Thursday, January 19, 2017

Football's back!

Football Is Back

The only real news to emerge from the budget hearing (video) is football is back. On January 10 at 3pm, two hours before the deadline, a citizen petition was submitted. The requisite twenty-five signatures were deemed valid, so this will appear on the ballot in March, subject to amendments at Deliberative Session:

Shall the district establish a football program at the Oyster River High School with the object of moving toward a varsity team in coordination with the rules and regulations of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA)? Budgeted start-up costs of $34,000 include; $15,000 raised by a community based "booster" club, $5,000 contribution from the school district and the balance of approximately $14,000 paid by the players (larger number of players lower cost per player) at 35 players it would be $400 per player
I've endeavored to render the shaky punctuation and grammar faithfully; please click on the inset to see the original.  I presume the district is required to present it at the deliberative session without editing.

The article asks taxpayers for $5,000 of the claimed $34,000 "start-up costs" of football.  The rest is about equally divided between player fees and fundraising.  This looks very similar to the plan rejected by the board a few years ago.  The board also rejected a football coop with Portsmouth High last year.

My understanding of the rules is that a single year request requires only a simple majority, while a multiyear commitment needs 60% for passage.  It's not totally clear, but I assume this is meant to be a one year request.  If passed, the fate of the program is undetermined beyond that.  The board could decide to add it permanently; if not the boosters can get another warrant on the ballot next year and leave it again to the voters. Presumably eventually the board would go along making annual votes unnecessary.

I'm not going to take a position now, but I will remind folks why this failed a few years ago.

First, there was a terrible proposed contract with ORYA that required the district to refund startup costs if they ever even considered ending the program.  There's nothing that mentions the ORYA in this warrant, so presumably they're out of the loop and the district is on its own.  That's probably an improvement over the awful contract.

Second, last time, as here, the budget neglected trainers, about $10 K per year, startup costs, and Title IX, which requires us to have as much girls athletics as boys athletics.  Partly the problem was the costs themselves, and partly it was that the "football is free to the taxpayers" hype felt like a deception after the truth came out.  At last night's school board meeting, Athletic Director Parker thought a more realistic budget was $64K first year costs, $37K annual costs years two through five, excluding Title IX concerns.

Third, the Title IX concerns weighed heavily. The district has to be extra careful about Title IX as they are under extra scrutiny due to a lawsuit a few years ago.   If 35 boys sign up for football, 35 opportunities for girls athletics have to be created.  I should be clearer: 35 additional athletic slots need to be actually filled by girls.  To the extent girls sign up for football or boys substitute football for another sport, that number is lessened.  The district could also choose to reduce the opportunities for boys in other sports.  The law allows a plus or minus 3 percent discrepancy, which may save us a few more slots.

Fourth, there were concerns for the health of the players in light of the growing awareness of the risk of concussion and other brain injury.

Fifth there were concerns about the effect on academics and school culture.

The board voted unanimously to not recommend this article be passed.  According to the law, even if passed the board can read this article as "blah blah blah $5,000 blah blah blah," stick the cash in the operating fund and never implement football. Their discussion around their unanimous dis-endorsement indicates to me that that is likely.

In the interest of having the voters vote on an article that the board might actually implement if passed, I've drafted the following. Please feel free to offer it as an amendment at Deliberative Session Feb 7.  Unfortunately I'll be out of town that night.

Shall the District raise and appropriate $50,000 to establish a football program commencing fall 2017 at the Oyster River High School in accordance with board policy and New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association regulations?  Budgeted first year costs of $79,000 cover equipment, trainers, transportation, field and lights operation and maintenance, need-based fee relief, increased storage,  Title IX compliance and more.  Offsetting revenue includes $15,000 raised by a community-based booster club and $14,000 in players fees. Annual costs in subsequent years are expected to be $27,000 less than the first year, offset by boosters and player fees; however this article only asks for the first year of funding.   At the discretion of the board, in the event that fewer than 30 players have not signed up or less than $15,000 has been contributed by Sept, 2017, the football program shall not be established.   

Budget Hearing

In addition to the school board and the administrative staff, three members of the public showed up at last Wednesday's budget hearing, including yours truly.  There was an older woman there that said she was at the meeting in the sixties when the budget first went over a million dollars.  That's less than this year's increase (though not so in inflation-adjusted terms).

