Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Two Finalists Vie for DEIJ Coordinator


Lu Ferrell (left) and Rachael Blansett
Finalists for ORCSD DEIJ Coordinator

Distributed information, click to enlarge

The two finalists for Oyster River's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Coordinator (draft job description) are Lu Ferrell and Rachael Blansett.  They did full day tours and interviews Monday 5/10 and Wednesday 5/12 respectively, including 45 minutes to meet the community. 

TL;DR: Rachael identifies as a "black/bi-racial, queer, femme social justice educator" while Lu is more circumspect, offering "intersectional DEIJ professional" who serves on "the Transgender Policy and Climate Committee and the Queer Professional Development Working Group."  I think Lu has more experience overall. Rachael seems much more fun than Lu, so if it was up to me, I'd choose Rachael easily. 

Neither has any experience in primary or secondary education, or much curriculum experience, which the superintendent has indicated is the primary component of the job. They had similar qualifications and similar ideas as to what the job may entail (lots of relationship building, which I guess means lunch). Both have Masters of Education degrees in Student Affairs. They're both currently New Hampshire Listen Fellows. I'll guess landing a job that pays "$95,00[sic] - $105,000 with exceptional benefits" represents a pretty big bump for either of them. Rachael is probably the more controversial of the two, with her podcast 2 Happy Heauxes and their alter-egos, "two bitter bitches," bound to raise some eyebrows.

The two finalists were selected by the fifteen member DEIJ Coordinator Hiring Committee of parents, students, teachers and administrators.  There were forty-two applications, eighteen complete with video and essay components. Six candidates were brought in for interviews, and Lu and Rachael were the selected finalists.  Superintendent Morse will recommend a candidate to the board, who then vote on final approval.  I didn't see it on the May 18 agenda.

I attended the Community sessions to meet the DEIJ Coordinator finalists on Monday and Wednesday. I was late both times for the 5:45-6:30 meetings. I missed most of the candidates' statements, but was there for the questions and some "informal time."  I jotted down a few notes which I'll share after reviewing the publicly available information.

We can start with the distributed summaries, included above.  I presume these blurbs were prepared by ORCSD from some source material, so, except for the final quotes, cannot be considered writing samples from the candidates. I also presume the candidates provided graduation dates, which are sadly lacking here. Just reviewing these I'd take away that Lu has more experience and a somewhat broader focus than Rachael, who seems more focused on racism.  

Both are fellows of New Hampshire Listens/Carsey School @ UNH.  Lu told me that being a Fellow was a paid contract position.  I didn't get an answer as to how one becomes a fellow. New Hampshire Listens was central in facilitating the meetings that led to a recommendation to hire a DEIJ Coordinator.  Board Member Turell, an enthusiastic supporter of the position, is also employed by the Carsey School, in an unrelated capacity (solar power financing, I believe).  The appearance of a conflict of interest has been pointed out by some community members. I've always believed Member Turell consistently acts in the best interest of the Oyster River School District, and I have no reason to believe otherwise here. 

Let's try Google.  Just the front page search results offer interesting portraits (click to enlarge).

Lu Ferrell, pronouns they/them, selected links:

Lu Ferrell  







Rachael Blansett, pronouns she/her, selected links:

Rachael Blansett


https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachael-blansett-7573ab72/ Are You Down With the Cause?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachael-blansett-7573ab72 White Tears In the Classroom





Rachael's podcasts aren't that exciting, but some of the language is probably not what Oyster River parents want their Oyster River children to hear. I presume it isn't the language Rachael would use with students, but the students are bound to find the podcasts sooner rather than later, so it's gonna come up.

I've been making slow progress on this post since last Wednesday.  It's time for me to just summarize my notes and get this out.

Last Monday, at Lu Ferrell's session, I asked what were we to infer given only women ORCSD administrators (Filippone, Noe) and board members (Turrell, Day, Smith) showed up for the community session. On Wednesday Chair Williams attended Rachel Blansett's session, modestly introducing himself as a district parent and board member.

Lu Ferrell is on the cutting edge of verbing nouns, using "misgendered" and "microaggressed."  Lu admits, "this work is hard to measure." [Lu shares our superintendent's penchant for the phrase "this work."]  Lu's conception of the role includes: professional development for staff, empowering students, utilizing my UNH connections and getting DEIJ in the strategic plan.  Lu says it's a misconception that DEIJ is only for marginalized students. "No, it's for all students."

Rachael Blansett lists five areas of qualification: race, gender, sexuality, ability and class.  For the role, Rachael mentions building relationships, gathering contexts, professional development opportunities for faculty, student support, syllabus/lesson plan audits, determining gaps, needs, priorities, getting to know the community, and getting known. If hired, Rachel plans to work on getting up to speed on early education (primary grades).

That's all I have. It looks like one way or another, we're getting a DEIJ Coordinator.  I saw some language where the superintendent can choose not to hire this year if he thinks no candidate is sufficiently qualified.  But it's probably more likely we're getting one of these two as DEIJ coordinator.  I hope it's Rachael.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Matt Bacon and Heather Smith Elected to ORCSD Board

Newly elected ORCSD Board Members Matt Bacon and Heather Smith

Congratulations to Matt Bacon of Madbury and Heather Smith of Durham, both elected to at-large seats with three year terms on the Oyster River School Board.  They replace venerable members Tom Newkirk and Al Howland, both of whom chose not to seek reelection after 10 years of service on the board.

