Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Farwell and Day win, articles all pass, tuitioning passes in Barrington too

We had another great election day today.  Congratulations to Sarah Farwell and Denise Day, who won the two school board seats.  Michael Williams did very well, pulling in a respectable share of the vote but was unable to overcome Sarah and Denise's long ties to the district.

Congratulations to Richard Laughton, who won handily for moderator.

All the ballot questions passed, so the teachers get their contract, Moharimet gets a new cafeteria and the district gets its $39.3M budget.

The tuitioning plan passed in both Oyster River and Barrington by large margins, so that agreement is now in effect.  Congratulations to the boards and administrations in both districts that worked hard to make this a reality.

Newmarket voted down the new high school.

Scott Bugbee ran a great race in Lee, and beat out incumbent John LaCourse for selectman.  The Lee Library fund got its next $100,000 of funding by a squeaker of 359 - 348.

A great big thanks to David Taylor, who very kindly sent us the election returns (any errors in the percentages are my own):

Total ballots: 1,588

Article 1: Moderator

  Richard Laughton 1,290
  Write-in          3

Article 2: Two at-large school board seats

Sarah Farwell      1,027   65%  (of 1,588 ballots)
Denise Day            901   58%
Michael Williams  597    38%

Article 3: Teacher Contract
 Yes 1,066  69%
 No    482    31%

Article 4: Moharimet Cafeteria
  Yes 1,107   71%
  No    448     29%

Article 5:  Transfer from Capital Reserve Fund
  Yes 1,070   71%
  No     434    29%

Article 6: 10 year Tuitioning Agreement with Barrington (passed in Barrington too, so it's on.)
  Yes 1,291   84%
  No     244   16%

Article 7: $39.3M Budget
  Yes  989     66%
  No   512     34%

All in all, an impressive show of support for the current board and administration.  I'm pleasantly surprised the voters went so overwhelmingly for a Moharimet cafeteria.

I want to thank all the candidates for running.  They were all talented and good-intentioned, and I think the community would have been well-served whoever was elected.   I think we can all be proud of this election, which maintained an positive tone throughout.  I hope I can support Michael Williams sometime in the future, though next year might be tough as the three town-specific seats are up, so Mr. Williams faces a tough race against incumbent Al Howland for the Durham seat, should they both choose to run again.

I especially want to thank Denise Day and Sarah Farwell for running a great race.  Even though they were nominally in competition for the same seats, they worked very well together as a team, which bodes well for the board.  I am so grateful I got to work with them and know them better this election season.  Thanks to everyone who helped Denise and Sarah out sending emails and facebook posts, placing signs, working the polls, hosting or attending meet and greets and all the rest.

1,588 is a pretty low turnout.   I think that and the nearly 2 to 1 vote in favor of the budget indicate the school board is doing a pretty good job and not inspiring hordes of angry voters to show up on election day.

Finally, I want to also again thank outgoing board members Megan Turnbull and Ann Lane for their service.  It's no secret I haven't always agreed with them, especially in the bad old days two or three years ago.  But I have watched them at meetings for the last three years and I have no doubt that they have always worked very hard as board members for our kids and really for all of us.  I wish them well in their future endeavors.  I hope and suspect we haven't heard the last of Megan and Ann.

Despite an early morning snowstorm, it was great weather for being outside at the polls. Here are some pictures.  Click on any to enlarge.

Candidate Denise Day with Jean and Annie in Lee

Candidate Sarah Farwell in Durham

Sarah and Sarah

A peek through the door at a light day at the Durham polls

Board Member Al Howland and newly-elected
Durham Library Trustee Diane Thompson

View from the road in Lee


  1. Today marks the permanent and irreversible structural shift of the ORCSD as we know it. May as well change the name to BORHS now.

    Still awaiting legal answer from BoE regarding the enrollment cap and legalities of a "lottery" for students.

    Yep, I'm just a crack-pot out here throwing around theories. /sarcasm I sure hope I'm wrong but don't think I will be. Going to watch a demographic and social engineering experiment play out in real time. Getting the popcorn ready for the show!

