Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Red Letter Day in Foster's

There was a rash of letters to the editor about the upcoming school board election published in Foster's today.    I reproduce them in full below.  Foster's also published an article about the second lawsuit today, which I'll just link to for copyright reasons.  Here are the letters:

Wrong again

To the editor: On Feb. 22, the New Hampshire Superior Court in Strafford County again found that currently serving members of the Oyster River Cooperative School Board broke NH's right-to-know law. The judge found that "the board violated the Right-to-Know law and its own policies."

The court's decision can be read in its entirety at, under item No. 21, Final Order.

This is the second court ruling to find to find that this board, under the Chairmanship of Henry Brackett, has violated the right-to-know laws. These laws essentially require that the board does the public's business in public, with a few exceptions that are clearly spelled out in state law.

I hope you join me in voting for new leadership and new members to the Oyster River school board in the upcoming election. Maria Barth has had extensive experience chairing the Kittery school board before moving to Lee. She therefore is well acquainted with the principles of right-to-know and will conduct school board business transparently and in public.

Breaking the law is no way to set an example for our kids. Let us, the voters, set a good example by holding the incumbent school board members accountable on election day. Let's give new volunteers a chance to show us that they respect our laws.

Jeannie Sowers

Clean house

To the editor: On Tuesday, March 13, Oyster River will have the chance to vote in a new school board. In the past year, what has the current school board accomplished?

1. They embarrassed and insulted us: board member Jim Kach espoused his sexist, bigoted and "birtherist" views on his Twitter account. He would not resign; the board said nothing and took no action — not even a reprimand. You can read his views for yourself at

2. Led by Chairman Brackett, they wasted our money: the board spent well over $185,000 of taxpayer money in a secret deal, buying out the contract of the superintendent. (That does not include legal fees, paid for by you and me. The board also hired a PR firm and tried to hide the cost in the lawyer's bill.) The former superintendent was promptly hired by Barrington. Henry Brackett initiated this fiasco and refuses to explain why he did it.

3. They broke the law, multiple times: the board was found guilty of violating our Right-to-Know laws by the New Hampshire Superior Court. In the judge's exact words, "the Board [including Mr. Kach] and [Chairman] Brackett knew or should have known their conduct violated the Right-to-Know Law." They held meetings in secret, in violation of the law, wasting our money to buy out an employee who had one year left on his contract and had served us for years. Another lawsuit is pending, and it looks bad.

4. They've promised to keep doing this: not a single board member has taken responsibility for these illegal actions. As Chairman Brackett put it at the candidates' forum, "we will continue on as before." Mr. Kach said the only thing he would do differently is "hire a better lawyer." Great. And we taxpayers will foot the bill.

Please vote out Brackett and Kach. They are a disgrace. The bright side to all of this is the excellent candidates who have now stepped up to serve. Please vote in Maria Barth, Ed Charle, Al Howland, and Tom Newkirk.

Ruth Sample

Will do my best

To the editor: As a candidate for the Oyster River School Board I get asked the same question over and over. "What would I do differently" from the present board regarding the circumstances surrounding the Right to Know lawsuits, the incident of lost temper toward the student representative as well as inappropriate Tweets?

I can't promise that I would never make a mistake and, though I seldom lose my temper, I suppose it could happen. But what I can promise is that I would take responsibility and I would publicly apologize. I would do my best to heal the rift in the district that my actions might cause.

The two incumbent board candidates have allowed the situation to go on for a year, diverting precious time and energy away from the big issues of supporting our foundation of excellence, affirming our trust in our staff, and building consensus around budgeting. We need to put our energy into our district's motto of "Working Together To Engage Every Learner."

Maria Barth

Rational voice

To the editor: I am a candidate for the Oyster River School Board, and I am writing to ask district voters for support. I have been a Durham resident since 1987 when we moved into the district so our children could attend the schools — a decision we have never regretted.

I have been on the faculty at UNH since 1977, working in the areas of writing instruction and teacher development. I founded and direct the New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, a program for teachers now in its 32nd year — and I created the Writers Academy for middle and high school students. I would bring a long and deep involvement in literacy issues to the board.

If elected I will try to be a rational, moderate voice. I will listen to all sides, and I will try to make the best judgments I can, aware that these decisions may be unpopular with some.

This election will also be a referendum on the current board. So I encourage voters to consider carefully the candidacies of Maria Barth and Ed Charle. Both are running against incumbent board members. Maria has wide experience in town government and would help hold a new board to clear adherence to the Right to Know Law. Ed, a local family physician, would be an intelligent and caring addition to the board.

Al Howland, running unopposed, is a former high school science teacher. He has been deeply involved in volunteer work in Oyster River schools (often as "Captain Balance" in the primary grades). Anyone who has heard him at the various forums will be aware of his comprehensive understanding of school issues.

A transformed board can offer the community the new start that we need.

Tom Newkirk

An apology?

To the editor: Jim Kach of the Oyster River School Board owed us an apology and his resignation, but instead is running to continue on the School Board.