It was a hotly contested race with five well qualified candidates. There was record turnout of 3313 voters.  Of the 4963 votes cast (each voter gets two votes but not everyone uses both) Bacon received 27.1% and Smith received 25.5%.  Next was Giana Gelsey of Madbury with 19.8%, followed closely by Debra Harmon of Lee with 18% and Marie D'Agostino of Lee with 9%.  

It appears about 72% of the voters were in Durham. Typically that number would be 55%-60%. That's estimated from the individual town turnout numbers, but there likely were some folks showing up for the Durham dam vote who didn't bother to vote for school board.

All the school district ballot questions passed, including the budget with 76% voting YES, the negotiated contracts with the ORESPA and ORPaSS and the solar array fund set aside, for a total appropriation of $52.5M.  The budget includes $130,000 for the new DEIJ coordinator position, one of the main issues in the race.

My analysis: Smith won by working the hardest, wanting it the most, and general excellence.  Bacon won because he's the nicest guy in the room. Gelsey, the most progressive candidate and the candidate I most strongly endorsed, failed to win enough public support for her platform of challenging Concord's attacks on public education in the state.  Harmon might have pulled it out, but her support was centered in Lee and she caught an unlucky break with the turnout in Durham.  Former school board chair and school business administrator D'Agostino was the most qualified candidate, but couldn't overcome her lack of engagement with the district to date.

Bacon and Smith were both endorsed by school board chair Michael Williams, setting a questionable precedent in Oyster River.  Member Cisneros got in the game as well, endorsing Harmon and D'Agostino.

In Lee, Rebecca Hawthorne beat incumbent Cary Brown 438 to 193, which is 69.4% versus 30.6%. All Lee ballot questions passed as well. Congratulations Rebecca; we're looking forward to great things.  

[EDIT: I had a rant here about selectmen loitering in the polling place but it turns out they're either allowed or required to be there. I apologize for the accusation, selectmen.   I still don't think elected folks whose names are on the ballot in contested races should be hanging around near the booths or the counting machine, even if they are legally permitted or obligated to be present in some capacity.  Thanks to Michael Rury, who was kind enough to point out to me that under RSA 652:14 "selectman" is one of the officially designated election officers. In fact, Part 2 Article 32 of the NH constitution requires the selectboard to be present for state elections, and this is carried over to municipal elections as well. I still think there's something not right here that should be changed.]

In Durham the dam referendum failed by a three to one margin, meaning the dam will be removed per the initial town council decision.  The dam controversy caused the disproportionate turnout in Durham, 2365 voters compared to the average of 1081.

Turnout in Lee was 709, 22% of registered voters, compared to 758 in 2021 and 1220 in 2020 (when the Middle School was on the ballot).   Turnout is estimated at at least 221 voters in Madbury (maximum number to vote on any question) or at least 3313-2365-709=239, ORCSD minus Durham minus Lee.  

[That 239 may be exact, if the turnout numbers include ORCSD ballots that were handed to a voter who didn't mark it at all, meaning every voter. Except I bet if you just returned your town absentee ballot and didn't return your school district absentee ballot, you're probably in the town turnout but not ORCSD's. If you returned both, even if one was blank, you're in both counts. Just guessing here.]

Please enjoy this spreadsheet summary of the recent district election history, followed by the detailed unofficial results for which I thank Todd Selig and Durham Friday Updates.  I fixed a couple of minor errors and added the percentages myself.

SCHOOL DISTRICT UNOFFICIAL RESULTS (Durham, Lee, and Madbury Combined Ballots from all three precincts.)


For Moderator (Vote for not more than one)

Richard Laughton  2530  ELECTED
Write-in                     10


For School Board At-Large (Vote for not more than two)

Matthew Bacon                   1343   27.1%   ELECTED
Heather Smith                     1268   25.5%   ELECTED
Giana Gelsey                        985   19.8%  
Debra Harmon                      893   18.0%
Marie Therese D'Agostino    449     9.0%
Write-in                                   25     0.5%

(Percentages of the 4963 total votes cast.)


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 $52,133,325.

Should this article be defeated, the operating budget shall be $51,721,541 (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 = $50,668,275 (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  2205    76.2%   PASSED
NO     689     23.8%


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 Educational Support Personnel Association and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:

2022 - 2023 $86,981
2023 - 2024 $75,527
2024 - 2025 $77,505
2025 - 2026 $81,588

and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $86,981 for the 2022-2023 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  2501   82.3%   PASSED
NO     537    17.7%


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:

2022 - 2023 $183,009
2023 - 2024 $131,958
2024 - 2025 $136,126
2025 - 2026 $157,347

and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $183,009 for the 2022-2023 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   2481   81.6%    PASSED
NO      559    18.4%


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   2509  83.2%   PASSED
NO      508   16.8%

Total ORCSD votes cast today: 3313

Monday, March 7, 2022

School Board Members Put Foot on Scale on Election Eve!

Voting Guide

Before I get into the news, if you just want to know how to vote or where to access information on the candidates, please see my last post:

 Voting Guide to the Tuesday, March 8, 2022 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election.

The guide is unbiased until the end where I tell you my picks: Giana Gelsey and Matt Bacon for School Board, YES on the all the questions, and for Lee Select Board, the wonderful Rebecca Hawthorne over the Trump-adjacent incumbent Cary Brown.  Durham folks, you're on your own with the dam.

