Sunday, November 5, 2017

Racism, Football's Back, Start Time Gripes, Cell Phones, Blizzard Bags, Non Bond

I haven't posted since before the summer.  School started a couple of months ago now.  There's lots going on.

Racism in Oyster River

In September, we heard reports of two incidents of racism between ORCSD students.   This news unfortunately coincided with reports of an attempted lynching of an eight year old by teens in Claremont and followed reports of racism at UNH.  In Charlottesville in August "fine people on both sides" apparently included Nazis with Tiki Torches. All this on the fiftieth anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that ended all bans on interracial marriage in the US.

The first incident involved two grade school students on the school bus from Mast Way September 1st. I believe I read the perpetrator, for lack of a better word, was reported to be in second grade though I cannot find that reference.  The victim is the son of an interracial couple new to the district.  They have gone public, which is the only reason we know of it.  The policy of the district has been to keep these incidents quiet to protect the identities of children involved.

There's an unreleased video of the incident that has been reviewed by the parents. The published accounts are pretty horrific. Verbal abuse included repeated taunts of “whites are over blacks” and “blacks are white's slaves” and what the victim's mother describes as "gorilla screams."  She describes the physical abuse as "being continually hit with a baseball the child held in his hand and being hit with his backpack."  She said the abuse lasted over 40 minutes.

The original article also alluded to a second incident, some sort of racist jokes at the middle school.  The report quoted a parent who claimed that the teachers and principal did not take the incident seriously, which I personally find hard to believe.  But this does indicate that these issues have been handled separately in each school generally without involving the superintendent.  In response to the recent incidents this has all changed, and the board is working on new policy to reflect this.

The district's response has been pretty swift and widespread.  They engaged New Hampshire Disproportionate Minority Contact Coordinator Andrew C. Smith to help with the effort.  (The mouthful of a title refers to Mr. Smith's function to address the treatment of minorities by the justice system.)  He is personally training all Oyster River teachers, staff and administration. Plans are in the works to make the training available to district parents and probably anyone else interested.


On October 25th the district held a Diversity Forum chaired by Mr. Smith in the ORHS cafeteria.  It followed the community supper, which was excellent thanks to Nutrition Director Doris Demers.  

This was easily the most well-attended district forum I've been at.  The superintendent claimed there were over four hundred people in the room.  

The ten or so panelists each relayed personal stories about how discrimination had affected their family's lives.  The format was innovative; instead of the audience asking questions of the panelists, they asked questions of us.  One asked, "what do we not often share with others and why?"  My table turned out to include a fair numbers of quiet atheists, who shall remain nameless.  One person admitted to being a lawyer.

The forum was about diversity writ large rather than racism per se, which broadened the discussion to include sexism and special needs children being treated poorly.  Asians are perhaps the largest minority in Oyster River and one parent lamented how her children's achievements are dismissed as all Asians are presumed to be smart.

To me the most moving talk of the night came not from the panelists or Mr. Smith, but from Superintendent Morse himself.  He shared his personal story of being called "poor white trash" throughout his youth; it's right at the beginning of the video above.  The irony of course is that at the forum on diversity a white male stole the show.

Football Is Back

Two board meetings ago, former board member Krista Butts made a comment informing the board of a potential football cooperative opportunity with Portsmouth High School.  At the last two board meetings a number of people spoke in favor of the football coop.  For regular school board watchers it felt like deja vu; we've seen this before.

Last March's ballot question, though mangled at deliberative session, seemed to indicate the will of the community is to not have football at Oyster River.  While I hoped at the time this would put the issue to rest, I didn't think it would, and of course it hasn't.

Ms. Butts claims the agreement with Portsmouth High addresses all the concerns the board had with the previous proposed cooperative agreement.  These include a concern about Portsmouth ending the agreement when they change divisions.  Apparently they did change to division one where they will stay, but they are still interested in the cooperative.  The claim is once Oyster River signs our district is out of the loop. ORCSD would not be responsible for providing any money, transportation, insurance etc. to support the ORHS students that choose to participate. 

To my knowledge the agreement is not yet available for inspection by the public.  (That means I spent a few minutes looking and didn't find it; if anyone has a link, please let me know, thanks.)  So we can't really verify claims about the agreement just yet.  

