Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Redraw with Grandfathering and Choice Under Consideration

The board had a long meeting last Wednesday December 4 (agendavideo).  I showed up to make a comment but I never got the chance as the board immediately called a recess to (non)meet with a lawyer and I had to leave before they resumed.  The LRPC, warrant and counseling reports discussed below can be found in the agenda.  There's a regular board meeting 6:30 tonight (12/11) focused on the budget.

Congratulations to ORHS for making the AP Honor Roll.  The College Board recognized our success in maintaining high scores while expanding our AP offerings.  We are one of 477 schools in US and Canada and one of 70 schools in New England to be so honored.

Board member Charle reported that the middle school composting has incredibly reduced lunchtime waste from 86 pounds to 5 pounds!

Tuitioning.  Tuitioning wasn't really discussed at the meeting, though there was a slide in the enrollment projections that tells the new story.  The new ORHS projections have enrollment increasing then declining.  They do not get below current levels for 12 years (2025-26).

The new projections make a union with Newmarket likely to slightly exceed the working capacity of 915 in the peak years.  I don't stress about that like some do -- the 915 number was computed by assuming that we operate at 85% of the rather small school board policy maximum of 22 per class.

If our high school enrollment isn't shrinking for 12 years, tuitioning to maintain existing programs (beyond the status quo) is not really necessary.  I was all for helping our neighbors over in Newmarket while helping out the Oyster River taxpayers, but Newmarket is acting like we're profiteering because we want them to pay their share of the heat.  I also think there are a few serious problems with the draft contract.  I believe it was reported that the FY16 tuition is now down to $14,000.   I read the contract as requiring the tuition to be further reduced when high school cost per pupil declines, as it certainly will when we take 250 tuition students.   Furthermore, the contract doesn't allow for frequent enough opportunities where either side can start the clock on ending the arrangement.  I don't want us to be stuck for 15 years if things aren't working out.

At this point, given the lack of declining enrollment obviating the need, the very iffy return to the taxpayers after the price reductions, the concerns with the contract and the lack of enthusiasm from Newmarket (including their dreadful cost estimates), I'm currently inclined to pass on Newmarket.  We still have a few years to worry about declining high school enrollment in the year 2025 -- we don't have to rush into a bad deal this year.  Newmarket's problems aren't going away.  My best guess is they're likely to just pay the $2 million to fix their current building and go on.  Sooner or later they'll have to decide whether or not to build a school.  It will still be cheaper then for them to tuition their kids and we'll still be their neighbors.

I'm not sure what the difference is between what Barrington will propose and the status quo where we already get 75 or so Barrington students, but either way I currently see sticking with Barrington as the best option.

Elementary Reconfiguration.   The superintendent reported his advisory committee was making progress on coming up with proposed criteria for a Managed Enrollment plan as well as a proposed K-2/3-4 policy.  In addition to those two options, the board approved Member Rotner's motion to have the superintendent explore Redraw with Grandfathering options.  Member Turnbull asked that the idea of Moharimet parents being given the choice to send their children to Mast Way be considered.  Member Lane expressed doubt that a future board would be able to carry out a Redraw with Grandfathering policy enacted by the current board.  (I found that argument odd.  Much of the board's work is enacting policy for the future -- why would a Redraw policy be any different?)  It was gratifying to see the board acting on my letter.  The goal is to decide at the December 18 meeting, but I'm skeptical a decision will be made then.

Warrant.  Business Administrator Caswell presented the first draft of the warrant.  The warrant is the school district election ballot for March 2014.  There is an article asking the voters to approve the (as yet unknown) tuitioning proposal.  The warrant is further complicated due to the attempt to begin construction on the Moharimet Cafeteria in the current school year.   One warrant article asks the voters to appropriate $1 for Moh Cafe in the current budget.  This establishes the budget line, so is essentially the voters giving the district permission to do the project.   The money comes from the LGC premium holiday (expected to be around $500,000) and $100,000 from liquidating the Capital Reserve Fund (see previous post).  The fund liquidation is done in a separate article that doesn't mention the cafeteria in case Moh Cafe is not approved.  The whole thing will be very confusing to the average voter who hasn't paid much attention.

