Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Turnout Low, Results as Expected in Snowy Election

Happy Election Day everyone.  Despite the nor'easter, election day went forward as scheduled in all three towns (Madbury postponed Town Meeting I think) and the results are in.  Total Oyster River ballots cast today reported at 1,099.  According to reelected moderator Richard Laughton, this is about 40% of a typical ORCSD election turnout. Incredibly, Lee results indicate at least 500 voters, while Durham reported only 385.  A little snow's not going to stop us voting here in Lee!  (Actually it hurt me not to vote, but I sat this one out.)

No surprises in the unofficial results, courtesy of Durham Friday Updates:

Moderator:  Richard Laughton - 954                   ELECTED

School Board, Durham: Allan Howland - 907    ELECTED

School Board, Madbury: Daniel Klein - 850       ELECTED

School Board, Lee: Brian Cisneros - 851            ELECTED

Al, Dan and Brian were all already serving on the board.  Congratulations to all of them on their election.

Article 3 - Shall the District approve the negotiated agreement with the Oyster River Bus Drivers?

YES 881  82%    PASSED
NO  198   18%

Article 4 - Shall the District approve the negotiated agreement with the ORPaSS (paraprofessionals and support staff)?

YES  845  78%    PASSED
NO    236  22%

Article 5 - Shall the district approve the proposed operating budget totaling $45,625,555? 

YES 789   74%    PASSED
NO   282   26%



Friday, March 9, 2018

Voting Guide to the March 13, 2018 Oyster River School District Election

Snow News

Believe it or not, we got another nor'easter on Election Day.   Towns of Durham and Lee both say the polls are open, starting now, 7am!   No word from Madbury yet, which is scheduled to open its polls at 11 am.





Introduction

This is my annual guide to the 2018 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 a pretty uneventful school election this year, so I'll go over some news from the Deliberative Session first.

Warrant Unchanged at DS

I was literally at sea but I remembered to tune into the Deliberative Session (video) around a half hour after it started.  I was just in time to hear a motion to adjourn.  This seemed to be the shortest ORCSD Deliberative Session that anyone can recall.

The Session went smoothly.  There was exactly zero discussion by the public on any of the warrant articles.  All will appear unchanged on Tuesday's ballot.

Brian Turnbull Honored

The meeting started with this year's Oyster River Distinguished Service Award being given to Brian Turnbull. Anybody who attends concerts at the schools often sees Brian up there playing upright bass and setting up and taking down chairs.  He was the main force behind getting a dedicated strings program at Oyster River, and he's been helping it along ever since, most recently by forming a booster organization for fundraising.  Congratulations, Brian.

Mast Way Addition

I thought the most interesting thing at the meeting was Member Howland's discussion of the addition to Mast Way.  For the first time I can remember, the Mast Way enrollment has exceeded Moharimet's.  Just a few years ago Moharimet was terribly overcrowded.  The district reacted several ways: by adding dedicated cafeteria space to the Multipurpose Room, and by moving the dividing line between schools to shift students to Mast Way, which seems to have worked, perhaps too well.





The addition consists of four classrooms including a music room at the rear near the baseball field.  The budget on Tuesday's ballot includes $340 K for this work  There will also be work on the front entrance using a $500,000 state grant that's the result of a Homeland Security audit.

We Met the Candidates

Congratulations to existing school board members Brian Cisneros, Al Howland and Dan Klein. They are the current town-specific representatives from Lee, Durham and Madbury respectively.  As the only candidates for their respective seats, each is exceedingly likely to be elected to a new three year term on Tuesday.  It will be reelection for Al and Dan, and a first time election for Brian, who was appointed when Maria Barth resigned last year.

February13th Candidates Night had an usually large turnout, around fifteen members of the public. Usually it's just the candidates, the clerk, a cameraperson, a PTO parent with refreshments and me. This year no one recorded the meeting, in contrast to last year when there was a crew of four but no video ever appeared. So this year we've achieved the same result with much less effort.

I stuck my head in for the beginning and the end.  The discussion seemed to be centered on cell phone policy, which is up for review.  The candidates Brian, Al and Dan kept saying they probably wouldn't get it right the first time.  They needn't have been so wishy-washy.  The policy was changed a year or two ago and is back in play due to complaints so we're certain they didn't get it right the first time.

Strategic Planning Forum

I missed Candidates Night because I was at the Strategic Planning Forum.  It was run by a couple of folks from NESDEC, the New England School Development Council.  I think these same folks ran it five years ago, and that meeting produced an awesome history of the district.

The meeting was pretty much a waste of time.  Each small group sat around the table making lists of strengths and weaknesses of the district.  At the end each of us listed our top five priorities on an oddly confusing bingo card provided by NESDEC.

Superintendent Morse missed the meeting because he was in Nashville being honored as NH Superintendent of the Year.


