Friday, February 12, 2016

Co-op Football, Maybe; Co-op Girls Hockey, Maybe Not

Coop Football

It was an unusually crowded school board meeting Wednesday, with about 15 people showing up mostly to support the proposed cooperative agreement which lets ORHS students play football for the Portsmouth High School team.  The two-year agreement to form a Portsmouth/Oyster-River Division 1 cooperative football team hosted by Portsmouth has already been approved by the Portsmouth school board.  Former board member Krista Butts and Coach Willie Ouellette were among the public commenters urging the board to approve the agreement.

Once passed by the board, the plan has to be submitted to the NH Interscholastic Athletic Association for approval, which takes a year, so this agreement covers only one year of play, commencing fall 2017.  To continue, the program must be renewed by both boards (and reapproved by NHIAA, which goes faster).  Portsmouth has already said it would prefer to play in Division 2, so would not renew if its enrollment falls enough to allow this.  It seemed the sense of the Oyster River board that they would not renew if the program caused significant Title IX violations.

The discussion echoed the discussion from several years ago.  Several board members expressed their intention to vote for the agreement with the reservation that their support was not an endorsement of football at Oyster River, but rather a stepping back and allowing parents to make to the choice for their own children.  In the end the board requested improvements to the agreement, explicitly adding that Portsmouth would be the agent of the funds (so Oyster River would not be involved with the money), and also to explicitly indicate the players were covered by Portsmouth's liability insurance, not Oyster River's.

Besides the agreement and the safety concerns, the discussion at the table revolved around Title IX and cost.  Football would technically be a club sport at Oyster River, with the direct cost of $1000 per player borne by the player's family.  (AD Parker has said he would find private funding for families that could not afford the fee.)  But there are indirect costs because Title IX requires us to maintain equal participation of boys and girls in sports.

We are currently at parity, with boys and girls participating in athletics in exact proportion to their numbers.  We often hear 72% of ORHS students do athletics, so back of the envelope that works to around 500 kids.  Title IX can tolerate a 3% disparity, which I think means if 3% of 250 = 8 net new athlete boys playing football with no other changes, we're out of compliance.  We would be forced to find new girl athletes, possibly with the expense of an added sport to attract them.  Crew was suggested though there's no particular reason to think that would attract more girls than boys.  Girls would be welcome on the football team, and any that join would help alleviate Title IX pressures.

I'm for approval.  My main concern is when the agreement ends, there will be pressure to field our own team at Oyster River, with all the concerns about costs, safety, and Title IX still present.

Coop Girls Ice Hockey

A separate but related issue is the formation of a cooperative girls ice hockey team with Portsmouth High, to be hosted by Oyster River.  This one was more controversial, with one speaker in favor and one against.  The main issue is there's some indication that Oyster River on its own will be able to support a team of 16 to 20 players.    The worry was that taking Portsmouth girls as well would lessen the opportunities for Oyster River girls.  I think our athletic director said about five Portsmouth girls have expressed interest.  The hockey coach was in favor of the agreement, relating the difficulties of fielding a team with a rather small roster.  If approved, the coop team could begin play as soon as next season.  The board directed AD Parker to gather more information about the various girls hockey programs so the board can make a better informed decision.

There's time pressure to get these agreements passed before the NHIAA process pushes opening day back even more, so I expect the board will vote on both of these at the next meeting.

There's not much other news. ranked Oyster River as the third best school district in NH, behind Hanover and Bedford.  ORCSD school board Candidate's Night is this Tuesday, February 16. Maybe we'll finally meet the mysterious Margaret Redhouse, who has filed to run but has so far not appeared.  The other two contenders for the two at-large board seats are existing member Kenny Rotner and current chairman Tom Newkirk.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Budget Unchanged in Short Deliberative Session

The Deliberative Session last night left the warrant unchanged.  Turnout was very light: about 60 people were in the room, about 45 of them voters.  No amendments were proposed.  It was over in 70 minutes.

Election day is Tuesday, March 8, 2016.  We vote for a moderator (always Richard Laughton), two school board members, and YES or NO on the six questions.  (There are also the local town elections.)

The Deliberative Session began with the Distinguished Service Award being awarded to Cyd Scarano.   I could only jot down a few of Ms. Scarano's district projects from a very long list: Moharimet maple sugaring, Mast Way nature trails, girls soccer coach, green team leader, and on and on.  Congratulations. 

Next,  a board member presented each article.  It started with Al Howland presenting Article 3, the field bond.

As usual, the lion's share of the attention was directed toward this one, the $1.5M bond for the $2.2M field.  Nobody proposed any amendments, but five or six people felt compelled to tell us how great having a field would be and how smart we'd all become.  Nobody spoke against. Bob Barth read a long letter about how he was against the field article last year and he's for it now.  That's one.  135 more switches at we're at 60%.  No problem.

They keep telling us how we're going to save a few thousand in field rental fees, and another few thousand in buses, and make thousands in rental fees paid to us and save on pesticides and another few thousand here and there.  If it generously adds up to $20,000 for a $2M field, that's a 100 year payback time, which I wouldn't be bragging about.  That's not even counting the actual maintenance costs.  The field's a toy that if we want for our kids we're gonna have to pay for - this cost savings spin is just part of the sales job.

Article 4, the ORESPA contract, moved without discussion.  Nobody confused the year on year increases in the article with individual secretary salaries, as happens sometimes.

Article 5, selling the 25 acres, provoked some comment.  I think it was John Parsons who reminded the board that the voters already gave them the authority to sell the land some 8 years ago, so why bother with the article?  I had no idea about 8 years ago and I don't think anyone at the table did either.  But a quick thinking member, I think Kenny Rotner who was presenting, said the article was needed not only to give the board the authority to sell, but to direct the proceeds into the Facilities Development Capital Reserve Fund.  Touché.   I wasn't really sure whether this fund already exists, but Business Director Caswell confirmed yes, and it has $42K in its account.