New Enrollment Projections.  Lisa Allison, head of the LRPC, presented the updated projections to the board.   Compared to last year, the new projections still show a decline, only delayed by a few years.  This is a result of the surge in enrollment this summer of around 60 kids, mostly elementary (and those mostly to Moharimet) and middle school.

The projections have a great bearing on the two grave decisions the board needs to make soon: the elementary reconfiguration issue and the tuitioning issue.   Lisa and the committee do such a thoughtful and diligent job on the difficult work required to produce these important forecasts.  Thanks so much Lisa.  We're very lucky to have you heading LRPC.   I will now proceed to quibble.

Ms. Allison increased the error ranges on the enrollment predictions.  This was the result of changing the method of calculating the expected deviations.  In the past, backcasting (using the new model on historical data) was used to calculate the range.  Backcasting is a kind of data fitting that will almost always underestimate the expected deviation.   The new method compares the past forecasts to past actual enrollments as a percentage and reports the mean absolute deviation (MAD) for each horizon (number of years out forecasted).  This results in what is likely more accurate estimates of the error - the expected deviation from the prediction.

Ms. Allison says the new error ranges are larger, but to my recollection they seem about the same.  It's hard to check as the new district website still seems to lack the old reports. (I didn't find the new report either except in the agenda.)  The new ranges are perhaps more properly thought of as estimates of the accuracy of the committee rather than of its latest model.

I don't want to geek out too much further, but the typical way to do confidence intervals is to estimate the standard deviation of your prediction and double it.  The idea is that a bell curve has 95% of its area between -2 and +2 standard deviations from the mean, so you can expect that 95% of the time your actual observation will be within -2 and +2 standard deviations of your prediction.

When you're getting your estimate by averaging fewer than say 50 points, like we are here, you actually should use the T distribution which has fatter tails (a higher likelihood of large deviations) than the bell curve.  That means you have to go out more than 2 standard deviations to get 95%.  Similarly, MAD is an estimate of standard deviation known to be biased low -- it underestimates standard deviation.

Bottom line, to produce a 95% confidence interval for the projections we need to more than double the reported error ranges.

I learned my statistics on the street, so I could be wrong.  I am always worried there's a square root of N factor I'm leaving out.

Guidance is now School Counseling.  ORHS Counseling Director Heather Machanoff reported on the changes in what is now called the School Counseling Office.  The name reflects that the role of counselor has expanded far beyond just help with class schedules and college applications.  It seems there is a new focus on emotional and other issues that keep students from their full potential.

The students are split among three counselors alphabetically.  This is a change from the past where each counselor followed a class through the four years, requiring four counselors.

The Counseling office ran a Stress Management group last Wednesday.  They put up posters advising students to T.H.I.N.K. before posting to social networks, to only post what's True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind.  Good advice for all of us. The counselors will have four-year-planning meetings with incoming freshmen and their parents, like a fancy private school.

Apparently ORHS has officially eliminated class rank.  The news came as a surprise to the board. Class rank will still be maintained internally but will not be reported on every transcript.  Class ranks can be reported upon student request.  There was a debate between Member Lane and the superintendent about weighted class rank, with the superintendent maintaining that except for AP courses it would be difficult to assign weights to classes.  There was concern that under the old system parents were encouraging students to take easy classes (and avoid challenging ones) to improve their class rank.

Middle School Risk Survey.  Principal Richard bravely volunteered ORMS to participate in the risky behavior survey normally given to high school students.  Among the concerning findings: 42.6% of students report having felt bullied at school. (The 2.6% number  in the summary in the agenda is a typo.)  Principal Richard is determined to reduce this to zero when the school is surveyed again in two years.  The principal expressed some concern over alcohol though he did not relay any specific survey results.

Whew.  Long meeting, long write-up, and another meeting tonight.

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