There were a few issues that came up last time that a new agreement probably can't really address.  The district is under extra scrutiny to obey Title IX, so essentially for every boy playing another sport we have to find a new girl athlete. This not only costs money but is difficult to do because at around a 75% participation rate it seems most people that wish to play sports at ORCSD are already doing so.

One thing that scuttled the first cooperative agreement with Portsmouth was then board member Barth's question and then Athletic Director Parker's answer that a cooperative agreement was an indication to the NHIAA (who approves these agreements) that the district intends to seek a football program of its own once the cooperative ended.  Maria's left the board and Corey's left the high school, but I'm pretty sure the superintendent and a few board members remember.  The board could just not mention it again, or be honest in the application about their real motivations (the cooperative tries to satisfy all sides by allowing Oyster River kids to play at Portsmouth while keeping football out of Oyster River proper) and let the NHIAA decide.

Chairman Newkirk mentioned a second proposed cooperative, this time with Dover HS.  This was the first I'd heard of that.  It didn't seem to me Ms. Butts was that interested in that one; the focus is still on Portsmouth.

Dr. Bob Barth (husband of Maria) and board member Dr. Kenny Rotner spoke against football, citing health concerns, especially CTE.  Bob got himself in a bit of trouble with his rhetoric, using "child abuse" and "Aaron Hernandez monster tragedies."

From the discussion it seems pretty clear that board member Brian Cisneros is in favor of a football coop, board member Rotner is against and the remaining five are undecided.  Member Williams couldn't make the last meeting.  The board decided to wait until all seven were at the table before deciding how to proceed.  My guess is that at the next meeting they will vote to authorize exploration of the agreements, with a deciding vote to come after a report from the athletic director and assistant superintendent.  I'm not sure of the time frame involved.  My recollection is the NHIAA requires a fair bit of lead time, so perhaps the final decision will be made before the year end.

Here's the video of the 10/18 & 11/1 boards meeting. Public comments are at the beginning.  Board discussion of football starts at 1:43:20 in the second video.





Start Time Gripes, Bus Drivers Wanted, Homework Denounced

A number of parents have made comments at school board against the new start time.  The concerns cited include students more tired than before because they're starting their extracurriculars and homework later and thus staying up later.  There is also concern that classes at the last period of the day are taking the brunt of the change, with increased absences as students deal with the new schedule.

It's difficult to disentangle this issue with two others: the bus driver shortage and the issue of homework.   The district plan for the new start time involved hiring an additional driver or two.  Unfortunately this has coincided with a local and nationwide shortage of bus drivers.  Despite intensive hiring efforts, the district has been operating with four fewer drivers than needed, contributing to long bus rides.

If you ever wanted to be a bus driver, now's a good time to start.  Some districts in Massachusetts are offering $30 an hour.  Our district offers a pretty good wage and benefits.  They're talking about offering to pay potential drivers during their CDL training period.  The drivers are now being represented by a union, which has lengthened contract negotiations currently underway.

The board is beginning to address the issue of too much homework, which at member Rotner's urging they promised to do when they made the start time change.  A meeting with the Student Senate was postponed due to the wind storm closure, but this issue is sure to heat up in the next few months.  The students and parents are currently being surveyed.

I can report that my own daughter, now a sophomore, last year would come home from school and almost always fall asleep and have to be woken for dinner.  This year, with the later start, that pattern is gone.  Nonetheless she says she doesn't like the later start time; I think that may be a prevailing view among her peers.

With daylight savings time ending yesterday, we're really going to feel the later start time now. For much of the long winter we'll have barely an hour of daylight left after school ends, and for most of that the kids will be on the bus.

School Cell Phones

Quite a few parents spoke out against the way cell phones and mobile devices are being used in Oyster River Schools.  The concerns were focused mostly on the middle school and somewhat on the elementary schools.  The buses are a concern.  

The current policy is JICJ and the associated procedure document is JICJ-R.  This non-R/R division is common.  The board policy committee is charged with creating or updating policies.  The administration creates the R document to detail their procedures to administer to policy.   Usually the full board reviews both documents at the same time but only approves the policy, the non-R document.  The various school handbooks are additional sources that are supposed to be consistent with the other documents.