Article 6 is the transferring $500,000 of the fund balance into the newly resurrected Facilities Development Capital Reserve Fund.  They're giving this song and dance about how the board can use the money for HVAC and boilers.  Two articles and not a single word about the field.  I got up and asked if this fund could be used to build the field, and the superintendent straightforwardly answered yes.   I asked if there was an intent to repeat article 6 next year, and he said the board had not discussed it.  I asked wouldn't it be better if the field was mentioned in the article explanation, and he agreed that would have been better.

The irony is that all the attention will be focused on getting article 3 passed, with the difficult 60% hurdle, when passing article 5 and 6 with an easy 50% vote gets us halfway to a field, unless they unluckily need a few boilers in a hurry.  Do it again next year and we're there or very near.  I don't know if it's good or bad that people won't know that they could probably get their field in a couple of years by voting YES on articles 5 and 6.   The district has a pretty solid history of passing reserve fund articles no matter what they say.

Article 7, the maximum $2,000 technology fund for underprivileged students, moved without comment.  I was tempted to ask if the $2,000 had any legal force being in the explanation not the article, but I'd been annoying enough up to that point so I let it go.

Article 8 was the big $42.3M budget.  The board really kept it pretty tight this year, with a 3% cap on "tax impact".  (I was gratified that the board adopted my ideas of including all the recommended articles and the revenue in the budget goal this year.)  This is apparent in the difference between the default budget (what you get if NO wins, mandated by law as honoring existing contracts but no other increases) and the operating budget (what you get if YES wins) being under $60,000 (a minuscule 0.15% of $42M).

Health insurance gave them a double whammy, first losing next year's "Premium Holiday" LGC lawsuit payout of $400,000 and then receiving budget guidance of a "guaranteed maximum" premium increase of 16.8%, $600,000.  They sorta blamed the staff's increased use of healthcare as the driver of the rise, which may be true but I thought was rude. Anyway, despite these hits, the board managed to squeeze in Full Day K and a field and a half, and still stay under 3%.   I thought they did a very good job in a difficult year and I told them so.

There was a discussion of why the 3% turns into a slightly larger number in your local school millage, with Chairman Newkirk citing the change in fund balance revenue and me proposing that it's because the state funding of 2/9 of our budget stayed flat, so the 3% is spread over only 7/9.  

Perhaps the low turnout shows no one's too outraged.  I keep waiting for the anti-tax folks to appear.

If school board candidate Margaret Redhouse was present, she did not make herself known.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Deliberative Session this Wednesday, 7pm

Full Day Kindergarten Starts Fall 2016

In some news I inadvertently left out of the last roundup, the board has put full day Kindergarten into the budget for next year.  They presented these slides at a forum on January 12 (video). Please encourage parents of incoming Kindergartners to register early, as once Moharimet enrolls 54, subsequent students will attend Mast Way no matter where they live.  Registration is at your local elementary school from 9-2:30 March 7 to 11, going to 6 pm March 9.  I didn't see them yet, but check the district website for forms you can fill out ahead of time.  Bring proof of residency (utility bill) and a birth certificate for the student.  

The district put its usual disingenuous spin on the cost, saying that there was no increased staffing because they're "reassigning" upper grade staff.  In other words, people who would have been laid off or had their hours cut, saving the district money, are instead still fully employed.  That's great for them, but it's hardly free for the district taxpayers.  Since the plan is part of the big operating budget (warrant article 8, raise and appropriate $42.3M) the voters don't get a chance to register their support for full day K directly, which I think is regrettable.

The district saved some money by eliminating noontime bus transportation.  Parents that want a half day option can pick up their child at noontime, but there's no guarantee that those students will get their full complement of "specials" (gym, art, music, computer lab, ...).  

Three People File to Run for Schoolboard

As expected, current Chairman Tom Newkirk and current member Kenny Rotner both filed to run for another three year term as at-large members of the ORCSD board.  There are two seats up this year, and a third person has also filed to run.  It's Margaret Redhouse of Lee.

I don't know Ms. Redhouse, but a quick google search reveals she's a long time district resident who's had several children go through the district schools, UNH and onto successful careers.  I was terribly sorry to see a sad pair of obituaries from March 2013, wherein her mother and husband died within several days of each other.  She's a niece of local landowner Daniel Harvey.  In 2005, she sued Lee to get her assessment lowered but lost.

I don't recall ever meeting or hearing from Margaret Redhouse at a regular schoolboard meeting.  I'm sure we'll get to know her shortly.  Maybe she'll even introduce herself at Wednesday's Deliberative session.  I wish her good luck in the upcoming race.

Deliberative Session Wednesday

This Wednesday night is the Oyster River Cooperative School District Deliberative Session. As usual, it's 7pm in the ORHS auditorium.  It's a real election where hardly anyone shows up, usually between 100 and 120 voters.  So you and your majority of 60 can rewrite the budget.  Or stop it from being rewritten.

A majority of voters at the Deliberative Session can amend the existing warrant articles (also known as the ballot questions). You must be eligible to vote in one of the three towns to be given a voting card at the DS. Lately 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, 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 you don't have to.

The voters at the DS get to amend each warrant article, but the articles themselves aren't approved or rejected until election day, Tuesday March 8, 2016.  Usually we get two or three thousand March voters.

There are arcane and ambiguous rules about what the voters can and cannot change at the Deliberative Session.   In practice, the only thing the voters can change is certain of the dollar amounts.  Negotiated contracts and the default budget are determined beforehand and cannot be amended at the DS.

Click these insets to see the full ballot.  Let's look at the articles one at a time.

Articles 1 and 2 elect the moderator and two school board members.  Neither is amendable at the Deliberative Session.  As mentioned above, current members Tom Newkirk and Kenny Rotner and newcomer Margaret Redhouse of Lee have filed to run for the board.

Article 3 asks the district to appropriate (authorize the spending of) $1.9M to build the track and field.   It asks the voters to approve a $1.5M bond to partly fund the project, and gather's the remaining money from this year's fund balance, previous fundraising, and existing reserve funds.  State law says bond measures require a 60% supermajority to pass.  We've tried similar bonds four times previously, and each time the vote exceeded 50% but failed to reach 60%.  I'm dubious but hopeful this time around.