Two Board Members Endorse Candidates

In a surprising and arguably unseemly election eve development, Chair Michael Williams and Member Brian Cisneros, acting as individual citizens not board members, have each endorsed two candidates, collectively endorsing everyone except Giana Gelsey. The last board member endorsing a candidate I noted in this blog was March 5, 2013's Breaking News: Jim Kach Endorses Carl Piedmont, so not the best footsteps guys.  [EDIT: Actually Mr. Kach was an ex board member at the time, so not then crossing this particular line, sorry.]  Since the gloves are off I'm not going to link to either endorsement until after the election.

Candidate Giana Gelsey

The endorsements came after my strong endorsement yesterday (Sunday) of Ms. Gelsey, who I described as "a bold, progressive voice in the mold of previous school board members Maria Barth, Kenny Rotner and Ann Wright."

Despite there being five candidates for two open seats in this time of political turmoil, except for some technical difficulties the race has been pretty uneventful. OK, I'll say it: it's been boring. All five candidates have run positive races, are extremely qualified, and have the best interests of the district at heart, so whatever happens at the polls tomorrow, the community can't lose.

Though the candidates are behaving very well, two board members have decided to put their thumb on the scale with endorsements. This is of course perfectly legal; they're citizens like everyone else.  While it's common in more partisan contexts, it's been mostly avoided in Oyster River School Board races.  I don't know if there are policies that speak to the issue.  One thing is for sure; come next meeting Brian or Michael or both will be looking across the table at someone they didn't endorse -- awkward. 

My guess is the two members would prefer not to push back against attacks on public education by the governor and legislature, the position most closely associated with Ms. Gelsey.  

A search of the minutes shows some other reasons why Brian might not be partial to Ms. Gelsey.  [EDIT: I see on my phone these images are unreadable unless you magnify; in this first Ms. Gelsey calls out Member Cisneros for misspeaking about COVID and asks him to "recant and apologize."]

There's also this disagreement on saying the Pledge of Allegiance, Brian in favor, Giana against (along with the rest of the board -- there was no second of Brian's motion):

Ms. Gelsey apparently did not endear herself to some board members when she organized a petition of over 200 community members to call for mask mandates in accordance with science at the beginning of the school year.  Despite being restricted to 90 seconds each, they read it to the board:

[interposed comments removed]

I don't know why anyone at the board table wouldn't want to hear this support from the rational, science-believing folks, especially after some of the less than polite anti-mask comments.  I was sure cheering them on from home -- finally voices of reason at the podium.

Sure Giana Gelsey is a troublemaker.  But it's good trouble, the kind we all give lip service to supporting. Tomorrow we get to back it up with our vote.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Voting Guide to the Tuesday, March 8, 2022 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election

Election Day Tuesday March 8, 2022

Election Day is this coming Tuesday. 

This is my annual guide to the March 8, 2022 Oyster River Cooperative School District election.  I will keep this guide unbiased until the Dean's Ballot section, where I tell you who I am and am not voting for and why.  In this unbiased part I will endeavor to provide links to all the information out there to help you make your own decision so you don't have to read that far. 

In addition to the ORCSD ballot, your town is having municipal elections; click for sample ballots (DurhamLeeMadbury).  Election day evening Madbury also has a town meeting.

There's late breaking news at School Board Members Put Foot on Scale on Election Eve!

Voting Mechanics

If you're a US citizen at least 18 years of age who lives in Lee, Madbury or Durham (including UNH students who live in the district), you can just show up on Tuesday at your town's polling place and vote. Like almost all elections in New Hampshire, same day registration is available. So even if you've never voted or registered to vote in New Hampshire before, you can vote Tuesday. It's easier if everyone brings a state photo ID and if new registrants also bring proof of address (a utility bill), but under New Hampshire's voter ID law you can vote even if you don't bring those by signing affidavit forms at the polls.

There are new rules (Durham, Lee) that prevent absentee ballots from being returned in person on election day, so be sure to get your absentee ballot in by 5pm Monday. It may not be too late to obtain an absentee ballot from your Town Clerk and vote it on Monday; they're still saying it's OK to check the disability box on the absentee ballot application form if you have pandemic concerns.
Your election day polling place and voting times depend on where you live:

Durham: Oyster River High School 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Lee: Public Safety Complex 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.  Lee is requesting voters mask up. Note that at the Deliberative Session the moderator mistakenly said Lee was voting at the transfer station like last year, and that mistake has been repeated a couple times that I've seen since then.

Madbury: Town Hall 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. [EDIT: I had 7:30, sorry.]  Madbury also has a genuine town meeting, 7:30pm at Moharimet, where they vote on the majority of their warrant articles, but the school district stuff is in the daytime Town Hall election.

The School District Ballot

As always, voters in each town are given identical school district ballots. Let's briefly go through the ballot questions, also known as the warrant articles.  For more information, please see my previous few posts and the recently released SAU 5 Annual Report 2022.

Article 1 elects the moderator.   It's always Rick Laughton.  His family is a bit of an Oyster River dynasty.  His mother in law was beloved citizen and former school board chair Shirley Thompson (rest in peace) and I thought his daughter Jessica Laughton was District Clerk  [EDIT: I'm told she resigned as District Clerk].  This year the ballot says the clerk is Sue Caswell, which is odd as Ms. Caswell already has a job as our business administrator. 