Voting Guide to the March 13, 2018 ORCSD Election

Election day in Oyster River is this Tuesday, March 13th.  Hopefully unlike last year there will be no weather incidents that lead to the towns voting on different days. [I can hope but I'd be wrong.  Nonetheless polls are open in Lee and Durham (and probably in Madbury at 11 but no official confirmation yet).]   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 you 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 speed through the ballot questions, also known as the warrant articles.

Article 1 elects the moderator.  It's always Richard Laughton.

Article 2 elects the school board members.  This year we have three candidates for the three town-specific seats, so they're all going to win. They happen to be existing board members Brian Cisneros, Al Howland and Dan Klein, so no changes there.  I don't think the teachers' guild even bothered with their usual questionnaire this year.  I haven't seen a single campaign sign. I probably still have ones for Al and Dan I should dig out.


Article 3 asks the district to approve the agreement with the Bus Drivers. The bus drivers got unionized this year, so negotiations took a long time and the drivers are getting substantial raises.  The salaries weren't too much of a sticking point during negotiations.  The district wanted to raise driver pay because of the current difficulty hiring and retaining drivers.  The numbers are the total increase in salary and benefits to be divided among all drivers each year.  I'm voting YES.


Article 4 ask the district to approve the agreement with ORPaSS, the paraprofessional and support staff bargaining unit.  These folks have been on a bit of a roller coaster, taking small raises six years ago in the wake of the Great Recession, then getting large raises three years ago.  This is return to a more typical raise.  I'm voting YES.


Article 5 is the main budget. Over the last few years the state has reworded this boilerplate to make more sense. We see the default budget is only $70,000 less than the full $45.6M budget.  That means if NO wins (and there's no subsequent vote) and we get the default budget, the taxpayers save 0.15%, fifteen dollars off a ten thousand dollar tax bill, essentially no difference.

The district budget goal was to stay within a 3.25% tax impact, which they did.  Unfortunately the impact is unevenly distributed throughout the towns.    Member Howland included this slide in his presentation at Deliberative Session.



What jumps out is Madbury's millage increasing substantially more than the other towns.  Madbury is losing students, so should be expected to pay less of the share of district costs.  (The apportionment formula splits the bill in two, and bills the towns half in proportion to property values, half in proportion to number of students.)  Member Howland attempted to explain this as some difference in timing as to when the state calculates its aid to towns versus when we sample the numbers for apportionment purposes. I think that means we should see the opposite next year.   It wasn't particularly clear so I hope to look into it more.  In the meantime, I'm happy to live in Lee.  I'm voting YES.

See everybody at the polls.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Guide to the ORCSD Deliberative Session, Tuesday Feb 6, 2018

I haven't posted in a while so I thought I'd recap some district news first.  Please skip down if you just want to know about the Deliberative Session on Tuesday night.

Football Cooperative Approved

The biggest news is the board approved a cooperative football agreement so Oyster River students may play at Portsmouth High.   It's been widely reported (Foster's) so you probably don't need me to tell you.  It's expected that around 15 to 20 students from Oyster River will play football on the Portsmouth team.  If NHIAA approval can be expedited Oyster River kids will start playing in the fall of 2018; otherwise they'll have to wait until fall 2019.  The agreement must be renewed every two years to continue.

The problems with the unadopted 2016 coop agreement with Portsmouth have all been addressed. Previously the NHIAA wanted districts to intend to have a team at the school when the coop ended, which was a sticking point for the Oyster River board, especially with Portsmouth's stated desired to end the coop after only two years.  This time Portsmouth assures us they're with Oyster River for the long haul and the NHIAA no longer weighs if a district intends to continue after the coop.

Title IX was another major concern, with a nominal need to fill a slot with a girl athlete every time a new slot is filled by a boy.  Our lawyer has assured us the expected imbalance will not be a problem.  Furthermore there will be no cost to the district, the players provide their own transportation, the additional liability is minimal, and both schools have moved to later start times.

This is I think the fourth time the district has addressed the football issue since 2013.  It's been a divisive issue in the community and I'm glad a satisfactory compromise was reached.

I was at all the school board meetings where this was discussed and I went to the forum in the auditorium on 1/10.  The best thing about the process was watching the kids talk at the podium.  It's pretty scary up there the first time and they were all incredibly impressive. You could tell the board really wanted to find a way to give them what they wanted.

The worst thing was the adults. Just a few of them. Some people who wanted their kids to play football publicly accused the board members of all sorts of bad faith. A few scared member Rotner, a likely NO vote, to the point where he felt he had to recuse himself from the issue for his own safety. It's really, really unacceptable to treat our public servants like that.  I thought some people made inappropriate comments at the football forum; fortunately for them I don't see any video posted.

It's clear on this issue the board has consistently acted in the students' and community's best interest, rejecting the flawed proposals and accepting this better one.  So you know who you are.  When you see a board member, the words you're looking for are "thank you" and "I'm sorry."