I look at this article as a sad ending to what started out as such a hopeful budget season.  There were plans to scrape together the money to build the field by delaying other capital improvements, selling some land the district owns and deploying the proceeds of the LGC/Healthtrust lawsuit.   At one point the article was going to ask the voters for a one-time appropriation of a couple of hundred thousand dollars and no bond, so would require only 50% to pass.  But then this year's lawsuit "premium holiday" failed to materialize, and then we were given budget guidance that our health care premiums would rise a "guaranteed maximum" of 16.8%.  Now they probably won't rise that much, but we budget in accordance with this guaranteed maximum.  Thus the bond.

The voters are free to modify the various amounts in the article at Deliberative Session.  I haven't heard of anyone with plans to try to amend this or any other warrant article this year.

The "environmentally friendly fill" is a product called EPDM whose main qualification is that it's as close to the properties of crumb rubber without actually being ground up tires.  My initial reaction was skepticism, but the product got the nod from vociferous crumb-rubber opponent Dr. Bob Barth, so it's probably OK.

Article 4 ratifies the ORESPA contract.  The board and ORESPA, the custodians and secretaries union, agreed to a first-year raise of 1.5%, second year 2.25% and third year 2.5%.  Negotiated contracts cannot be modified at Deliberative Session.

Article 5 authorizes the district to sell its 25-acre lot on Orchard Drive in Durham.  At one point it was hoped this donated property could be used as the site of a new school or another district facility, but a review revealed that the actual parcel was unsuitable for any proposed district use.  The article asks the taxpayers to shift up to $500,000 of the proceeds (it probably won't sell for near that much) to the Facilities Development Capital Reserve Fund.  Originally the land sale was discussed as a funding source for the field; the Reserve Fund allows the money to be put to the field or other capital use.   At Deliberative Session the voters are allowed to amend this by changing the $500,000 amount.  If you lowered it below the sale price, the difference would end up as fund balance and returned to the taxpayers.

Article 6 asks the voters to dedicate up to $500,000 of this year's fund balance to the Facilities Development Capital Reserve Fund.  The fund balance is the budgeted money that's left unspent at the end of the fiscal year.  Traditionally, it's returned to the taxpayers every year, where it goes toward lowering next year's taxes.  But in the last few years the board has viewed it more as a piggy bank to spend while they have the chance, rather than give it back.  Here they're asking it to go in a fund that will likely pay it toward the field.  This article is the sad remnant of the original idea of asking the voters to approve the field with a simple 50% majority.  At Deliberative Session the voters can change the $500,000 if they choose.

There's nothing magical about using the fund balance to pay for things.  It's a marketing breakthrough. The taxpayers pay for all extra spending.

Article 7 establishes a technology fund for underprivileged students.  A nice idea, apparently to be funded with equipment sales not to exceed $2,000.  At that limit, it's probably not going to help all that many students that much, but it's a good idea that we can get started.  Voters at the Deliberative Session can increase the proposed initial appropriation of $1.  I'm not sure if voters can modify the $2,000 in the explanation, or if that explanation has any real force.

Article 8 is the big appropriation, $42.3M to fund schools.   At the DS, the voters are free to modify any of the budget numbers (except the default budget, what we nominally get if "NO" wins in March).

Last year the big appropriation was $40.8M, so we're looking at an increase of 3.7%.   This isn't really the right way to measure the year on year increase, but it's easy to calculate.  The right way is to look at the increases on the MS-26 form:

We can see the operating budget rose from 3.7% like we just calculated.  The Special Warrant section is a bit complicated; it includes the appropriation for the field, which didn't pass last year, and probably won't this year either.  Last year's field appropriation was $2,037K, this year it's $1,922K. Removing those gives Special Warrant Rec Current Year $200,000, Enusing Year  $1,000,000.  I think the latter comes from the $500,000 in article 5 and the $500,000 in article 6.

The total appropriation excluding the field went from $41.2M to $43.3M, a 5% increase.  The aforementioned million (2.5%) isn't really spent, so in actuality this is a bit lower than it seems.  The money is raised, but it's stashed in funds.

The surprising thing is an extra $1.9M in revenue.  Only $336K of the revenue is a real increase; it's the amount of additional tuition we get as additional Barrington students come to ORHS in accordance with our contract.  The rest of the difference comes from counting transfers from reserve funds as revenue.  I think there's something fishy going on -- in estimated revenues for the current year we seem to be counting the field bond that failed to pass, which doesn't seem correct.  On the previous page it lists total estimated revenue at $3.885M; how that became $6.171M here is a mystery.  We seem to be drawing on reserve funds to mitigate the tax increase, at the same time we're attempting to raise taxes to fill other reserve funds.

Anyway, the bottom line shows a tax impact of $28.8M/$28.3M = 1.8%.  Adjusting to remove the field changes this to 26.9/26.3 = 2.3%.

As I stated in my last post, I had thought that Madbury's interim calculation of a 6% millage increase was the result of its assessments being lowered 3.6%, which would increase its millage 1.6% and it lower its taxes 2.0%.  It will, but not till next year -- it turns out older valuations are used to set the tax rates.  Madbury's increase, according to business administrator Caswell, was largely the result of an increasing proportion of students from Madbury.  The board went back and cut the budget a bit more to reduce that increase.

Useful Things to Know for Deliberative Sessions

Here's your reward for reading this far, and also for procrastinating on reading it long enough for me to add this section.

The articles are taken one at a time.   An assigned board member reads the article, then says "I move article X". Other board members second.  The assigned member continues the presentation for a few minutes.  Then the moderator opens up the floor.  At this point, voters lined up at the podium get to propose amendments.  They can also ask clarifying questions, and actually get an answer from the board or administration.

Sometimes the voters don't get the idea that they're there to amend the ballot.   I suggest if you go up to the podium to make a speech, include either "I propose we amend the article by changing the amount to $XXXX" or "I support/oppose the amendment under consideration."  If there's no amendment under consideration and you don't want to propose one, save your speech and let's get on to the next article.

Lots of people feel compelled to speak for or against the article.   The deliberative session is a good place to air the debate, but it's better if there's something you don't like about the article that you propose to amend.

