School website.  Topics include vision and timeline, traffic and parking, site plan, floor plan, sustainability and safety. 

School fatalities in perspective
Last Wednesday's presentation was a fascinating talk about designing for safety.  While everyone is concerned with active shooter scenarios, Mr. Lamarre had a slide indicating the main cause of fatalities at schools by a large margin is traffic incidents. (Though the goofy "11 times safer" claim makes me doubt his competency.)  He presented a plan where the part of Dennison Rd. that's now the middle school parking lot becomes two way, as does Garrison Rd. in front of the (current) building and there's a car loop to the new entrance and a separate bus loop on Coe Drive.  Member Rotner pushed back pretty hard on this aspect of the design.  He lives near the corner of Baghdad and Dennison so he's had a front row seat to observe the traffic problems at the middle school for many years.

Option 1 for Middle School Financing
At the June 5 school board meeting the superintendent presented several financing options, all variations on a 25 year, $49 million loan at 4.25%. The latter is conservative; interest rates for this sort of thing are running around 3%.  There's no state or federal aid expected. The $49M does not include the $800K already appropriated for planning.

The various financing plans work out to between $29M to $34M in interest.  (The interest would be about 3/4 that amount at current rates.)  The loan service works out to about $3M per year for 25 years, which is a budget increase (on our current $47M budget) of 6.7%.

I've been reporting incorrectly that the high school renovation bond would be paid off in this new school year, FY20.  It's more like FY23 for the last payment. That loan has a decreasing payment which takes around $750K annually from the taxpayers on top of $500K of government aid.  So paying off the HS bond frees up about 1.6% of the budget, so the increase to the budget to build the middle school is more like 5% after FY23.

The district is exploring some creative financing (starting page 70 in the minutes).  I don't want to go into too much detail about plans that will probably change, but the idea is to use the regular capital budget to partly offset the bond payments so the taxpayers see about a 1.25% annual increase for new school that takes four years to get to the point where the 5% debt service is coming from its own line in the annual appropriation.  During the ramp up the lower priority capital projects in the other schools will be kicked down the road.  The net effect is that we fit the new school into the budget but taxpayers only see more of the typical 3.5% annual budget increases of late without a shock to the tax impact out the outset. 

The community gets to vote on all this on election day in March, 2020.

Superintendent Planning To Retire

Superintendent Morse announced he plans to retire and wanted the district to prepare for the transition.  I think he said he was 64 years old.  He proposed a plan where the district would do a year-long search for a replacement and then have a transition year where there were two superintendents, one in training.  I don't think the intention was to begin the search until fall 2020, so under this plan Dr. Morse would get his cake in June 2022.  

Chairman Newkirk noted that one of the controversies during his first election was about paying two superintendents at the same time. He also pointed out that the high caliber talent we hope to hire might not be all that keen to be assistant superintendent for a year.

One to One Computer Plan extended to 9th grade

This past school year the district initiated its one to one computer model by giving each middle school student a laptop. That's every student in grades 5 through 8.  The board approved a plan to lease laptops for 9th graders this year. One of the goals in the new strategic plan is to extend the model to the entire high school over the next five years.  I thought I remembered a report on how the program was going.  I can't find it in the minutes, but I do recall it was a positive report.

The 238 new laptops are Dell Latitude 3190 2 in 1s, leased for four years at $428 a pop.  That's basically the purchase price; the leasing is just a way of doing the financing of four payments of $26.5K a year.  The quote annoyingly doesn't give configuration details so it's hard to know if this is a good deal.

IT Director Josh Olstad has been working with other district IT directors around the state drafting our new Data and Privacy Governance Plan (Policy EHAB).  The policy, newly required by the state, is relatively brief, but it's based on a very comprehensive 50 page report in these minutes.

In addition to laptops the IT department provides iPads, desktops, projectors, networks and whatever else is needed to keep our district running at a high tech level, so thank Josh and the rest of the crew when you see them.

World Language Survey Announced

A group of parents is trying to get foreign language instruction into the lower grades. They have a facebook group, ORCSD K-12 World Languages. I think it's been frustrating to them as the topic has been on the agenda a couple of times only to be pushed back due to too much other business. Assistant Principal Todd Allen and ORMS Principal Jay Richard finally got to present their plan at the last board meeting.