In this case it seems the R document is causing the concern.  There's no recognition that younger students might need different rules; if your parents gave you a phone, you're entitled to use it according to this procedure:


The board asked the policy committee to survey policies from other New Hampshire districts and to review our own cell phone / mobile device policy and and suggest changes.  The current policy was modified last year and was generally agreed to be satisfactory for high school.

Snow Days and Blizzard Bags

School was closed for two days due to a wind storm on Sunday October 29th.  Many parts of the district, especially Lee, had no power until Thursday evening.  Many folks lost their cable, internet and phone service as well.  Cellular service seemed to remain up throughout.

The superintendent had a plan to turn this Thursday's teachers' workshop back into a regular school day.  Member Day pointed out this is a four day weekend (Friday is Veteran's Day, no school) for which some families surely made plans to travel.  That was persuasive and the board decided not to change the calendar.  They did put the community on notice that they may reclaim the March or May teachers' workshop.

The topic of Blizzard Bags came up.  I had never heard the term.  Apparently New Hampshire has a provision to have a snow day count as a school day.  It requires teachers be standing by (presumably by telephone or online) and 80% student participation.  While a few parents were enthusiastic about the idea, Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen seemed to indicate that the way Oyster River counts instruction time (990 hours not 180 days) meant that it probably wouldn't help us; he'll present details at the next meeting. Todd's remarks are 54:54 into 11/1 meeting.

Siemens and the Non Bond

The district is poised to enter into a long term capital agreement with Siemens.  There's nothing too surprising there; in fact I think we're just finishing up paying off the previous one.  Siemens has been involved in capital improvements to the district buildings for the last five years, particularly those that increase energy efficiency.   

While exact details remain to be worked out, the district is considering a five to seven million dollar lease purchase agreement.  Siemens will do that dollar value of capital projects over the next year or two and the district will pay them off through a ten year or twelve year lease at around half a million dollars a year.   At the end of the lease the district owns the capital improvements.

If this sounds like a bond, it pretty much is, with one crucial difference: the approval of the voters is not required to enter into these lease-purchase agreements.   A bond that committed the district to payments of half a million dollars a year would require approval of 60% of the voters on election day.  This deal requires the YES vote of four board members.  

Our history with Siemens is good so these projects will likely be fine. What I object to is the end run around the public for the financing.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Barth Resigns, Cisneros Appointed

Maria Barth Resigns

I haven't posted since around election day in March.  At first there wasn't any news to post about.  Then there was.

A month ago, on May 17th, 2017, Maria Barth resigned.  She was serving in her sixth year on the Oyster River School Board, the last year of her second term.  Before moving back to Oyster River, Maria served in Kittery government for 17 years, including 11 years as school board chair.

Ms. Barth stated at the end of the meeting:  "Today we have touched on two things that are extremely important to my values, namely religion and the constitution [...] and the second is the policy of [manifest] oversight, so with that I will offer my resignation."

The constitution/religion issue she was referring to was the question of a second school board meeting in September.  I believe it first came up at the May 3rd meeting.  Member Rotner announced that he couldn't attend because of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, New Years Day.  The superintendent suggested eliminating the meeting from the calendar, as typically that meeting isn't very busy as the bulk of work occurs before school opens and then in budget season, starting November or so.  Maria objected on constitutional grounds, saying now the board would then have to cancel meetings for any religious holiday.  She did not accept the argument that they would accommodate any board member's schedule regardless of reason in the same manner.

The manifest oversight refers to the review of the district checkbook before every school board meeting.  The current procedure requires a quorum of four members of the board to be present at 6:30 pm.  Then the meeting is officially opened, but the only business conducted is manifest review.  After the board approves the manifest the meeting is recessed until 7 pm, which is the regular start time for all other business.  The policy change was to have two members review the manifest instead of four, then the full board could approve the manifest based on the recommendation of the two.  Maria thought this to be an unacceptable abdication of oversight.

While I adore Maria and will continue to do so for the rest of my life, I am not very comfortable with her method of resigning.  Had she told the school board that she felt strongly enough about these issues that should would resign, the school board would almost certainly have acceded to her wishes. I do not understand why she chose to resign without giving the board the opportunity to change its mind first.