If the speeches drag on, you or any voter can move to "call the question."  This means ending the debate and voting on the amendment (or if there's no amendment, to vote to put this article on the ballot as is and move on to the next article).  If there's a second, the moderator will ask people who are for calling the question to show their cards, and then against, and eyeball it. A 2/3 supermajority is required to call the question.   If it's close it can take a long time to count those cards.  At that point you should say "I withdraw my motion" because it's going to be quicker and more interesting to let the speeches continue than a tedious count on this 2/3.

I can't see why anyone would care this year, but once an amendment under consideration is about to be voted on, you can request a secret ballot.  You need to give the moderator a written request with five signatures of voters.  If you request a secret ballot before there's an amendment under consideration, you're going to look silly.  If you request one while people are still lined up to speak, the moderator will ask if you're calling the question, and if you say yes we get into all that 2/3 nonsense.

When there's no one left to speak or the question is called, we vote on the amendment, if any.  Then we vote to "move the article' which appears to mean putting the article on the ballot and moving to the next question.  I'm not sure what happens if there are no more amendments but we vote not to move on.  Maybe we just sit for a minute and vote again.  Anyway, my recollection is this is the procedure.

By the way, if you wanted to get your own article on the ballot, all it requires is the signature of 25 district voters.  I'm not sure when the deadline was, but I know it's too late for this ballot.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Football's Back

It's been quite a while since I've posted, so I thought a bunch of brief news items would be appropriate.

Football's Back

At tonight's board meeting, Athletic Director Corey Parker presented a proposal to form a cooperative football team with Portsmouth High School.  Portsmouth already has a Division 1 football team, and they're looking for some more players to fill it out.  If both boards approve the co-op, Oyster River High students can start playing football at Portsmouth in fall 2017.   The cost is expected to be around $1000 per player.  It is expected that the players' families will bear the cost, aided by boosters, without cost to the school district.

There was a second co-op proposed with Portsmouth for girls ice hockey.  This one would be hosted by us, with Portsmouth students joining the existing Oyster River program.  It's possible this one could get going in late 2016.    We expect 4 to 8 players from Portsmouth on top of the 12 existing Oyster River players.  Board member Farwell was concerned that with 8 skaters expected from the middle school that Oyster River girls would be cut.  Athletic Director Parker stated that 20-22 was an optimal team size and he thought that it would be unlikely to be exceeded with the addition of Portsmouth girls.

The proposals seem to me to be an acceptable way to provide football to interested Oyster River students without all the problems that came up when a football program was floated a few years ago.  The football co-op may not last long -- it needs to be reapproved every two years, and Portsmouth has already said that it would rather play Division 2 football, and if its enrollment fell to the allowable level, it would end the coop and enter Division 2.  An ORYA coach named something like Willie Willette said that even a few years of football is better than none.

The board will probably take action at the next meeting, and I suspect both proposals will be approved.

Congratulations ORHS Principal Michael McCann

With Todd Allen's promotion to Assistant Superintendent, Dean of Students Mike McCann has been promoted to acting principal of ORHS.  Congratulations to Mr. McCann.

This is a temporary appointment.  The district is doing a search and expects to have a permanent replacement by next fall.

Athletic Director Parker will take on the additional responsibilities of Dean of Students.  An intern has been promoted to the paid position of Assistant Athletic Director to free up some time for Director Parker.  This leads to the surprising equation:

<Assistant Superintendent> - <High School Principal> = <Assistant Athletic Director>

Who knew?

Budget Ready, Deliberative Session Wednesday, February 3.

The warrant detailing the FY17 budget was presented at the Budget Hearing last week.  It has now been signed off by the board.  The public gets a chance to amend the warrant articles at the Deliberative session 2/3/16.

Last year the voters appropriated $41.2M.  Excepting the field bond, if the voters approved everything else the total appropriated would be $43.4M, an increase of 5.3%.  The district is expecting extra revenue that brings the "tax impact" as they call it under 3%.  Part of the revenue is a transfer from reserve funds.   I haven't been able to precisely reproduce the district's calculation, but I'll keep trying.

I'll write a guide to the deliberative session soon, so I won't belabor the budget here.

Field Bond Redux

The warrant includes a $1.5M bond to fund the $2.2M field.  It needs a 60% vote to pass.   I want it to pass, but given that very similar bonds have failed to pass four times previously, I'm not optimistic.

For a brief time, the board was going with a plan to fund the field with a single appropriation instead of a bond.  This would have only required 50% to pass, a level achieved the last four times.  Most of the money was to be scrounged from an expected health insurance discount, various reserve funds and by delaying capital expenses.

That would have worked great, but two unexpected health insurance shocks made short work of that plan.  First the expected premium holiday of $400,000 did not materialize.  Then we were told to expect a maximum premium increase of 16.8%.  The money was no longer available for the field, so the bond is back.

Later ORMS and ORHS Start Times considered

The board received the result of a small staff survey on various options to start middle school and high school later.  Option A had ORMS/ORHS at 8:35-3:30 and MW/Moh 9:45-4:10.  Option B had ORMS/ORHS 8:45-3:40 and MW/Moh 7:45-2:10.  Option C was A or B, don't care which.  Option D was not to change anything.  Of the 70 respondents, 56% chose A, B, or C while 44% chose D.  Not really overwhelming, but OK.

The board didn't seem happy with A or B and tasked the superintendent to come up with more options.  The administration seemed to prefer an implementation date of fall 2017, but board member Klein was urging we aim for fall 2016.

The superintendent is gathering information so the board can choose among the options the best ones to present to the public.  There is a board workshop on this issue scheduled for 6 pm February 8.

Madbury Valuation

A surprising number of people appear to have read my unadvertised piece on apportionment.  The main issue I was trying to track down was why Madbury's millage going up 6%.  I called Madbury and found out their recent revaluation will lower the equalized town value by 3.6%.  I calculated that all else equal, this will result in a tax decrease of 2% and a millage increase of 1.6% for Madbury.

But Business Administrator Caswell told me tonight that the changes in valuation don't take effect immediately, and that the apportionment is done using the previous year's valuation.  Administrator Caswell says the Madbury increase was due to an increase in the proportion of students attending Oyster River from Madbury.

The board cut the budget after the Madbury millage estimate came out.  The details are in the new MS-26 form which came out today, so I'll look into all that when I get a chance and report back.