  2. Talked to the superintendent about B exceeding 200 once school-of-record status is reached. He says it can't & won't happen. He points out Dover will still be a school of record for Barrington. He thinks that it's correct that Barrington taxpayers will get the full tuition bill for ORHS (no additional parent contribution) once school-of-record is reached.

    Now comes the planning to make it all work. Let's reconvene in five years and see if you're right.

  3. I'd like to replace the lottery with a merit-based system. Should have thought of that one before.

  4. 1. I contacted the BoE and the commissioner (Dr Barry) who sent my my question on to the NH Asst Attorney General who has indicated I should get a reply by the end of next week. I'll post the response and my specific questions to them once received. Dr Morse is NOT the authority on contracts and RSAs, nor is his reply legally binding even though it could potentially have mislead voters and the district.

    2. We'll know very quickly if the 200 cap will be an issue if Barrington hits the 20% rail right off the bat. Over 1000 Barrington voters approved the OR deal so good chance they hit 200 as early as possible per the contract.

    3. If they hit 200 and enter into a lottery and I was a parent/taxpayer in Barrington who got shut out of ORHS I'd sue and win my way in. RSAs are poorly written and huge loop holes.

    4. The contract stipulates that once in ORHS, you stay until graduation. That's a problem right off the bat if as expected over 200 want to attend ORHS. Once you hit 200 there could be a year where no more kids get a chance to enter and thus if denied a lottery slot my claim would be the district is not using a lottery per contract and denying access to ORHS. The only way to solve this is a lottery every year but that contradicts the permanency until graduation clause.

    If I moved to Barrington with a child in HS and Barrington is already at 200 and thus no lottery is used, the district then violates that provision of the contract. It will come down to an equal access argument and with the existing RSAs as written.

    5. Barrington as a town has about half the college educated people as D/L/M, we are eventually going to have us vs them issues. In 5 years Barrington will become a major population presence at the school. This will create conflict on top of our then lower school ranking. The false promise of extra revenue instead of right sizing the class sizes won't be worth the headaches now created by this siutation.

  5. Once you hit 200, as long as some graduate, transfer or drop out, there will be slots next year. I hope we hit the high number. I would prefer a system where the best students get in when there's contention.

    Your points are worth debating. The loss in ranking I myself brought up and analyzed. I wrote about the school of record thing in October, if not before.

    You had all year to show up at school board meetings and forums and write letters to the editor and mobilize some opposition. Wouldn't that have been more productive than pseudonymously predicting doom once the election is over?

  6. Dean, while you are correct that I could send in letters to the editor and work up opposition, it's not practical for someone like myself. Attending meetings is impossible and if you send your direct email I could explain. Could not find it anywhere on the blog. Unfortunatelly I was late to pick up on the tuition issue but could see far more potential problems to make it a bad deal, certainly one with far more risk involved than was being advertised by Morse and crew.

    You are seeing the direct pitfall of having educators over-represented on a school boards. They definitely get blinders on. Planning/select board decisions also play into this over the long-term with anti-growth and conversation moves that exacerbate the lack of kids in the school. But it sounds and feels good when people raise their hand to vote. It must all be for the greater good and we're all forward thinkers, right? D/L/M now pays premium taxes so Barrington gets to use a big chunk of ORHS. We're ain't lookin' so bright....

    For someone like me to show up and point at the problems with some of the macro thinking in the district such as the new tuition deal, I'd just get scoffed at and labled a cutter or anti education and be told by Morse and his minions they have it all under control. I no longer have a K-12 student living at home so I'd be ostracized for that as well as obviously only those with kids still in school have input worth considering. ORCSD politics is to attack the messenger. I've watched from afar at what happens. No thanks.

    Meanwhile, not one person modeled the shift in the district long-term. Nobody showed the different scenarios and probablities for each. It was all a singular view towards "free" revenue and first-order thinking. No thought was given about socio-economic and legal implications over the long-term. IMO, it's far more complicated than just getting 200 kids in the building. Barrington taxpayers will feel they have more skin in the game now since they foot the bill. Way different than the opt-in set-up that existed before. Those parents had different view of education than some of the parents who will now be sending their kids to ORHS.

