Thursday, May 6, 2021

Principal Suzanne Filippone promoted to Assistant Superintendent; Michael Williams new Oyster River School Board Chair

Principal Filippone promoted to Assistant Superintendent

Tonight, May 5, 2021, Oyster River High School Principal Suzanne Filippone was promoted to Assistant Superintendent.  After a substantial search and hiring process, Principal Filippone was recommended for the position by Superintendent Morse, and approved unanimously by the board. Congratulations Assistant Superintendent Filippone.  

The position became available when on March 3, 2021 current Assistant Superintendent and former High School Principal Todd Allen announced his retirement effective June 30, 2021. It seems like yesterday, but Principal Filippone began at Oyster River High School in the fall of 2016, as did my daughter. 

Of course the problem with hiring from within is now we need a new high school principal.  The superintendent vows to search immediately, hoping to hire for this September. "Depending on the market" we may be in for another interim interval.  We had an interim principal when then Principal Todd Allen was promoted in November 2015 after Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Eastman resigned suddenly in September 2015. What happens is one of the deans named Mike takes over as principal, probably while applying for the permanent position.

The decision perhaps makes Ms. Filippone the leading candidate for superintendent when Dr. Morse retires, which is on the horizon.  Historically the board has tended to choose an outside candidate for ORCSD superintendent.

Michael Williams chosen as Oyster River School Board Chair

On March 17, 2021, the newly elected board met and as its first official act, chose Michael Williams as chair. It was a contested race -- outgoing chair Tom Newkirk nominated Brian Cisneros.  The vote was 4-2-1.  Denise Day was chosen vice chair, also besting member Cisneros.

Congratulations, Chair Williams and Vice Chair Day.

Students 16 and up vaccinated; 12 to 15 hopeful

Strafford County Health organized a program to give the Pfizer COVID vaccine to Oyster River High School students age 16 and up.  The first dose was Saturday, April 17, 2021 in the high school parking lot; students queued up in cars at their appointed times.  The vaccine arrived late, causing delays until around 10 am.  According to my boy's vaccination card, second doses are scheduled for May 8, though I haven't seen anything official from the school yet and it's getting close.

At tonight's school board meeting the superintendent relayed that Strafford County will do a similar vaccination pod for 12-15 year old Oyster River students when the vaccine is approved for that age group, which is expected within a week or two.  

Schools Open In Person Five Days Per Week

Per the governor's order, all state public schools were opened five days per week beginning April 19, 2021.  Oyster River was rather languid in complying.  Monday, April 19 had long been scheduled as a day teachers and staff would receive their first vaccination en masse like the students two days before.  There was concern about the teachers' ability to teach Tuesday, and Wednesday had PSATs in person at the high school so the schools opened on Thursday, April 22.  They promptly went on vacation for a week after Friday, April 23.  Today, seventeen days from the ordered April 19 opening, there have been a total of five in-person days.

Reportedly it's been going great, with the feeling of the first days of school. Traffic around the elementary schools has been well-handled despite the increase due to the district encouraging car pickup to keep bus crowding down.  Unfortunately the same can't be said of the high school, where fifteen minute delays on Coe Dr. in the afternoon are now the norm.   The increased traffic raises safety concerns; the superintendent reminds all drivers to stop for a school bus with flashing lights, as the law requires. 

New school hours are elementary 8:55 AM-3:25 PM, middle and high 8:00 AM-2:35 PM.  High school seems to get out 12:30 on Wednesdays; not sure about the other schools. The last day of school is June 18, 2021.

Oyster River Joins Adequacy Lawsuit

The Oyster River school board voted to join the Contoocook Valley lawsuit claiming the state has failed to fund an adequate education as required by the state constitution.  This of course has been a perennial issue since the Claremont cases in the nineties forced the state to actually come up with a process to assure all students have an adequate education.  The current system is partly funded through the "State Education Tax" line on your property tax, proportionally paid by every property owner in the state, and distributed to towns in proportion to the neediness of students in town.  

The legislature has determined that $3,800 per student is what is required to fund an adequate education for a typical student; they add about an extra $2000 for special ed students and $2000 for free and reduced lunch students, plus around $800 for each 3rd grader who fails a reading test and some others. For reference Oyster River spends over $18,000 per student.  [That number, stated by the superintendent tonight, is closer to the cost-per-pupil, a technical measure which omits expenses like  transportation and interest if I recall.  The na├»ve calculation is a $50 million budget divided by around 2200 students, $23,000 per student per year.]

I think of the cooperative financially as a pizza with 9 slices; 4 for Durham, 2 for Lee, 1 for Madbury and 2 for the state.  Of its $50M budget, Oyster River gets around $9 million in state aid via the three towns.  The variations in these state numbers from year to year cause much of the turbulence in the tax rates.

The decision to join the suit may cost the district $30,000 in legal fees, less if additional districts join the suit.

Member Howland points out that wealthier districts like ours have been reluctant to join such suits, as it appears to be against their interests.  That's because a ruling that favors needy towns tends to reduce funding to the richer, so-called donor towns, the towns able to fund the lawsuit.

The board voted unanimously to join the suit, with the moral imperative to do the right thing and make the state step up to its obligations to fund education outweighing the direct and indirect financial costs that might be levied as a result. That made me proud to have voted for them all.  I wonder how I'll feel when the taxes go up.

Upcoming Forums

The Oyster River School Board will meet for a public forum on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 7:00 PM at the high school in the Auditorium to begin discussion on the opening of school in the fall and any other issues related to this opening.  The forum will be streamed but if you want to ask questions you'll need to be in person.

A community forum on recent violence against Asian Americans, including how to incorporate Asian American experiences into Oyster River's commitment to equity and anti-racism, will be held on Tuesday, May 25.  I don't see an announcement for this one so I won't guess on the time and place.

Mandarin Approved

The board voted unanimously to hire two full time teachers to teach Mandarin from sixth through twelfth grade.  The plan/hope is for at least one of the current Mandarin teachers to continue with the district.  The board further decided to apply for a grant to fund a third teacher to run a Mandarin after-school program.  That teacher would not be hired if the grant failed to materialize.

Mandarin teaching had been funded largely by the Confucius Institute.  That support has dried up as UNH has ended its relationship with the Institute, forcing the district to face the hard decision of supporting the positions using taxpayer dollars.  There is the possibility of some grant money from a non-profit connected to Chengdu University; the board, unsure about the source of the money and the need to apply annually for the grant, showed its commitment to Mandarin by funding the positions locally.

There was a plan to move up some capital spending to the current fiscal year to free up up to $200,000 to pay for the positions.  The shuffling is necessary as the district is not allowed to spend more than the voters appropriate in March.  Plans to expand the world language program to fifth grade and the elementary schools were discussed but not acted upon tonight.

