Thursday, October 8, 2015

Field to be built even if voters say no

Last night the school board approved almost the correct financing plan for the $2.3M track and field project. Board Member Al Howland proposed a plan along the lines that I've been recommending: $800,000 from the LGC/HealthTrust settlement, the $300,000 track fund, $650,000 from delaying some capital and technology spending and $500,000 new from the taxpayers. Revenue from the Orchard Drive land sale is excluded from this plan, but could potentially reduce the amounts asked of the taxpayers and the capital fund.

Since the $500,000 warrant article is a one-time appropriation and not a bond, only 50% is required for passage on election day.  Four times in the past the field warrant has had over 50% voter support, but not the 60% required to pass the bond.

The main problem with the plan is that the district is planning to ignore the result of the vote and build the field no matter what!  It's right there in black and white: "If the warrant failed, the track would still be built."  To me this is completely unacceptable -- the field should be built if and only if a majority of voters approve it.  I believe a majority will, but if they're like me and told their vote doesn't count, they're going to get irate.

My email to the board
The seven member board, Superintendent Morse, Principal Allen and Athletic Director Parker spent around fifteen minutes discussing how to proceed if the voters vote NO.  Not one of them thought to say if the voters vote NO, we shouldn't build the field.  I was totally disappointed in all of them.

The school board still has time to change this detail of the plan.  I let them know how I felt with a public comment and an email.  You can email the board at (which sometimes doesn't work) or email member Howland directly at  (Please be aware your email becomes a public document and goes in the public folder.  They black out your email address, so you don't have to worry about that.)

Here's the proposed list of the capital spending to be delayed.  The technology spending to be delayed was not specified.

In related news, the board approved the new budget goal.   I'm happy to report that the board is including all recommended warrant articles and all revenue in the budget goal, like I've been proposing for a while now.   This year's goal is to cap the growth in the total asked of taxpayers to 4.25%.  While that number seems high, it is honest -- in past years stuff was excluded to make the number look smaller. For your money this year you get a new $2.3M field and full day Kindergarten, two long standing goals.  It's probably best to think of this as a 3% increase and a one-time ask of 1.25% ($500,000) for the field.  (As I'm sure the district will tell you over and over, there's no guarantee that your particular school taxes will go up exactly 4.25% as the details of apportionment and state aid can make this number vary between the three towns.)

The board approved the superintendent's plan to start the search immediately with the goal of hiring a replacement assistant superintendent during the school year.  He ignored a proposal from last meeting to immediately promote an interim from within and start the search for permanent replacement to begin in July.  The superintendent made a remarkable claim that in his experience ("in 24 years of doing this work...") it doesn't matter if the hire is for mid-year or the beginning of the school year.  As I personally know candidates who are committed to their job and would not think of leaving their current district in the lurch, I find the superintendent's statement quite hard to swallow.  He backed it up with a real red herring about principals wanting to stay principals, further tattering his credibility.  Dr. Morse did say at the table (it wasn't in the written plan) that the search committee would consider applicants that wanted to start in July not January.

The superintendent and Principal Richard talked about the move toward "standards based reporting" where students' report cards will no longer have the traditional A to F grades but instead a number indicating progress toward each of a list of "competencies."  This is basically the way grades have been done in fifth grade and for a year or so there's been a process in the works to expand this to sixth grade math, and I think arts and music and phys ed too.  There was a lot of apologizing going on for not informing the public sooner and louder.  The intent is to eventually do this across the board, all classes, all grades.  Parents, start your griping now.  Little Timmy's got a 2 out of 3 in factoring polynomials, meaning he's progressing toward competency.  Explain that to Harvard.

The board also approved for first read a controversial policy allowing child restraint and seclusion.  First read means it's not yet adopted -- they need one more vote (second read) to do that.  The board adopted a controversial policy that gives sub-committees wider latitude to carry out their charge without board micromanagement.  David Taylor predicts bad consequences -- stay tuned.

There was also a discussion of air conditioning the third floor of the middle school, which was unbearably hot at the beginning of the school year.  The conclusion was that this was impractical due to high ceilings, high cost and high electrical load.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Field Warrant Articles Proliferate

Summary of the complicated new plan to finance an ORHS track and field

New field plan
Two weeks ago I worried that the field plan wouldn't be presented to the voters as a separate warrant article (ballot question).  After yesterday's school board meeting I'm worried that there will be three or four warrant articles and the voters would have to approve all of them to get the field built:

  1. The voters authorize the sale of the Orchard Lane property
  2. The voters direct the proceeds from Orchard Lane to the field project
  3. The voters direct the insurance settlement money to the field project
  4. The voters approve the remainder of the field budget, either as a one time appropriation or a bond.
It's possible that some of these aren't needed or can be combined.  Even if the voters approve all this, it's still possible that the land won't sell (or fetch the expected $295,000) or the insurance settlement comes in less than expected.  Either way the field might not go forward.