Article 2 chooses two at-large school board members. The top two vote getters of the five candidates win a three year term on the board.  The Oyster River board consists of three town-specific seats, one each for Durham, Lee and Madbury, which is held by an eligible voter from the specific town, and four at-large seats, each open to candidates from all three towns.

Here's a quick recap of where to find just about all the information available on the candidates. 

Facebook candidate pages: Matt Bacon, Marie D'Agostino (none known), Giana GelseyDebra HarmonHeather Smith.

Candidate Bios are on the district website, and there are three different candidate questionnaires, by Foster's  (Yahoo reran it)The Oyster River Teacher's Guild and  Oyster River Equity and Justice, a local group unaffiliated with the district.  

There are videos of two events: The February 15, 2022 Candidates Night hosted by the Moharimet PTO and the March 3, 2022 Candidates Forum hosted by the ORHS Debate Team, i.e. students.  For a deeper dive, there's also Heather Smith's 30 minute Long Range Planning Committee report from Wednesday's board meeting and Debra Harmon's September 30, 2020 Interview for a board seat appointment.

OK, let's continue with the ballot.  Article 3 asks the voters if the district can spend $52.1 million. The other three articles add $400K for a total of $52.5M.  That's a lot of dollars.  

If NO wins we get the default budget of $51.7 M, a decrease of $400K or 0.8%.  NO never wins in Oyster River, especially this budget which includes the popular DEIJ Coordinator position.

These budget numbers are total expenses, only part of the fiscal story as far as the taxpayers are concerned.  There's also an estimated revenue side, with large items being expected tuition income and scheduled withdrawals from trust funds. It's the difference between expected expenses ($52.5M assuming all articles pass) and expected revenue that's apportioned between the towns.  Half the bill is proportional to the number of students in town, half proportional to the equalized town valuations (i.e. the total taxable property in each town).  Then the state puts its finger on the scale by granting each town adequacy aid according to a formula.  What's left in each town is billed to the property owners, the Local Education Tax millage being the total asked of the town divided by the total assessed value of the taxable property in town.  The adequacy aid comes from the State Education Tax line, which is the same rate for every property owner in the state (the millage is equalized to reflect different assessment styles between towns). 

Yes it's complicated, and there are still many more details I haven't mentioned you can read about here.  The bottom line is the board really only controls expenses minus revenue, which they usually do a good job keeping to a 3%+ year on year increase, lately even while shoehorning in an entire $50M middle school . After expenses minus revenue is determined, the apportionment formula and the state aid takes over, generally falling harder on one town than the other two and pissing folks off.

I've been meaning to write about the spending this budget and I guess this is it. It will probably degenerate into a rant so I'm going to label this part as BIASED OPINION. 

This year the board went a little bit crazy on spending.  They approved a 4.1% increase (compared to a more usual 3.25%)  and then took an additional $900K from reserve funds, 1.7%, for a total spending increase of 5.8% [No, see below].  (Plus there's another $596K, 1.1%, spending mentioned below).

EDIT: 3/7  Chair Michael Williams thoughtfully responded to this post.  I'll call him Michael here since he's responding as an individual, not in his role as chair.  Thanks Michael.

Michael makes some excellent points, and I will attempt correct things accordingly, responding in italics, excerpting Michael's responses as needed.  Here we go.

This is my mistake, sorry about that folks.  It's not really for the reason specified; I know and I hope I've made it clear the $900K counts as revenue. It's a odd municipal quirk -- taxes collected in previous years that were unspent and put in the bank in reserve funds are called revenue when withdrawn, because they appear on the income side of the ledger.  

My mistake was not accounting for the fact that they played the same game last year, using I think $500K of trust fund money to reduce taxes.

What's the emergency? 

Michael points out "emergency" is a misnomer; in statutes it's called a contingency fund.  I know it's there for the board to use to smooth out the tax hikes, but if they're going to call it an emergency fund, I'm going to ask "what's the emergency?" when they use it.  The emergency is people get mad at the board and district when taxes go up too fast.

 Here's their list of big ticket expenses driving up the budget.

I complained about this slide the first time and they added the numbers at the bottom.  Curiously, there is this item "Capital Account" which doesn't really seem like an expense, and it doesn't have a number; it presumably refers to the $900K they're employing so the taxpayers don't revolt [No, see below].  This is about $2M of annual spending, 4%, that rolls forward forever. We're left to wonder what happens next year without these trust fund boosts.

Clarification: What’s the Capital Account? The Capital Account that is referred to in the Deliberative Session budget slides and the CleanSlate post is really the capital spending line in the budget. It’s called an “account” sometimes because the categories in the budget are called General Ledger Account numbers. It’s not a separate account like a bank account. The capital spending (outside of finishing the new middle school fields, parking, and landscaping) totals $940,000 for 2022-2023.

Thanks Michael.  I don't think it's too much to ask to put the amount after the description for every item.  I know $940,000 is scary to put on a slide but what are we to think when numbers are left off slides?

There were things I expected but didn't see here -- a couple of Mandarin teachers and $500K for Tennis Courts; those are probably in the current year.  The good citizens of Oyster River would have heard all about spending concerns at Deliberative Session if they hadn't voted to call the question

We see some new positions even though the enrollment is not growing, but it's all pretty regular until the last two items.  I can't find in the minutes where they decided two additional custodians were necessary to take care of our brand new state of the art building (it's before 9/2021; I'll keep looking).  The new building literally isn't sustainable if the taxpayers can't afford to keep it open.  Is this the emergency?  

