Thursday, February 21, 2013

We Met the Candidates

Meet the Candidates Night could have been done in 40 minutes.  It took three times longer because the answer to each question was repeated three times as the candidates repeatedly agreed with each other.

Carl Piedmont

I finally met Carl Piedmont ( Nice guy. He's a salesman from Madbury with two children in the district. I'm sure he and his wife are really proud of the way his children were there supporting him, dressed so nicely and sitting so respectfully through the meeting.

I went in to the meeting worrying that Mr. Piedmont was Jim Kach redux.  Rumor had it he was recruited by board member Megan Turnball.   I suppose you can't really be sure, but Mr. Piedmont seems quite reasonable.  Like many of us he moved to the district because of the schools.  I think he understands that if the quality of the schools were to decline, everyone's property values would fall.  Not to mention the effect on his children's future.

So, I welcome Mr. Piedmont's participation.   His website says "Running for the School Board is something I have thought about for some time since arriving into the area. "  I admired Mr. Piedmont's willingness to say he didn't know and pass on answering questions.  But it does indicate that Mr. Piedmont hasn't been sitting at home "for some time" watching DCAT intently, in preparation for his Candidate's Night debut.  But he's here now, and I hope he continues to participate in school district even if he's not elected.  He could join some committees, and maybe in a year or two he'd be ready to serve on the board.  

I told him I was supporting his opponents.  He took the news well.  I said I'd be willing to reconsider if he would make large cash donations to the district.   That doesn't seem like it's going to happen, so I'm sticking with Kenny and Tom.

It does seem that one faction of our formerly bitterly divided community might be more inclined toward Kenny Rotner while the other toward Carl Piedmont.   (We're still a little divided, but it's much less bitter.)   Given the closeness of the vote in the Deliberative Session, this may turn out to be a close race.


I thought the starkest contrast between the candidates came in the question about marijuana.  Carl Perkins repeated "zero tolerance" several times.   Tom Newkirk came out against police dogs sniffing lockers.   Kenny Rotner stressed the problem was larger than just the school, indicating that some approaches to suppressing use at the school would simply shift the use to other, even more problematic places.  No one mentioned the nationwide trend toward increasing liberalization of marijuana laws, which made the discussion rather incomplete to me.

Enrollment and Tuition 

Much of the discussion centered on declining enrollment and tuition students.  Probably the best stuff was Kenny Rotner's concerns and suggestions about integrating a large number of tuition students into our community.  Tom Newkirk made the important point that any town with a large number of tuition students in the district should be given a non-voting seat on the board.

I'm going to make two geeky math points about cost per student that seem obvious to me, but appear to be widely disputed in the community.  They both have to do with the fact that there's just alot of overhead opening the doors for four schools, before you add any teachers or students.

First, on declining enrollment.   As enrollment declines, the overhead means that cost per student increases, even if you cut teachers in proportion to the decline.   But the total cost still decreases, and thus the burden on the taxpayers decreases.   So taxpayers, be happy about declining enrollment -- fewer students to educate means your taxes will go down.  They just don't go down as fast as they would if there was no overhead.

Second, on tuition.   There is a complaint that the tuition rates are set below the district's cost per student.   Doesn't that mean we're losing money with every tuition student?   No.  Besides the apples and oranges problem (tuition doesn't include food service or transportation) there's the issue of overhead.   Imagine (I'm simplifying to make the math easier, but the story is something like what I'm telling) that it costs $30 M for everything except teachers and $8 M in teachers for 2000 students.   The cost per student in this story is $19,000 ($38M/2000).  But we make money if we charge $12,000 tuition because our marginal cost per student is $4,000 ($8M / 2000).  Each tuition student in this story saves the taxpayers $8,000.

Henry Brackett

I have to take issue with something that Tom Newkirk said, words to the effect that no one appreciated what the previous board had accomplished.   On Election Day in 2012, I thanked the outgoing board and listed many of the same accomplishments Tom mentioned today.

But the good stuff doesn't cancel out the generally awful tenure of Chairman Henry Brackett that the district had to endure until last March.   Despite his spectacular failure as school board chairman, Mr. Brackett is running for Selectman in Lee.  This troubles me deeply, because it means I'm going to have to go back on my word, and again write about the tweets and lawsuits.

Let me just say that in addition to dividing the community by supporting the evil tweeter Jim Kach, Chairman Brackett was found guilty of violating the Right To Know Laws by two New Hampshire courts.   The second time, the harshest penalty available was imposed.  The main concern was secret meetings and secret votes for superintendent hiring and firing.   Citizens of Lee, I'm supporting Scott Bugbee for Lee Selectman, and I urge you to do the same.   Anyone thinking of voting for Henry Brackett should be sure to read my essay from last year first.


Carl Piedmont seems like a decent guy and may eventually be ready to serve on the school board, but for now I'm sticking with my decision to support Kenny Rotner and Tom Newkirk.


  1. Thanks for the write-up, Dean. I was sorry to miss the forum. I hope to catch it on DCAT. I also appreciate your math lesson. Your second point is something that has been discussed and acknowledged by past boards, but your first point is something I think many of us have not contemplated.

  2. Thanks for the update, Dean! But I think the problem with your first math point is the effect declining enrollment will have on programs. Fewer students means we can't support all the rich programming and some great things will have to go...

  3. Thanks Julie and Laura. Laura, you're totally right. I was only talking about money. The real problem with declining enrollment is loss of programming as those teachers get cut. I'm not recommending it (I prefer the tuition student option) but we could choose to maintain programs by funding the schools at the current level (plus inflation) even as enrollment declines. Our cost per student would rise but the total tax burden would stay about the same. - Dean