As I stare at it now, it seems the worries about complexity are overblown.  I'm not a lawyer but I think we can get away with two warrant articles, one that authorizes the sale of Orchard Lane and one that lays out the budget and financing plan and asks the voters to approve the plan and raise from taxes a few hundred thousand additional dollars to complete the financing.  

A plan distributed
but not discussed
The plan has sources of financing that don't require warrant articles.  One was a delay of planned capital improvements, freeing up funds for the field.  This part seemed a bit hastily thrown together -- two weeks ago the amount was $600,000; at yesterday's meeting there was a plan handed out on the back table (that matched the one in the agenda) asking for $700,000 from this year's budget and $205,000 from next year's.  Then during the meeting the superintendent handed out and discussed another plan asking for $350,000 this year and next "as an example".

Board member Rotner ominously talked about delaying the spending on the middle school: "I think it looks really smart not to be putting money into a building that maybe three five whatever years from now we're not going to be using anymore."  What he seemed to be implying was us taxpayers had better get ready to pony up for a new middle school soon, I'd guess via a $30M to $50M bond.  Superintendent Morse quickly changed the subject, presumably because news of such a big upcoming expenditure might sour the voters on the field.  The cat's out of the bag now.

The school board and district leadership are still exploring field financing that requires a bond and thus a 60% YES vote.  Some think that asking to bond a significantly smaller amount than last year's $1.7M will lead to passage.  I personally think a bond virtually guarantees failure -- we've tried four times and failed to get 60% each time.  I don't think there's reason to think a lower number on the bond will matter much -- most voters will understand that however it's financed the field will cost $2.3M that otherwise would not be spent, so taxes would ultimately be that much lower if the bond fails.

The alternative is a one-time appropriation requiring a simple majority.  This is the solution that Board member Day favors.  So do I.  I suggested a $300,000 appropriation, which I'm predicting will have no trouble getting to 50% at the polls.  A budget like that requires about $700,000 to come from delaying capital improvements, assuming all the other money comes through as planned.

I don't get Dr. Morse's objection to the non-bonding solution: "it stages the project over two summers or delays the project until the summer of 2017."  To me the difference between a bonding and non-bonding solution is just the wording of the warrant article -- whether it says "bond" or just "raise and appropriate."  There's no reason for an extra year delay if you don't bond.  Staging is likely a bad idea as well -- they're looking into it.

There was a lot of discussion about the multiple warrant articles being too complex for the voters, lessening the chance of passage.  There were also concerns about what happens if some of the articles pass and others fail, so we fail to reach full funding.  I made a public comment suggesting the various warrant articles ask the voters for permission to move the funds to the Track Fund.  That way if we fail to achieve full funding this March we bank the money and get the rest of the way next March. 

The superintendent promised full transparency in the field financing.  Member Rotner urged the public to come to the next school board meeting, Wednesday October 7, 7 pm at Moharimet, to air their opinions on the plan before a presumed vote. 

There was one more odd thing that came up.  It turns out that the board could spend this year's insurance settlement on the field even though the voters did not appropriate the money.  Normally, even if the district gets extra revenue or finds a pile of cash in a closet, it still cannot spend more in a single year than the voters appropriated in March.  But technically we don't actually receive the insurance settlement money -- it comes as a discount on insurance, so we're able to spend the money the voters appropriated for insurance on something else.

After some site visits in Cambridge, the field committee came to an agreement on the fill.  You'll recall last year the community was divided over the use of tire crumb rubber as infill in the artificial turf.  The most vociferous combatants were UNH Professor Kevin Gardner, for tire crumb, and Dr. Bob Barth, against.   They were both on the fill subcommittee, and amazingly they came to agreement that EPDM, Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer, was the fill of choice for us.   It was reported that the vote to recommend EPDM was unanimous in the eleven member committee.

Athletic Director Parker showed this model of the
turf and recommend fill at yesterday's meeting
The committee left the price off the slide -- an obvious omission.  At the meeting the cost was reported to be $260,000 more than tire crumb for the initial project.  This is $40,000 less than budgeted.  Maintenance costs were not reported.

While I'm griping about the slide, I'll descend into a spelling flame. "Affects" is a verb -- you want the noun "effects."  And "its" not "it's".  And a space before "degrees."  Call me naive, but I expect better from educators.

By the way, 3 to 10 degrees seems pretty negligible compared to some of the temperatures thrown around last year.  I remember people talking about 130 or 140 or even 170 degree fields when the surrounding temperatures were 80 or 90.  Maybe in cold New Hampshire this heat effect is mostly desirable.

The board voted unanimously to accept the committee's recommendation.

In other news, ORCSD was given a "District of Distinction" award by District Administration magazine for the achievements of our Sustainability Committee.  Chair Cristini Dolcino accepted the award on behalf of the committee with a statement.  A plaque commemorating this national recognition will hang in the SAU office.  The board also renewed the charge for the sustainability committee.