In Lee the Select Board is looking under sofas for change trying to tamp down tax increases; they cut the Sustainability Committee budget from $500 to $0, for an example I'm personally aware of.  But the new school needs two additional custodians. It's incongruous.

There's an additional $596K of contingency funds from the middle school coming in under budget that they spent on bus block heaters they forgot they needed and middle school furniture and playground equipment they cut -- apparently $49.8M is not guaranteed to buy a fully furnished middle school, but might just be enough to cover it. There wasn't a single breath where anyone uttered something like, "maybe we don't need to take $500K from the emergency fund now" or "let's give the taxpayers a break." 

Michael and I aren't disagreeing here.  This money was meant for the middle school; I know that. What I want the board to remember is they don't really represent the students, the teachers or the administrators; they represent us citizens as a whole who are paying the bills. They don't have to do anything different; just acknowledge that we're out here, that every time they raise taxes some of the folks they represent have to work a little harder just to stay in the district.

Then there's the DEIJ Coordinator, which I've made myself unpopular by complaining about. But I persist. I'm not against DEIJ; I just hate paying retail.  Manchester got their 3 year experiment with a Chief Equity Officer funded via private donations.  Is there really a DEIJ emergency in town that requires this expenditure of $130K this year?  And did I understand that this doesn't include the retirement benefit?  I can't find any of it in the budget.  
The precipitating incident in 2017 is rumored to be more nuanced than initially reported, where the purportedly racist boy was suffering from behavioral/mental health issues, making it more a Special Education Department problem than a DEIJ Coordinator problem.  (The district keeps these incidents confidential so all we get is rumors.)

What I really object to is rap sessions outside the Right-to-Know boundaries which suddenly result in a $130K annual expense we all have to bear.  In contrast, we just wrapped up the Regional Compost Working Group (Durham, Lee, ORCSD & UNH) where we had public meetings with posted agendas and minutes because we thought in the end it might result in recommendations of public expenditures of maybe at most $30K annually on a relatively non-controversial topic.  To my knowledge nothing like that is posted from the DEIJ committee. 

Let's get to the tax rates.

Overall the big increase ended up a pretty average increase by the time it reached the taxpayer, and there it mostly landed on Durham; pretty much the luck of the draw with the apportionment formula and the state aid.  Durham grows its taxable property base more aggressively than the other towns which is a double edged sword: the millage in town is lowered as the amount billed to the town is split over more property value, but with a lag of a year or two the increased valuation works its way into the apportionment formula, where half the bill is split proportionally to the towns' property value, increasing Durham's share.  We may be seeing that rebound here; I haven't tried to figure it out.

The presentation is an improvement over previous years when I don't think we got the percentages, which I find easier to understand than the naked millages.  There was a part that struck me as disingenuous where Member Cisneros tried to downplay the predicted increases by pointing out last year the Lee Local School Tax millage was predicted at $24.19 and came in at $15.18.  That was not some magical miracle of taxes coming in lower than expected in Lee, but the result of a town-wide reassessment which raised the average valuation in Lee 56%.  Just raising everyone's assessment by a constant factor doesn't change anyone's tax bill, even though the millage does decrease by the same factor, as Member Cisneros surely knows from his day job as a school business administrator.  There's nothing here pointing to a failure of the prediction, which really just tries to predict how much your taxes will go up in the guise of a millage. To determine prediction accuracy would require a more detailed look. (In Lee the reassessment seems unfortunately to have disproportionately raised values on the lowest valued properties in town, making it harder on the least well off among us.)

END BIASED OPINION.  I'm griping in the hopes it will change things, but I'm not suggesting anyone vote NO on the budget.

Article 4 asks us to vote on the negotiated agreement with ORESPA, the Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association, the collective bargaining unit for the Secretaries and Custodians.  I'm not sure if the figures, which are the aggregate annual raises, include the two new custodians; probably not due to the phrase "current staffing levels".  My pet peeve is we're generally asked to vote on these numbers without any context like the number of employees covered and their current aggregate wages, benefits, FICA and other costs. I'm not going to try to figure it out today. This is a four year contract; up from the usual three.  

Article 5 asks us to approve the ORPaSS, Oyster River Para-Educators and Support Staff, raises.  I asked at Deliberative Session and Business Administrator Caswell said the $183K was a 5% raise for 84 staff. I think the board was OK with this raise because we're trying to keep our pay competitive in these difficult-to-hire, low-unemployment times.

There was a question on Candidates Night about cutting the budget to get paras a living wage.  I don't know that they don't have one; what they do have is American Federation of Teachers union representation that sent around this mailer urging us to vote for the article, unfortunately repeating the wrong Lee polling location.

Article 6 appropriates $125,000 to put away toward the eventual purchase of the middle school solar array.  The "no amounts to be raised from taxation" is a boilerplate fib; they mean no money from the current warrant. The fund balance is the unspent money at the end of the year; it's of course money that was raised from the taxpayers with last year's warrant.  But if we didn't put it aside as asked for here, it would lower this year's taxes.  So we end this unbiased part with a fib.

I must say I was more enthusiastic about the middle school solar array before I heard a rumor that they're just giving away the power to charge folks' electric cars under it. It's like they never miss an opportunity to hurt the taxpayers. I need to verify this one before I officially gripe about it.