    As for the 200 cap, my worry is not just Barrington but the ORCSD enrollment projections which people seem to take as if they will be 100% accurate. If we get just a few years of uptick in building across D/L/M in the next 10 years, the pendulum swings the other way and we'll be dealing with over capacity. Can only imagine what the excuses would be if that scenario plays out.

    It's possible that the projections are right with declining enrollment and if Barrington has the demand, there will be desire to tweak above 200. Either way the demographics of ORHS will change. It's the elephant in the room but there is a demographic difference between Barrington and the ORCSD towns.

    The ORCSD kids will generally flourish with or without Barrington but we've opened ourselves up to a whole host of issues that Morse willfully failed to publish, was too imcompetent to foresee, or both. Can't wait until a special ed parent from Barrington feels wronged in any way and creates a snafu. Those can be very contentious cases and being a school of record, I'm not sure how and if that can add more risk to ORCSD since we are the entity providing the service. Contracts are only so good until challenged.

    And for the record, I'm very pro education but not afraid to raise class size or layoff teachers which many is taboo even though it's the right move for ORCSD. If I were to show up at a board meeting and say anything about reducing staffing, even with perfectly justifiable reasons to do so with a board stacked with teachers/admin, how effective do you really think that would be?

  7. Should also add that I do have a college age student so I'm not free and clear yet :)

    Bad enough to pay taxes in the district while paying college tuition. I'm getting run over by a bus, it backs up and runs me over again.

  8. In 2006, the peak, the district spent 36% more than the state average CPP (cost per pupil). In 2012 OR/state was 25%. That was the last budget Henry passed and it was growth above the state average (2011 OR/state = 24%). It's hard to cut when half the people hate you. Since then the school board, those educators you don't like, have brought in two real zero growth years. That's probably at least 2% under the state each year. They eliminated 14 positions with retirement incentives and did an HVAC & lighting overhaul that's already saving. They cut 8 people (> 5 FTE) to the point where the amendments proposed almost entirely tried to add some back at the recent deliberative session. I haven't seen the OR/state figures for these two recent years, but they should be significantly improved, under 20%. The tuition deal will further improve this metric. We're on a trajectory to being one of the top districts in the state at only a modest premium to the state average.

    We're looking bright enough. The money helps us too. If I'm required by law to run a big cafeteria using local taxes to give away food to locals and I can make a few extra bucks to lower the local tax impact by running a small restaurant in the back , I should do it, even if it means selling the meals for less than the average cost of a meal in the cafeteria.

    If there was going to be a mad rush to Barrington to take advantage of ORHS, it probably would have happened already. Maybe some professors will move to Barrington and bring up their demographics. It costs less and it's often not really as good to be in Barrington as in Oyster River if you want to attend Oyster River High.

    The projections don't show declining enrollment anymore, at least at the high school level, for many years. I think they had to run the projections out two more years than usual, twelve, before the local high school population dipped below the current level. But even with this revised estimate there is a cushion of 120 empty seats in the worst year of the projection assuming an unlikely 200 Barrington students, which is pretty comfortable.

    You can email me at I don't usually check it frequently but I will.

  9. You seem to be falsely assuming I have some alliance or support for past/present individuals related to the ORCSD. You would be mistaken.

    I also never typed the words "hate, "dislike", or any other perjorative you may want to use in describing my posts. I don't dislike educators but that fits right in with the narrative of trying to marginalize a viewpoint in the way I described previously. The only point and what I posted was that educators are over-represented on our school board (and a common occurence on many school boards). It's not rocket science understanding how it comes to be.

    It's no different than an engineer who build something and convinced it will sell. There are marketing and finance folks who help create ot crush those dreams. Our board is simply not diverse enough.

    I believe curent spending trends have more to do with being a forced hand from a severe economic downturn rather than an organic desire to shrink a school with declining or flat enrollments. I've typed it many times, it only takes a few years of upticks in spending and development to wipe out years of so-called inflationary cuts. 10 years is an eternity Dean. You are far more optimistic than I am. Day and Farwell scare me.

    I'd be happy with simply raising class size and cutting teachers as a great first step. Would not change our ranking one iota. We overpay with too many MS level teachers. Again, our ranking and outcomes are tied to family incomes and parent education far more than any other aspect of who stands at the chalkboard.