That's enough of a roundup for now.  Stay tuned for a guide to the upcoming Deliberative Session.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Truth About Apportionment

[I'll add more here when I get some data but I wanted to get this out before the holiday.]

Imagine three married couples went out to eat and split the check the following way:  The husbands split half the bill in proportion to the assessment on their respective houses.  The wives split half the bill in proportion to the number of school children they have.  Then the state gives each couple a different amount of help depending on how poor they are and how many kids they have.  Whatever's left is what each couple has to pay.

It's a crazy way to split the check.  But if you substitute "town" for "couple" and "equalized valuation for the town" for "assessment on a house" and "number of students enrolled from the town" for "number of children" that's how we pay for schools.  That's apportionment in the Oyster River Cooperative School District.  The basic agreement that makes the cooperative work is this apportionment formula to divide up the bill. It's half by town valuation, half by number of students per town, with the state aid then subtracted by town.

Apportionment is a touchy topic, guaranteed to tick everyone off.  Everybody thinks their town is getting shafted by the apportionment agreement.  I'm not going to get into whether it's fair to split the bill this way.  The coop's going to be around for a while and the apportionment formula is unlikely to change so it's occasionally worth learning about. My plan for keeping emotions calm is to make this pretty dry.  Warning: partial derivatives ahead.

The reason to bring this up now is that Business Administrator Caswell calculated that Madbury's local school tax millage will increase 6% if the current budget goes forward (3% operating increase).  The school board is all in a tizzy now about poor Madbury.

I'm going to descend into math soon, but before I do let me summarize the main conclusion.  The upshot of it is that at least part of Madbury's big increase is that they had some sort of audit and lowered their total valuation.  Considered in isolation, this will have the effect of lowering Madbury's local school tax, as half the bill is allocated in proportion to their valuation.

Nonetheless Madbury's millage will increase, since their decreasing amount of taxes is divided by an even faster decreasing total valuation.  But even though their millage is going up, their taxes are going down and the taxes of Lee and Durham have to go up to compensate.  So don't feel sorry for Madbury.  But don't feel that smug either -- I believe since 2010 Lee and Durham have both lowered their assessments as well, though I thought I saw Lee had gone back up again. Madbury's perhaps just a bit late to the party.

OK, the nice stories about dining out are over and we're going to look at the formulas.  You might want to skip to the Results section at the end.

Apportionment Formulas

There's going to be a fair amount of definition and math, but it pays off in the end.  I'm going to try to minimize notation, so it's going to be a bit terse.  You may have to refer back to the definitions to know what the variables are.  In general I'll use small letters for variables for individual towns (so there are three instances of each small variable, one for each town) and caps for variables that refer to the district as a whole.

The apportionment formula is

t = (s+a) B/2 - w


t is the tax, the local property tax in dollars to be divided among property owners in a given town

s is the share of students enrolled from the town
    s = <number of students from the town> / <total number of students in the district>
    s_Lee + s_Durham + s_Madbury = 1

I think s is calculated from the October 1 attendance numbers, so you can help your town's taxpayers out by keeping your kids home that day.  That's probably a bad idea. I think previously I recommended you send your sick kid to school that day as state aid is partly determined by the number of students that do show up.

a is the share of (equalized) assessed valuations from the town
   a = <equalized valuation of town> / <total valuation of district>
   a_Lee + a_Durham + a_Madbury = 1

Let's define v and V

v =  <equalized valuation of town>

V = <total valuation of district> = v_Lee + v_Durham + v_Madbury

So a = v/V

B is the budget,
   B = <total appropriations> - <non-state revenue>
   B is the gross amount to apportion among the towns.  The local school property tax collected from owners and the state aid to towns all add up to B.   B is essentially the tax impact in the budget goal.

w is the state aid to the town in dollars (w for town).

The formula t = (s+a) B/2 - w is pretty simple.  Each town's share of B is the percentage p

p = (s+a)/2

That says that each town's share of the total bill is the average of its share of the students and its share of the property value.  The bill is divided before each town's state aid w is subtracted, and the net is the tax t to be divided among town property owners.

You can view s as the capitalist component - each town splits half in proportion to its student share, a lot like paying tuition for those students.  The socialist component is a - the towns splits that half in proportion to its real estate valuation.  Of course within a town the bill in split among property owners in proportion to real estate values, so even s is socialist.

You could imagine the coop funded by a district-wide property tax, with the district as a fully united entity with the budget funded by a property tax proportional to assessed value irregardless of town.  The other option has the district billing the towns in proportion to the students from each town, like tuition.  Our district is a fifty-fifty compromise among these two.  Then the state gets to put its hand on the scales.

Since the total tax t is divided among the total town valuation v, the millage m is

m = t/v

There may be a detail about equalizing the valuations across towns that I'm leaving out here.  Other things I'm not sure about include how the state aid is calculated and why the state tax rate differs between towns.

After apportionment, you can look at the pie two ways, with and without the state.

Let's call f the fraction of the budget B each town's local school property tax really pays.  Then

f = t/B

f_Lee + f_Durham + f_Madbury won't add up to one because the state aid has been subtracted out.  If you set f_state = sum(w)/B, then the four of them would add up to one.  It's a pretty good approximation to think of f as a nine slice pizza pie, with Madbury getting one slice, Lee and the state two slices each, and four for Durham.

Without the state it's a seven slice pie, Madbury, Lee, Durham forming the geometric sequence 1, 2, 4.

Putting our equations together, we can write t, a town's total local school property tax to be collected, a few different ways:

t = mv = fB = (s+a) B/2 - w = (s +v/V) B/2 - w = pB - w

Sensitivity Analysis

The apportionment formulas take as inputs:

 B, the budget to be apportioned
 s, the share of students per town
 v, the total valuation of each town
 w, the state aid to each town

The formulas output:

t, the local school property tax collected and paid by each town
m, the millage rate for dividing t among property owners in the town

What we're interested in here is how the outputs tax and millage change with each of the inputs.  Let's focus on the percentage change in the output for each percentage change in the input.  The share of students s is already a percentage, so for that one we have a percentage of a percentage.  A 1% change means the number of students in a town goes up 1%.   Technically, they're not new students moving into the district but just changes within the district, but that's a detail that doesn't matter much.