There was some controversy over the superintendent's plan to fill the Assistant Superintendent position from within the district.  Dr. Morse's chief concern was with filling the position quickly, so there can be some transition overlap before Assistant Superintendent Eastman moves on at the end of October. Board member Farwell persuasively argued that as a top notch district we need to select the best candidate from a broad pool of applicants.  Due to the unfortunate timing of Assistant Superintendent Eastman's departure, the best candidates have already committed themselves for the current school year.  Board member Klein suggested hiring an interim AS.  Eventually the pieces were merged and a plan formed: quickly promote a current staff member to Interim Assistant Superintendent while starting a search for a permanent AS who'll come on board next school year (in July).  This seems obviously the best plan to me.  It does have the downside that the interim person already has a job that will presumably need to be filled, also temporarily.  What the superintendent will do is anyone's guess as no vote was taken.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Field Fiat

At tonight's school board meeting Oyster River Superintendent Morse put forth a $2.3M plan that puts a new artificial turf field directly into next year's budget.  Last March the warrant article for the $2M project failed to get the required 60% of the votes.  State law dictates a 60% threshold is required to approve the $1.7M bond portion of the funding.  The plan presented tonight does not appear to put the field issue as its own ballot question, but as part of the large budget appropriation.

New field funding plan (the Goal should read "with NO Bonding")

The $2.3M budget is a $300,000 increase from last year's plan.  The additional money is intended to go into a higher quality fill than the rubber tire crumb fill in last year's field budget.  A committee is expected to give the board its recommendation on field fill by the next board meeting, September 16.   Now that I think about it, by skipping the bond the district saves $300,000 in interest, so this really isn't an increase over last year's field proposal.

The memo explaining the plan (right) claims "36 additional positive votes and the plan would have been approved" which is terribly wrong - 339 additional YES votes would be needed to switch the result.  (The vote was 1382 to 1147, 54.6%; with 339 extra YESes you get 1721 to 1147, 60.0%.)  "56%" isn't quite right either.  I conclude that the vote wasn't all that close and that any plan involving a bond is likely to fail.

The appraisal for the Orchard Drive Land came in at $287,000.  The disappointing appraisal was attributed (in a 130 page report!) to Durham zoning laws that prevent the parcel, which the district received as a gift in 1971, to be more than four buildable lots.  Board member Kenny Rotner, who also serves on Durham's Town Council, suggested the district seek a variance from Durham to improve the valuation.

The money from the capital account comes from delaying planned capital improvements, in particular a generator at the middle school and something else I can't remember.  The superintendent reports Facilities Director Rozycki enthusiastically supports the plan and sees little downside from the delay.  The district is about halfway through the backlog of $4M of building problems identified in early 2012.

The insurance settlement refers to ongoing payouts from a judge ruling LGC had overcharged customers (including Oyster River and its staff) for health insurance.   LGC's successor HealthTrust didn't have the money to pay the judgement in one shot, so it's being doled out a bit every year.  The plan puts two years' worth of the payouts toward the field.

The $300,000 track fund is mostly private donations collected over the last couple of decades and I think includes $50,000 the district itself has contributed.

At the last board meeting I suggested that instead of bonding $600,000 that the board just put it on the ballot as a one time appropriation.   I meant it to have its own ballot question, so the voters can register their choice.   The advantage of a one time appropriation is that it only requires a simple 50% majority.  Similarly, at tonight's meeting board member Denise Day suggested that the shortfall from the land sale of $300,000 be placed on the ballot as a one time appropriation.

I like the idea of including the question of the field as its own warrant article.  Four times in the past a majority of voters said YES but the majority never reached 60% so the bond always failed.   This time, if the same majority votes for a one time appropriation of around $300,000 (possibly less depending on fill costs) the article would pass and the project would go forward.

I'm less enamored with the idea of including the field in the large budget appropriation.  Opponents to the field would be forced to vote against the full budget to register their disapproval of the field.  Combined with the substantial number of voters who vote NO on the budget anyway, this might be enough to tip the balance into NO territory triggering the default budget and a whole to-do.  I'm not sure if the superintendent intended to do it this way, somewhat bypassing the voters, but it seems to me a very bad idea.   It's up to the school board anyway, which I believe will let the voters directly decide on the field with a simple majority vote on election day.

In other news, Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Eastman has quit, tendering her 60 day notice.  She's off to big-time greener pastures that she told me about but I didn't think to get permission to write about.   Her legacy will be how she proactively embraced Common Core and Smarter Balanced and moved the district to a comprehensive assessment system that quickly focuses teachers on individual students' needs.  I've gotten to know Assistant Superintendent Eastman over her three years here and I'm going to miss her very much.  Thank you for all your great work Carolyn.  Fortunately, Carolyn will still be a district mom.

Today was the first day of school and the superintendent announced that 381 students are enrolled at Moharimet.  Recall two years ago the overcrowding at Moharimet had gotten out of hand, with 407 students in a school with nominal capacity 389.   Back then I estimated it would be "two years before Redraw with Full Grandfathering got Moharimet down to capacity" -- score one for me.  This is in contrast to last November's Long Range Planning Committee report that forecasted 411 students would be enrolled at Moharimet today, off by a distressing 8%.  Board member Rotner asked that the LRPC look into the discrepancy.