Superintendent Morse Named 2018 New Hampshire Superintendent of the Year


Congratulations to Superintendent Morse, chosen as 2018 New Hampshire Superintendent of the Year by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators.  We all knew he was pretty great these past five years but it's nice to get official recognition.

There was a party in Dr. Morse's honor at the high school last week.  Thanks to Food Service Director Demers for the great food, including cake.  NH Education Commissioner Edelblut spoke first, followed by Chairman Newkirk, Assistant Superintendent Allen, two leaders of the teachers guild (someone help me with the names, please) and Dr. Morse himself.  Dr. Morse's daughter and grandson attended as well as around 75 community members, including me.  As usual, Dr. Morse gave the credit to others, but we're all thrilled he's getting the recognition he so richly deserves.

Siemens Lease-Purchase approved

Last December the board approved a $3.7 million capital plan with Siemens.  Under the deal Siemens will do capital improvements at the schools over the next year or two, mostly focusing on energy efficiency.  The district will pay them a fixed amount annually, I believe over ten years, for the work.

If this sounds like a bond, it is in all but name.  NH Law requires 60% voter approval for a bond.  It took us twenty years and five election days to get the approval to borrow $1.7M to build the track.  But it took the board just a few minutes to borrow $3.7M for this project.  It encumbers future boards for the next decade without any approval from the voters.  I don't like this end run around the voters, but it seems how municipal finance is done in New Hampshire these days.  We should have gotten Siemens to build the track and avoided all that hassle with the citizenry.

Deliberative Session Tuesday

Tuesday 2/6/18 is the Oyster River Cooperative School District Deliberative Session. As usual, it's 7pm in the ORHS auditorium. It's a real election where hardly anyone shows up, usually between 100 and 120 voters. So you and your majority of 60 can rewrite the budget. Or stop it from being rewritten.  Last year the football question got mangled at Deliberative Session which complicated the discussion this year.  I'm out of town again this year so I won't be there.

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. Sometimes there's been same-day registration at the DS. So if you can legally vote in any of the three towns (i.e. you're a US citizen at least 18 who lives in the district) you can show up at the DS, (maybe) register if needed, and vote. It's best to show ID (and proof of address like a utility bill if you need to register), but if you're willing to sign an affidavit you don't have to.

The voters at the DS get to amend each warrant article, but the articles themselves aren't approved or rejected until election day, Tuesday March 13, 2018. Usually we get two or three thousand March voters.

I couldn't find the official post of the warrant.  I got this copy from recent minutes.

This year only the big budget article, article 5, can be modified at Deliberative Session, so I don't think it's going to be very exciting.
  

The ballot starts like this every year.  These articles are skipped at the Deliberative Session.


Article 3 asks the district to approve the agreement with the Bus Drivers. The bus drivers got unionized this year, and they're getting substantial raises.  The salaries weren't too much of a sticking point during negotiations.  The district wanted to raise driver pay because of the current difficulty hiring and retaining drivers.  The numbers are the total increase in salary and benefits to be divided among all drivers each year.

These negotiated agreements cannot be modified at Deliberative Session, so ideally this article gets moved and approved without discussion.


Article 4 ask the district to approve the agreement with ORPaSS, the paraprofessional and support staff bargaining unit.  (I don't think they're officially unionized, but there's a standard three year cycle for negotiating contracts.)  Again, there's nothing to do at Deliberative Session for negotiated agreements.


Article 5 is the main budget.  It's really the only article that can be amended at this Deliberative Session.  I don't see any particularly good reason to do so, but if something is going to happen at DS this year, it will be to article 5.

Over the last few years the state has reworded this boilerplate to make more sense. We see the default budget is only $70,000 less than the full $45.6M budget.  That means if NO wins (and there's no subsequent vote) and we get the default budget, the taxpayers save 0.15%, fifteen dollars off a ten thousand dollar tax bill.

Of course the voters at DS are free to cut the budget to below the default budget if they like, but the closeness of the two is an indication of how tight a lid the board has kept on spending.  

That's it.  Short guide this year.  Even though I won't be there, I encourage all of you to go to ORHS auditorium at Tuesday, Feb 6, 2018, 7 pm.


Useful Things to Know for Deliberative Session


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

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

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

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

Once an amendment under consideration is about to be voted on, you can request a secret ballot. You need to give the moderator a written request with the signatures of five voters. If you request a secret ballot before there's an amendment under consideration, you're going to look silly. If you request one while people are still lined up to speak, the moderator will ask if you're calling the question, and if you say yes we get into all that 2/3 nonsense.

When there's no one left to speak or the question is called, we vote on the amendment, if any. Then we vote to "move the article" which appears to mean putting the article on the ballot and moving to the next question. I'm not sure what happens if there are no more amendments but we vote not to move on. Maybe we just sit for a minute and vote again.  (In practice the moderator has broad discretion over the conduct of the meeting.)

By the way, if you wanted to get your own article on the ballot, all it requires is the signature of 25 district voters. The deadline is usually early January, too late for this ballot.


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!