At this point most sane people would make a spreadsheet and play with the inputs to see how the outputs change.  That's what I did.   Scroll to the end to see the spreadsheet.

But I also did the somewhat less sane step of treating the whole thing as a physics problem.  What we want to know is how each output changes when you change one input a little bit and hold all the other ones constant.  Let's determine the factors such as %t/%B, which when multiplied by a given percentage change in B tells you the percentage change in t. 

Let Δx be a small raw change in x.  Then the percentage change %x = Δx/x.  For small Δx we can approximate the change in the dependent Δy = (y/x) Δx.   For ease in typing, from now on I'll write the partial derivative using d as in dy/dx.    I'll also use a space after a fraction to indicate multiplication by the fraction; without the space it's multiplying the denominator.  I'll also indicate x squared as x^2. 

We're interested in sensitivity factors of the form %y/%x, the number you'd multiply the percentage change in x to get the percent change in y, keeping all other inputs constant.  Using the partial derivative we compute:

%y/%x = (Δy/y)/(Δx/x) = x/y Δy/Δx ≈ x/y dy/dx.

Let's start with how the percentage tax increases with each percent increase in the budget B, %t/%B.  

t = pB - w 

dt/dB = p

%t/%B = B/t dt/dB = Bp/t = p/f

This says a one percent change in the budget leads to a p/f percent change in the town tax.   f  is smaller than p because of the state aid, so p/f works out to 1.2 for Durham and 1.4 for Lee and Madbury.  I suppose I should pause here and emphasize that these are significantly larger than one. The more (relative) state aid the town gets, the bigger the magnification.   It's not so bad because it's offset by the state aid.  It's exactly offset (meaning the effective factor is one) by increases in w as far as they go, but only that far.  Once the budget percentage increases beyond the that of state aid, the taxpayers feel the brunt of the full p/f ratio, and that hits harder in the towns with proportionally more aid (Lee and Madbury).

The millage rate changes percentage-wise by the same p/f factor.  To see this, write

m = t/v = (p/v)B - w/v

dm/dB = p/v

%m/%B =B/m dm/dB = Bp/mv = p/f

The last part comes from t=mv=fB.

There's no difference between the sensitivity factors (sometimes called "loads") on total tax and millage for all of the input except v.  This is because when the valuations stay constant, all the changes in the tax paid are reflected in the millage.  Since changing v changes the tax base, the millage and tax factors change differently when changing v.

As the issue at hand is Madbury lowering its valuation, let's do %t/%v and %m/%v (the hard case).

t = (s + v/V) B/2 - w

Useful math facts:       d(v/(v+k))/dv = k/(v+k)^2                   d(1/(v+k))/dv = -1/(v+k)^2

Big V is the sum of the v we're interested in and the other two town's v's. Let k = V-v the sum of the total valuation of the other two towns, treated as constant in this partial derivative.

dt/dv = B/2 (V-v) /V^2

%t/%v = v/t dt/dv = v/t B/2 (V-v)/V^2 = vB/2tV (1-v/V) = a(1-a)/2f

The load a(1-a)/2f  gives the percentage tax increase for each percent change in v.  It ranges from .3 in Durham to almost .6 in Madbury.  It's positive, which means by lowering v a town reduces its taxes t.

It's an odd-looking factor. a(1-a) is the fraction of the valuation from the given town times the fraction of the valuation of the other two towns combined. It's maximized when a=1/2, which Durham comes pretty close to. But the f in the denominator is the fraction of the budget the town pays, which is also maximum for Durham. The f wins out, so Durham's factor is smaller than Lee's and Madbury's.

Now let's look at the most difficult case, how the millage changes with valuation.

m = t/v = [(s + v/V) B/2 - w]/v = (sB/2 - w)/v + B/2V

dm/dv = (w - sB/2)/v^2 - B/2V^2

Here we're looking at a percentage change in a millage which is already a kind of percentage, but that seems to be how people look at it.  It usually makes sense as the millage is proportional to your property tax when the assessments stay constant.

%m/%v = v/m dm/dv = v/m [  (w - sB/2)/v^2 - B/2V^2 ]
             =  w/mv - sB/2mv - vB/2mV^2 
             = w/t - sB/2t - vB/2mV^2

Each one percent change in a town's valuation changes the millage by the complicated factor above. Let's meditate on the terms a bit.

The first term w/t is the relative contribution of the state compared to the local taxpayers for a town's portion of the local school tax.  It's around .4 for Madbury and Lee and .2 for Durham. The more the state kicks in, relatively speaking, the more a town benefits by lowering its valuation.

The next term, -sB/2t is the ratio of sB/2, the amount the town pays because of its student share, and t, the town tax after state aid.  You'd expect the student share to be more than half of t but less than all of t, and indeed this part comes in at -.5 for Durham, -.7 for Madbury and -.8 for Lee.  The negative sign means that the more students the more the millage decreases when assessments go up.

The last term -vB/2mV^2 is pretty wacky.  v/V is a so we have aB/2mV.  aB/2 is the money the town owes due to its share of property value.  That's oddly compared to mV, which is the given town's millage applied to all the property in the district, so is approximately sum(mv)=sum(t)=B-sum(w), the total local property tax collected in the district (the budget less the state aid).  That's adjusted up or down depending on whether the given town's millage is above or below average.  The term comes in with a negative sign, coming in at -.2 for Lee, -.4 for Durham and -.1 for Madbury.

Actually what I should have done is what I did below, eliminate m by substituting t/v.

-vB/2mV^2 = -B/2t v^2/V^2 = -B/2t a^2

which is perhaps slightly more sensible.

Adding it all up, we get the factor of percentage change in millage for each percent change in town valuation as -.6 for Lee, -.7 for Durham and -.4 for Madbury.  The negative sign means for 10 percent off their valuation, Madbury increases its millage by 4% even while (as we learned above) decreasing its local school property tax by 6%.

I noticed doing the table that the difference of the two loads, %t/%v - %m/%v, is always one.  (Since one will always be negative if the other is positive, this means the absolute value of the factors sum to one.)  This means that the difference of the percentage changes in tax and millage will be the percentage change in valuation.  For example, a 10% decrease in Madbury's valuation leads to a 6% reduction in tax and a 4% increase in millage.