I also do not agree with her reasons.  I'm sympathetic to the argument that if they can, the board and leadership would defer to members' schedules regardless of the reason; there's no need to drag religion and the constitution into it.   As for oversight, I don't think anyone has ever found anything in a manifest review that wasn't going to its intended purpose from an approved budget line.  No one writes "illegal withdrawal" in the memo line of the checks.  For years the district hardly did manifest review at all, though I believe they are required by statute.  I think the system would operate at about the same level of oversight despite the workload reduction.

Regardless, I and everyone should thank Maria Barth for her incredible service over the past five years.  She was the voice of experience, taking over as Chairperson after the bad board had been twice found guilty of violating the Right-to-Know law and got trounced on election day in March, 2012. Chair Brackett and Member Kach were out and four new members, Maria, Ed Charle, Al Howland and Tom Newkirk, were in.

And then things went well.  They didn't have to go well.  The community was divided.  The budget was too high.  Seven administrative positions, including two superintendents, turned over in just a couple of years.  But Maria led with reason and calm, and the district continues to thrive today.

Maria was also the conscience of the district.  She would ferret out the underlying moral issues us lesser folks would let pass unnoticed.  She made us all better.  I will miss her guiding voice very much.


Brian Cisneros Appointed


Maria was the Lee representative to the board.  (The board has four at-large seats and three town-specific seats).  The rules say if there were (I believe) two other Lee residents on the board, they (or the board as a whole, not sure) could choose the replacement to serve until the next election day.  That wasn't the case on the Oyster River board, so the decision fell to the Lee Select Board.  They appointed Brian Cisneros.

I don't know Mr. Cisneros.  He made a short opening statement at the June 7 board meeting: "Been in Lee since 2003.  Two kids in the school system.  One finishing up second grade going into third grade; started in the PEP program back when he was three.  My daughter is just finishing up eight grade and going on to the high school.  Been involved with special ed since second grade. So [I've] been very happy with the school system here and I'm very excited to be part of the program and join the team and be part of the successful plan you guys have."

According to the Internet, Mr. Cisneros is Director of Business Development for Navitance.  They appear to be a financial consulting firm for startups and non-profits; they offer interim CFOs among other services.


I wish Mr. Cisneros well for the remainder of his term and beyond.  We heard that three other Lee folks applied along with Brian.  I want to thank all of them personally; you all saved me from having to try to join the board.  Hopefully you'll volunteer again when the time comes.



Tom Newkirk, Chair; Denise Day, Vice Chair

I meant to mention that Tom Newkirk and Denise Day were reelected to their board leadership roles.   Furthermore, Hannah Jane Wilson was chosen as the student representative to the board.  The Wilsons have a bit of dynasty going; HJ's sister Caroline served as student rep two boards ago.

Impromptu China Trip

My daughter was one of nineteen studio orchestra students and ten chaperones to go to China in a hastily arranged trip.  The host was Chengdu University.  The original plan was for Portsmouth High to send 80 students to China in 2018 and Oyster River send 80 in 2019.  That's still the plan, but this recent trip was called a "pilot program" where up to twenty students were invited.  The students and several of the chaperones were heavily subsidized by the Chinese.

Dave Ervin and Jie Du first presented the possibility and got approval at the March 22nd school board meeting.  By six am the next morning students were lining up at the high school to sign up.  They flew to China on April 21st.  There they visited the cities of Chengdu, Xi'an and Beijing.  The group toured many famous sites including The Great Wall, Tienanmen Square, the Terracotta Army and a Panda Reserve.  They were all home June 2nd and back in school the next day.

In the four weeks of preparation, Mr. Ervin arranged and the students learned music to a silent movie, Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr.   They had the opportunity to perform it four or five times in China, always to enthusiastic audiences.  Our students report they were generally treated like celebrities. Several times, after their performance the group was treated to performances by local students.


 


Dennis Harrington Retires

I missed Dennis Harrington's retirement party on Sunday, June 4. Reports are a good time was had by all.  The school board arranged to pay Principal Harrington part time for the summer to assure his participation in a smooth transition to Principal David Goldsmith.  So there's still plenty of time to stop in and say goodbye to a beloved principal who will be truly missed.