The superintendent briefly presented the budget, which he said would have an increase in impact of 3.14%, around $1.3M.  That's the total increase we're asking of the taxpayers and state aid to towns.  It falls unequally on the three towns, with Durham's local school tax rate increasing over 4% while Madbury's is decreasing by 0.6%.  The town percentages are preliminary estimates by Business Administrator Caswell.  They're not particularly accurate, as the inputs are not truly known until summer.

The reason for the variations between towns is the apportionment formula.  The fraction of students in a town and the fraction of property in a town together determine the town's share of the school budget.   The state aid to towns varies as well.

The default budget, essentially what we get if the voters vote NO on the budget, is $150K higher than the proposed budget.  The default budget by law honors existing contracts but admits no new spending and no repeat of one-time expenditures from the previous year.   So, despite the 3% increase, the higher default budget is an indication the board kept things reasonably tight this cycle.

The board is drawing on $240K of reserves for the new budget.  If the voters go along, they will be adding $200K to the reserves from this year, so it's kind of a wash.  If the taxpayers say no, they get to save the money as the reserves will be drawn upon and not replenished.

The board did add several positions deemed a priority.  $55K was allocated for a second nurse at the high school.  We've let the current nurse handle more than double the usual load for a high school nurse.  Due to the influx of special ed students (see below) the nursing work is expected to significantly increase next year.

The high school also got an additional person in the counseling office to coordinate extended learning opportunities outside of the building.  This includes vocational offerings, classes at UNH, internships and online courses, VLACS.   You can take Phys Ed online!  The board felt the past and hopefully future growth in outside learning opportunities warranted a dedicated staff member.

In addition, a part time position has been made full time to accommodate the increase in students at the high school.   This is partly an increase of tuition students, and partly an increase in local students.  Despite years of dire warnings from the Long Term Planning Committee about a reduction in enrollment, we're seeing the opposite.

We're seeing an increase in special education students, with Director Plourde reporting 11 new students requiring one on one aids or nursing next year or expensive out-of-district placement.  The special ed budget increased $500K to handle the increased load.

There's lots more but this is getting long, so I'll post.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Board Poised to Approve Later School Start Time Compromise

At the Start Time Forum on October 13 (video), the district put forth its plan to start Middle School and High School later than the current 7:30 am.  The plan, unceremoniously named "Bus System #6," is to move the MS/HS start time to 8:15, 45 minutes later.   School would end at 3:00 pm, compared to 2:30 now.  That's a 15 minute shorter school day, down from 7 hours to 6:45. Elementary school remains 8:45 to 3:10.

Chairman Newkirk has put the Start Time plan vote on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, this Wednesday, November 2, 2016, ORHS library, 7 pm. The board has asked the student representative to survey high school students and report.

The cost of the proposed plan is $75,000 annually, a 0.2% increase to the budget. This is the cost for additional bus drivers, needed because elementary and MS/HS students will be bused simultaneously in the afternoon and closer together in the morning.  Even though additional buses cost $80,000 each, the two or three required will be obtained theoretically without budget impact by extending the life of each bus in the fleet from 10 years to 11 years. Next year we'd buy new buses like we always do, but we'd keep the oldest buses another year instead of the usual replacement.

The main virtues of this plan are: Elementary school times are left unchanged.  Older kids still get home in time to care for younger kids.  The 3 pm end time still allows for afterschool activities. The cost, while not zero, is minimal.  The district maintains its 40 minute maximum time per bus ride (but has clarified this does not include the time after school waiting to board.) The new field and lights are there to extend the sports day.

I favor a plan that swaps the elementary and older starts and lengthens the elementary day by fifteen minutes. (Elem 7:45 - 2:25 MS/HS 8:45 - 3:45). This plan accords with the very clear consensus of the researchers that an 8:30 or later start is best.  It doesn't cost anything in additional buses or drivers.  But it does push the end of school to 3:45, which seems very late to athletes and overachievers.  I'm most sympathetic to the criticism that the older kids would no longer be home in time to monitor the younger ones.

The shortening of the school day irks me the most.  I didn't know there was time to spare.  It's a reduction of 3.6%.  It's the equivalent of six and a half days of school per year off the calendar.

If the board wanted to meet the 8:30 guidelines, or just add back the time lost, they could add days to the calendar.  Each day added is equivalent to about 2 minutes and 20 seconds per day.  So we could start later and/or end earlier at the cost of more school days.  The contract currently limits teachers to 185 days, so this probably only a longer term solution.