    The tuition contract was not well vetted and everything was based on incremental revenue. Revenue != profit.

    Normally a contract with so many nebulus possibilites would have had a much more thorough report/study and look much deeper into the long-term implications. A couple planning moves here and there, a developnment here and there, a higher than expected demand from Barrington here, a legal loop-hole with the contract there, Barrington us/them issues here, class needs that did not exisit before adding more Barrington students there, and on and on. Those are very real issues and not one bit of it was explored that I am aware of other than a few people throwing around school ranking possibilities.

    So what happens at 10 years and we have 200 students (or more) at that point? Do you really think we can just cut the chord or are we now permanently enjoined with no easy way out? You wanna just wait and hope it works? What if Barrington sees a housing boom and they have more demand for ORHS than projected? Will they eventually join the district and does that make sense since we've sold the district soul to the Devil?

    I see this as a big deal structurally with the high school and not just a benign add of students with incremental revenue. It's a shift demographically. It's a shift in the size of the high school needs overall.

    Next up, Morse says we need more staff to support the higher student population (will be veiled as a need for OR students) and/or the extra revenue will get sucked up using a "level funding" claim to pay for all day K. Hey! I'm Dr Morse and now have v400k to pay for all day K, lookee here, bag of money sitting right here under my desk! Taxpayers will get left with empty pockets, AGAIN.

  10. You derided the board members as educators, so I assumed you didn't like educators. You discounted 2 MDs & a farmer, by the way. The district went 84% for the tuition deal so it's likely the composition of the board didn't matter much.

    I'm with you on the staffing. There are different versions of the plans around, some that show no teacher hiring, especially at the beginning. I think we've been sold a line about policy IIB, and if we really followed the policy our class sizes would be over 20% larger. We could fit all 200 Barrington students in without hiring a teacher. I'll be saying so at the next meeting.

  11. Dean,
    I want to link you back to your own post from May 16th 2013 in which you had linked the May 15th, 2013 school board meeting.

    At the time, you seemed to snipe at Ms Turnbull regarding the school structure. If you go to 1:17:40 you see her ask for an alternative study about tuition. Mr Morse quickly shut it down and did not even consider ANY alternative to tuitioning, nor was he willing to get further surveys looking at alternatives. The UNH study was essentially set-up to only consider tuition.

    I'm curious if looking back if you reconsider your post? Do you think is would have been better to do more diligence than just a tuition option? Wouldn't that have been more fair to taxpayers/voters?

    Notice that all plans previously have much higher than 200 students in them. Wanna bet we revisit those higher numbers in the future? BORHS here we come, and we'll pay retail for it as well. Notice Andy Smith's own mention in the meeting on how to solve any issues with the school, just add MORE teachers. Go figure........

    To be honest, I think this is the time for me to consider a way to get rid of Morse as Supt. Having gone back and reviewed that post and meeting, his actions were reckless and a direct attempt to without information from voters. If you told voters we could cut teachers and not impact the school they'd vote for it, but that option will never be put forth.

  12. Member Turnbull wanted to explore closing a school, namely the middle school. Even then the enrollment projections (and IIB as misinterpreted) put that I think 7 years out, and the subsequent enrollment bump pushed that out further. Of course, if you don't like the class size policy as interpreted you can do it sooner, but you have to come out and say that.

    If the board had passed a motion to compel the superintendent to explore closing a school he certainly would have. Megan didn't propose a motion, and without a duly passed motion her request had no authority behind it. I found the idea fascinating and did my own analysis which I wrote about.

    You want another survey? We were fortunate to get one survey done by a real pollster, and it showed pretty overwhelming support for the idea. The subsequent vote confirmed the survey's accuracy.

    Personally, I want us to be the winners in 21st century public education. The place where kids from other districts want to pay to come. I don't want to just be managing enrollment decline and the subsequent loss of opportunity for our kids.

    When Supt. Morse proposed the initial Barrington option (a small increase in tuition students) I recall all or almost all of the revenue went to taxpayers, which is to say, no hiring would be required. This is essentially admitting that we're overstaffed.

