Saturday, August 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I started taking screenshots and captured 18 more:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Field Fails!

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

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

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

Article 1: Moderator

        Richard Laughton 2026 votes 100% ELECTED

Article 2: School Board Members, Town Seats

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

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

        YES 1382   54.6%
        NO   1147   45.4%

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

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

        YES  1808   71.9%
        NO      705   28.1%

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

        YES   1684   67.8%
        NO       800   32.2%

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

        YES   1462   60.0%
        NO       975   40.0%

Article 7: Main Budget ($40.8M) PASSED

         YES   1484   60.8%
         NO       955   39.1%

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

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


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

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

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

Defining v = p n - (1-p) y, we get

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

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

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

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

It's Election Day, Tuesday March 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Election Day. Go vote. Bring some friends.

Dean Rubine, Lee

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Voting Guide for the 2015 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

District pro-field information page

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

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

Ann Wright's letter against the artificial turf field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Crumb Ultimatum

Dr. Bob Barth addresses the school board
In a public comment at last night's school board meeting (video), Dr. Bob Barth advocated for an alternative fill for the artificial turf field.  Typically artificial turf fields are filled with crumb rubber made out of ground tires, which makes the playing surface spongy, reducing injuries. As tires are known to contain many carcinogens, as well as many unknown proprietary ingredients, Dr. Barth said he could support the field only if "crumb rubber was off the table."   The district votes on Election Day, Tuesday March 10th, with Article 3 needing a 60% YES supermajority for the $2M field project to go forward.

Dr. Barth's wife, board member and former chairman Maria Barth, echoed the ultimatum when she spoke at the board table.  This caused a sharp reaction from a few other board members, who pointed out the plan and budget had been public for a while, widely presented and already approved by the voters at Deliberative Session.  They worried about a repeat of the Moharimet Cafeteria project, which grew in scope and cost after the warrant article was approved.  They further asserted that while they were willing to explore other fills, it would be imprudent to take crumb rubber out of the running before we're sure there's a viable alternative.

Dr. Barth countered in a later comment that the presentations never stated the fill would be tire crumb.   Rather than summarize Dr. Barth's comments, here they are in their entirety.  I welcome opposing views.

As a retired diagnostic radiologist, also Board certified in radiation therapy, I rise to raise concerns over health issues with respect to crumb rubber in artificial turf. I am a strong supporter of a track and of field improvements, but cannot support an artificial field utilizing crumb rubber.

Considering how long the issue has been under consideration I am concerned that the Sustainability Committee has not, thus far, been involved in the process. I thought the public approved the Sustainability Committee precisely to have input on this type of project.

I am concerned by advice not to quibble over scientific studies, but to visit the web site for the scientific evidence for the safety of artificial turf. The school is a .org not a .com isn’t it? Therefore, not to my surprise, under Environmental Impact are 5 sections all extolling the safety and virtues of artificial turf and most specifically of tire crumb as though it is a forgone conclusion it is our material of choice. There are 70 referenced articles and the entire site is brought to us by the Synthetic Turf Council the mouthpiece for the industry selling this stuff to us. It’s like asking the tobacco industry in the 1970s if smoking causes lung cancer. Of course it doesn’t. The web site is a blatantly biased commercial, not a balanced source of information for the public. Numerous health experts and scientific papers raise deep concerns.

Here is the
definitive article referred by Kevin Gardner’s letter now on the website. Have any of you actually read it? Far from extolling the safety of tire crumb, its longest section calls for the necessity of further research. But why do we need further research if it’s already proven safe? Because, as the article points out many of the studies sited are “limited in quality and number and more are required.” Some of the studies considered were admittedly generated by those with financial interest, i.e., the industry. One section speaks of the possibility of zinc contamination of one million cubic meters of water to the EPA’s maximum for the protection of aquatic life. There are 1.2 tons of zinc in the average crumb rubber soccer field. A final quote from the article: “The human health and environmental risk of artificial turf can be eliminated or reduced by substituting the tire rubber crumb with alternative infill materials containing less hazardous materials.” How’s that for a ringing endorsement for the safety of tire crumb! I’ll leave the article with you as it has an informational table of alternatives to crumb rubber.