The board has surveyed teachers twice and has gotten parent and community input through the forum and letters.  It will hear a report on a survey of high school students before it makes its decision.  While the the board has made a point to solicit input widely, I think it's unlikely the plan will change as a result.  I think there's a better than even chance the board will pass this plan unchanged on Wednesday.  Also possible is a delay of a meeting or two to gather more input.

It probably seems to the board and other folks that have been paying attention that the issue has dragged on for a long time.  I first posted in April, 2014 that it was among the board's goals   But I think the reality for most people is that they've only recently become aware that something may change, and they don't know the details.  The board's plan has only been public for not quite three weeks at this point. By calling it "Bus System #6" they're not really making it clear that this is the one.  I don't really see why the decision needs to made right now to get done in time for September, 2017, but I suppose I prefer that to the board's usual waffling.

I should mention the main misconception, repeated in the parent forum, and really not adequately addressed in the powerpoint.  Parents repeatedly voiced that it was a matter of discipline, limiting screens at night and getting to bed early.  While proper sleep hygiene is very important, and caffeine must be regulated, this is not just a question of parenting. It's not just that adolescents need more sleep, which they do.  It's that their natural sleep time is shifted later. There's not much point teaching them too early in the morning because their minds are not yet awake.  Obviously this doesn't apply to everyone, but it represents the norm as determined by researchers.

So I support the compromise, even though I'd prefer a solution that achieves the research consensus of 8:30 or later, with no loss of school time, perhaps by adding days to the calendar.

It occurs to me no one's discussed the ubiquity of prescribed stimulants, Vyvanse, Adderall, Ritalin and the rest.  I would imagine the aggregate effect on adolescent sleep could be quite large.

We should survey students and parents to get some "before" data.  Let's remember to ask about stimulants, both prescription and caffeinated.

Back in March I wrote these notes about the issue, which I don't think I ever posted here except in summary but may be of interest.

[Edit: this passed as expected.]

Mr. Harrington to Retire

For months I've neglected to mention that Dennis Harrington is retiring from Principal of Moharimet at the end of this school year.  He's been principal there forever, having been an educator for 55 years.  He recently achieved his longtime goals of a Moharimet cafeteria and full day Kindergarten, so I guess it's a good time to go. Congratulations, Dennis.  The search for a replacement is underway.  I'm sure I'll write more when the time comes.

Friday, September 23, 2016

High School Parents Corralled for Middle School Hard Sell

It was Open House at the high school yesterday.  Parents who got to the auditorium at 5:30 were treated to an incredible half-hour concert by the kids, amazingly pulled together by Mr. LaForce, Mr. Ervin and Ms. von Oeyen in just a couple of weeks.  But after it ended, there were still a few words to be had from our sponsor.

A video of Mr. Sullivan pushing a cart around the middle school started to play.  I thought it was some kind of comic relief.   Most of the audience retook their seats.

At this point, everyone was expecting the following:
Superintendent Morse: Thanks so much for coming out parents and students.  It's a tribute to how much our district cares about education that so many of you are here.  This open house is special, because I have the honor of introducing our fantastic new principal, Suzanne Filippone.  I could spend more time telling you how wonderful she is, but I hear what you're thinking so I'm just going to turn the microphone right over to her.
Principal Filippone:  Thank you, Dr. Morse.  Thank you, everyone. It's so wonderful to see you all here tonight.  It's been great getting to know your children this month, and I look forward to getting to know all of you.  This year is all about learning for me as well.  I hope you'll come to me with any concerns or questions you might have, or just to chat.  School is off to a great start, and we're really proud to offer you this glimpse into your children's high school experience.  I'll be around and I hope to meet you all.   Enjoy the open house.

We didn't get anything like that.  The principal didn't seem to be anywhere in sight.  After the overlong video finished, the superintendent got up and explained what we were seeing.  Apparently it takes many minutes to push the computer cart from one end of the building to the other, including a stint outside.  It's an old, pieced-together building.  Therefore, dear taxpayers, we need to have a "conversation" about building a new middle school.

The audience was nonplussed.  They had come to meet the new principal and their kid's teachers.  Now they were stuck in a timeshare pitch.  It happened so fast.  Folks started looking around, wondering if they could leave.  A fair number did.

I was thinking why the heck start with parents whose kids just finished middle school?   All they'll care about is the tax hike in store for them.  And why an ambush almost guaranteed to engender bad feelings toward the project?  And where in the world is the principal?  Trying to hide far away from this awful scene, no doubt.