I should mention that I thought the decision to spend hundreds of thousands in these difficult budget times when there were a few interesting alternatives, including the admittedly questionable grant money they're applying for, a local organization that teaches Mandarin for $4500 a class or something, and free classes through VLACs, was a bit hasty.



Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Incumbents win!

After a very turbulent year in Oyster River, with many folks understandably mad about rising taxes and the district's overall COVID response, all four school board seats were won by the incumbents.  The Oyster River School Board membership remains unchanged.  

The outstanding question is who will be chair now that long time chair Tom Newkirk has indicated he will not seek a leadership role.  The newly elected board decides as its first act, at the school board meeting on March 17.

While the voters might have been looking for a change, in the end none of the challengers proved to be a compelling enough alternative to the current board members.  While they might not have been thrilled about it, the voters picked the best folks from among the choices they were offered. Turnout was around average, with 2366 district voters, down from a record 3274 last year.

Congratulations to currently serving and now newly elected board member Yusi Turell, who becomes the Durham representative to the school board.  Congratulations to reelected members Brian Cisnernos, Lee rep;  Dan Klein, Madbury rep; and Al Howland, now an at-large member with a one year term.   

Brian was our most popular board member today, pulling in 84% of the vote.  It sure helps to have your opponent drop out and endorse you. (Though not for 16% of you who voted for the other guy anyway.)  Dan Klein and Yusi Turell each got 67% of the vote in tough races with multiple challengers, at least at the start, and one challenger each at the end.  Longest serving member Al Howland drew 61% of the vote against two challengers.

The district won as well, with all ballot questions passing: the $50.2M budget article got 76% of the vote; remarkably good in context (see below).  Bus drivers, paras & support staff got their raises.  The cap on the emergency fund was raised to 5%, around $2M, and the middle school solar array fund got its first $125K.   

The challengers did respectably, with Ms. Dunbar pulling in 23% for Madbury rep, Ms. Piparo and Mr. Durkee each pulling in 19% in the at-large race,  and the mostly absent Mr. Mason winning 11% for Durham rep.   Withdrawn candidates did similarly well: 21% for Dr. Fortin, 15% for Mr. Alcocer and 9% for Mr. Abbott.  Congratulations to all the candidates and the PTOs on a civil and well run campaign season that made us all proud to be citizens.

Lee note: Congratulations to newly elected Lee Selectperson Katrin Kasper, on what has to be the upset of the night.  She beat long time Chair John LaCourse and relative newcomer Jonathan Moss.  She really campaigned them to shame.  Great job, Katrin!

You might enjoy this little spreadsheet history of the district that covers the time I've been paying attention, followed by tonight's detailed results.





Detailed Results



Thanks to Todd Selig and Durham Friday Updates for these results.  Percentages are mine.


 

SCHOOL DISTRICT UNOFFICIAL RESULTS


ARTICLE 1:

For Moderator (Vote for not more than one)

Richard Laughton - 1899   ELECTED

Write-in - 5

 

 

ARTICLE 2:

For School Board - Durham (Vote for not more than one)

Erik Mason        214  10.8%

Yusi Turell       1333   67.5%   ELECTED

Jeffrey Fortin   422   21.4%

Write-in              7      0.4%

 

For School Board - Lee (Vote for not more than one)

Nicolas Alcocer     283    15.1%

Brian Cisneros     1578    84.2%   ELECTED 

Write-in                 12      0.6%

  

For School Board - Madbury (Vote for not more than one)

Michelle Dunbar       446  23.4% 

Daniel Klein           1280  67.1%  ELECTED

Kevin Abbott            173   9.1%

Write-in                      8    0.4%

 

School Board at Large (Vote for not more than one)

Allan Howland    1261   61.0%   ELECTED

Jill Piparo            394   19.1%

Matt Durkee         403   19.5%

Write-in                  9      0.4%

 

ARTICLE 3:

Shall the District raise and appropriate as an operating budget, not including
appropriations by special warrant article and other appropriations voted separately, the amount set forth on the budget posted with the warrant or as amended by vote of the first session, for the purposes set forth therein, totaling $50,173,045. Should this article be defeated, the operating budget shall be $50,080,250 (Default Budget) which is the same as last year with certain adjustments required by previous action of the District or by law; or the District may hold one special meeting in accordance with RSA 40:13, X, and XVI to take up the issue of the revised operating budget only. The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

Note:
Fund 10 = $48,707,995 (regular operating budget); Fund 21 = $824,050 (expenditures from food service revenues); Fund 22 = $600,000 (expenditures from federal/special revenues); Fund 23 = $41 ,000 (expenditures from pass through funds).

 

YES  1584  75.8%  PASSED

NO      435  22.5%

 

 

ARTICLE 4:

Shall the District vote to approve within the provisions of New Hampshire RSA 273-A:3
the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Oyster River Bus Drivers Association and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:

 

2021 - 2022      $18,070


and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $18,070 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, such sum representing the additional costs attributable to the increases in salaries and benefits required by the new agreement over those that would be paid at current staffing levels? The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

 

YES  1920   85.8%  PASSED

NO      317  14.2%

 

 

ARTICLE 5:

Shall the District vote to approve within the provisions of New Hampshire RSA 273-A:3 the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Oyster River Para-Educators and Support Staff and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:

 

2021 - 2022      $63,853


and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $63,853 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, such sum representing the additional costs attributable to the increases in salaries and benefits required by the new agreement over those that would be paid at current staffing levels? The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

 

YES  1811    81.2%  PASSED

NO     420    18.8%   

 

 

ARTICLE 6:

Shall the District vote in accordance with RSA 198:4-b, II to increase, indefinitely until rescinded, the retention of any unused portion of the year-end unassigned general funds from the preceding fiscal year from the current percentage of 2.5% to 5% of the current fiscal year's net assessment under RSA 198:5 for the purpose of having funds on hand to use in subsequent fiscal years? The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required).

 

YES  1747  79.0%   PASSED

NO      465  21.0%

 

 

ARTICLE 7:

Shall the District vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $125,000 to be added to the Facilities Development, Maintenance, and Replacement Trust which was established in March of 2017. This sum to come from June 30 fund balance available for transfer on July 1. The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required).  No amounts to be raised from taxation.

 

YES   1814  81.6%  PASSED 

NO      409  18.4%

 

Total ORCSD votes cast today:  2366.

 


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Voting guide to the March 9, 2021 ORCSD Election


Hello everybody. Election day is this Tuesday, March 9, 2021.  Here's my annual voting guide where I review the Oyster River School District Ballot.  In the last section I'll go through the ballot article by article, tell you what it means, and tell you which way I'm voting. That's the biased part.