The buzzword is proficiency.  The idea is that students actually graduate high school proficient in a language. This past year the world language department expanded their program to the sixth grade. The new strategic plan has language to expand the program throughout middle school. 

For the upcoming year Principal Richard has made arrangements to continue Chinese instruction to ten incoming fifth graders who were getting private instruction.  The instruction would occur three times per week during Bobcat time, starting in October.

Language at the elementary school remains a topic of debate. While of course babies learn their language when immersed, some research shows that classroom learning of language requires a certain maturity.
Draft World
Language Survey

Todd presented a draft of K-4 world language parent survey (starts page 15 in the minutes) for board approval. Some board members thought the survey didn't present the tradeoffs -- would you support world language at the expense of shorter recess, that kind of thing. Todd said he didn't want the survey itself to bias the answers.

One interesting thing to come out of the discussion was it turns out our elementary students have one of the shortest school days in the state. The time for world languages can be found simply by adding ten minutes to the school day.

The survey was produced by a committee of teachers, parents and administrators that is charged with making a recommendation to the board in the fall.  Due to the delays getting the issue before the board the survey won't be administered until the fall.

8th Graders Visit DC, High Schoolers Visit China

China or DC?
I was lucky to go with 115 eighth graders to DC this year.  We had an excellent time.  I got a new appreciation for how hard our teachers and administrators work. While I was there my daughter was in China with the band and some Chinese language students, a total of 52 students.

Mt. Vernon

Niche.com ranks Oyster River highly

The 2019 Niche.com results ranked Madbury as the second best place to live in New Hampshire and Lee as the third best place.  You'll have to move to Hanover for the best place, or to Durham for #7.  Sure its got the college and restaurants, but it's no Lee!  That's all out of 254 possible places to live in NH.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Budget Passes, Rotner and Newkirk Reelected

March 12, 2019 ORCSD Election results

Congratulations to reelected school board Chair Tom Newkirk and reelected school board member Kenny Rotner. 

The school budget passed 67.5% to 32.5%.  Here's some history for perspective:
Percent YES     2015: 60.8%,   2016: 69%,   2017: 85%,   2018: 74%,   2019: 67.5%. 

 Congratulations to the district and the board.

ORESPA, secretaries and custodians, got their annual 2.5% raise for the next three years by a vote of 76.4% to 23.6%.  That's a noticeably better margin than for the budget.

In Lee, everyone was elected and everything passed except the Town Center, which got 336 YES (43%) and 442 NO (57%), far from the 60% needed for passage.  The citizen anti-nuclear weapon petition passed 481 YES (65%) to 258 NO (35%).

SCHOOL DISTRICT UNOFFICIAL RESULTS (Durham, Lee, and Madbury Combined Ballots from all three precincts.)

[Thanks to Todd Selig for these detailed results.  Percentages are my calculations.]

For Moderator (Vote for not more than one)
Richard Laughton - Approx. 1300.  ELECTED 

School Board at Large (Vote for not more than two)
Thomas Newkirk - 1277    ELECTED
Kenneth Rotner - 1189      ELECTED

Shall the District raise and appropriate as an operating budget, not including appropriations by special warrant article and other appropriations voted separately, the amount set forth on the budget posted with the warrant or as amended by vote of the first session, for the purposes set forth therein, totaling $47,405,510. Should this article be defeated, the operating budget shall be $46,850,794 (Default Budget) which is the same as last year with certain adjustments required by previous action of the District or by law; or the District may hold one special meeting in accordance with RSA 40:13, X, and XVI to take up the issue of the revised operating budget only. The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

Fund 10 = $45,940,460 (regular operating budget); Fund 21 = $824,050 (expenditures from food service revenues); Fund 22 = $600,000 (expenditures from federal/special revenues); Fund 23 = $41,000 (expenditures from pass through funds).

YES - 1047   67.5%
NO - 504      32.5%

Shall the District vote to approve within the provisions of New Hampshire RSA 273-A:3 the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:

2019-2020    $41,378

and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $41,378 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, such sum representing the additional costs attributable to the increases in salaries and benefits required by the new agreement over those that would be paid at current staffing levels? The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

YES - 1192 76.4%
NO - 368     23.6%

Total ORCSD votes cast today:  1600