As many will remember, Mr. Kach was discovered to have tweeted publicly about female politicians and public figures, assessing them according to their weight, attractiveness, and other physical attributes. (See a selection of tweets for yourself: He stated that he didn't realize this was offensive and disrespectful and so refused to resign. We really do not need another term of this totally out-of-touch board member, who has already modeled disrespect and bigotry to the students of the district. Is it really just fine to publicly insult and demean women? Can a woman feel comfortable coming before the Board? Don't we hold elected officials to account when they insult half the electorate?

Board Chair Henry Brackett, who had a duty to insist that Mr. Kach resign, declined to do so, totally ignoring the public outcry. By his silence and inaction, he signaled tacit agreement with Mr. Kach's reactionary views. Indeed, he still embraces Mr. Kach and his disgusting tweets by associating himself with Mr. Kach's campaign. All over Lee, you can find Brackett and Kach signs residing chummily together along the roadsides.

Nineteenth-century views on women have no place in a 21st-century School Board. Please join me in bringing respect and dignity back to the School Board by voting them out on Tuesday March 13.

Susan Mayer

These came in on March 6th:

Like Russia?
To the editor: How do the ORCSD School Board problems look from Russia?

I recently attended a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to review the development of the rule of law in Russia with U.S. scholars, embassy personnel, American Bar Association representatives, Russian jurists, and a Russian journalist. We debated how to define or assess the rule of law. This discussion confirmed for me that David Taylor, Foster's Daily Democrat, N.H. judges, and citizens who have called the Oyster River Cooperative School District School Board to account for violating Right to Know have acted appropriately to protect the rule of law in our state. An independent press emerged in our discussions at the embassy as a critical protection of the rule of law. Foster's Daily Democrat has played that role in reporting on the ORCSD School Board violations of Right to Know.

Free elections also contribute to the rule of law when citizens use the ballot to remove those they know to be in violation of the law or the community's values.

In the summer, when ORCSD School Board member and candidate for re-election Jim Kach revealed himself to be a man who I believe disseminated sexist, homophobic, and racist rhetoric, he refused to resign. He said he would let the March 13 elections demonstrate whether ORCSD voters believe he represents their values. Since then, he has been unfazed by the New Hampshire court system's ruling against ORCSD violations of RTK.

I hope citizens in the ORCSD will go to the polls on March 13 and make clear that we are a community which values the rule of law and rejects the kind of bigotry Mr. Kach has so regrettably displayed. In the election, we also have a choice between a School Board Chair who has been at the heart of the violations of Right to Know (Henry Brackett) and a candidate with a track record of over a decade of unblemished leadership in public school boards, Maria Barth.

In Moscow, I understood that the fragile rule of law U.S. citizens have painstakingly developed is indeed worth fighting for and voting to protect. The alternative is to let secrecy, bigotry, and arrogance prevail.

Cathy A. Frierson

For OR board
To the editor: I am writing in support of Ed Charle and Maria Barth for Oyster River School Board. Both Ed and Maria show a willingness to listen and make thoughtful decisions based on the best interest of the school district as a whole.

In the past year, our district has lost a superintendent, a high school principal, a director of instruction, and most recently, our technology director and also our second director of instruction. We cannot afford this loss of talented administrators to continue.

We need board members who can instill confidence and trust in both our staff and community. Please join me in voting for Ed Charle and Maria Barth on Tuesday, March 13.

Denise Day

For Newkirk

To the editor: The parents and students of the Oyster River School District, as well as the taxpayers of the District, are most fortunate to have, running on their behalf, Dr. Thomas Newkirk of Durham for an at-large seat on the Oyster River School Board. Tom has devoted his life to education and to how students learn. He is author of the recently published book The Art of Slow Reading, and has done much earlier work on K-12 education and the learning process. Tom will bring his great wealth of expertise and a great sense of stability and respect to the Oyster River School Board and to the teachers of the District, to the administrators who serve them, and to the staff employees. If the need arises, he is highly capable of chairing the Oyster River School Board, of becoming the face of the district, and of maintaining and advancing the integrity of the Oyster River schools. I urge all district voters to vote on March 13 for Thomas Newkirk for Oyster River School Board.

John E. Carroll

Monday, February 27, 2012

Second Taylor lawsuit decided - board violated law, superintendent search still valid

The court just decided the second Taylor RTK lawsuit.   The decision is, once again, the board violated the Right-to-Know law, this time with a secret ballot to nominate members of the superintendent screening committee, as well as more illegal meetings.  The judge further found the board violated its own policies.

In particular, the judge found the board's "coordinated action in reducing the field of applicants through what amounted to a secret vote by each member for the candidate of his or her choice, circumvented the spirit of the transparency that animates the Right-to-Know law. ... The law expressly prohibits actions outside of meetings on matters that should properly be discussed at meetings and also expressly bars secret ballots.  By acting privately to finalize the applicant pool, the Board effectively sidestepped the requirement of accountability that the Right-to-Know law is intended to promote."