I usually admire the superintendent's political savvy, but not last night.  The pitch dragged on until nearly 7 pm. [I've since been told by some board and administration folks that the pitch only went 20 minutes, to 6:30.  I apologize for the error.]  Some folks were genuinely angry.  Finally we hostages were released.  You can keep my cruise discounts.

The rest of the open house went well, though now that I think about it I don't recall seeing the principal.  [A few people have assured me the principal was cheerily there throughout the open house.]

I was at the board meeting when they discussed using the open houses as occasions to address the public, given the large audiences.  It's seemed like a good idea to me at the time.  I had no idea how ghastly it would turn out.

I know the middle school open house is next week.  I'm not sure if the elementary school ones have occurred.  Be warned, people.  Save yourselves.

The board and administration seem to be screwing up the Start Time issue too.  It's all coming to a boil soon, but I'll save that for my next post.

Don't forget that tomorrow, Saturday Sept 24, 2016, is official opening day for the new ORHS field, with festivities starting at 9 am and games all day.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Unprotected Sex, Gang Fights, Free Lunch

I couldn't pass up the lurid headline.

Unprotected Sex

The 2016 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is in.  This year we should have two reports: ORHS and ORMS.  As far as I can tell the reports are not yet available to us directly, but we did get a little tidbit at the June 15 school board meeting: Board member Barth reported 60% of ORHS students are having unprotected sex.  She suggested the European approach of condom vending machines in the bathrooms.  Here's the clip.

Gang Fights

OK, this is hype.  Really there was only one fight, between two kids.

According to news reports and gossip, on the night of Friday June 3rd, two groups totaling about 20 high school kids gathered at Margery Milne Park near Faculty Rd. in Durham to watch a fight between two students, one from each group.  One of the students was beaten so severely he is reported to be in the hospital "with life-threatening injuries."  The organizing was reportedly done over social media.

A few parents showed up at the June 15 meeting to make a public comment about the fight.  There was some sentiment that the school didn't react quickly enough, with a schoolwide auditorium on the Monday after the event.

When I first heard about the incident, I didn't like that the superintendent seemed to be distancing the school from the fight, saying it was a police matter and involved students from different schools.  By the time of the school board meeting the superintendent had come around 180 degrees on this, which was better.  (He distanced himself from the distancing, which felt disingenuous to me.)  Clip: the start of board meeting that addressed the fight.

I've seen my share of fist fights growing up.  If one of the participants stayed down and stopped fighting it was over.  Nobody got seriously hurt.

I don't see how we get life-threatening injuries in a fist fight without some sadistic stuff going on.  I'm talking about continuing to hurt someone after you know they're unable to defend themselves.  A crowd of our kids were watching this and didn't stop it.  For all I know they were cheering them on.

It's also amazing to me that there could be widespread dissemination of a fight on social media and not one person who knew about it notified the authorities.  Someone told me (rumor alert) that there were adults who knew about it and failed to report it.

More rumors: I've been told that these were all Durham kids involved, though the victim no longer attends Oyster River.  I've been told this was jocks versus nerds.  I've been told this was haves versus have-nots.   I was told the beater was a well known drug dealer from a prominent merchant family.  I was told he was allowed to return to school with no consequence.

The whole thing makes me ill.  This and the unprotected sex makes me think I'm living in an entirely  different place than I thought I was.  I grew up in New York City and Oyster River felt like Mayberry R.F.D. to me.  But I was wrong.  There's some sick stuff going on here.

Free Lunch at ORMS this Summer

Apparently there is such a thing as a free lunch.  Starting Tuesday, any school age child who shows up at the ORMS cafeteria Monday through Thursday between 11:30 am and 1 pm will be given a free lunch.   Somehow Doris Demers has made this free lunch thing happen.  It would be really great if kids actually showed up to eat.  My boy will be there most days.

I think they'll serve anyone, but us folks over 18 will have to pay.

The free lunch program runs from July 5 to August 11.  Here's Todd Allen making the announcement: clip.

Start Time Workshop

The board held a workshop on the start time issue at the end of May.  As far as I can tell from the minutes, they're screwing the whole thing up. But it's hard to tell, because the minutes discuss six or seven options without ever saying what the options are.

It looks like the board doesn't want to consider plans where high school ends after 3:00.  That pushes the opening to 8:00, which is 30 minutes before the earliest recommended time.  Plus it looks like they don't want to move the elementary schools earlier so (I think) they're exploring busing everybody at once.   So as far as I can tell the vague plan right now is to make us pay for extra buses to get a start time that doesn't even meet the minimum recommended.