Let's recall a quick history of how the board eventually settled on Redraw with Full Grandfathering, our traditional elementary imbalance remedy.   I think the distractions of tweets, lawsuits and almost full administrative turnover in 2011 & 2012 let the creeping problem go unaddressed, maybe even unnoticed, for a couple years.  It didn't help that the LRPC was forecasting a substantial 6% enrollment decline, with the December 2012 forecast for FY16 Moharimet (that's today) of 358.  Then the new superintendent spent an extra year getting everyone riled up deciding while the problem got even worse.   The superintendent liked a K-2, 3-4 split, a pretty bad idea that didn't really solve the problem.  It was soundly rejected by the community early on but the leadership inexplicably kept pushing it.

There's also news about the budget.  I'm happy to report that the board is considering my ideas to include revenue and not exclude certain expenses when setting budget goals.    But the real surprising thing to come out of the meeting is that the superintendent thinks he can fund Full Day Kindergarten and a new field and still keep growth below a nominal 3%.  I'm sure I'll write more as the budget develops so I'll just say good night now.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

IXL math is confused about the order of the months and the days of the week

Oyster River News.  I haven't posted anything since the election.  There's a controversial and groundbreaking transgender policy that I think will be approved soon, and news that Mast Way and Moharimet have the same number of entering Kindergartners, 52 each -- usually there are 10 to 15 more entering Moharimet. Inequitably MW will have 3 classes of 18, Moh 4 classes of 13.

But I'm going to ignore all that for now and talk about online math.  My daughter is reluctantly doing some online math this summer in preparation for eighth grade algebra.  She's using IXL math, which is an online skill drilling system provided by the district.   She's up to eighth grade H 11 rate of change.

The questions all involve looking at a table or graph of a time series and calculating the rate of change of a quantity between two times by subtracting the earlier amount from the later amount and dividing by the time between them.

The time axis ticks are labeled by consecutive times.  IXL has no problem when time is a number, like seconds or years, but it has a skewed idea of the ordering of the days of the week and the months of the year.  For example, consider this problem:

The odd order of the days of the week makes this incomprehensible.  I suspect the problem is in their internationalization software where apparently they have the weekdays ordered alphabetically: Friday, Monday, Saturday, Sunday, Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

Like the weekdays, the months are misordered alphabetically April, August, December, February, January, July, June, March, May, November, October as in:

The answer to this problem is 3, because August to December is considered one month in this ordering. (By the way, in my experience "3" is the most common answer to math test problems, so if you ever have to guess...)

Anyway, my daughter was pretty distraught over the whole thing. It really is a pretty awful bug that should have been caught.

Update: Monday, 8/17.  IXL quickly responded to my facebook post to their page.  (They don't make it obvious how to report bugs, so I tried four or five ways.)  "Hi Dean, good catch - this is definitely a bug we are aware of, and our engineering team is making it a high priority to fix it. I'm impressed by their fast reply, and I hope to be impressed by how quickly they fix the bug.  Stay tuned.

Update 2: Mon, Aug 17, 2015 at 4:49 PM  Email from Joe at IXL support promising to have this fixed by tomorrow:
From: IXL Support <>
Dear Dean,
Thank you for contacting IXL and bringing this to our attention.
Our engineers are working on this bug now, and this will be fixed by tomorrow. The days of the week and months of the year will then appear in the proper order again.
Thank you again for bringing this to our attention! If you have any additional questions, please let me know.
IXL Support

That's pretty fast for a company to respond, and it's obviously written by an actual person familiar with the issue, so it seems they're really taking it seriously.  If they're resentful about me writing it up here, they're not showing it in the least. Good for IXL.

As of Monday 11:50 pm there is still no change.  I'll check tomorrow.   My girl also had a glitch in Math8 E8, maybe last Thursday, where the number line drawings were not rendering correctly, leaving a question about a garbled diagram. F5 refresh fixed things, if you tried it.  I checked it today and it seems to have been fixed -- at least I can't reproduce it.

Update 3: Thursday August 20, 2 am.  IXL has fixed the problem.  They sent me an email Tuesday saying they were testing the change, and some time in the last few hours they released it:

The question makes a lot more sense this way.  (And if you guessed "3" ... you're right!)  IXL did a great job responding to me and fixing the problem.  They weren't quite done by Tuesday like Joe said but it got done quickly but apparently not so quickly that other errors were made.  I'm impressed.  I especially appreciate how they didn't shoot the messenger.

OK, back to the original post.  Here's one of the explanations explaining why I was wrong counting Friday to Sunday as two days.

Apparently the good folks at IXL need to go back to their own first grade and brush up on a couple of skills.

I've reproduced this behavior on Internet Explorer and Chrome on Windows 8 and Windows 7, and on Safari on a Mac, and on Chrome on my Android. Haven't checked the app. I've only noticed it on Grade 8 H11. First grade S12 above seems to work fine.