To prove this, let's start with some intermediate results in the above formulas:

%t/%v - %m/%v = v/t B/2 (V-v)/V^2   -    v/m [  (w - sB/2)/v^2 - B/2V^2 ]

It works out nicely when t is in all the denominators, so let's change v/m = v^2/mv = v^2/t.

%t/%v - %m/%v = Bv(1-v/V)/2tV - (v^2/t [ (w - sB/2)/v^2 - B/2V^2 ] )
                           = (Bv/2V)/t - (Bv^2/2V^2)/t - (w - sB/2)/t + (Bv^2/2V^2)/t
                           = [ (s + v/V) B/2 - w ] / t 
                           = t/t
                           = 1 

This rather surprising fact means all the comments about %t/%v and %m/%v apply to the other, only in reverse.  What we've shown is

a(1-a)/2f - (w/t - sB/2t - vB/2mV^2) = 1

I could have gotten here way more directly, I realize now, if I had only written t for the numerator when taking the derivative:

m = t/v = [ (s + v/V) B/2 - w ] / v

dm/dv = v^-2 [ vB/2 (V-v)/V^2 - t ]

%m/%v = v/m dm/dv = v/m v^-2 [ vB/2 (V-v)/V^2 - t ]
              = 1/mv [ ... ] = 1/t [ vB/2 (V-v)/V^2 - t ]
              = vB/2t (1/V - v/V^2 ) - 1
              = 1/2f (v/V - v^2/V^2) - 1
              = 1/2f (a - a^2) - 1
              = a(1-a)/2f - 1

Finishing up the other inputs, let's next do %t/%s, how taxes (and millage) change with student share. As s is already a percentage, %s is a percentage change in percentage.  This is confusing but you can think of %s=.01 as meaning the town (approximately) increases its student enrollment by 1%.  In Madbury this means its share of students s would change from 15.51% to 15.67%.   %s is probably mostly from the difference in towns between incoming K and first graders and outgoing twelfth graders, with shocks and perhaps trends according to whichever town is deemed more desirable to families with school children moving in.

t = (s+a) B/2 - w 

dt/ds = B/2 

%t/%s = s/t dt/ds =  sB/2t = s/2f 

This says for a one percent change in the town's enrollment you increase local tax by sB/2t = s/2f percent.  That term already appeared above with a negative sign in %m(%v).  It's the town's share of the enrollment tab, and that gets compared to t, the local tax from the town.  It's also s/2, the percentage of the budget the town pays for students, divided by f, the fraction of the budget the town pays in local property tax.  The load works out to .8 Lee, .6 Durham, .7 Madbury.

One left: %t/%w

t = pB - w

dt/dw = -1

%t/%w = w/t dt/dw = -w/t 

Here we get the factor w/t we've seen before, this time with a negative sign.  Recall w/t is the relative size of the state's contribution to the local taxpayer's contribution to the town's share of the budget.  Here it's -.2 for Durham and about -.4 for Madbury and Lee.  It means if the state raises its support 10% to Madbury or Lee that would cut taxes 4% in the happy town, but a 10% raise to Durham only cuts taxes 2% there.  (It's symmetrical -- state cuts are felt more deeply in Lee and Madbury than in Durham as well.)


I'll repeat the variables in case you wisely skipped to here.  The apportionment formulas take as inputs:

 B, the budget to be apportioned
 s, the share of students in each town
 v, the total valuation of each town
 w, the state aid to each town

The formulas output:

t, the local school property tax collected and paid by each town
m, the millage rate for dividing t among property owners in the town

Here's a spreadsheet with the actual FY15 numbers.  We're in FY16 now and talking about FY17 budget now for elections in February and March.  I haven't used those numbers since I couldn't find them.  Maybe after Thanksgiving.

Here's the sensitivity table shows how for each one percent change in an input parameter (if all else stays constant) what percent change to expect in the output parameter.  The first three parameters when altered one percent change both the local tax and millage by the same factor as given in the table.  The fourth parameter, percent change in town valuation (%v) has a different effect and opposite effect on the local tax and the millage.   In particular a 10% decrease in Madbury's valuation, all else being equal, lowers Madbury's local school tax 5.7% but raises its millage 4.3%.

Again, the conclusion is a 10% decrease in Madbury's assessment leads to a 5.7% decrease in taxes and a 4.3% increase in millage there.

Let's look at the numbers from the last annual report:

Let's look at all the percentages first, starting with a and s.  Lee has 27% of the real estate in the district but 37% of the students.  Durham has the opposite tilt, and in Madbury it works out to about the same.  It's one reason the millage is higher in Lee -- less real estate to support more students.

The average of s and a make p, the proportion of the gross budget B that each town owes.  But each town gets a different amount of state aid, so in the end the actual fraction of the local property tax t/sum(t) works out much closer to the valuation proportion a.  This makes sense -- the purpose of the state aid is a progressive shift of the tax burden toward the richer towns.  Madbury gets a little more help because it has a lower state education tax, not shown in this post because I'm focusing on the local school property tax.

When you account for the state aid, the budget is divided into a nine slice pizza pie, f.  Madbury buys 1 slice, Lee and the state 2 each, and Durham 4.

The district reports p and a in the annual report so I computed s by working the average backwards rather than by researching the number of students from each town.

Now let's look at v/s, normalized so Lee is 1.  This is the town value per student, a measure of how rich the town is, i.e. how much real estate there is to support each student.  By this metric Lee is the poorest, which is really just to repeat what was said before -- they have 27% percent of the real estate supporting 37% of the students.  By this measure Madbury is 33% richer than Lee and Durham is 74% richer than Lee.

What's missing from this analysis is an understanding of how the valuations, student fraction and state aid varies over time.  That's more research than I can comfortably do on vacation, so stay tuned.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Congratulations Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen

I was at sea, but I still watched Wednesday's eventful school board meeting.  It covered new enrollment forecasts from the Long Range Planning Committee, the draft warrant including another loser field bond and news that the budget leads to a local school tax millage increase of 6% in Madbury.  I want to eventually talk about all of these, but let's start with the big news.