I think the right plan is Elementary 7:45 am to 2:25 pm,  Middle School / High School 8:45 am to 3:45 pm.

Local Heinemann Fellows

The Heinemann Fellowship is a prestigious national award given every few years to around a dozen teachers whose work advances the teaching profession. In 2016, Oyster River's own Chris Hall, a fifth grade  teacher at ORMS, was one of the recipients.  Incredibly, so was Durham's Ian Fleischer, a fifth grade teacher at New Franklin School in Portsmouth. I'm fortunate to know both of them pretty well.  If it's not coincidence enough that two of eleven national fellows were from Durham, Ian's son and my son both just finished fifth grade, where their teacher was Mr. Hall.  Small world.  Congratulations, Ian and Chris. (Report).

Multiage K-1 Approved

This fall Oyster River will offer full day Kindergarten for the first time.  The board authorized the superintendent to hire an additional teacher.  The plan is for the new teacher to teach K, and an existing teacher to teach a multiage classroom of Kindergarten and first graders together.  This is because both schools together have filled six Kindergarten classes to our class size capacity (18).  Any additional students will have to attend Mast Way in a seventh class.  Usually we get a few more enrollees over the summer.  Similarly, Mast Way's first grade classes are at or near capacity.  The combined K-1 class solves both problems, and the board approved it with some trepidation.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Congrats Principal Filippone, Football Fails, Field Lights Pass

It was a well-attended meeting tonight, with a packed agenda that included football, start times, field lights and a new principal.   The 13 public commenters were restricted to two minutes each.  I made my public comment and had to run to pick up my daughter, so I missed the first hour.  I'll update this post if I see anything interesting on the replay.

New ORHS Principal Suzanne Filippone

The school board approved Suzzane Filippone as the new principal of Oyster River High School.  Ms. Filippone has been Assistant Principal at Spaulding High School in Rochester since 2013.  Before that, she served four years as Dean of Students at Doane Stuart in Rensselaer, NY.

Ms. Filippone is a local -- high school at Berwick Academy, UNH grad, and she currently lives in the district.  She starts at Oyster River in July.

The process went quickly.  Former principal Todd Allen began his new role as Assistant Superintendent in January.   Advertising for the new principal began in February, with applications due March 12.  There were 27 applications, 16 judged complete, with 6 being selected by a leadership committee.  These six candidates were interviewed on March 22 by a large committee of administration, teachers, parents and a student.  I was fortunate to be part of the committee, which recommended two finalists to go forward.  A subset of the committee visited the schools of both finalists.  Both met with the student senate and faculty.  It's not clear to me how the final choice was made -- I'll guess the superintendent alone was responsible.

I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so I can't say much.  I will say that all six candidates were great, and I thought any of them would make a great principal of ORHS.  But we chose the best.  Congratulations, Principal Filippone.  Good luck in your new job.

Football Fails

At the previous meeting, Athletic Director Parker said that the board endorsing the cooperative implies the district supports a local team once the cooperative ends.   Before this revelation, the board was ready to approve the coop as a compromise that allowed students to play at Portsmouth HS without having to host a team at ORHS.

Tonight's discussion on the football coop went oddly, with member Howland immediately moving the cooperative issue be punted to the March 2017 voters.  This was amended to ask 2017 voters to approve "a football program" at Oyster River.  Members Klein and Rotner thought it was the board's decision, and shouldn't be passed to the voters.  The motion failed.

Member Day made the sensible motion to approve an application that is up front with the NHIAA that the district currently has no plans to proceed with football once the cooperative ends.  In other words, instead of punting to the voters, punt to the NHIAA.  Member Rotner, a physician, worried about medical concerns related to sudden decelerations.   Chairman Newkirk worried that the agreement will end after one year if the NHIAA moves to four divisions.  He also was concerned about Title IX costs.   Member Falwell worried a later start time will mean football players miss a lot of class.  Member Klein lamented the proposed agreement does not assure the kids a sustainable program they can invest themselves in.  The motion failed, with only Member Day voting in the affirmative.

I think it's unfortunate the kids really into football won't get to play.  My opinion is much of the problem is with the current agreement, mostly Portsmouth's intent to dissolve it as soon as they can, not with coop agreements in general.  Perhaps there will be better cooperative opportunities in the future.