I'll keep it unbiased until then. If you just want to know how to vote and where to find information on and from the candidates and the ballot questions, you can skip the biased part which follows; it will be clearly marked.

News 

Breaking News 9pm 3/7: I've been writing this for two days and missed the news that at 10am 3/5 Nicolas Alcocer has withdrawn and endorsed his opponent Brian Cisneros in the race for Lee representative to the school board.  That leaves the incumbent Cisneros running unopposed, so let me be the first to say congratulations Mr. Cisneros on winning another term on the Oyster River School Board. 

It's been an eventful week in Oyster River, with an impactful school board meeting sandwiched between two virtual Candidates Nights, excellently hosted and moderated by the Mast Way and Moharimet PTOs.  

Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen will retire effective this June 30.   The shocked school board received the news in non-public session around a half hour after the main public part of the meeting had ended.  They came back into public session to accept the retirement and tell some stories about Todd.

Tom Newkirk, who has been chair of the school board since 2014, announced he will not seek the chair again.  He will remain on the school board; his term runs another year.

The new board selects its chair as its first act after being elected, on 3/17. It's anyone's guess who the new chair will be this time.  In the past, running for vice chair has been a good way to telegraph your hope of being chair, and winning vice chair has been a good way to indicate you have the support of the board.  Member Michael Williams is the current vice chair.  The board chose him over member Denise Day last March. Member Day had been vice chair since March 2016. Former member Kenny Rotner, who sadly passed away last summer, cast the deciding vote for vice chair last year.

In other news all four schools are opening for more in-person learning.  The high school will bring in the 55% of the students who want to, two days per week, starting this Monday, 3/8.  Pursuant to the governor's order, so will the middle school, though the district has filed an appeal to try to continue the current model.  The board voted that the elementary schools will open for students Wednesdays starting April 9, over the objections of principals Lowe and Goldsmith.

There's some more detail about all this in my previous post.

Election Day Information

Election Day is Tuesday March 9, 2021.  Eligible citizens in the three towns can vote a school district ballot.  If you're a US citizen at least 18 years old residing in one of the three towns, you're eligible. Vote at your local town polling place like any other election.  If you're not already registered, same day registration is available.  It's best to bring ID, and if you need to register, proof of address like a utility bill, but you can still vote even if you don't bring those by signing an affidavit they'll give you.

Where and when to vote depends on where you live. Here's where and when to vote and some links to the town ballots, which you'll be given in addition to a school district ballot:

Durham, vote at Oyster River High School 7 am to 7 pm. Durham voting informationballotcandidate profiles.

Lee, vote at Lee Transfer Station 7 am to 7 pm (I know it's a Tuesday but please don't bring trash). Lee voting informationballot questions,  candidatesmap for transfer station voting.  They want you to bring your own black marker or black pen and a hard surface to write on.  Your car is your voting booth; they'll accommodate multiple voters in a car but come alone for maximum privacy.

Madbury, vote at Madbury Town Hall 11 am to 7pm.  Madbury voting information and ballot questions, townofmadbury.com. In addition to the daytime election with the voting booths and Sharpies, Madbury has a town meeting, 7:30 pm at Moharimet School, to vote on town questions.  The school district part is in the daytime.

School Board Candidates

The Oyster River school board has seven seats, three town-specific (one each Durham, Lee, Madbury) and four at-large.  They all have three years terms; this year it's the three town-specific seats that are up for election.  In addition, there's an election for someone to serve out the remaining year of Kenny Rotner's term in an at-large seat. Kenny sadly passed away last summer; Yusi Turell was appointed by the board to serve the five months until election day.  It's rare to have four seats up at once; the last time was March 2012, the election that started this blog

To run for a town-specific seat you must live in the town; any voter in the district can run for the at-large seats.  All the voters in the district are given identical ballots and can vote in all four races; you don't have to live in Lee to vote for the Lee representative to the Oyster River school board.

It's been an exciting election for school board this year.  It started with a total of twelve candidates, with an incumbent and two challengers filing to run for each of  four school board seats.  We've had three [edit 3/7 10pm] four withdrawals, Debra Cavenaugh and Nicolas Alcocer from the Lee race, Kevin Abbott from Madbury, and Jeff Fortin from Durham.  Only Ms. Cavenaugh withdrew early enough to have her name removed from the ballot. 

There's a surfeit of information this year, with the elementary PTOs really stepping up, running a facebook site as well as two Candidates Nights.  I'm just going to list links where various information about the candidates has been collated.

2021 ORCSD School Board Candidate Information [PTOs' facebook page] 
2021 ORCSD School Board Candidate Biographies
2021 PTO School Board Candidate Questionaire
2021 Teacher's Guild School Board Candidate Questionaire


Candidates Night 3/4/2021

The two debates on Candidates Night (Tuesday 3/2 Madbury & At-Large, Thursday 3/4 Durham and Lee) were very well done and worth watching if you have three or four hours.  I thought I heard a rumor of transcripts which would probably be quicker to digest but I haven't found any.



The two candidates for the Durham school board seat are Yusi Turell (facebookweb) and Eric Mason (no candidacy site known to me but he's CEO of RYSE Marketing & Communications). Ms. Turell is essentially the incumbent; she currently holds an at-large seat.  Jeff Fortin (facebook) has withdrawn but will appear on the ballot.

The two candidates [Edit 9pm 3/7]  only candidate currently running for the Lee school board seat is the incumbent Brian Cisneros (facebook).  Opponent Nicolas Alcocer (facebook) withdrew on 3/5 and endorsed Cisneros.  Alcocer's name will remain on the ballot. Debra Cavanaugh withdrew from the Lee race early and will not appear on the ballot. 

The two candidates for the Madbury school board seat are the incumbent Dan Klein (web) and Michelle Dunbar (facebook). Kevin Abbott (facebook) has withdrawn but will appear on the ballot.

The three candidates for the At-Large seat with a one year term are Al Howland (web), Matt Durkee (facebook) and Jill Piparo (facebook).   Let's call Al Howland the incumbent; he's served in the Durham seat since 2012 though this time he's seeking the one-year at-large seat. 

School Ballot

For my last bit of unbiased information, I present the school district ballot.






















Ballot Questions

OK, now we go through the ballot questions. This is the biased part, because in addition to I hope fairly explaining the questions, I tell you how I'm voting and why.
  
TL;DR: For school board in 2021 I'm voting for the incumbents: Yusi Turell, Brian Cisneros, Dan Klein and Al Howland and I'm voting YES on all the questions. I'll summarize why below; for more detail, please see this post.