Beyond the weird bug, I'm not sure the pedagogy here is all that great. If I was teaching rate-of-change, I'd focus on: (1) Rate, rate of change, and rate of increase all mean the same thing, how fast a quantity changes. This means how much a quantity changes per unit time, so it's always change in quantity divided by the time over which the change takes place. (2) It's always later minus earlier in the denominator, because that's the same thing as the time interval. (3) It's always later minus earlier in the numerator. This is very confusing to students until it isn't, and it is a recurring pattern they will use again and again in all future math and science so drill it in. (4) Rate of change means rate of increase, and a negative increase is a decrease. (5) As the time interval decreases, the rate of change approaches the tangent. (6) I would focus more examples on domains where rates of change play a large role, like physics. (7) The inverse operation, given a rate and a time interval calculate the amount, should be taught at the same time. I don't think IXL does a very good job on any of these.

So beyond the month names making Doug's budget below incomprehensible, I have other issues. I don't like asking students about "rate of decrease" which is the opposite of what the students are being taught to calculate. Furthermore, the past tense "was" is not right to refer to a budget for the future.

I started taking screenshots and captured 18 more:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Field Fails!

Today was a beautiful, relatively warm day to be out at the polls.  Congratulations to reelected board members Maria Barth and Al Howland and to newly elected member Dan Klein. Sorry to the supporters of the field and congratulations to the opponents.  The Benefits Stabilization Fund I didn't like passed. In Lee, the library failed badly (35%, needed 60%) -- sorry supporters. Congratulations to school board member Dr. Kenny Rotner who was elected to the Durham Town Council today. Thanks to everyone who voted and who worked hard for their various issues.

Here are the election results.  Thanks to David Taylor and Todd Selig for the raw vote counts.  (Links: raw Lee results, raw Durham and Oyster River results, raw Madbury results.)

2,614 Oyster River school district ballots were cast.  This is a pretty large turnout, almost certainly due to the field question (2,529 votes cast).  In recent years it is only surpassed by the 3,000 ballots cast in 2012, in reaction to the tweet and Right-to-Know scandals.

Article 1: Moderator

        Richard Laughton 2026 votes 100% ELECTED

Article 2: School Board Members, Town Seats

        Lee             Maria Barth   1836 100%    ELECTED
        Durham      Al Howland   1903 100%    ELECTED
        Madbury    Dan Klein       1741 100%    ELECTED

Article 3: $2M Field, $1.7M Bond (60% needed to pass) FAILED

        YES 1382   54.6%
        NO   1147   45.4%

That was pretty close.  If 136 NOs switched to YES the field would have passed.  Alternatively if 226 NOs had stayed home or 339 more YESes had shown up, the field would have passed.  I've seen some other reports of these numbers and none of them have been correct.

Article 4: Bus Drivers Contract ($69K raise) PASSED

        YES  1808   71.9%
        NO      705   28.1%

Article 5: ORPaSS Contract (Paras and Support Staff, $136K raise) PASSED

        YES   1684   67.8%
        NO       800   32.2%

Article 6: Benefit Stabilization Fund ($200K) PASSED

        YES   1462   60.0%
        NO       975   40.0%

Article 7: Main Budget ($40.8M) PASSED

         YES   1484   60.8%
         NO       955   39.1%

Adding it all up, I get a back of the envelope total appropriation of a record 40.759+.2+.136+.069 = $41.164 million.  It would have been $43.2M had the field passed.   Last year's figure is .320+39.326=$39.646M, so we have an increase of 41.164/39.646 = 3.8%.  That's not really that close to the nominal 3% cap articulated in this year's budget goal. The board has however met their goal, because they exempt the warrant articles they recommend, so their calculation is more like 40.759/39.646 = 2.8%.   Many of the appropriations exempted from the numerator one year, where they would have made the calculated increases larger, are counted in the denominator the next year, where they makes the calculated increase smaller.  I don't like it one bit.  I think the time is ripe for a serious discussion about budget goals.

By the way, tuition revenue is expected up a bit ($200K if I recall, .5%) so the amount we get from the state, fed, & local grants and taxes needs to go up around 3.3%.   In the case where the state and federal sources don't rise as fast as 3.3%, we'd have to make it up by our local property tax rising more than 3.3%.  In an extreme case (or the marginal case) if the state+fed portion didn't increase at all, all the increase would have to come from the 2/3rds of the revenue that is local property tax, so local property tax would have to increase by 3.3/(2/3)=  5%.  This year, according to the MS-26 form the district filed, it appears that local school property tax is increasing by 3.3% so those other revenue sources must be keeping up.


Now that people are largely done reading this post, I can leave a math note for myself, about supermajority votes like article 3.

p is the fraction of YES votes need to win (= .6 here)
y is the number of YES votes cast
n is the number of NO votes cast
a is the number of additional votes to change the outcome
Sy is the YES switch -- 1 if we add the a additional votes to YES, else 0
Sn is the NO switch -- 1 if we subtract the a additional votes from NO, else 0

Then   a >=  [   p n - (1-p) y ]  / [ p Sn + (1-p) Sy ]

Defining v = p n - (1-p) y, we get

v votes to switch (Sy  = 1, Sn = 1)
/ p fewer NO votes (Sy  = 0, Sn = 1)
v / (1 - p) additional YES votes (Sy  = 1, Sn = 0)

Remember to round up at the end (but don't round v before the divisions).