Mast Way enrollment exceeds Moharimet's

Unless there's a surprise in new registrations, it appears the 2017-2018 school year will have fewer students in attendance at Moharimet than Mast Way,  They're starting to joke about towing the modular classrooms to Lee. In all seriousness, the now full-day kindergarten and first grades are both at full capacity at Mast Way and additional registrants may be shifted to Moharimet wherever they live.  That's not definite; I think there's a multi-age classroom solution being considered as well.

After a couple of years of worrying about it when the problem got out of hand, the board voted in December 2013 to redraw district bus lines to shift students to Mast Way.  Moharimet had been overcrowded for a while, severely so for that last year (and the next).  At the time of the decision I predicted five years for the enrollments to even out; here we are in three.  I also warned that the last minute addition of the Wedgewood neighborhood to Mast Way might overcompensate, which may be what is happening.


Competencies Take Over Middle School

The board has seen a couple of presentations of the Competency Reporting system being developed at the middle school.  Letter grades have been changed to a three tier scale for each "competency": Beginning, Progressing, and Meets.  There were tedious debates about adding "Exceeds" but that was decided against.

Competency grading has been in place in fifth grade for a while and recently expanded to sixth grade math.  The middle school is taking a big step along the path toward competency grading, with almost all 5, 6 and 7th grade classes using it exclusively next year I believe. High school will continue to use letter grades. Eighth grade will have both competencies and letter grades, a bit of micromanaging by the school board that I think is a good choice to aid the transition to high school.

In this example report from the current school year there are different meanings to the letters in the Habits of Learning section versus in the Competency section.  I believe that will be remedied in the coming year.


2016-2017  competency report


There's another board meeting Wednesday -- see you there.







Monday, March 20, 2017

Day and Williams win, Football loses

The school district election results are in, combining the results from Durham on Tuesday, Madbury on Thursday and Lee on Saturday.  To no one's surprise, the two candidates for the two school board seats both won.  Congratulations to returning board member Denise Day and new board member Michael Williams.  We wish you both good luck over your three years terms. There's a school board meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, 3/22/17, but with the delayed voting, it's not clear that Denise and Michael will be certified in time to vote at that meeting.

Congratulations to Richard Laughton, reelected moderator after running unopposed for the umpteenth time.  Congratulations to the board and the district administration for all their articles passing by wide margins.  Thanks to outgoing board member Sarah Farwell, who chose not to run for reelection, for her excellent service over the last three years.  Thanks to outgoing student board member Troy LaPolice, for his always informative contributions to the discussion over the last year.

Turnout was around 1808 (the maximum votes for any question), relatively low for our district, which usually attracts between 2000 and 3000 voters, depending on how contested the district and town elections are.  The dearth of contested races on both the district and town ballots, together with the disruptions caused by the storm, are presumably responsible for low turnout.

Really the only controversial question on the district ballot was article 8, pertaining to football.  You'll recall during an acrimonious deliberative session it was amended to read:
Shall Oyster River High School continue to provide a large range of athletic programs, excluding football?
I really only ever saw the folks in favor of football campaigning.  (That's not totally true, I just remembered a letter to the editor against football from Dr. Bob Barth.)  Nonetheless, the district voted YES by a wide margin, 1315 YES versus 422 NO.  That's 76% YES, 24% NO, a rejection of football by a large margin of 52%.  I'd like to think this puts the issue to rest for a while; we'll see.

Thanks to Lee voters for voting down the SB2 repeal by a large margin.

There's not much to say about the rest of the district ballot.  I'll include without comment the unofficial results as reported by the superintendent.  My previous post includes the exact text of the ballot.



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Voting Guide for the 2017 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election

ORCSDcleanslate busy voter guide: Election Day is Tuesday, March 14 in Durham, Thursday, March 16 in Madbury and Saturday March 18 in  Lee. Vote for Denise Day and Michael Williams for school board (there are two candidates for two seats) and YES on articles 3 through 7.  If you want football in the district, vote NO on article 8.  If you do not want football in the district, vote YES on article 8.

Lee voters, please vote NO on Lee article 5, to keep Lee an SB2 town.  A YES win changes Lee back to town meeting governance, as opposed to the current form, where there's a Deliberative Session in February to amend the ballot, and then articles are voted on on Election Day in March.