Oft referred to as showing the safety of tire crumb this tome from the NYC Department of Public Health is similar and raises more safety questions than it answers. It lists over one hundred chemicals of concern in tire crumb. I looked up about half of them and 18 were listed as carcinogenic to humans or probably so by the EPA. Even if all are individually at relatively low levels what is their cumulative effect over time? Carcinoma of the esophagus is almost always associated with smoking and drinking, not smoking or drinking. There is a definite synergy between the two. Most carcinogens have a long latent period between exposure and malignancy in terms of 5 to 30 years, not months.

How about an admittedly unscientific survey of 38 soccer players with crumb rubber home fields who developed cancers, mostly lymphomas. 34 of them were goal-tenders who frequently dive face-first into the ground creating a cloud of material immediately inhaled and ingested, probably taking in more volume and weight of toxic materials by a factor of a 1000 than players breathing 4 to 5 feet above ground where testing is usually performed. Nothing proven scientifically, but the expected ratio would be around 34 to 300 not 34 to 4. Astronomical odds against simple coincidence. I know of no scientific studies addressing the issue.

So now we’re considering using pulverized tires which contain several known carcinogens and up to 200 proprietary chemicals the industry will not even identify and we cannot possibly evaluate, all adding up to a low-level toxic waste site we want our students to play on.

Sweden has recently banned further crumb rubber pitches and the EPA no longer proclaims their safety.

New York City and Los Angeles school districts reject crumb rubber in artificial turf illustrating use of the precautionary principle which states: when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic, and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives including no action.

At this point I would respectfully request the School Board to at least:
  1. consider alternatives and exclude tire crumb from consideration in a turf field (I will not vote for this measure if tire crumb remains an option, but will support it if crumb rubber is excluded from consideration),
  2. fully involve the Sustainability Committee in their advisory capacity, and
  3. remove all industry-generated, sales-pitch propaganda from any OR web site.
I would hope the Board would feel a responsibility to present a balance of information to the public, not simply a sales-pitch.
Again, I fully support Warrant Article #3 if tire crumb is excluded from consideration.
Robert L Barth, MD

Addition -- Dr. Barth spoke at the March 4, 2015 school board meeting:


Of course I’m here to speak to Warrant Article 3 and the use of tire crumb.

First, I’d like to establish that although I consider myself an environmentalist I can make no claim to being a tree-hugger. Back in the 1970s I was the prime mover in establishing a skating rink at Jackson Landing. I researched design and several alternative sites. We cut down a lot of trees with no certainty of success, but we weren’t gambling with children’s lives. Maria and I and Charley Burnham built the first boards in our driveway out of the cut and milled trees. For 3 winters without refrigeration I made ice every night past midnight pulling by hand our converted boat trailer with a 55 gallon drum of hot water. Amazingly it all worked and we had a lot of ice time. I paid my dues and I gather it worked out pretty well in the long run.

A month ago I gave you the figures of 38 soccer players with cancers, mostly lymphomas, 34 of whom were goal tenders. Last week the figures were 52 with cancer; 48, all but 6, are goalies. All players with crumb rubber turf. But then, yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle gave figures of 126 soccer players with blood element malignancies 86 of whom are goalies. Not a scientific study, but the numbers and ratios are astounding and the exact opposite of what one would expect if all players were subject to the same exposure to carcinogens. The ratios would be explained by the obvious fact that goalies by the nature of there position are exposed to a much higher intake of the 20 or so known carcinogens in tire crumb. Anyone with common sense would have to be deeply concerned by these figures. Not necessarily accept them until they can be proven or disproven by a subsequent valid epidemiological study, but deeply concerned. Non- Hodgkins lymphoma is not a common disease. It is most prevalent in the elderly and least common in the 20-30 year age group. I spoke with a recently retired Dover pediatrician who told me he had seen 1 or 2, at the most 3 cases in 35 years of a busy practice. Causally it is associated with several of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in tire crumb. Many schools across the country are deferring artificial fields over safety concerns at this time. Has the School or Board made any effort to inform the voting public of these concerns?