Lee voters: I'm really looking forward to voting for Katrin Kasper for select board.  Not that I don't have a soft spot for old white men, being one myself, but I've known Katrin has been working hard for the town and the schools for at least a decade and I would love to see what her energy could do for the Lee Select Board.  Among many other committees, she's been on the Oyster River Long Range Planning Committee for the long term, at least a decade, and has relatively recently taken over as chair. The LRPC is the district's oldest committee, and its enrollment projections play an important role in the budgeting, hiring and long term planning of the school district.  

OK, back to the school ballot. 
Article 1 elects the moderator. For as long as I've been paying attention Richard Laughton has been the only person ever to run for moderator, and that's true in 2021, so I'm voting for Mr. Laughton. The main function of the moderator is to run the Deliberative Session. I sometimes see him running between polling places on Election Day, but I don't know why.  

There's something of a family dynasty going on in Oyster River.  Beloved citizen and former school board chair Shirley Thompson was Mr. Laughton's mother-in-law and I see a District Clerk Jessica Laughton at the top right corner of the ballot, who I'm guessing is related.  

Article 2 elects the school board members.  There are four separate races, three town specific seats and one at-large seat.  Let's go through them:

Durham representative (3 year term)
      O   Eric Mason
      O   Yusi Turell
      O   Jeffrey Fortin (withdrawn but will appear on the ballot)
      O   ___________________  (write in)


I'm voting for Yusi Turell.  I think she's been great in her five months since being appointed to the board.  Among other things, her efforts have all district schools opening to more in-person learning in accordance with CDC mitigation guidelines, starting tomorrow at the high school, soon after at the middle school, and the elementary schools, already at two in-person days a week, will open more in April.  Yusi's run a great race, out there answering every question, with her opponent Erik Mason barely showing up (he skipped Candidates Night and one of the questionnaires, and I don't think he has a web presence for his candidacy) and her other opponent Jeffrey Fortin withdrawing.

Lee representative (3 year term)
      O   Nicolas Alcocer   (withdrawn but will appear on the ballot)
      O   Brian Cisneros
      O   ___________________  (write in)

Brian Cisneros is the current Lee representative to the Oyster River school board.  He's been among the board members trying hardest to increase in-person time for students.  Brian brings a lot of expertise to the table as his day job is business administrator of SAU #61, the Farmington school district. 

On Candidates Night 3/4 I got to watch his opponent Nicolas Alcocer, who has good values and would do Lee and Oyster River proud as our representative. He didn't have anywhere near Brian's knowledge or experience so I'm voting for Brian.  [Edit 9pm 3/7] Mr. Alcocer apparently agrees; he's withdrawn and endorsed Brian Cisneros.

Madbury representative (3 year term)
      O   Michelle Dunbar
      O   Daniel Klein
      O   Kevin Abbott (withdrawn but will appear on the ballot)
      O   ___________________  (write in)


Dan Klein is the current Madbury representative to the school board; he's running for his third term. He's done great job on the negotiating committee and the policy committee and much more. I'm voting for Dan.

His opponent Michelle Dunbar has posted on facebook she believes the presidential election was stolen, yada yada. I started this blog in 2012 because a school board member was tweeting inappropriately about Michelle Obama's body; this election stuff is arguably more damaging. Ms. Dunbar and I are not facebook friends; this was a publicly shared post made on November 5 that's still up as I write this.  I don't know how she currently feels as the PTOs chose not to ask my question on Candidates Night.

I thought Ms. Dunbar did well on Candidates Night; it was a civil discussion where she represented her point of view forthrightly.  I don't know who's right in the CDC versus NH DHHS guidelines debate -- that's a reasonable argument to have.  Ms. Dunbar was in favor of the school voucher bill, which I find unforgivable.  Personally you can believe what you want, freedom hell yeah, but as a public school board member at a minimum you need to be against proposed laws that take state money away from public schools, which then has to be extracted from the local property taxpayers, that's you, gentle reader. Ms. Dunbar also said she would vote NO on article three, the school budget.  It's largely symbolic; should NO win we get the default budget and your local school tax bill would be reduced by a miniscule 0.2%.   

Kevin Abbott has withdrawn but will appear on the ballot.

At-Large representative (1 year term)
      O   Allan Howland
      O   Jill Piparo 
      O   Matt Durkee
      O   ___________________  (write in)

I'm voting for Al Howland, who's been the Durham representative to the board since 2012.  He's running to serve an additional year before turning all his attention to Durham, where he's a town councilor.  He wasn't going to run, but with Kenny Rotner's passing I think Al feels an obligation to finish the work they started.  We're lucky have Al, who now has loads of experience under his belt.  His opponents Matt Durkee and Jill Piparo also did an excellent job on Candidates Night, though they couldn't hope to answer with the depth that Al brings. I look forward to supporting one or both of them next year, when this this seat (and another at large seat) is up for election and I do not believe Al plans to run.

Article 3 is the district budget, asking the taxpayers permission to raise and appropriate 50.2 million dollars.  If NO wins we get the default budget, essential expenditures only as prescribed by law, 50.1 million dollars.  Despite popular opinion, the board has kept the increase to the bare minimum while wedging in a new middle school.  

I don't want to go into a long diatribe, but maybe just a couple numbers about how well the board has managed the finances in the the years since 2012, when Tom Newkirk, Maria Barth, Al Howland and Ed Charle ousted the bad board.  Checking NH DOE  (FY13, FY20), Oyster River's Cost Per Pupil went from $16,553 in FY13 to $18,244 in FY20, an increase of $1691, 10%.   Over the same period the state average went from $13,459 to $16,844, an increase of  $3385, 25%.  That's two or two and a half times larger than our increase, depending on how you look at it.

The truth is the school board has pretty consistently delivered budgets, by which I mean the total amount of money asked of the towns, that increase at 3% a year.  That's compared to an inflation rate that's around 2%, and an inflation rate of school costs that's in the 3.5% annual range judging from the state CPP.  This year the board managed 3% while financing half a middle school. 

So why is the tax rate so hurtful, hitting Lee and Madbury with forecasted increases of 10% and 9% respectively on the local school line, and Durham only 2%?  There's some similar story every couple of years, and everyone wrongly blames the school board.  The answer is the way the bill is split, a combination of the apportionment formula agreed to when the cooperative was created, and the state adequacy aid granted directly to the towns.   

The apportionment agreement splits half the school budget, half the bill, to a given town proportionally to the number of students in the town, and the other half proportionally to the equalized real estate valuation of each town.  Those numbers move around pretty much randomly year to year as students come and go, and as various home sales that year get compared to their appraisals, affecting the equalized valuations of the towns.  Then the state weighs in, granting each town state adequacy aid according to a formula that tries to help towns with students from lower incomes and other considerations. 