STORM UPDATE, Monday 7:02 pm  There's a big snow storm predicted for tomorrow.  As of now, Accuweather has it starting in the morning, 8 am. The NH Secretary of State's position is that postponing the election may subject the results to legal challenges.  Two of our three towns have decided to postpone.

Durham says their elections are ON!   The police are offering to drive folks to the polls Tuesday.  That seems iffy to me given that the major question on the Durham ballot is about an upgrade to the police station.  

Madbury says their election will be Thursday, 11 - 7:30, with town meeting commencing at 7 pm.

Lee has postponed, moving their election to Saturday, 7 am to 7 pm.

ORCSD has cancelled school for Tuesday due to weather.

Click to enlarge these official statements from the towns and the district.

Madbury
Durham
Lee


ORCSD

District News

Passing of the torch: Board approves David Goldsmith as new principal of Moharimet

There hasn't been much news since my last post. The board has approved David Goldsmith as the new principal of Moharimet.  Mr. Goldsmith  (application here) is currently the Assistant Principal of the K-5 Stratham Memorial School in Stratham. He lives in Durham and has two children attending Moharimet, though one will be in the middle school next fall when Mr. Goldsmith takes over. He has 13 years experience as a teacher. Before Stratham, Mr. Goldsmith was a teacher in the Horne Street Elementary School in Dover and a professor at Franklin Pierce University. (NH1 story)

Dennis Harrington is retiring after 49 years as an educator.  He recently achieved his two long time goals of getting Moharimet a cafeteria and getting full day Kindergarten in the district.  Dennis is of course greatly loved in the community.  I'm sure there will be an event or two celebrating his career before he retires in July.

Election Guide

This is my annual guide to the 2017 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, which is the biased part.  It's going to be relatively brief this year as I don't have a lot of time.

Voting Information

Election day in Oyster River is this Tuesday, March 14th. 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 (Tuesday):     Oyster River High School 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Lee (Saturday):           Public Safety Complex 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Madbury (Thursday): 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 (but not really labeled so):



Article 1 elects the district moderator.  As far as I can tell, the only real duty of the moderator is to run the deliberative session in February.  (I often see Mr. Laughton running between polling places on election day, so the moderator may have some responsibilities then as well.)   For as long as I've been paying attention it's been Richard Laughton, and as he's the only one running, the trend will continue.

Article 2 (again unlabeled)

Article 2 elects two of seven school board members to three year terms.  Only two candidates are running, but please mark their ovals.  Denise Day has been on the board for three years, and has done a wonderful job. She currently serves as Vice Chair.    Michael Williams (website) ran three years ago and lost to Denise and Sarah Farwell.  Sarah isn't running for reelection, so now's the time to thank her for her fantastic service.  Michael is a great candidate, an engineer with a Masters from Stanford and three young children, two at Moharimet and one soon to enter PEP.   

Here is the guild questionaire answered by both candidates.  Unfortunately due to technical difficulties there's no video of Candidates Night.  I was there along with a few others.  There were actually about as many people in the camera crew as audience members, and it looked like they were recording with multiple cameras, so I don't really get how this failed.  The plan was for the Candidates to rerecord their answers without an audience, but I haven't seen anything posted yet.   


Article 3 ratifies the teachers' contract.  The raises are in the 2% range. I haven't been able to find the contract online to get more details.  The board has been doing a good job keeping the raises at about the cost of living.  I'm voting YES.



Article 4 asks the voters for permission to put $200,000 into the Benefit Stabilization Fund.  This fund is used in some years offsets some of the increase in retirement costs, as the state continues its trend of shifting more retirement costs to local districts.  I seem to recall we're using it this year, so a YES win sort of cancels that out.  I'm voting YES anyway.

My pet peeve is the "No amount to be raised by new taxation."  We always see this in articles that ask for permission to take money from the fund balance, which is the amount raised and appropriated but left unspent at the end of the year.   A NO win lowers the amount asked of taxpayers by $200,000 compared to a YES win, so this "no amount..." boilerplate language is pretty misleading.  The fund balance is not a magic way to pay for things that doesn't cost the taxpayers anything, despite the language.