The v definition gives a good way to think about it : NO votes are worth p, YES votes, 1-p.  If we normalize YES votes have a worth Wy = 1, NO votes are worth Wn = p / (1-p).  Wn indicates just how much power the supermajority requirement gives to the minority.  For p = .5 (a simple majority), Wn = 1, no advantage to the majority.   For p = .6, Wn = .6/.4 = 1.5, so NO votes are worth 50% more than YES votes, a pretty powerful advantage to the minority.  For p = 2/3 (e.g. a veto override), Wn = (2/3) / (1/3) = 2, so NO votes are worth twice YES votes, an extreme advantage to the minority.  Solving gives  p = W/ ( Wn + 1 ).

One last note.  For a simple majority (p = .5), to win y / (y + n) > .5, but for supermajority (p > .5), the inequality is relaxed so y / (y + n) >= p wins.

It's Election Day, Tuesday March 10, 2015

Today is Tuesday, March 10, 2015. It's Election Day in the Oyster River Cooperative School District.

I'm a busy voter; tell me who you're voting for. I'm voting today at my regular polling place for Dan Klein (website), Maria Barth and Al Howland for school board. The warrant articles are slightly complicated this year.   The big question is Article 3, the $2M artificial turf field, which needs a 60% YES vote to pass.  I'm voting YES.   I'm voting YES on both the bus driver and paraprofessional/support staff contracts, Articles 4 and 5.   I'm voting NO on Article 6, the benefits reserve fund. I'm voting YES on the $40.8 M budget.  Lee voters, I'm writing in Alice MacKinnon for Selectman and voting YES on the library.

Well, I have a little time to read. You can familiarize yourself with the ballot by reading ORCSDcleanslate's Voting Guide for the 2015 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election. It has explanations and links about the candidates and ballot questions. 

Why should I believe you when you tell me who or what to vote for?  I'm just telling you how I'm voting and why. There are three school board candidates for three seats this year, so I'm pretty confident in recommending you vote for all three.

What about the YES/NO Warrant Articles?  Like I said above, I'm voting YES on all of them except Article 6, the benefits stabilization fund.  The fact that the board is trying to add money to this fund in a year when they would normally spend from the fund shows they don't really understand the fund's purpose and that it doesn't do much anyway.   I'm voting YES on Article 3, the field, even though I am concerned about the tire crumb fill that's likely to end up on the field.   Articles 4 and 5 give the bus drivers and the paraprofessionals nice raises this year, to make up for the zero or very small raises the last three years.  It's not so much the district is being generous as the current low pay led to management difficulties where bus drivers couldn't be hired and new paras made more than our experienced ones. I'm voting YES on both.  Article 7 is the big $40.8M appropriation to pay for schools.  I'm voting YES even though the district didn't quite keep as tight a lid on spending as it has been recently.

What's next? The results of the election should be announced around 9pm tonight. I'll post them here as soon as I can. 

Are there any other websites for information?   There's not all that much out there this year in general.  I didn't see the usual guild questionnaire.  Oyster River Community and FORE have been silent since May.  The district's site has a link to the ballot but not much else about the election.  There are a few official and unofficial sites about the field that you can find via the voting guide.     The last couple weeks of Foster's opinion has a few Oyster River letters mostly supporting the field.

Anything else?  Yes, just for Lee voters.  The field is the only exciting thing on the school district ballot, but there's a pretty big fight brewing in Lee about the potential 10% town tax hike if all the warrant articles pass (including the new $2.5M library)  (ballot).  Like I said above, I'm writing in Alice MacKinnon for Selectman and voting YES on the library.  Some links:  Letter from outgoing Selectman Dave Cedarholm bemoaning potential higher taxes.    Letters from Ann Wright and Alice MacKinnon in support of spending. , an apparently anonymous blog against higher taxes.   Paul Gasowski's pro-library letter in Foster's., the fundraising organization for the new library.  Summary of Lee's Library work to date.  

Happy Election Day. Go vote. Bring some friends.

Dean Rubine, Lee

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Voting Guide for the 2015 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election

ORCSDcleanslate busy voter guide: Vote for Dan Klein (website), Maria Barth and Al Howland for school board. The warrant articles are slightly complicated this year. I'm voting YES on all but Article 6, the benefits reserve fund. I think YES votes for the bus driver and para contracts (Articles 4 & 5) and the overall budget (Article 7) are no-brainers. The big question this year is Article 3, the $2M artificial turf field, which needs a 60% YES vote to pass. I'm voting YES.