Start Time Discussed

The issue of moving middle and high school start times to after 8:30 to accord with current research is heating up in the community.  I made a public comment suggesting the district collect data now, to determine both student sleep habits "before" and parent sentiment.  I also suggested a plan I call Swap60+15: Elem 7:45-2:25 MSHS 8:45-3:45.  Swap means elementary and high school starts are interchanged, 60 means 60 minutes between the start times (versus the current 75) and +15 means 15 additional minutes in the elementary school day.

The board decided to interview staff at each school and then have another workshop.  I love the staff, but didn't we survey them a couple of months ago?  (76% were in favor of change, not the 56.2% erroneously calculated.)  I'll guess some of them won't like having their schedule screwed with, and some of them will, but they'll all want to keep their jobs so will work the hours they have to.

It's the parents that are going to make the difference.   I think the board's determination of the parents' views will determine their votes.  It looks like opposition against the change is getting organized, with this petition circulating.  The debate tends to go on on the ORCSD School Start Time facebook page.

Field Ahead of Schedule, Lights Approved

Construction on the field commenced several weeks early.  The warm winter meant the ground was not frozen as expected.  This moves the expected completion date to the end of September from mid-October.  About a third of the current field is fenced off, with heavy equipment already digging out the drainage space under the new track and field.

In a surprise to me, the board approved spending excess fund balance on the lights for the field.   Business Administrator Caswell stated this will not decrease the amount of fund balance expected to be returned to the taxpayer.  The found money came from unexpectedly low health insurance costs and some budgeted salaries for positions vacant or filled at less cost than expected.

The issue came up when the contractor offered a $20,000 discount if the lights could be included in the initial construction. The lights, along with dugouts (I had previously written "bleachers" -- I'm not sure about them now), were not part of the proposal approved by the voters last month.  It was stated then that the expected $300,000 cost would be raised from community donations.  Members Barth and Farwell voted against, saying the ballot was clear and the vote recent, so this change will cause the board to lose credibility with the voters.  I expect funds for the dugouts will still be raised privately.

I have to side with Barth and Farwell on this one.   First of all, contractor utterances should be treated skeptically.  I wonder what would have happened if the board had voted themselves a $40,000 discount?

Next, the whole transaction is ill-thought out.  If my buddy wants to buy me a gift, it doesn't make any sense for me to tell him I can get it cheaper so I'll just buy it for myself.  I'm out all the money instead of getting a free gift, and my buddy never got to give me anything.  It really doesn't make sense when it's not my money I'm spending, but the taxpayers'.

Last, my pet peeve is when the board goes on a spending spree at year end with fund balance rather than returning the money to the taxpayers.  Member Day made the comment that the problem with returning the money to the taxpayers is that in two years taxes go up more than expected.    I don't really find the logic that I should pay more tax this year so I don't get a big shock next year particularly compelling.  I want the board to keep as tight a lid on spending as is reasonable every year.  Plus if they really want to smooth out tax increases, there's a reserve fund the voters authorized for that purpose in 2013.  The board could vote to put the money in that fund rather than blowing it on lights that someone else was going to pay for.

Other News

The district held a forum on grief and loss earlier in the week.  Member Barth stressed she hoped this would be first of many, and that district would focus on prevention and gun safety.

Full Day K enrollment is currently 53 Mast Way, 51 Moharimet.  Once 54 enroll at Moharimet, future enrollees will end up at Mast Way no matter where they live.  So if you want your kid to attend Moharimet Kindergarten, you better enroll them right away.

The 35 houses expected to be built at the west end of Hayes Rd. were assigned to the Mast Way school.   Neighboring elementary students on Hayes Rd. attend Moharimet.  The move is intended to aid equalization between the schools -- Moharimet is still overcrowded.  As the houses are yet to be built, there's no one to complain.

Next year's health insurance premium increase came in at 8%, a savings of $324K or .75% of the budget.  One of the budget shocks this year came when our insurers gave us budget guidance of a "guaranteed maximum" increase of 16%.  It turned out to be half that, which means more money in next year's fund balance for the board to blow.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

AD Spooks Board on Football Coop

This is a report on the March 16, 2016 school board meeting.

Coop Football with Portsmouth In Doubt

After tonight's board meeting, I'd say it's much less likely we will form a Divison 1 cooperative football team with Portsmouth High School.  This is because Athletic Director Parker confirmed that board approval of the NHIAA application for a cooperative team implies that the schools intend to form individual teams when conditions allow.