Article 5.  We built the field, so we don't need to Track Fund anymore.   The three dollars in it goes into the general fund.  I'm voting YES.



Article 6 continues the housekeeping on the various funds.  This is just moving money around, and doesn't cost taxpayers anything.  I'm voting YES.



Article 7 is the big enchilada, the $43.8 million budget request.  The board met its goal of keeping the tax impact to under 3.25% in this very difficult budget  year.

If NO wins, we get the default budget of $44.0M.  In past years, the default budget replaced Fund 10, which was confusing.  It looks like this year they changed it to make it less confusing, which is confusing me.  The main point is the default budget is larger than the operating budget by $200,000, indicating that the board kept a lid on unnecessary increases.  In other words, if NO wins, your taxes will be higher than if YES wins.  I'm voting YES.



Article 8 was originally a proposal to add a football program to the high school.  It was added to the ballot by citizen's petition.  It only takes 25 signatures to get an article on the warrant.  The original proposal had a budget of $35,000, only $5,000 of which would be raised from taxes.  The athletic director determined that $64,000 would be a more realistic budget for first year costs, not including money needed to start a new girls' program, which would be necessary to satisfy Title IX without cutting other boys' sports.  The AD also said the program would require $37,000 annually to operate in years two through five, though the original article only funded the first year.  Mainly because of the budget, the board had indicated they even if the article passed, a football program would not be implemented.  Such a decision is within the board's prerogative.

At Deliberative Session the article was amended by anti-football folks to read like it does.  It doesn't matter much; either way we aren't getting football anytime soon.  This is more a poll of voter sentiment.  Vote YES if you don't want football, and NO if you do.

See you at the polls on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.  Vote Day and Williams!



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Football Amended, New Moharimet Principal

Football Amended

Election day is one week from now, Tuesday March 14.   At the Deliberative Session February 8, the citizen petition warrant article asking if the voters want football at Oyster River was amended to read:
Shall Oyster River High School continue to provide a large range of athletic programs excluding football?
The warrant article had read:
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 tried to accurately convey the grammar and punctuation or lack thereof.  

David Taylor proposed the amendment, which was debated for almost an hour before being passed by a narrow margin.  I wasn't at the DS; I unfortunately had to miss the two feet of snow because I was on a Caribbean cruise.   Folks who attended told me the football boosters were livid at the outcome.

I personally had a problem with the amendment, which I made clear before the DS, in that it wasn't clear exactly how a football supporter should vote.   A NO vote could be construed as a vote against athletics in general.   That didn't seem to be a problem for the folks at DS; the boosters were clearly against the amendment and will vote NO on election day; the anti-football folks will obviously vote YES.

I should point out that while this amendment effectively killed any hope of a football program next year, there really wasn't any hope of one given the original ballot article. The law says the board can read these articles much like what dogs hear: blah blah blah $5000 blah blah blah.

The board had already indicated that football wouldn't be implemented even if the article passed.  The primary reason given was the $5000 raised was insufficient to address all the considerations involved in a new program.  Looming large is Title IX, which says if we have 30 new boy athletic slots filled, we need to fill about 30 new slots with girl athletes.  In other words, we'd have to create a new opportunity just for girls, and find girls to take it.  The district is under extra Title IX scrutiny as the result of a lawsuit a few years ago.  The district could choose to drop other boys sports to keep the numbers even.

At the school board candidates' forum both candidates (see below) said they did not support the amendment and voted NO at the DS.

I've likened the original article to asking "does to district want Santa Claus to give us a football program?"  As YES vote wouldn't really mean much -- who wouldn't want a gift from Santa? So it's really not that different than a NO vote on the new amendment.

I had proposed an amendment which upped the amount raised to $50,000.  If such an amended article passed, the board wouldn't have the excuse of insufficient funds.  There are plenty of other reasons to be against, especially the risk of concussion and other brain injury, but the board would probably have gone ahead with football if a reasonable plan was voted in next Tuesday.  Either way we'd get a definitive voter sentiment on a realistic proposal. Of course no one presented my amendment at DS.  Now we'll never know; at least we won't know from the result of this election.

There was I believe a procedural error at the end of the DS.  Once the amendment had passed, the moderator should have opened the floor to further discussion on the article, including possibly additional amendments.   But, seemingly at the request of the district's lawyer, the meeting ended as soon as the first amendment was voted upon.  This seems wrong.