Oyster River High Principal Todd Allen was chosen as Assistant Superintendent.  He takes over for Carolyn Eastman, who recently resigned. Todd Allen has been a great principal at ORHS since he sorta lucked into the job after the bad board inexplicably rejected superstar candidate Justin Campbell in April 2011, leading to a student walkout. Then Oyster River Middle School Principal Allen was promoted, and now four and half years later he gets promoted again. Like many in the community I've known Todd a while now, and I am happy to congratulate him.  I'm sure he's going to do a great job.

Of course, now we have to find an ORHS principal again.  Superintendent Morse said a plan to fill the position will be presented at the next meeting.

Curriculum Development seemed to be most of Carolyn Eastman's job, and she seemed really into it. She'd wax on endlessly at the podium about Star or Atlas or Smarter Balanced or tools for measuring the alignment of the curriculum with Common Core.  I've always found the part of school board related to actual education rather tedious, but I was glad Assistant Superintendent Eastman was into it and would make sure it was right.  I guess we'll find out how Assistant Superintendent Allen sees the role.  I've been to a lot of school board meetings and I don't recall seeing Todd exhibit any particular enthusiasm toward curriculum development.  Maybe it happened while I was dozing.

Allow me to gripe a bit about the hiring process.  I actually knew someone who was applying, so I didn't try to get on the 15 member interview committee that included administration, teacher, staff and parent representatives.  I think most people would agree that it would have obviously been a conflict of interest if I was on the committee.  But surely everyone on that committee knew Todd Allen.  I don't know if he was the only internal candidate, but it's pretty likely that most people on the committee knew Todd and didn't know almost all of the other candidates.   Why is this not the same conflict of interest that I felt?

I guess what irks me is the superintendent wanted to do an inside search only all along.  The board and public pushed back and got a wider search.  But in the end the superintendent seems to have gotten the inside candidate he wanted.  Did I miss the hint on October 7th when he told us how Principals Dennis Harrington and Jay Richard never aspired to superintendency because they love being with their kids, but didn't mention Todd?  

I wish Assistant Superintendent Allen good luck and great success in his new position.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

No $400K Insurance Discount Next Year

Premium Holiday Postponed

In more bad budget news, at yesterday's school board meeting Business Administrator Caswell announced there would be no "premium holiday" next school year.  We were expecting a $400,000 discount on health insurance premiums, about 1% off our $41M budget.  Last year we enjoyed a premium holiday of $500K and this year $400K.

The whole premium holiday system is the result of a judge's ruling our insurance provider LGC/Health Trust overcharged customers, including Oyster River and its staff, in the 2000s (NPR).  I recall LGC has to return over $50 million, including maybe $2M to ORCSD.  The plan is to dole it out over a few years.  However, according to Administrator Caswell, Health Trust just announced that their reserves were low and they would not be offering premium holiday payouts next year.

The district has been treating the premium holidays as found money to spend. Last year's $500K was the major funding for Moharimet Cafeteria project. The plan was to use this year's and next year's as $800K toward the new field. However, two weeks ago the news from Health Trust was the maximum guaranteed increase on premiums was 16.8%, which meant we'd have to budget for an additional $800K (2%) in premiums. (The actual increase is not determined until May.)

The premium holiday system creates a kind of slush fund for the district. The district budgets for the full maximum guaranteed premium, conservatively assuming the premium holiday will not appear. Since the payout is in the form of a discount, the district can then spend the money saved on other things and still stay within the total amount appropriated by the voters, which they are legally required to do. If they had to pay the full premium and were handed back a big check for the payout, they couldn't spend it, at least not beyond the voter-approved appropriation.

The administration and school board have been trying to shoehorn the new field into the annual budget. They were counting on the premium holidays continuing and a more modest health insurance increase, so this $1M hole in the budget that appeared over the last two meetings puts the field plan in jeopardy. As I type this the five hour budget meeting is going on, where a new budget (including the administration's recommendation for the field project) will be revealed. [11/6 update: Nope, apparently the field plan is still up in the air.]

Assistant Superintendent Search Progressing

Superintendent Morse reports that the district received two dozen applications for the Assistant Superintendent position.  A screening committee including five administrators whittled it down to 6 candidates to be interviewed.  Interviews are expected to be completed on 11/16 and after a review of references a candidate will be recommended to the board at the 12/2 meeting, two weeks later than originally scheduled.

ORESPA Contract Approved

The board approved the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the custodians and secretaries union, ORESPA (Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association).  The negotiated increases in the three year contract are 1.5% for the first year, 2.25% for the second and 2.5% for the third.  It was reported that ORESPA approved the contract as well, so now it goes on the ballot for final approval by the voters in March.

Nation's Report Card Out, Smarter Balanced Results Expected Soon

2015 NEAP
click to enlarge
On November 12 the district expects the first results from Smarter Balanced, the Common Core assessments administered last spring.  Letters to parents will be sent home shortly after (electronically if they can work out the kinks).  The delay came from the state having to manually process the tests from a half dozen districts that chose the written version, rather than the online version we used.  

On a related note, the 2015 NEAP nationwide assessment reports, often called the nation's report card, are out.  Only 4th and 8th grade math and reading have been updated. NH did great, ranking 3rd for both subjects in 4th grade and 2nd for both in 8th grade out of all 50 states (plus DC and DoD schools).  So we're one of the best districts in one of the best states.   

In these four rankings, Massachusetts bested us 3 times, the DoD schools twice and Minnesota once.  I don't recall seeing the DoD schools in other studies -- if you exclude them we move up a notch twice, in particular to first in the country in 2015 8th grade reading.  The district has already spun some of these ranks as "tied for first." 

I pulled a couple of charts off the site, which I edited by adding the 2015 NH ranks among other things.  New Hampshire followed the national trend of a dropoff in math from 2013, and we had an especially sharp decline in 4th grade math.  In reading 4th grade stayed flat in line with the country, but 8th grade bucked the trend, increasing where the nation declined.  

It was a pretty short meeting, done by 8:20 or so including a 20 minute interval for non-public and non-meetings, so I'm going to wrap this up here.