This is my annual guide to the 2015 Oyster River School District election.  I call it a biased guide, because in addition to (I hope fairly) explaining each warrant article, I tell you how I'm going to vote and why, which is the biased part.  I hope it's useful even to people who don't agree with me, but if you just want to see the unadulterated ballot click here.  For each question I'll write a bit and provide links to source documents and previous posts to those interested in digging deeper.

Election day in Oyster River is this Tuesday, March 10th.   If you're a US citizen over 18 who lives in Lee, Madbury or Durham, you can just show up on Tuesday at your town's polling place and vote. Like almost all elections in New Hampshire, same day registration is available.   So even if you've never voted or registered to vote in New Hampshire before, you can vote Tuesday.  It's easier if everyone brings a state photo ID and if new registrants also bring proof of address (a utility bill), but under New Hampshire's voter ID law you can vote even if don't bring those.

Your polling place and voting times depend on where you live:

Durham:  Oyster River High School  7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Lee:         Public Safety Complex       7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Madbury: Town Hall                         11:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

As always, voters in each town are given identical school district ballots.  Let's go through the ballot questions, also known as the warrant articles.

Article 1 elects the moderator, who really doesn't do much except moderate the deliberative session. Mr. Laughton did a good job at the last DS (and he's running unopposed) so he gets my vote.

Article 2 elects the school board members.  This year the three town-specific seats are up for election.  You have to be from the town to run for that town's seat, but somewhat oddly every voter in the district gets to vote for all three town seats.  This year there's only one candidate for each seat so there's not much suspense. Maria and Al are running for reelection, and they've done a really great job over the past three years so they again get my vote.  Sadly, current Madbury seat holder Dr. Ed Charle has decided not to run again.  Thank you for your service, Ed.  Three years ago Maria, Al, Ed and current chair Tom Newkirk were elected (they were the initial clean slate that gave this blog its name) and now the turmoil from a few years ago is a distant memory.

Dan Klein has stepped up to fill the Madbury seat.  I've gotten to know him over the past few months and it's obvious he's going to be a really great board member.  I'm looking forward to voting for him on Tuesday.  Check out his website to find out more.

Article 3 asks the district to approve the $2M high school field renovation. Since there's a $1.7M bond, the law requires that at least 60% of district voters vote YES for the project to go forward. Similar bonds for the field have failed three times in the mid to late 2000s, but if the deliberative session is any indication, there is widespread community support this time around.

The total payments on the bond will be about $2M, which averages out to an additional $200K (0.5% of the budget) paid each of the next 10 years. The first principal payment is due in FY17 -- the FY16 amount of $37K is all interest.

Most of the controversy around the field comes from the artificial turf portion. At the deliberative session former board member Ann Wright tried to amend the article to make it a natural grass turf field, but that failed, probably because a grass field can handle only about a quarter of the playing time of an artificial field so does not well utilize our small space.

This "No Crumb Rubber Field" sign, at the intersection of
Rts. 125 and 152, is one of the few indications I've noticed
of a public campaign against the use of tire crumb on the
proposed high school artificial turf field.
The most controversial aspect of the artificial turf field is the ground tire crumb used to make the fill which makes the artificial turf surface softer to play on. About 40,000 tires are ground up to make fill for a single field. Some citizens, most notably Dr. Bob Barth (who is board member Maria Barth's husband), have concerns that the zinc, lead, carbon black and cocktail of carcinogens known to be in tires make them a poor candidate for athletic fields. Dr. Barth has said that he will vote NO on Article 3 as long as "tire crumb is on the table," but this does not appear to be a very widespread sentiment. The board has said it will consider alternative fills along with tire crumb, but it will not exclude tire crumb from consideration. Dr. Barth thinks once this article passes budget considerations will force the board to choose tire crumb.

Dr. Kevin Gardner, a UNH professor who studies the use of recycled material, is of the opinion that the tire crumb is safe. At the last board meeting he said that money spent on alternative fill could be better spent mitigating larger risks to our children's safety.

As a parent I'm concerned about the tire crumb, but I'm going to vote YES on the field and trust the board to make right decision. Rather than rehash the debate further, here's a collection of links where you can read up.

Principal Allen and Athletic Director Parker's Powerpoint presentation of the field project

Facebook page: Support the ORHS fields and facilities upgrade especially this post discussing Tom Newkirk's letter in Foster's.

District pro-field information page

Pro-field letters from Kevin Gardner, Dr. Kenny Rotner and Kim Clark.

Transcript of Dr. Bob Barth's public comments against crumb rubber

Ann Wright's letter against the artificial turf field

An anecdotal report of a cancer cluster among soccer goalies who play on tire crumb.

This email which references this column about Concord, MA going though a similar debate that a reader asked me to share.  According to the column, Massachusetts' State Community Preservation Act "does not allow funding of artificial turf itself due to health and environmental concerns."

Article 4 is the bus drivers contract. I'm voting YES. It seems like a big raise, but three years ago the bus drivers accepted a three year contract with essentially no raises in the wake of the financial crisis. That was very generous of them, but by now has ended up creating management problems as our pay scale is significantly below nearby districts making it very difficult to hire new drivers.