Correction: I am not aware of any proposal to provide free electric vehicle charging for private vehicles at the new ORMS. Apparently there is “a rumor that they’re just giving away the power to charge folks’ electric cars under it” per Clean Slate. I will vote against any proposal like that. I have to admit that the line Dean wrote after that about fiscal irresponsibility stung a little. But Dean is entitled to his opinion.

I'm sorry, Michael. I shouldn't have said anything before I verified but a few people have mentioned it to me.  I take it all back.  Thanks for the clarification.  Let's call this rumor: FALSE.

Thanks again for responding, Michael.

Dean's Ballot

This is the BIASED part where I tell you who and what I'm voting for.  Let's dispense with the easy stuff: In Article 1 I'm voting for Rick Laughton for Moderator, and I'm voting YES on all the questions.  I griped about the spending but overall it's a pretty good budget and I support it and the board that produced it. I won't belabor the other ballot questions.  That leaves the school board.

Before I tell you my choices I want to say just how lucky we are to have five candidates, each of whom would bring a wealth of experience and unique strengths to the board table, and each of whom just wants to work for the best interests of the district. The district will be well served by whichever two win.   

I probably don't say enough that I'm Dean Rubine, Lee resident, district parent and ORMS Mathcounts coach. I've been a school board gadfly since I got involved in 2011 when Tea Partiers had taken over the ORCSD school board and started acting badly.  We've had a good ten year run with very little of that, though during the pandemic public comments at school board meetings have sometimes become a bit, uh, boisterous.  Hopefully that abates now that the mask mandate is lifted.

Those formerly fringe Tea Party activists have donned their MAGA caps and teamed up with some Free Staters to become the mainstream of the Republican party, currently in complete control in Concord.  They're getting elected to school boards and passing laws taking away money from public education to put toward private school and meddling in the curriculum, like the latest law preventing the teaching of divisive concepts.

I normally leave partisan politics out of this blog, because it usually doesn't enter in to school district affairs.  But now, after a decade of radical right gains, it's clear that what I believe is the side of good, well-funded public education where we trust the teachers rather than the politicians to make curriculum decisions, is seriously under threat. This is the fight of our times. My main concern is to choose school board members willing to forcefully get into the fight on the side of good.

Of the candidates, there's only one that's made it clear that's she'll passionately defend public schools against such attacks. That's Giana Gelsey, who I strongly support for ORCSD board. She's a bold progressive voice, perhaps in the mold of previous school board members Maria Barth, Kenny Rotner, and going back a bit, Ann Wright. Of the five, it's Giana with the activist experience, the practiced courage not to shrink from these fights. I see the other candidates, and maybe most of the existing board members, more inclined to not rock the boat and just acquiesce to the government's edicts simply because the school district is essentially part of the government.  

It's not just going against Concord when appropriate; it's clear Ms. Gelsey has enough skepticism and experience to seek out the downsides that lurk in every policy, who it hurts, no matter how good the intentions are behind it, and she won't shy away from raising the issue. The board won't always choose to make a change, but it will be great to hear Giana making the case.  Giana's experience as a biologist is particularly useful these days as well.  

The other thing I can mention is that Ms. Gelsey ran the most successful Candidates Night last year that the district has seen in years.  It was hosted by the elementary PTOs, with Ms. Gelsey chair of the Moharimet PTO.  It ran two nights, with Ms. Gelsey hosting five candidates the first night.  According to my report, 53 folks watched on Zoom with a similar number on facebook live.  Questions were widely solicited beforehand, and the live audience was also able to ask questions via chat.  There were essentially no technical problems beyond reminding folks to unmute.  You wouldn't think that was that impressive, but it's an outsized success compared to the two live streams this year which both which had awful technical problems and did not afford any audience interaction, and to a decade of Candidates Nights with just me, or on a good year, maybe 10 people in the audience, with the video record often lost or posted too late.   

The criticism I've heard of Ms. Gelsey is she doesn't listen.  I certainly haven't found that; in my interactions with her she's been an active listener, probing to understand the other party's position, not just waiting to respond. But she will strongly state her own view when appropriate, which might make some people think she doesn't listen, but it's of course a different thing, and admirable.

I should probably make it clear that neither Ms. Gelsey nor any of the candidates share my belief that committing to a DEIJ Coordinator administrative level position is premature; they all are fully supportive of the DEIJ Coordinator position.

 I try to put myself out there, reaching out to the candidates, loitering in the back of school board meetings, that kind of thing. I've made myself a bit of a pariah, which is helpful here. It's easy to talk about inclusion and listening to all sides; it's a bit harder to walk up and start the conversation.  I thought Debra Harmon might try to say a few words to me at the last board meeting, but she didn't.

Heather Smith did say a couple of words to me at the meeting , indicating the LRPC might adopt my public comment to report true two standard deviation error ranges, which are the typical 95% wide confidence intervals, instead of the 50% wide mean absolute deviations they currently report (meaning, as our illustrious school board chair Williams pointed out, half the time the observed error will be outside the predicted bounds).  I've made a similar comment at many past board meetings after the LRPC presentation; they've been doing it this rather shameless way forever.   One way I suggested to fix their report was to just multiply the reported mean absolute deviation by 2.5; fun fact: the exact factor is √(2π).  It probably makes more sense to estimate the standard deviation directly (then multiply by 2).