So even though this year the district kept to its nice and steady if annoying 3% annual rise, state aid was reduced this year compared to last year's rather generous aid.  This affects Lee and Madbury more than Durham because of the state aid formula helps Lee and Madbury more than Durham.  

That's just the story this year.  A few years ago it was a change in the equalization ratio, where a few house sales that year made Lee appear like it has appreciated greatly in value relative to the other towns, making Lee responsible for a larger share of the school bill.   There's always some specific reason for the spike; the real problem is the entire system has this inherent churn that's out of the district's control.

Anyway, I'm voting YES on the budget; the board kept it tight as I tried to illustrate, and if NO wins you only save $0.2% on your taxes, that's $20 off a $10,000 tax bill.  Enjoy a large number six meal with an extra large fries and a shake with your savings. 

You can read more about the tax rate this year in this post from January.

In Article 4 the board switched to a one year contract with the bus drivers, a total increase of $18,070 split among all the drivers.  That doesn't sound like much to me; I expected more.  In recent years the district has been forced to pay more than its negotiated wages because it's so hard to attract enough bus drivers around here, even before the pandemic.  It probably makes sense to do the contract annually with the bus driver market so difficult. I'm voting YES.

Article 5 is another one year contract, this time with ORPaSS, Paraeducators and Support Staff.  The raise is in line with previous years, actually less than the 2020-2021 amount approved in 2018.  I don't know why it's only a one year contract; it's probably due to the pandemic. I'm voting YES -- those paras and support staff do hard jobs for not that much money that's risky during a pandemic. 

There were some slides that went along with the Public Hearing that I can no longer find on the district's website that may have explained this.  Why can't they just leave those links alone until after the election?

When I say the district has kept the increase to 3%, that includes all these warrant articles recommended by the school board.

Article 6 is slightly difficult to understand due to the lawyerly language.  The district is currently allowed to maintain an emergency fund.  The maximum amount of the fund is proscribed by law to 2.5% of the net assessment; for us that works out to around $900,000, which the district had collected over a number of years from the fund balance, the appropriated but unspent money at year end.  This year they used $500K of it to try to offset the tax increases.  There's no way to direct it to just Lee and Madbury so it didn't have that much of an effect.

I'm voting YES.  If this passes it will double the amount of the emergency fund the district can have to almost $2 million.  They'll build it up slowly over the years until they need it again for a big shock.  

Article 7 gets a fund rolling whose purpose is to purchase the middle school solar array when it's up for sale.  The way it works is the initial financing for the array is done by outside investors; Oyster River pays for power from the array for five operating years and then has the option to purchase the array outright, which is a good deal so we're saving a little every year to do so.  I'm voting YES.

That boilerplate about "No amounts to be raised from taxation" is very misleading, if you ask me. Money from the fund balance was raised from the taxpayers last year, so doesn't need to be "raised from taxation" this year in the new budget.  However, if left unspent it would go back to the towns and reduce this year's taxes.  

See everybody at the polls.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Asst. Supt. Allen to retire, Chair Newkirk will not seek chair, Elementary schools to open Wednesdays, Candidates Nights

Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen to retire in June

I don't normally report on the ups and downs of every school board meeting, but last night's was especially newsworthy.  Presumably only the truly obsessed school board watchers like myself stuck it out to the very end of the meeting.  Usually nothing much happens after the board goes into non-public session to discuss sensitive topics at the end of a meeting.  The start of non-public is my cue to go home. 

This time the board had three non-public meetings lasting over a half hour.  They reconvened after each to do the roll call vote to start the next one.  The last time, before adjourning, after 35 minutes of mostly a sign indicating the board was in non-public session, the board came back around 10:30 pm to vote on accepting Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen's retirement effective the end of this year, June 30, 2021.

They seemed as shocked as anyone.  There was nice round of members recounting stories of the first time they met Todd Allen; start the video at 2:52:30 if it doesn't start there automatically.  Thanks to Alexander Taylor for getting the meeting video up so fast.



As for the first time I met Todd, well, I didn't exactly meet him before I inadvertently insulted him in public. Back in 2011 I was at the school board podium making a comment to the bad board (Brackett, Kach, et. al.) about how they had screwed up the ORHS principal selection by failing to hire superstar principal candidate Justin Campbell, who was subsequently snapped up by Hanover.  Todd, the newly selected principal, was of course right there. I added something like, "I mean no disrespect to our new principal."  He graciously smiled and nodded, indicating no offense was taken.  He's a real gentleman. 

It's a big loss to the district, and a big hole to fill.  Unfortunately we probably can't throw much of a party for Todd given the pandemic, so I'll say thank you so much Todd for all your work and dedication to the Oyster River schools for over thirty years, and good luck in the next phase of your life.

Tom Newkirk will not seek the school board chair this month

After the election on Tuesday is certified, the first act of the new board is to choose its chair and vice chair.  Chair Tom Newkirk was first elected vice chair in 2012, right after he was elected to the school board, and has served as chair continually since 2014.  Chair Newkirk announced last night that he won't seek another term as chair.

Tom led the district through many difficult issues over the years.  Just a scroll through the headlines of this blog, we see issues of football, the high school field, redistricting, later start times, the new middle school, racism, cell phone policy, competency reporting, the pandemic, the turnover of every administrative position except superintendent and ORMS principal, and much more, all handled during his tenure with his usual aplomb.  

Tom will remain on the board; his current term runs another year.   He didn't mention if he'll seek reelection then.

I'll start the speculation on the new chair.  It of course depends on the outcome of Tuesday's election; it's the new board that votes for chair. Vice Chair Michael Williams signaled his interest in the position by running for vice chair against Denise Day last March. Ms. Day had been vice chair for a few years before Mr. Williams.  

I think of Board Member Williams as the maverick on the board, often the 1 in 6-1 votes.  It's hard to advocate and be chair at the same time, but I'm sure Mr. Williams could make it work.  

As for the other possibilities; let's assume the incumbents win election. I'd rule out Member Turell as being too new, and Member Howland probably isn't interested as I don't believe he's planning to run for reelection should he win the one year term on Tuesday.  That leaves members Williams, Cisneros, Day and Klein as the likely possibilities.  

I won't try to guess who'll they choose.  I'd say members Day and Klein have the most calm demeanor / team player / consensus builder / good listener / attention to procedure qualities that would be ideal to for the chair to have, and that Chair Newkirk had in droves.  But really any of the members would be fine chairs. 

Schools to open for more in-person time

This Monday, March 8, is the scheduled day for ORHS and ORMS to start bring every student who cares to attend in person into the buildings two days per week.  The ORHS change has been planned for a while now; I think the principal said that 55% of the students opted to attend in person.  The students get another chance to change their minds when the fourth quarter begins, I think in early April.

