Friday, October 4, 2013

Deerfield Is Out

The Union Leader reports that Deerfield and Concord have signed a 10 year extension to their existing tuition agreement.  This happened at about the same time the Oyster River School Board voted to send a tuition framework offering Deerfield, Newmarket and Barrington the opportunity to send up to around 250 students to ORHS starting fall 2015.

Foster's and SeacoastOnline reported on our tuition framework.  The $2M cost for special education referred to in Foster's is a mistake -- $2M is intended to be the total budget to handle the increased student load, both regular and special education.  The expected level of in-school special education needed is included in the $14,500 tuition.  There is a cap on the district's exposure to the tuitioning town's special education costs, so costs beyond the expected costs must be handled by the tuitioning town.  I think it was stated that the tuitioning town needs to also pay separately for contracted services (such as Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy) for their own children.

The framework is essentially a non-binding contract proposal.  There is still room for negotiation, and nothing would happen until both boards and both district's voters approve the deal.   The board modified the framework so that tuition increases at the rate our high school CPP changes.  There's still the possibility of a problem as our CPP necessarily goes down when we accept a bunch of tuition students.  (See previous post.)  The timeline has responses by November 1 so the board can make a decision at the November 6 board meeting.

Barrington currently sends around 70 of its 400 high school students to ORHS.  Those students would be phased out (or the number greatly reduced) were we to accept all 250 Newmarket students.  The framework offers Barrington an opportunity to send more students.  As this is probably unlikely and Deerfield is out, it looks like the choice will be between Newmarket or status quo.

Board Member Turnbull opened a couple of cans of worms.  She asked if the high school could report standardized test averages separately for local and tuitioned-in students. The unstated implication is that that tuition students will bring down our test scores.  This is almost certainly correct -- School Digger 7th&8th grade combined NECAP ranks OR 16th, Deerfield 50th, Newmarket 72nd and Barrington 74th.  Historically, NH districts have not separated out tuition students when reporting such averages.

The second can of worms was Ms. Turnbull's suggestion that we explore modifying policy IIB, which states high school class sizes should be between 18 and 22 students.  She cites the current policy as a reason for high costs in the district.  The State of New Hampshire has a policy of at most 30 students per section.  In a comment I suggested that we check how well we're doing meeting the current class size policy before we change it and before we commit to tuition student staffing.  My hunch is we're less than full and could get by with less staff than proposed, but we'll have to see.

I stressed that this is a great deal for Newmarket taxpayers.   The proposed FY16 tuition of $14,500 is 10% below Newmarket's FY12 cost per high school pupil of $16,194.  If this is the actual tuition, I'll guess this ends up 20% under Oyster River's FY15 HS CPP.

Let's spend a minute reflecting on how good a deal this is for Newmarket.  The last time they paid this little to educate a high schooler was 2010! (FY10 HS CPP 14,156).  That's of course in nominal dollars. Adjusting for inflation, you have to go all the way back to 2008 when Newmarket's HS CPP was $12,140.  Assuming 2.4% inflation, that's $14,677 in 2016 dollars.  In other words, in 2016 Newmarket will pay the same to educate a high school student as they did eight years earlier.

There was some disagreement from the board table about whether this was a great deal for Newmarket. It was stated that Newmarket's CPP includes $500,000 of out-of-district special education placement expense that wouldn't be covered by the ORHS tuition.   Given 250 students, this adds $2,000 per student in costs for Newmarket, so the claim was a tuition of $14,500 makes Newmarket's cost $16,500 per student, about the same as ours.

But this isn't correct. I used the state's CPP numbers, which have all tuition expense (regular and special education placements) subtracted out.  (You can verify this by reading the state supplied CPP calculator spreadsheet.)  So Newmarket's HS CPP of $16,194 does not include their placement expense of $2,000 per.  Comparing their CPP to the proposed tuition is apples-to-apples.  Bottom line: we're offering the town of Newmarket a great deal and they'd be crazy not to accept it.  I'm currently withholding my judgment as to whether the taxpayers of Oyster River should accept it.

In other news, Siemens reported a successful HVAC and lighting upgrade for the remaining three schools.   (Recall the high school project already saves us $92,000 a year in fuel and electricity.) The savings from the remaining three schools are projected to be $83,000 per year and with the incentives the project will pay for itself in 4.7 years.  I was skeptical about this project, but it appears that Siemens has indeed made it all work.  Congratulations.

In other other news, apparently David Taylor has or is about to file papers to bring the RTK kerfuffle to court.  Since the board is already enjoined as a result of Mr. Taylor's previous lawsuits, involving the court again has potentially serious consequences. I am sorry to everyone for my involvement in this matter, and I continue to hope David and the district can work things out without a court battle.

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