Until tonight's meeting, my reading of the board was they intended to approve the cooperative.  It seemed a great compromise.  ORHS kids who wanted could play football at PHS.  Oyster River High School doesn't host a team.  At the board's request, the agreement was redrafted to explicitly indicate no Oyster River money and no Oyster River insurance would be involved.  Several board members made statements indicating their vote for the cooperative did not imply they supported a team at Oyster River High School.  It was poised to pass.

Portsmouth has already said it intends to dissolve the cooperative when it can support a Division 2 team.  Apparently there is a possibility that NHIAA will add a fourth division soon, which would let Portsmouth have its wish.  We could be looking at just one season of cooperative football before we would be faced with the question of football at ORHS, to which the board will have already committed.

Three years ago, football at ORHS was addressed head on.  Having the field solves one problem. But it was clear then that the money, Title IX, and safety concerns added up to make approval impossible. Judging by tonight's discussion, that still seems to be the case.

About 10 people, mostly middle school students, spoke in favor of the football cooperative.  The students were very impressive.  It's really hard to stand and talk at that podium, especially the first time.  They all did great.  We should be very proud of these kids.

Actually, I thought the kids were more persuasive than the parents.  Former board member Krista Butts at times seemed to be scolding the board.  Coach Willie Ouellette seemed to belittle the board for tasking Athletic Director Parker to gather more information.  But ultimately the public comments didn't matter.

The only public comment against was from Dr. Bob Barth, who reiterated safety concerns.  But it was his wife, board member Maria Barth, who dealt the decisive blow.  Member Barth, like her husband, is known to be against football.  Before tonight, she was probably the only vote against the football cooperative.  She was the one who questioned AD Parker directly about the implications of board approval of the application.  To his credit, AD Parker answered forthrightly, even though his answer seriously damaged the prospects of a football program he supports.

Ms. Barth moved to get the issue off the board table and onto the March 2017 ballot, when the voters could decide.  No second was forthcoming.  At the time, football supporters were hoping for a quick approval that evening.  They might want to reconsider the ballot alternative in light of what happened.

Congratulations Chair Newkirk and Vice Chair Day

As this was the first meeting after the election, the board had to choose officers.   Newly reelected Tom Newkirk was unanimously voted Chair by the board.  This will be Tom's third term as Chair.  Denise Day was elected Vice Chair.  Al Howland, the former Vice Chair, said he wasn't interested remaining in the position because he was just elected to the Durham town council.

Congratulations to Superintendent Morse as well.  He got a 2.5% raise and his contract extended another year.

Congratulations to the new student member, a junior named Troy LaPolice.

Principal Search Progressing

The superintendent reported that a leadership committee has whittled the I believe 14 applications for high school principal down to six.  A committee of teachers, administrators and parents will interview the applicants next Tuesday.    After the interviews come site visits to the candidates' schools and reference checking.  The plan is to recommend two candidates to the board, and they make the ultimate choice.  It might get done by April 6.  We're early; nothing stops us from opening up the process again if none of the candidates is satisfactory.

I want to say a personal thank you to Superintendent Morse for his kind words when he announced I would be on the committee.  I can't say much more than that because they made me sign a non-disclosure agreement.

The principal job became vacant when Todd Allen was promoted to Assistant Superintendent.  Dean of Students Mike McCann currently serves as acting principal.

Start Time Process Lengthened

The board held a workshop on the start time issue last week (unusually detailed minutes from the superintendent).  I thought the intent was to come up with one or two detailed plans to frame the community discussion.   Instead, what came out of the meeting was a bunch of doubts about doing it at all.  There's now a plan to survey teachers, and they're talking about surveying parents as well.  Of course, it helps to have the possible plans in hand so you can ask about them in the survey, but they didn't generate any.

It's always seemed to me that it was the will of the board to get this one done.  Now I think whether it happens will depend on community sentiment. Here's the facebook group in favor.

Field Construction Commencing - Indoor Graduation June 10

The district isn't wasting any time getting started on the new field.  Assistant Superintendent Allen reported that there may be contractors on the current field within the next couple of weeks.

Acting Principal McCann announced graduation date is June 10, 2016.  The superintendent has committed to this date even with a serious storm expected on Monday.

There will be a meeting to discuss having graduation indoors.  Besides the usual weather concerns, field construction might interfere with outdoor plans.

Middle School Buy In

Member Barth stated that it was time to seriously bring up the issues surrounding the middle school with the community.  Some board members are looking at architectural drawings for a new school while most of the public knows nothing about the upcoming expense.  Stay tuned for more about this.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Field Passes!