To again quote the one review article given us by Dr. Kevin Gardner supposedly proving the safety of tire crumb: “ The human health and environmental risk of artificial turf can be eliminated or reduced by substituting the tire rubber crumb with alternative infill materials containing less hazardous materials.” Hey, that’s his best shot, not mine. With all due respect to Kevin Gardner he doesn’t know any more or less about the safety, or dangers  of crumb rubber than you or I or the man in the moon, because none of the studies to date are definitive one way or the other. The EPA, which desperately wanted a solution to the used tire problem and loves crumb rubber fields, no longer promotes nor proclaims the safety of tire crumb. It now admits its own studies were inadequate, lists a bunch of chemicals of concern which require more study, but that they are not going to do more, and it’s up to the states to regulate. In other words they’ve  totally backed out of there responsibilities.

Here is the scenario as I see it. You are between a rock and a hard place. If the warrant article passes it will be damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead with tire crumb because we can’t afford the more expensive safe alternatives as TPE. Probably in the next year or so the goalie/cancer issue will be resolved with a well-designed epidemiological  study. If it shows these preliminary figures to be bogus with no causal effect demonstrated, we can all breath a sigh of relief. If, however, the implied conclusions are substantiated, and the odds are not unreasonable that they will be, it will be the nail in the coffin for tire crumb, and then we all have a big problem. You will have blown a million dollars on a toxic waste site, you will then have to excavate and dispose of leaving us with a 2 million dollar hole in the ground we may not be able to fill. We would then be all the more liable, because we were all fully aware of the potential risk before the fact, but put it in anyway. There are already law firms trolling the waters specifically for tire crumb victims, real or imagined.

Knowing your only option may be to put tire crumb in if 3 passes I will vote against it.  If it is removed as an option I will vote for it and send letters soliciting support for 3 (not that many will read them one way or the other, but it could be a close vote).

Recent action by the Madbury Fire Department is pertinent to the discussion. When they decided to evacuate Moharimet they didn’t think a roof collapse was imminent, but thought closing to be prudent for the safety of students and staff. They should be commended.


Robert L Barth MD   

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Budget Unchanged at Deliberative Session

The board-approved warrant was left unamended in tonight's relatively interesting deliberative session (video).  Around 100 voters showed up, slightly less than in recent years.  Board members took turns presenting an award and the individual warrant articles.  The community gets to vote on the warrant articles on Election Day, March 10th.

Paul Gasowski was given the district's 2014-2015 Distinguished Service Award.  Among other things, Paul was honored for: his initial vision of a sustainable school district while he was an ORHS teacher, creating and chairing the Sustainability committee, connecting food service with local farmers, creating the ORHS video production department, leading the adoption of local cable TV for school board and student works and his service on Lee's Agricultural and Library committees.  Congratulations, Paul.  (Paul has appeared on this blog before.)

Board Member Rotner presents the ORHS field warrant article
That's new board candidate Dan Klein's ear in the foreground
As expected, the $2M artificial turf field renovation for the high school provoked the most controversy.  The proponents of the artificial turf were well prepared, with board member Kenny Rotner presenting the article.  Kenny donned his medical doctor hat, reviewing the research and preemptively enumerating and dismissing health concerns.

Dr. Bob Barth made a public comment worrying that "carbon black nanoparticles" that constituted over 30% of tire crumbs might have effects similar to asbestos.  UNH Professor Dr. Glen Miller, known to readers of this blog as a primary football proponent, also happens to have spent 10 years doing research into carbon nanotechnology.  He was able to definitively tell Dr. Barth that there's nothing nano about carbon black, and that your lungs would actually be quite good at expelling carbon nanotubes if you inhaled any, which you won't because they're expensive and never used as rubber filler in tires. 

Undeterred, Ann Wright proposed the only amendment of the night.  She proposed reducing the field appropriation and bond by $550,000 with the intent that a grass turf field replace the artificial turf field.  It looked bleak when it took a while to find a second for the amendment motion.

UNH Professor Dr. Kevin Gardner, expert in sustainability science and environmental contamination, spoke next.  Dr. Gardner reported on a Life Cycle Analysis comparing artificial turf and grass fields, taking into account all the steps including manufacturing, transportation, maintenance and disposal.   He said that artificial and natural fields of the same size have about the same environmental impact (and no human health impact).  Given that an artificial turf field can be played on non-stop, the fair comparison is to three or four natural fields, so environmentally the artificial turf is superior. 