New Moharimet Principal

The district has announced the top candidate for the Moharimet Principal job, David Goldsmith.  Mr. Goldsmith (application here) is currently the Assistant Principal of the K-5 Stratham Memorial School in Stratham.  He lives in Durham and has two children attending Moharimet, though one will be in the middle school next fall when Mr. Goldsmith takes over.   He has 13 years experience as a teacher. Before Stratham, Mr. Goldsmith was a teacher in the Horne Street Elementary School in Dover and a professor at Franklin Pierce University.  (NH1 story)

The board still needs to ratify the decision.  It will do so at tomorrow's school board meeting.  Principal Goldsmith's appointment is the sole item of business on the agenda, so I expect tomorrow's meeting will be short.

The folks I talked to who attended the parent meeting with Mr. Goldsmith were all very impressed.  While it's hard to imagine Moharimet without Principal Harrington, it looks like the school is in good hands for the foreseeable future.  Congratulations, Principal Goldsmith.

School Board Candidates Very Likely to be Elected

There are two candidates for two school board seats this year.   Denise Day is currently on the board, having served the last three years.  The somewhat new face is Michael Williams.  Mr. Williams (website) lost to Sarah Farwell and Denise three years ago.  He is a mechanical engineer who works on medical devices.  Michael graduated Iowa State and got his Masters at Stanford.  He has three young children, two currently at Moharimet, one soon to start PEP.  At the candidate forum he stressed the desirability of the parent of elementary school children and a special needs child to add perspective to the board. He sees his analytic skills as complementing the educational experience of the existing board members.

Let me congratulate Michael Williams and Denise Day on their likely election to the school board.  I also thank Sarah Farwell for her stellar service over the last three years, especially as a voice for fiscal sanity.

Bomb Scare Forum

I attended the forum on the bomb scares tonight.  In addition to superintendent Morse and Principal Filippone, three police officers attended:  State trooper Sgt. Dade of the NH bomb squad, Chief Kurz of the Durham PD and School Resource Officer Malasky.

I was disappointed there wasn't a review of the incidents to date.  There was a bomb threat written in a girls bathroom at the high school before Christmas.  That perpetrator has been caught and punished, though neither identifying details nor details about the punishment were offered, with state confidentiality laws cited.  Some parents expressed dismay that the perpetrator was walking the halls of the high school, seemingly unaffected by punishment.

In the past week or two there were two more bathroom bomb scares, in a boys bathroom this time (at least for the first; not sure about the second).  The superintendent announced tonight there were good leads.  SRO Malasky said she interviewed 25 students identified as using the bathroom from hall video.  She was certain the perpetrators were among them, but said there would be nothing public until an admission or witness was forthcoming.  The district has suspects.

There are two separate tracks of investigation, or at least punishment.  The school district can suspend or expel the students.  The police can investigate criminal charges leading to a possible felony indictment.

There was one more incident, involving a bag at the middle school that turned out to be gym clothes.  I'm not really sure, because like I said, they didn't really review the incidents.

I live tweeted (really facebook comments) the meeting here.   I'm not sure if video was recorded  (It was, here's the link).  The main conclusion I got is that the district is really looking for a student who has information about what actually happened to get in touch.   Apparently there's an app called Quick Tip that lets students anonymously contact the district and they're encouraged to use it.

Foster's has an article about the meeting.


Election Day is Tuesday, March 14

That's one week from today.  I'll try to get a guide to the school district ballot out soon.  I probably should have mentioned earlier that all articles except football were approved as is (i.e. not amended) at Deliberative Session,

Lee voters, please vote NO on article 5 on the Lee ballot.  That's a citizens' petition to eliminate SB2, the form of government in which there's a Deliberative Session to amend the ballot articles which are then voted upon on election day a month later.  If article 5 passes, Lee would revert back to town meeting governance, where everything gets voted on at the town meeting.  This makes it difficult for many folks who don't have multiple hours to spend at town meeting to weigh in on town affairs.  I think the SB2 system is much better, as it allows the truly engaged to shape the ballot at DS, while allowing a large number of voters to weigh in on election day.


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.