The ORMS change is a consequence of the governor's order.  Middle school students who wish to, currently attend in-person one day a week.  The district considered writing an appeal to the governor to keep the current system, as the middle school change results in an increase in asynchronous time, in which the student is expected to complete work independently. That was what one of the non-public sessions was about; they didn't take any action after it so I don't think the appeal will be made and the district will scramble to comply with the governor's order.  [EDIT 2pm 3/4: I'm told that no action means the decision to send the appeal stands; it's not likely to succeed given a similar appeal from Dover failed.]  It's not particularly reasonable for the governor that's punted the responsibility to the local districts for the last year to now issue a decree because he doesn't like what some have done, but that's life.

The elementary school is increasing in-person time by opening up Wednesdays, starting April 9.   The board approved the change 6-1, with Chair Newkirk voting against.  The elementary school principals Misty Lowe and David Goldsmith presented a three way choice: first graders back full time, bringing kids in for additional time on Wednesdays, or keeping everything the same.  It seemed pretty clear to me (and Chair Newkirk) that the principals favored not changing, though I don't think either came out and said it. It's unusual for the board to overrule the administrators but here they are clearly reflecting the parents' desire for more in-person time at school.

The principals were most concerned over the loss of the Wednesday relearning days; not sure if they call them that at the elementary school level.  Currently throughout the district, teachers don't teach new classes on Wednesday; the students use that day for relearning and the teachers use it as planning time, meeting time, and for professional development. The principals repeatedly warned essentially that education would suffer without those Wednesdays for teachers; the board said to do it anyway.

Candidates Nights

The Moharimet PTO did a great job hosting and moderating Candidates Night for the Madbury and At-large seats last Tuesday, 3/2.  There are two candidates for the Madbury seat, incumbent Dan Klein and Michelle Dunbar (Kevin Abbott has withdrawn), and three candidates for the one-year at-large seat, incumbent Al Howland, Jill Piparo and Matt Durkee.  The hosts and all the candidates should be very proud of the debate on Tuesday night.  I suggest all interested citizens watch it.  It lasted a little under two hours, exceeding the 90 minutes scheduled, but long enough for all the candidates to make their positions known on most of the issues.



Around 53 people watched on Zoom; I assume there were a similar number on facebook chat but I forgot to check.  I won't try to recap the debate here.  My pet peeve is when some candidates don't seem prepared enough to even know when they're misunderstanding the question.  But that's just me; they all came across as reasonable and Oyster River will likely be fine with any of these folks elected.  I didn't change my opinion about who I'm voting for on Tuesday (the incumbents), but the debate did make me look forward to supporting some of the others in future years.

Tonight, Thursday March 4, is the second Candidates night, hosted by the Mast Way PTO, nominally 7-8:30 pm, for the Lee and Durham Candidates.  Here are the links; it was fun to watch live on Tuesday; at the end they asked audience questions contributed via Zoom chat and Facebook live chat; presumably they'll do the same tonight.

                Zoom link: https://unh.zoom.us/j/93958293211... Password: 123456
                Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/events/2813560815534517

The Durham candidates are the incumbent Yusi Turell and newcomer Erik Mason. Controversial candidate Jeff Fortin has dropped out to spend less time with his family.  

The Lee Candidates are the incumbent Brian Cisneros and Nicolas Alcocer.  There was a third candidate, Debra Cavanaugh, who filed and quickly withdrew, I think in time to have gotten her name off the ballot; we'll see. 

This is just meant to be a quick update; I wasn't going to write anything until after tonight's debate, but there was just too much news to get out.  Please see my previous post for more on the candidates.  

See everybody on chat at the debate tonight!


Friday, February 26, 2021

Two weeks to the School Board Election



It's an exciting school board election this year in Oyster River. In about half of the years it's two races with only the incumbents running, snooze.  This year on the ballot we have eleven candidates, for four school board seats. (Maybe ten now, there's a rumor someone dropped out, see below.)   

There's a glut of information on the races; I'll guide you through all that before I give you my picks.  I'm going to keep it unbiased until then; please skip to the end if you just want to know who I'm voting for.

The Oyster River Cooperative School District Board

Let's start with some background before we get to the candidates. The Oyster River School Board has seven members: three town-specific seats (one for each of Durham, Lee and Madbury) and four at-large seats.  To run for a town specific seat, you must reside in that town. Any eligible voter in any of the three towns can run for the at-large seats. 

The seats all have three year terms. But this year the winner of the At-Large seat only wins a one year term.  That's the remainder of Dr. Kenny Rotner's term.  Kenny sadly passed away last summer; Yusi Turell was appointed by the board to serve the five or six months until election day.

The important thing for voters to know is: Every Oyster River voter can vote in all four races. I'll say it again: Every voter can choose a candidate for each of all four seats.  The school district ballot is the same in all three towns.  You don't need to live in Lee to vote for the Lee representative to the school board.

Election Day Information

Election Day is Tuesday March 9, 2021.  Eligible citizens in the three towns can vote a school district ballot.  Vote at your local town polling place like any other election.  It's best to register ahead of time if you're not already registered, but same day registration is available.  It's best to bring ID, and if you need to register, proof of address like a utility bill, but you can still vote even if you don't bring these by signing an affidavit they'll give you.

The school district election is combined with the town elections; they all count as municipal elections.  In addition to the school board ballot you'll be given a ballot specific to your town when you vote. Besides voting for people, each of the ballots contains ballot questions; we'll focus on the school board candidates here and get into the school district ballot questions in the next post.  

Generally polls are open in Lee and Durham from 7 am to 7 pm with Madbury open from 11 am to 7 pm (that's an edit; I had 7:30 before; the shortened hours are a change).  This year due to the pandemic there are changes; Lee is doing Drive Through Voting at the Lee Transfer Station. Here are some useful town links:

Durham voting informationballotcandidate profiles
Lee voting informationcandidates, ballot questions
Madbury voting information. The same link has the ballot questions, which are voted on in town meeting after the polls close, 7:30 pm at Moharimet. [Thanks to the Madbury town clerk for straightening me out.] I couldn't find an official list of the candidates yet at townofmadbury.com

Oyster River is an SB2 district, which means that the election is split into two parts. The draft ballot is produced by the school district, plus any citizen articles added by petition. The first part of the election is the Deliberative Session (this year's was on February 2) where the voters meet to amend the ballot questions.  The Deliberate Session is the vestige of New England Town Meeting, where a majority of voters at the session can change the ballot, subject to restrictions.  This year, like most, the ballot was unchanged at Deliberative Session.  Our focus here is the second part of the election, Election Day March 9, when each question is voted on by the citizenry. 