People have been asking if I've read Dr. Gardner's memo about the field, which I have not seen.  [Wednesday: Here it is as an email from the mysterious Citizens Exchange, along with letters from Kim Clark and Board Member Rotner - thanks Sara.  Dr. Rotner's letter echoes his presentation of the issue at DS, and is really his own opinion rather than an official consensus of the board.]

If it'd been me, I'd be reeling under this onslaught of expert opinion.  But Ann held up like a champ.  John Parsons mercifully called the question, ending discussion. The amendment then failed nearly unanimously.

One gripe with artificial turf that wasn't really disputed by the proponents is that it tends to get really hot on hot days, and heat-related illnesses are a reality.

I find the Deliberative Session has brightened my feelings about the prospects of the field warrant article, which needs a 60% supermajority to pass.   It certainly seemed to have a lot of support in the auditorium tonight.  Principal Allen says there's a committee planning a VOTE YES ON 3 campaign.

The rest of the deliberative session went smoothly.  I said I was going to vote NO on the benefits stabilization fund in March, but didn't try to amend it.  New school board candidate (and likely member-to-be given that he's running unopposed) Dan Klein introduced himself and invited any questions to be sent to

Coming up on the calendar is Candidates Night Tuesday February 17 and Election Day Tuesday March 10, not to mention board meetings 2/11 and 3/4.   See you at all of these.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Turf Field At Issue At Deliberative Session Tuesday February 3, 2015

[Added Tuesday]  Foster's ran an article on our DS.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 2/3/15, is the ORCSD Deliberative Session. It's a real election.  As usual, it's 7pm in the ORHS auditorium. A majority of voters at the Deliberative Session can amend the existing warrant articles (also known as the ballot questions).  You must be eligible to vote in one of the three towns to be given a voting card at the DS.  For the first time last year, like most elections in New Hampshire there was same-day registration at the DS.  So if you can legally vote in any of the three towns (i.e. you're a US citizen at least 18 who lives in the district) you can show up at the DS, register if needed, and vote.  It's best to bring ID (and proof of address like a utility bill if you need to register), but you don't have to.

The law restricts the possible amendments. Typically an amendment will change the amount of money to be raised and appropriated by an article.  A person proposing to amend an amount can state how they intend any additional money to be spent, but even if the amendment passes the board is not bound by the intention.  It is not permissible to amend wording required by law or to change a warrant article from its original purpose. (Though I'm pretty sure zeroing out the funding is permissible, which presumably changes the purpose.) The default budget (the budget we likely get if the main budget article fails to pass) cannot be amended.

The Deliberative Session is an incredible part of New Hampshire democracy where a single voter who shows up wields enormous influence.  Usually around 120 voters show up, so it takes around 60 votes to modify the budget.  So please come by the DS -- your vote really counts.

After the DS the articles still have to be approved by the voters on election day Tuesday, March 10, 2015 to take effect. Typically 1500 to 3000 people vote in our March election.

I believe it only takes 25 signatures for citizens to get a warrant article onto the ballot. For the current year, the deadline to get those petitions in has already passed.

Here is the full warrant to be voted on.  It's from the agenda of the 1/21/15 board meeting and doesn't reflect a couple of minor changes made at that meeting.

Articles 1 and 2 elect the moderator and school board members.  Since only one person filed to run in each town race, the school board election is essentially over.  These articles cannot be modified at the deliberative session.
Article 3 is shaping up to be the most controversial question in this election.  It asks the voters to approve a $1.7M bond and to spend $2M revamping the athletic fields at the high school.   $0.3M has already been fundraised -- the board struck "privately" from the explanation as the funds are a mixture of privately raised funds (around $250K) and funds voted by past boards ($50K).  The plan is to fundraise another $300K for extras like dugouts and lighting.  $300K also seems to be the amount of interest paid over the life of the bond.  The field bond raises the budget an average of 0.5% annually for 10 years.  It's structured so the payment in the initial year is low, the maximum payment is in the second or third year and then the payments taper off.    Passage requires a 60% supermajority of YES voters.  
Here's the plan:

Almost no one has spoken out against the field at school board meetings.  This is apparently going to change at the Deliberative Session.  Most of the resistance in the community to the project comes from the artificial turf field within the track.  The main worry appears that the turf field is made spongy by adding crumbs of ground-up tires.  The claim is that turf fields get much hotter than the air on hot days and the tires give off toxins.  Former board member Ann Wright seems to be leading the resistance to the turf field.  She has been calling attention to this report of goalies getting cancer.  Principal Todd Allen, the main proponent of the field, cites EPA reports stating the fields are safe.