ORHS Will Get Its New Track and Field

In a surprise to many, article 3, the $1.5M ORHS Track and Field Bond, passed with 68% voting YES.  This greatly exceeded the 60% needed to pass the bond.  Article 5, which authorizes the district to sell some land and put the proceeds toward the field, and article 6, which puts $500,000 of fund balance into the field fund, also passed.  Congratulations to the supporters on a successful campaign.

The idea (and fund) to build an Oyster River track is over twenty years old.   Similar bonds have failed to reach 60% four times in the past. The board, the administration, and the supporters deserve a lot of credit for succeeding where many have failed before.  I believe the plan is to do the bulk of the construction over the summer, but I'm sure Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen and Athletic Director Corey Parker will get started immediately.

The vote was YES 1786,  NO 831.  That's a total of 2617 votes.  That exceeds the 2529 from last year's field bond, which failed with 54.6% voting YES.  This is surprising too -- I've been hearing reports, and witnessed firsthand, a relatively light day at the polls.  It was a beautiful day to be out holding a sign, with sunny skies and low 50s.

With the $400K fund balance from article 3, $500K from article 6, likely $300K from article 5, and a previous track fund of $300K, that's $1.5M.  Given that haul, it's possible the district may bond less than the full $1.5M that passed.  Since the field costs $2.3M,  the district can bond as little as $800K. I'll guess it's more likely they'll bond all or near the full amount, and put the excess toward capital maintenance projects, which they are authorized to do.

Congratulations Tom Newkirk and Kenny Rotner

In a result that surprised no one at all, Chair Tom Newkirk and Board Member Kenny Rotner were resoundingly reelected to the Oyster River School Board.  They are sentenced to three more years of hard labor.  Congratulations, Tom and Kenny.

Margaret Redhouse got a rather startling 635 votes.  I'm guessing there are not many ORCSDcleanslate readers among those. 

Oyster River School District Results

I'll reproduce the School District results here -- thanks to Todd Selig and Durham.  Mistakes in the percentages are my fault.

ARTICLE 1:  SCHOOL MODERATOR (Vote for not more than one)

Richard Laughton      2043     ELECTED

ARTICLE 2: SCHOOL BOARD AT LARGE (Vote for not more than two)

Thomas Newkirk     1670    88%    ELECTED
Kenneth Rotner       1488    78%     ELECTED
Margaret Redhouse   635    33%

Percentages calculated assuming total adds to 200%.

ARTICLE 3: Shall the District raise and appropriate the sum of $1.9 million for the renovation and construction of athletic fields and a track at Oyster River High School, and to authorize the issuance of not more than $1.5 million of bonds or notes … ? (A 3/5 (60%) ballot vote required)

YES 1786  68%     PASSED
NO    831   32%

ARTICLE 4: Shall the district vote to approve the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association (ORESPA) and the Oyster River School Board? (Majority vote required)

YES 1985    77%      PASSED
NO     581    23%

ARTICLE 5: Shall the district authorize the School Board to sell the 24.97 acre lot on Orchard Drive in Durham and put the proceeds ... in the Facilities Development Capital Reserve Fund? (Majority vote required)

YES   2097   82%      PASSED
NO      464   18%

ARTICLE 6: Shall the School District . . . vote to raise and appropriate the up to $500,000 to be added to the Facilities Development Capital Reserve Fund? (Majority vote required)

YES 1996     80%      PASSED
NO     496     20%

ARTICLE 7: Shall the District establish a non-lapsing Equipment Revolving Fund . . . for the purpose of providing equipment to students in need? (Majority vote required)

YES 2228   89%     PASSED
NO    275    11%

ARTICLE 8: Shall the District raise and appropriate . . . an operating budget . . . totaling $42,303,815? Should this article be defeated, the default budget shall be $40,892,769. (Majority vote required)

YES    1695    69%     PASSED
NO        771    31%

A total of 2670 school district ballots were cast.

Town Results

Everything went our way in Lee.  The Lee Sustainability Committee passed overwhelmingly.  Congratulations to Paul Gasowski and his team.  The Tibbetts Road gating and closing was defeated as a result of a very successful campaign by John and Anne Tappan.  Congratulations.  Raw Lee Results.

Al Howland got the most number of votes for town council in Durham, so is one of the three councilors elected.  Congratulations to Al, Wayne Burton (who I should have endorsed) and Allen Bennett, who I don't know.  Raw Durham and Oyster River Results.

I didn't make any recommendations in Madbury, but here are the Raw Madbury Results.