I geeked out there for a minute.  My second vote goes to Matt Bacon.  As a National Guardsman there's no doubt about his courage.  I don't really know Matt, but talking to folks, it's clear he's running for school board to be of service to the community, a way of giving back just as he did in the National Guard. I don't really see him rocking the boat; Matt's superpower is his people skills. He was the only one of the candidates to really try to connect with me at the meeting. He asked me about my visual aid for Archimedes' calculation of the area of a parabola section. He immediately said he did badly in calculus, probably true but also I think very much in his self-deprecating style, which is disarming. I was of course ready to do fifty minutes on the topic, happily going on about weighing parabolas against triangles.  I see Matt as playing the role of mediator, bringing disparate people and views together.  Matt, working with Giana, was also part of the crew in the only successful Candidates Night in recent memory.

All the candidates have excellent, relevant experience in their past.  Matt's is as a National Guard member, a high school paraeducator, Moharimet PTO, ORYA coach and Madbury Zoning Board chair.  He at least answered questions about his political affiliation, which is Undeclared, so doesn't tell us all that much. More helpfully he added his family and he are all vaccinated, he believes in science, critical thinking, the climate crisis is real, and not banning books. Me too.

My third choice was Heather Smith.  It was really hard for me to choose between Heather and Matt; both would and will make great board members. I'm partial to folks with Ph.D.s like Heather; I have one myself, as does my wife. It's clear Heather wants the job badly, more than I've seen anyone want it.  She's like the graphic she produced: very impressive and appealing but ultimately a bit hard to read. I liked her support for sustainability, but then in the next sentence she spun it into not overworking the staff, which is important but do we have to call everything sustainability?   She mentioned "pain points" several times, which I thought was some DEIJ jargon but really comes from marketing: learn your customer's "pain points" and tailor your pitch to show how your product or service alleviates them.  She also referred to using $900K of trust fund money to lower taxes a "creative way to manage expenses," which shocked me (Candidates Night again).  Going back to the ATM to get more money to continue the party is not managing expenses -- it's the opposite.

My next choice is Debra Harmon.  Ms. Harmon is clearly excellent at listening and then seriously considering and addressing any situations posed to her.  For any sort of event or project I would feel confident that I could specify to Ms. Harmon what I wanted and she would carefully listen and faithfully carry it out.  While that is a great skill in a school board member, I would hope for something deeper -- not just accepting the problem as presented, but asking what's really going on before diving into action.  It's there I thought Ms. Harmon fell short of the other candidates.  An example was the question about what to cut to give paras a livable wage, where Ms. Harmon accepted the question at face value rather than asking if it's really true and if so, if cutting was the best solution. 

My last choice is Marie D'Agostino.  It's remarkable because Ms. D'Agostino is incredibly well qualified, with lots of relevant former experience as a school board chair, school business administrator, insurance executive and more.  I just thought that despite this awesome resume, she didn't seem particularly engaged with Oyster River.  Maybe I missed it, but I don't recall Ms. D'Agostino ever attending an Oyster River board meeting or other event or making a public comment.  She repeatedly refers to the district as ORSD, which shows a certain disengagement; we're Oyster River Cooperative School District, consistently abbreviated ORCSD.  As far as I can tell, Ms. D'Agostino did not create any web presence, which further reinforces this impression of non-involvement with the district.  We already happen to have a working NH school business administrator on the board, Brian Cisneros. 

Let me illustrate the candidates using the responses to the DEIJ question from Candidates Night, which seems to be my issue this year.  The question was something like: What objective metrics would you use to evaluate the performance of the DEIJ coordinator?  

Ms. D'Agostino focused on the job description, saying to develop metrics out of that, but not specifying any, saying the position was an opportunity to bring the community together.  Ms. Gelsey addressed the question head on, referring to the job description and explicitly indicating the hiring of a more diverse staff as a metric, utilizing metrics already afforded by our existing programs, like MTSS, and collecting student and teacher responses. Mr. Bacon made the quite reasonable suggestion that the board sit down with the coordinator to set goals which are then used for evaluation.  Ms. Smith wanted to "have conversations" with teachers, staff and students that utilized the DEIJ Coordinator about their "relationship" with the coordinator, but admitted we might not see measurable outcomes that first year.  Ms. Harmon wanted the job description narrowed and the position evaluated annually to assure we're meeting the goals we set.

This was a question that should be answered head on. Ms. Gelsey did that; the others less so.  None of the candidates mentioned what would be part of my answer: The superintendent was insisting the DEIJ Coordinator's main role would be in supporting curriculum changes; presumably teachers could be surveyed to determine the number and depth of the curriculum changes. 

It's 4 am and I've been writing this post for two days, so it's clearly time to wrap up. In the confirmation bias department, I see in the photo Ms. Gelsey and Mr. Bacon are still wearing their masks now that they're optional; probably wise given the current 2% positivity rate.  I too am partial to The Expanse and Snow Crash, though my favorite is the lesser known The Diamond Age.

Town Stuff

There's a real race for Select Board in Lee, with long time incumbent Cary Brown (no candidate site known) running against district parent Rebecca Hawthorne. I am thrilled be supporting Ms. Hawthorne.  With her full color signs and the mailer I got, she is definitely raising the campaign game around here.