  13. 1. I didn't say a survey. I asked if looking back do you think more diligence should have been done rather than just head down the direct path to tuition (say, in the form of an actual all encompassing study looking at all scenarios and tuition vs no tuition study, etc)? Because if you don't, I have to say you have a wee bit of post-decision dissonance going on upstairs.

    2. Regarding Turnbull, I think your views toward her are so visceral that even going back to 1:17:40 you are not listening to what she asked. She simply asked should we also look at other scenarios other than tuition. That is what a board member should do and consider all options.

    3. The majority of support of tuition is because many believed that the tuition dollars will reduce taxes. Do you think if the tuition agreement had read, "Do you support a tuition agreement with Barrington and when or if enrollment declines we will take the extra money and spend it on all day kindergarden?"

    Bet it would not have passed even though that's the plan but not published as such.

    Again if anyone goes back and watches that video, the spending of the tuition money on expansion programs such as all day K discussed. They basically acknowledged public support is not there for all day K so this is classic bait and switch. Taxpayers are not getting any relief. Complete myth.

  14. I went back and looked at the tape. Megan is talking about "facilities consolidation" i.e. closing a school. I stand by my remarks. Even though this wasn't surveyed or explored, it's pretty obviously an unpopular plan in Oyster River. And again, if Megan wants something to happen she needs to get a motion passed -- she didn't even try.

    I don't agree about the bait and switch. The board and voters don't want all day K if they have to pay, so we don't have all day K. The superintendent's been pretty transparent about his desire for all day K, but there's no particular reason to assume bad faith on his part. In the end he goes along with the will of the board and the voters.

  15. Not sure why you don't want to answer if the board should have required a more comprehensive study rather than just a singular plan of tuition. Perhaps it's not the deal it was made out to be? It boils down to how the deal was packaged to voters. I'll have no problem eating crow if I'm wrong but the more I look into the tuition deal the more frightened I become. I think it was a blunder to enjoin ourselves with Barrington so heavily.

    I see claims of armageddon for school programming sans the tuition deal, but yet nobody put any details out there. Let the details stand up to public scrutiny. Thus far I've seen subjective rhetorhic with no substance. What student choices would be cut (if any) simply by increasing class sizes to modest levels? The data supports having more kids per class with no impact but does the school board have the spine to admit it? You'll say it's because it's what voters want. I say voters are getting half-truths and a partial picture. There's no harm in having all the facts laid out there, unless you are a schoool employee....

    Turnbull could have put a motion on the table, but no one else did either and Morse scoffed at the idea entirely. I'm sure she felt it was a lost cause. I think the entire board was derelict in their duties and the question by Turnbull was profound. We'll look back to it and say we should have dug deeper (at least you and I will, most never even see the meetings).

    I didn't see Turnbull's question as solely about consolidation but about putting all options out there beyond just a tuition model. So, I don't agree with you on this one. Go read the tuition stuff from Morse and Co. and there is not one down-side to adding tuition students listed. That is the first red flag that went up when I started actually paying attention to the tuition deal (admittedly very late in the process). So no risk with the plan, eh?

    The tuition plan is DEFINITELY a bait and switch. In fact in that very meeting it was not only discussed about how in 5-6 years the tuition could be steered for the all day K, one board member even mentioned expanding into pre-school! That is bait and switch. Sorry, but you're wrong on this one and in a big way. Of course in 5-6 years people will forget that the tuition deal was sold to voters as a HS/taxpayer savior. Maybe we should shoot for the trifecta of the three highest mil rate towns in the State of NH so we can be #1 in something.

    The tuition deal was sold as saving the world of ORHS and reduce taxes and what we're going to get is future boards spending the money for elementary schools. But you don't think that is a bait and switch. Ooooookay.

    Let's do this... Make your projections for where the district is at in 5 years and 10 years as a result of the tuition deal then I'll do the same. Apparently nobody else was willing to look beyond the superficial impacts of tuitioning more students and the long-term impacts (demographics, taxes, enrollments, school class needs, etc) so I'll put it out there what I think is going to happen. You willing to do the same?

    If so, I suggest you go read Barrington's minutes of meetings and look at what they find important in the school. Remedial classes has been mentioned in my searching. Don't recall seeing Oyster River having those concerns voiced as a need ;)

    FYI, I just ordered a book by a local author from Exeter about planning consquences in the State of NH. Think it's germane to what ORCSD is facing.

