Dear Oyster River Community,
Hi. I'm Dean Rubine, from Lee, NH. I'm blogging here to express my opinion on how people should vote in the upcoming school board election, Tuesday, March 13th, 2012. I'll try to back up my opinions with facts, and to link those facts back to their source so you know I'm not making them up. I'll allow unmoderated commenting and I welcome opposing and concurring opinions, but I do want to encourage civil discussion so be warned I will delete posts that I think cross the line. When somebody points out a mistake, I'll correct the post to minimize misinformation. I'll also leave a comment about the change so nobody thinks I'm doing anything sneaky. I'll fix typos and make additions without comment.
For those of you who trust me and just want to know my opinion on who to vote for, I'm supporting the T.E.A.M. - Tom, Ed, Al and Maria. That's Maria Barth, Ed Charlé, Tom Newkirk, and Al Howland. They are running in four separate races, and every voter in each town can vote for all of them. I encourage you to do just that. I am also planning on voting YES on all the school board related warrant articles, including the large budget allocation of over $38 million.
A Personal History of the ORCSD School Board
My wife and I have two children that currently attend Mast Way Elementary. I started paying attention to the Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD) school board last summer, when my wife went looking for information on why Superintendent Colter was paid his full salary and benefits not to work this school year. What she found instead was Board Member Jim Kach's twitter account. Making these tweets public caused a big kerfuffle in town, and even some national news as the Associated Press picked up the story. I'm encouraging people to vote for Ed Charlé for the Madbury seat currently held by Mr. Kach, who refused to resign and is running for reelection. Let's get this ugly incident behind us.
The buyout of the superintendent was largely done in illegal secret meetings, according to Strafford County Superior Court's recent decision in David Taylor v Oyster River Cooperative School Board and Henry Brackett, Chairman. Among other things, the judge found that "(1) Plaintiff [David Taylor] was refused access to public documents from the Board and Brackett after reasonably requesting such access, (2) this lawsuit was necessary in order to make proceedings open to the public, and (3) the Board and Brackett knew or should have known their conduct violated the Right-to-Know Law." I find it incredible that after eight months and a successful lawsuit, I still don't know why they board spent $185,000 secretly buying out Superintendent Colter. I guess they really didn't like him. It's also interesting that the board had the full authority to do the buyout, yet chose to proceed in secret anyway. They probably would have gotten some heat from the public had they acted aboveboard, but by doing it in secret they ended up getting even more heat. I am recommending people vote for Maria Barth, who's running against the lawbreaking Chairman Henry Brackett.
We had inadvertently stepped into a fight between the school board and a significant fraction of the community. Besides the buyout, there was the High School Principal Laura Rogers, who quit because she found "the political tension around the school system to be unproductive, and not in the best interest of the kids." Much of this tension appears to have fomented on oysterrivercommunity.blogspot.com. I'm not sure if that blog is still claiming to be unbiased; editorially they usually slant toward supporting the current board and the Durham Taxpayers Association, in my opinion. [Mr. Bebbington, the site administrator, says in a comment below that the blog never claimed to be unbiased: "the views expressed on the blog are those of the authors, and we are happy to accept submissions from anyone, regardless of their views." Thanks for the correction, Mr. Bebbington.]
Next came Justin Cambell, a widely supported candidate for ORHS principal that was summarily rejected by the board. This led to the high school students actually walking out of class in protest. The buyout of the superintendent Colter, who supported candidate Campbell, followed this incident.
This was followed by the tweet controversy. Next came the policy to say the pledge before every meeting -- the board seemed pretty jazzed about it, which is why I find it surprising that it is now sporadically ignored. There was some proposed policy about teaching religion, but that hot potato was tabled pretty quickly.
Then came budget season, where interim Superintendent Levesque repeatedly asked the board for guidance as to the bottom line, and when he failed to get it he presented a bare-bones budget that represented a very modest increase (0.6%, if I recall) over the previous year. Then the board asked him to find an additional $500K in cuts, which he presented though he did not support them. The board rather haphazardly approved most of the cuts, including the cutting of a high school assistant principal.
Members of the board routinely but disingenuously refer to these cuts as recommended or supported by the administration. Principal Allen has repeatedly stated that while he did as he was told when asked to suggest additional cuts, he does not support his own suggested cuts. Anyway, this wasn't enough slashing for the current board. Members Lane and Turnball got passed an additional list of cuts.
These last minute cuts seemed ill-thought out. For example, the cutting of the Assistant Principal didn't jibe with the plan to increase the number of tuition students at the high school, and the cutting of the paper budget (because we're going paperless) was at odds with major cuts in the technology budget.
Next came the superintendent search, secret ballots, and another lawsuit. I could go on. I didn't mention the loss of the Director of Instruction (two, now that Ms. Bolduc is leaving) or the loss of the IT administrator.
It appears that this board goes out of its way to act divisively. I appreciate that the board needs to make tough decisions, but the law requires them to deliberate largely in public. When they thought the public would be an impediment, they illegally circumvented the law. This is not just my opinion; it is the ruling of the Strafford County Superior Court. I've come to the conclusion that much of the community no longer trusts the current board to act in the district's best interest, and that this loss of trust is beyond repair. Thus I am recommending that all current board members that appear on the ballot be voted out. Please vote for the T.E.A.M. - Tom, Ed, Al and Maria - on Tuesday, March 13th. That's Maria Barth, Ed Charlé, Tom Newkirk, and Al Howland.
Very truly yours,