I like Cary; he's a nice, grandfatherly fellow with cool hobbies and interesting stories.  On the downside, he'll occasionally post some pretty Trumpy thing that leaves me wondering how he's selectperson in a town that went for Biden around 2 to 1.  Hopefully after Tuesday I won't have to wonder that any more.  If Ms. Hawthorne is elected, it will truly be the dawn of something new in Lee, with Ms. Hawthorne joining likely ally Selectperson Kasper for a majority on the three person board.  I forsee great stuff ahead for Lee.

Rebecca Hawthorne was already my hero as Mast Way PTO chair, for her role in the very successful Candidates Night last year, with a great turnout, wide audience participation and no technical issues.  

I would extol the virtues of Ms. Hawthorne more here but it's late so instead I'll just point you to her facebook candidate page and tell you this crazy story I heard about Lee's Candidates Night, which happened at the same time as the ORCSD Candidate Forum with the ORHS Debate Club, which I was watching, so this is secondhand.  There's no recording posted of the Lee event, and there probably won't ever be.

Lee Candidates Night was a virtual event on Zoom, hosted by the Lee Library, who may not be the most tech savvy folks.  Apparently the candidates were still in the introductions when the open event was Zoom Bombed by four or five trolls, who apparently had prepared scripts detailing anatomical, uh, details.  The Library flailed around, eventually ending and restarting the meeting.  Only candidate Hawthorne returned to the meeting.  Rumor has it selectperson Brown got in his car and drove to the library when the first Zoom ended, which was a nice idea except that the library was empty because everyone had Zoomed in from their homes.  Ms. Hawthorne had the night to herself, but it seems we're not likely to ever see it.

In other town news, Durham has the Mill Pond Dam removal vote that will likely increase turnout there.  I'm glad I'm from Lee so I don't have to figure out which way to vote on that one, and I'm real glad I didn't buy Mill Pond Center when we were looking for a house 15 years ago. 

See everybody at the polls on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Information Overload, Candidate Forum Tonight

Upcoming Events

Municipal Election Day is this Tuesday, March 8, 2022.  I'll put out my usual ORCSD election guide this weekend; let's focus on the five candidates for two ORCSD school board seats here. I won't be shy about telling you who I am and am not voting for when I figure it out, hopefully soon.  But in this post I will strive to deliver neutral, unbiased information.

Thursday March 3 (tonight as I write this), 7 pm, though they've been a bit cagey about the time, the ORHS Debate Club is hosting the ORCSD School Board Candidates' Forum at the high school. I don't think it's open to the public in person, but we can watch it.  It will be recorded and streamed by the district's professional staff, so I don't expect any technical problems.

Information Released

After Candidates Night on February 15 there was a two week lull where there wasn't much happening in the ORCSD school board election (but I did complete my 14th RPM Challenge).  That all changed in the last couple of days, with an avalanche of information released as the various questionnaires that the candidates have responded to have been published and the district responded to community calls for information.  

Let's start with the district website publishing candidate bios.  The district proper has an ethical and legal obligation to stay out of the election campaign, which is annoying as it's the obvious place to look for election information.  That's why Candidates Night was historically run by the District Clerk, who is not involved in district administration, and the last two years by the PTOs. 

But the district thought the step of posting photos and statements submitted by the candidates was ok (and that allowed me to make the above image). It's also OK for the students to get involved, so be sure to tune into tonight's forum.  And of course, this is my part to help get information out to the wider community.

The candidates are constantly updating their facebook pages, so here they are again: Matt Bacon, Marie D'Agostino (no candidate web presence known), Giana Gelsey, Debra Harmon, and Heather Smith.

The video from Candidates' Night has been published.  I said I'd review it and update the bios in the last post, but with all the new, candidate-authored information out now it's a lower priority.

Foster's has published an article and candidate questionnaireYahoo picked it up, and I think it won't be behind a paywall there.

The Oyster River Teacher's Guild published their annual ORCSD ORTG SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE QUESTIONAIRE 2022.  Some of the candidates have reproduced their answers on facebook, perhaps because the paragraph formatting seems to have been lost on the guild's grid; I saw Gelsey, Harmon and Smith.

Oyster River Equity and Justice published their questionnaire as well.  I believe the OREJ is not affiliated with the school district; it's a community group supporting DEIJ issues.  Frankly I'm a little hazy about the names, history, authority and membership of the various DEIJ committees and organizations that seem to be operating; I'll try to brush up.   

Phew.  That's all the new candidate information until the forum tonight.  I urge everyone to watch.

Tom Newkirk and Al Howland Say Goodbye

Last night was Tom and Al's last school board meeting, after ten years of service (YouTube).  The board and administration all had kinds words praising Tom and Al.  I was watching at home but when I realized it was Tom and Al's last, I went to the meeting in person, first time in almost two years. Unfortunately there were no hor d'oeuvres for the occasion, but it was wonderful to be there nonetheless. I definitely need to write a longer tribute to these two, but that will have to wait until after the election.

It was great to see everyone.  I finally met Principal Noe. Three candidates were present: Heather Smith, who presented the Long Range Planning Committee enrollment predictions, Matt Bacon and Debra Harmon.  Masks were optional so it was interesting to see who was masked.  At the table, only member Cisneros did not wear a mask.  Among the candidates, Heather and Matt were masked, Debra was not.

While making a public comment thanking Tom and Al, I got to brag about my Mathcounts middle schoolers, 7 of which passed the hurdle of the chapter competition and will compete in the state competition at the end of this month.  I taught middle schoolers calculus on the first day of the new school; here's my visual aid for Archimedes' Quadrature of the Parabola.