2021 School Board Candidate Information

Like I've mentioned, there is already a lot of information out about the candidates. In fact, you don't really need me, the Moharimet and Mast Way PTOs are running a facebook page:

2021 ORCSD School Board Candidate Information

Each candidate had the opportunity to complete a bio and two questionnaires.

2021 ORCSD School Board Candidate Biographies

2021 PTO School Board Candidate Questionaire

2021 Teacher's Guild School Board Candidate Questionaire.

The Candidates on the Web

Most candidates have set up facebook pages for their candidacies.  Some have advertised they're available for meetings via Zoom.  Let's go through the races, and link each candidates name to their facebook page and other web presences I can find.

The three candidates for the Durham school board seat are Yusi Turell (facebookweb),  Jeff Fortin (facebook)  and Eric Mason (no candidacy site known to me but he's CEO of RYSE Marketing & Communications). Ms. Turell is essentially the incumbent; she currently holds an at-large seat.  

The two candidates for the Lee school board seat are the incumbent Brian Cisneros (facebook) and Nicolas Alcocer (facebook).  I thought there were three Lee candidates, but this third name I scribbled on some paper in January, Debra Cavanaugh, seems to have been a figment of my imagination. 

The three candidates for the Madbury school board seat are the incumbent Dan Klein (no site found),  Michelle Dunbar (facebook) and Kevin Abbott (facebook, web).  I saw posted on the PTO's information site on 2/22 that Mr. Abbott had dropped out, but his facebook and website don't mention anything about it, and he's probably on the ballot no matter what he does.

The three candidates for the At-Large seat with a one year term are Al Howland (web), Matt Durkee (facebook) and Jill Piparo  (facebook).   Let's call Al Howland the incumbent; he's served in the Durham seat since 2012 though this time he's seeking the one-year at-large seat. 

Update 4pm 2/28.  A few hours ago Mr. Abbott posted 

Good morning everyone. Sadly I am not able to seek the seat for School Board representing Madbury any longer. That being said, my name will still be on the ballot because they are already at the Town Halls.

There seems to be a lot of confusion with regards to the "officially withdrawn" question. There is no way at this point to do that. If by some chance after telling every person I can that I'm not running, I happen to win the seat, I will be forced to resign.

All of this is due to deeply personal reasons. So, with all due respect, this is all of the information I am sharing at this time.

Thank you for the opportunity to do this. Good luck to the remaining candidates.

Update 9am 3/3:  Yesterday morning Dr. Fortin posted

Regretfully, I am writing to withdraw my candidacy for the ORCSD School Board. Work related responsibilities will be increasing in the next few months as I help guide our College through the development of a new Strategic Plan and a two-year long accreditation process. Previously I believed I would be relieved of some current administrative work in order to provide public service on the School Board. This is no longer the case. I apologize to my supporters, but it is beyond my control.
I am disappointed in being unable to collaborate with faculty and staff to support and enhance the district’s already strong programs in technology, equity, student mental health, and LGBTQ+ inclusion. I believe it is better to leave this important work to others if I am unable to devote proper time to the position.
I have received overwhelming support for my candidacy for which I thank you all.
]

Candidates Night

Candidates night was supposed to be last Tuesday, 2/23, but with all the candidates and the pandemic it was changed to be over two nights next week.

The meetings are fully virtual; check out the facebook links for more detail.

Tuesday March 2, 2021 7-8:30 pm: Q&A Madbury and At-Large Candidates
                Zoom link: https://unh.zoom.us/j/97167728314... Password: 123456
                Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/events/233642868382037
 
Thursday March 4, 2021 7-8:30 pm: Q&A Lee and Durham Candidates
                Zoom link: https://unh.zoom.us/j/93958293211... Password: 123456
                Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/events/2813560815534517

The meetings will also be streamed on ORCSDstreaming

Usually Candidates Night is moderated by the district clerk, a paid position in the district, with the PTOs hosting and supplying refreshments.  The district sometimes sends a camera crew whose job seems to be lose the night's recording, at least until after election day.  

This year the Moharimet PTO will host and moderate the Madbury/At-Large night and the Mast Way PTO will moderate the Lee/Durham night.  I'm not sure I like the change; let's see how it goes.

While there will be an opportunity to ask questions live, using Zoom chat and facebook chat, the PTOs recommend you email your questions in advance to both mwpto@orcsd.org and moharimetpto@gmail.com by March 1.
 
Dean's Picks
Congratulations on reading this far or just skipping ahead. Hopefully it's been unbiased information to this point. But ORCSD Clean Slate originally got its name because I wanted to tell you all who I think should be on the board. In 2012, that was a clean slate -- the incumbents all had to go.

This year I'm voting for all the incumbents: Yusi Turell, Brian Cisneros, Dan Klein & Al Howland. Let's talk about each race.