[Added Tuesday]  Ann Wright sent me an email after I wrote the above reminding me her objections were broader than just the tire crumbs.  I'm sorry about the misstatement, Ann.  She reminded me of the letter she sent around detailing her concerns.   She says at DS she plans to attempt to amend Article 3 by reducing the amount to $1,150,000, which she says is the amount needed for a natural turf (grass) field.  I am not sure if the amount she is referring to is the $2M appropriation or the $1.7M bond.  

[Added Tuesday]  I just did a quick search of my own and found that an alternative to tire crumb fill exists -- it's made out of ground Nike sneakers and in this case cost an additional $20,000 (HuffPo, USA Today).  As far as I can tell there are no studies examining the safety of this alternative fill, but the claim is that sneakers have already been extensively tested for harmful chemicals.

I haven't decided how I'll vote yet, at the DS or in March. Similar warrant articles have failed three times before (in 2006, 2007 and 2008 I believe).   Given the 60% hurdle, any significant resistance in the community will likely result in another failure of the field warrant to pass.

Here are some recent election results (percent YES).  2012:  Sustainability 64%,  Main Budget 56% 2013: Sustainability 60%, Reserve Fund 67%, Main Budget 62% 2014: Moh CafĂ© 71%, Barrington tuitioning: 84%, Main Budget 66%.  From these I think 60% sure seems possible.

Articles 4 and 5 ask the voters to approve the bus driver and paraprofessional contracts.  Three years ago both these groups accepted near-zero raises.  Those successful negotiations (from the taxpayers' perspective) led to some management problems: hiring bus drivers is difficult because our starting salary is so low compared to nearby districts, and new paras are being hired at larger salaries than experienced ones already working for us.  The current contracts correct these problems and I support them.  Voters at the deliberative session are not allowed to modify negotiated contracts.
Article 6 asks the voters to approve a benefit stabilization fund and fund it with $200,000.  This is somewhat similar to the reserve fund that the voters approved two years ago.  The idea this time is the board will collect extra tax from you in regular years, and use it to smooth out future tax hikes caused by benefit increases in the future.  For example, a few years ago the state shifted around $600,000 of retirement contributions to the district, an increase to the budget of around 1.5% annually.  If this fund existed then and had $300,000 in it, the board could have used the money so the increase was only 0.75% the first year, with the full 1.5% impact hitting the second and subsequent years.  Similarly, the state just shifted another $250,000 of annual retirement contributions to the district this cycle.
I don't know if anyone is planning on modifying this article at DS.  I'm currently inclined to vote NO on the article in March.  I'm starting not to like these various pots of money the district collects.  They each have particular covenants that restrict how and when they can be funded and spent.  Their overarching idea is to tax people now so they can be taxed less later.  I'd rather hang on to my money, thank you very much, and pay out the taxes when they're needed.  (The district has a practice of using the health insurance line as a stealth reserve fund, which is questionable if intentional, but does have the advantage of not having the restrictions that generally come with these other funds.)
Article 7 is the complete budget.  The district somewhat relaxed their tough inflation cap they've kept on the operating budget the last four or five years.  This year the cap is 3% compared to a 1.8% inflation rate, the difference being just about the amount of found money spent on the Moharimet Cafeteria.   (I've written more about recent budgets here.)
I'm going to support the board on the budget, meaning I'm going to vote YES on March 10, and likely NO to any changes proposed at the DS.  I have not heard of anyone planning to propose amendments.
Note that a NO victory on March 10 activates the default budget as a replacement for the operating budget (fund 10).  This cuts about $600,000 (1.5%) out of the budget.  It's always a bit confusing -- the warrant article wording, prescribed by law, makes it seem like the default budget replaces the total budget, but it doesn't.
That's it for now.  I hope to see everyone at the Deliberative Session tomorrow.