I saw a facebook comment that made me think I should try to explain what these numbers $69,147, $21,726 and $21,274 are.  They're not figures for a single bus driver. Each is the total raise, the amount of additional money for salary and benefits over the previous year, for all the bus drivers together.  $69,147 is next year's total raise -- it's the amount of additional money for salary and benefits that will be split among all the bus drivers in the next school year.   Last year's ABC report had driver expenses (including non-payroll) at $1,385,099, so $69,147 is a pretty nice 5% raise.  The $40.8M Article 7 below includes salaries and benefits for bus drivers at the same level as this year.   In the budget we approve next year (2016-2017), the $69,147 plus an additional $21,726 will be added to the big Article 7 appropriation and the default budget.

Article 5 is the contract for Paraprofessionals and Support Staff, the latter I think including the food service staff. Again it's a much larger set of raises than three years ago, when ORPaSS accepted a zero raise and two small raises in the wake of the financial crisis. That contract caused a management problem where newly hired staff was getting paid more than experienced staff that had been here a while. This contract corrects that, and I will be voting YES.

Article 6 asks the district to create and fund a Benefit Stabilization fund, some money to keep around to smooth shocks when our retirement contributions or health insurance costs spike. I'm voting NO.

Two and a half years ago the state shifted $600K of annual retirement costs to the district (we heard $500K at the time, but now the superintendent always says $600K), and this year they did it again, shifting $280K of annual contribution responsibilities to the district. These represent about 1.5% and 0.7% increases to the budget, respectively. The idea is that if we had this fund the district could release around half of the annual increase the first year, halving the initial impact on taxpayers. Taxpayers would pay the full increase the following year.

I'm not sure the board and administration actually understand how this fund is supposed to work. Because if they did, they wouldn't choose to fund it in the same year as a large benefit costs increase. But that's exactly what they've done. In a year when our budget goes up 0.7% from a retirement benefits cost shift, an increase covered by the taxpayers, the board has recommended we take an additional $200,000 (0.5% of the annual budget) from taxpayers. Instead of "offsetting unexpected increases in various benefits," passage of this warrant article actually does the opposite, exacerbating one of those very increases.

Two years ago the district voted to create an Emergency Reserve Fund with a broader charge. That fund and this have different covenants saying how they can be added to and spent from. The district already has enough ways to hold our money before it needs it -- I don't support giving it yet another.

In the past the district accidentally created a huge de facto reserve fund without all these restrictions by overestimating the cost of health insurance by $2 million in 2009. The taxpayers of 2009 overpaid by around 5% of the annual budget, and that was in essence given back to the taxpayers over the next three years, taking an average of 1.7% off the amount of the budget to be collected each year. Apparently every line in the budget can be its own reserve fund.

Article 7 is of course the main budget article, asking to spend $40.8M on schools. It's something of an unhappy milestone that the district has broken $40M for the first time. About 1/3 of this money comes from non-local tax revenue (mostly state education tax and grants, as well as federal grants and tuition and food income). The remaining 2/3 is apportioned among the towns and their property owners and goes into determining the local school tax rate for each town.

A NO vote activates the Default Budget. The Default Budget replaces Fund 10, and thus a NO win lowers spending by about $600,000 (1.5%). As the article states, rather than accept the Default Budget the board can try to get the voters to pass another one.

The district of late has been setting and meeting budget goals at around inflation (zero real growth).  This is extra impressive because school costs generally rise much faster than the broad inflation rate.  This cycle they relaxed that a bit, capping the operating budget increase at 3% (inflation is 1.9%). The district preemptively exempted the cost shifting of retirement benefits from their goal calculation but they claim to have met their goal even without using this exemption.

Last year's warrant had fund 10 at $38,061,624 and total op at $39,325,985. Naively, we're looking at an increase of 39,454,621/38,061,624=3.7% (fund 10) or 40,759,297/39,325,985=3.6% (total op). How can the district claim to have kept spending increases below 3% ? It's because they exempt the increases that come from other warrant articles (such as renegotiated contracts) in their calculation. Other issues I have with the district budget goals include not penalizing themselves for spending down the fund balance rather than using it to lower next year's taxes and not taking credit for increasing tuition and other income which goes directly to lowering taxes. I offer an alternative for the district to use in goal setting that addresses these issues in this largely unread post.

It's a pretty wonderful thing about this district that as a whole they want the best for the local children, and consistently vote to pay for it. There have been a couple of big ticket items recently: Moh Cafe, Strings.  Next perhaps a field, all day K (new plan is to start September 2016) and a new middle school.  Each of these seems worthwhile, but the aggregate is worrisome.  This year it appears the staffing cost increase attributed to tuition students exceeds the tuition income we will get from the increase in tuition students.  The property tax system is pretty regressive and we really need to be concerned about any increasing burden we are placing on all our residents, especially the least well off. 

All that said, over the last five years the total district budget growth has impressively come in below inflation, and we've been shrinking relative to the state average since 2006.  I hope we can keep that up.  I'm voting YES on Article 7.