    It's titled, ' Communities & Consequences: The Unbalancing of New Hampshire's Human Ecology, and What We Can Do About It'

  16. An example of the "obvious solution" having unintended consequences:

    And now Oyster River is dealing with exactly what is discussed in the video.

    Madbury is classic example where spending money to buy conservation land in efffort to reduce kids in school is false economy. But go to town meeting and everyone thinks it will save us from ourselves. Think outside the box.....

  17. The whole video:

    Should be required viewing for anyone on Town boards.

  18. Didn't watch your video yet. But I don't want to leave the impression I'm not answering your question about a comprehensive study. I went to all of those tuition meetings, and the various options were freely brought up and discussed. I happen to be looking at a handout from the 8/14/13 forum that has 5 slides in a row about what happens if we have "NO Tuition Students." Almost nobody cared -- almost no one wants that.

  19. Any chance to post that handout? I haven't found anything of the sort on the ORCSD website.

    Let's see. August school board meeting. Who attends those? Parents of school age kids, perhaps some teachers, and the board. Hardly representative of the population at large. The questions that got asked, and even more importantly the one not asked makes a difference.

    I'm willing to look at this both in mirco and macro terms. Seems I'm just the crack-pot willing to do so and everyone thinks tuition solves our problems.

    You going to post a prediction of the district at 5 and 10 years out and the effects of tuition?

  20. I don't have the will to scan and post the entire 38 page handout from the August tuition forum (which is part of the history that disappeared when the district upgraded its website--aargh), but I've scanned the 5 slides I referred to above (links below).  This was not an obscure school board meeting.  It was a public forum intended to attract the wide community.  I can' t be sure if this was the forum that the district went crazy advertising, but there was one tuition forum where they mailed a postcard to every homeowner in the district, got mentions in the weekly town letters, had some coverage in Foster's and so on, bending over backwards to get some community input into this decision that affects everyone.  Around 100 people showed up, less than showed up at the elementary school forum soon after.

    I think I kvetched to the superintendent about these slides at the time, but now I appreciate that he presented them.

  21. Thanks for posting that. But it does show me that nobody really took a serious look at how to make it work with a 600 student HS. Absolutely can be done.

    Still don't see where anyone modeled the long-term impacts. Not good.

  22. Mike McClurken and I did a fair amount of demographics work on the tuition deal options, and I did an estimate in the change in NECAP rank. I modeled the close-a-school plan in I essentially agreed with you and said the money could work to the taxpayers' advantage with one fewer school building. But the end of the elective program and consequent loss of opportunity to our high schoolers made this a non-starter.

  23. Went and read that post. So much was never looked at. That's what happens when people have paradigms. Not buying the end of electives if the school shrinks. Far more rhetoric than an actual detailed analysis with explicit detail. If students lose one or two electives while saving a lot of money for taxpayers is a fair trade-off. Way overblown as to net impact.

    ORCSD is stuck with Barrington now. Won't be suprised if Barrington grows in students while D/L/M shrinks to flat as a real possibility. ORCSD will be on a steady dose of tuition students to keep paying for more and more and more. Lord help us if projections end up with actual growth in D/L/M.

    Housing values.... The high tax rate can actually suppress any housing appreciation as well so it's not a zero sum game with the school system.

    Going to take a while for people to see the light. Subtle details matters. Is ORCSD going to have to expand into lower leve/remedial classes for Barrington students? Will behavior issues come up more now that Barrington will be sending a different demographic of students now?

    I have significant concerns about the unitended consequences of the "school of record". Reading some Barrington minutes, they really, really, wanted it. There was talk in there meeting minutes about school systems being forced to take all students, etc. Better hope something wasn't missed and Barrington burns us. School of Record is a game changer.

    Still have not heard back from NH AG yet about lottery. Me thinks someone is threading a needle on the reply...

    Did you watch the video I linked too?

  24. The plot just thickened. The Asst AG sent reply saying that he can not offer legal advice and to discuss this at the legal level. Took two weeks to come up with that. This doesn't pass the smell test.