Yusi Turell is quite simply the most talented board member I've ever observed. Most new board members remain relatively quiet at the beginning, learning the ropes about how the board works. Yusi jumped right in like she'd been at that table for years, advocating for and spearheading the expansion of in-person learning in accordance with CDC mitigation guidelines.
Besides talent, Yusi brings her values of respect, inclusion, empathy, communication and critical thinking to the table. As a woman of color, she brings a diversity and perspective that the board had lacked. She is active in district's anti-racism effort.  I think she's taken on the role of Maria Barth and Kenny Rotner as the conscience of the district, always considering the effect of the board's decisions on all the stakeholders.
Yusi's determination led to medical experts advising the board, the district's awesome COVID dashboard and the Concurrent Teaching Working Group, which Yusi co-chaired.  That group’s extensive research helped inform the plan that has willing high schoolers returning in person two days per week starting March 8. Here's the working group's final report.
Somewhat independent from the group, the difficult issue of concurrent teaching was solved by the ‘teacher choice’ model.  The model allows the teacher to handle their entire class in the same period, students attending both in person and remotely, in a manner best suited to the material.   Yusi is careful to credit the principal and superintendent for making the teacher choice model a reality.  
I should back up. In my opinion and with hindsight, the board made a few unfortunate decisions this summer.  The most impactful was the decision not to open the middle school and the high school more fully in the fall, when cases were down.  We didn't know how good we had it. Now we're trying to open more when conditions are arguably much worse.  
Related to that was the lack of foresight to produce a plan that allowed for smooth transitioning between say (a) fully open (while still providing a remote option), (b) a hybrid model, students in-person say two days per week, (c) targeted learners only in person, and (d) fully remote, as conditions warranted.  
Finally, the board agreed to a Memorandum of Agreement with the teacher's guild that teachers would not have to teach remote and in-person students concurrently.  That MoA subsequently became an obstacle to reopening more fully, seemingly requiring that some students be reassigned to different classes and doubling the asynchronous time when students were expected to work independently.
Let's be clear. This all happened before Yusi was appointed to the board. Yusi's time on the board has been spent trying to fix these decisions. She's been successful. Informed by the Concurrent Teaching Working Group’s research, the district has produced a plan, accepted by teachers and adopted by the board, that brings high school students back into the building two days a week, without increasing asynchronous time. Teachers teach their in-person and remote students concurrently in the same class period, but it's up to them exactly what that looks like.  The district is attempting to hire more paraprofessionals to make it all work.
There seems to be a whisper campaign going around saying Yusi wanted to open the school at all costs, safety be damned. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yusi has consistently tried to balance opening more fully against the safety considerations.   I wholeheartedly endorse her as the Durham representative to the ORCSD board.
I suppose this is the place to say a word about Yusi's opponents.  Jeff Fortin seems to be getting the most attention, though the most important fact about him is often omitted: His wife is ORHS principal Suzanne Filippone.
Don't get me wrong, I love the principal. I was honored to be on the committee that recommended her to be principal.  But that doesn't mean I want her to have her own personal representative on the board.
Jeff Fortin would be hopelessly conflicted as a board member.  He would presumably recuse himself in decisions that directly involved things like the principal's salary.  But it's not clear how far beyond that he'll go.  Almost every decision involves the high school principal.  How are we to know he's making those decisions in the best interest of the district, and not in the interest of his wife, with whom he has to ride home with from the meeting and live with the rest of the time?  I'm sure he thinks he'll be acting ethically in the district's best interest, but can he really do that without recusal?   It seems if he was elected we'd have a board member who could only do a fraction of the work, and will have conflict of interest questions lingering in the work he'll do. Next.
The other candidate is Erik Mason, who I don't know either.  I'm reasonably certain neither he nor Dr. Fortin has made a comment at a board meeting in recent memory.  Neither was among the candidates who volunteered to serve in the vacated seat last September.  
Mr. Mason calls himself a "professional ideator".  I suppose he'd be helpful with district communication, but his aversion to social media gives me pause even there.  
In summary, I just don't see any reason to opt for anyone who's shown no interest in the Oyster River School Board over Yusi Turell, who's served the district in numerous ways over a number of years, and who in her short time on the board has demonstrated the values and effectiveness we all want in a board member.
Brian Cisneros was first appointed to the board when Maria Barth resigned, and was subsequently elected for three a three year term.   I didn't know him when he was appointed, but I did appreciate him stepping up when folks were asking me to be the Lee rep.  I've since come to appreciate him even more.
Brian brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.  He's the business administrator for SAU 61, Farmington.  It's like having a extra Sue Caswell around that we don't have to pay -- quite handy.  Prior to serving Oyster River, Brian was already on the board of a non-profit, giving him additional relevant experience.  That was invaluable in figuring out how to finance a new middle school with no state help without being too hard on the taxpayers. I think he's most proud of his efforts that helped get the new middle school passed the first time it appeared on the ballot -- quite a feat around here.  Like Yusi, Brian's been pushing the board to get more kids safely in the buildings.
I don't know his opponent Nicolas Alcocer.  From what I've read he seems like a fine person, who would represent Lee and Oyster River well.  Mr. Alcocer admits he doesn't really have much experience directly relevant to being a school board member. I'm sticking with Brian.
Dan Klein has been the Madbury representative to the board since 2015. He's been a great supporter of district athletics. He's also served on the policy committee for a long time. Policies are rules adopted by the board that govern the schools. I believe Dan is especially proud of his work on the district's transgender policy. It was groundbreaking and has since been copied by many other schools in the state.
Dan's other main strength, in my opinion, has been as a negotiator on the negotiating committee. Staff is of course the biggest expense of the school district. Dan's work has kept the growth in staff costs tamped down while still allowing the district to attract gifted and innovative teachers and other staff and keep everybody happy -- quite a balancing act. He's generally supportive of occasional retirement incentives which encourage the retirement of highly paid senior teachers. Those folks are replaced with someone more junior and less costly, and sometimes not replaced at all, saving us some money.
Dan brings non-profit experience in lobbying, communications, grant writing and programing management to the the table. He was instrumental in getting the later start time in the district, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Michelle Dunbar is the candidate running against Dan.  I don't really know her beyond a smile and nod when we pass in the hallway.  Frankly, I was surprised when I finally realized that angry person behind the mask threatening the school board with lawyers and imploring members to resign was the same person. I dug a little deeper on facebook and saw her posting things like, "the election was stolen...America will dissolve, extreme liberalism and communism will prevail..."   By now we all know how that song ends. This was the kind of school board member that this blog was started to fight against. 
Dan's other opponent was Kevin Abbott.  Per my request, the PTO has double-checked Mr. Abbott has withdrawn from the race, even though his name will still appear on the ballot.  His candidate facebook page remains active, though he seems to have just taken his web page down.  Apparently he would be unable to accept the position had he won.
It's too bad -- he's a police officer who sent in a picture posing in front of a Biden sign.  I saw another one where he's with Jill Biden.  He seems like one of the good guys.  He has an unexpected connection to Mr. Klein, as he was apparently appointed by ORYA to investigate the alleged plot to bean Mr. Klein's daughter which made national news. I had plenty of questions, including about the promised ORYA audit report that never appeared, that I guess I won't get to ask him now.
[Update 2/26 7pm.  The Madbury Town Clerk wrote me that Kevin Abbott is listed on the ballot and has not officially withdrawn his name from the race.]
The choice is clear in Madbury -- Dan Klein for the win.
Al Howland has been on the school board since since 2012. I've known him since he was one of the four candidates my wife and I tried to get elected after we found about all the shenanigans going on.  I've known his wife long before that -- she's an OB who delivered my boy and probably a good fraction of the Oyster River student body.  [Update 7pm 2/26: She's written me to clarify that my wife did most of the work while she stood by.]
Al is currently a Durham Town Councilor as well.   He wasn't planning to run again, choosing instead to devote his time to Durham. But with Kenny Rotner's passing I think he feels an obligation to finish the work they started, especially the new middle school and associated financing.  He chairs the relatively recently formed finance committee, originally created to get a jump on the middle school financing and now very helpful for long-term budget planning in time of COVID. 
I don't know his opponents Matt Durkee and Jill Piparo. I read all their information and they seem like fine people. Ms. Piparo even made school board candidate T shirts, kicking it up a notch here in Oyster River. I just didn't see much relevant experience that would make me even consider choosing one of them over Al.  Al's experience on the board makes him invaluable.  We're lucky he wants to give us another year, and we should take him up on it.
    
Phew.  Thanks for hanging in there until the end.  This is the busy time for ORCSDcleanslate.  I'm sure I'll churn out another post or two before election day, so come back soon.