The court enjoined the board from committing future violations of RSA 91-A (the RTK law).  This is the harshest penalty available, and one the judge declined to order in the first lawsuit after the board promised to never violate the law again.   They did violate the law again, so the judge got serious.   If board members continue to violate the RTK law, they are now subject to being ruled in contempt of court, and may face jail time.  The court also specifically enjoined the board from voting by secret ballot where prohibited by law and communicating by email so as to circumvent the statute's public meeting requirement.

The judge did not vacate or invalidate the superintendent search results.  This is good news in my opinion -- it means the district can go ahead and close the deal with our hopefully new superintendent, Dr. James Morse.  I wish him well in his new position.  I urge the public to give him untainted supervision by voting out the lawbreaking incumbents Jim Kach and Henry Brackett and voting in the law-abiding challengers Dr. Ed Charlé and Maria Barth on Tuesday, March 13th.

- Dean Rubine, Lee

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Meet the Candidates" forum

I just got back from the "Meet the Candidates" forum at the High School.   We learned Jim Kach was a kindly old soccer coach who volunteered for school board when no one else would.   Yet he's a curmudgeon who'll protect every last tax dollar.  He's so proud of his site visit to the superintendent candidate.  And he's sure gonna work real hard to bring this community together.

Let's remember:  Mr. Kach participated in illegal meetings to buy out Superintendent Colter, and a Strafford Country Superior Court Judge found "the Board [including Mr. Kach] and [Chairman] Brackett knew or should have known their conduct violated the Right-to-Know Law".   The buyout cost $185,000 -- we paid Mr. Colter not to work for a year; so much for tax dollars.   And the board was stubbornly opposed to superintendent candidate site visits until I and others waged a campaign of letter writing and public comments to get them to do it.    And of course, one big reason the community is divided is Mr. Kach's reprehensible tweets, which traffic in birtherism and bigotry.   Mr. Kach could go a long way to uniting this community by resigning.

But that's not going to happen, so please vote for Maria BarthEd Charlé, Tom Newkirk, and Al Howland on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012.

- Dean

Roger Speidel's Numbers

I genuinely enjoy Roger Speidel's public comments at school board meetings.   He hasn't been there much lately, and it's been kind of empty.   Who else is going to tell me how great the Montgomery Country, Maryland public schools are?   He never mentions their budget is $ 2.13 Billion (yes, with a "B").

It turns out his numbers are suspect -- sometimes they're misleading statistics, sometimes they're just false.

Let's start with No Child Left Behind testing.  Roger says "Oyster River ranked 18th in a State ranked 28th in the Nation educationally (bottom half)."   Here's a headline from a recent Union Leader:  "NH education ranking slips from fourth to ninth."   4th, 28th ... what's the difference?

What about "Oyster River ranked 18th" in NH?   Actually the district is ranked 10th (of 142).   6 of the districts ahead of us have no high school.    ORHS ranked 7 (of 84), ORMS 6 (of 127), Moharimet 10 (of 218), and Mast Way 32 (of 218). 

And here's my favorite:  "in the past 10 years Oyster River’s per pupil cost has gone from $374 over the State average to $3472 over the State average, a 1000% increase."   Whenever I hear this I think, "Oh My God! -- we need to cut the budget by 1000% !"      But then I realize this means that rather than collecting taxes, the district would have to pay out over $300 Million to the tax "payers" each year, which doesn't seem right.    What Roger really means is that eleven years ago we were 5% over the state average, and now we're 27% over the state average.   In other words, on average over each of the last 11 years we went up 2% faster than the state.   Bad, yes; catastrophic, no.   A few years of relatively flat budgets, assuming the state average continues to grow, would get us back in the 5% range.   (The source for my figures is page 9 of Mike McClurken's excellent report on the district.   He has graciously provided a revised version which corrects some errors.  Thanks, Mike.)

Let's try "to fill up space in the high school, Barrington students are being brought in, each at a $6,000 discount....not a good idea."  I was going to go into a long diatribe about average cost versus marginal cost, but instead I'll just quote the ABC report: "We just increase the number of tuition students to 25 per grade more than we have now, starting with 2012’s freshman class.  Within 4 years, we will have an additional $1.3 million in revenue, and more than $1 million after the variable costs of the additional students – directly reducing what resident taxpayers have to pay to support the High School by $1 million."   Working backwards, this works out to a marginal cost per tuition student of  (1.3-1)*1000*1000/(25*4) = $3,000 each !   The reason the cost is so low, besides not having to provide transportation and some other things, is that to handle the increased load we generally don't increase staff proportionally; instead we just let average class size increase.  And we don't burn any more fuel, light any more lights, etc.   Given we charge around $12,500 per, having tuition students seems a pretty great way to keep enrollment up, maintain programs and reduce local taxes. 

We could probably play this game with each of Roger's numbers, but I'll stop here.   Roger, please come back to the meeting and defend your numbers.    William Hall is OK when he tries to step in, but he's no Roger Speidel.

- Dean

P.S. Restore sanity:  please vote for Maria BarthEd Charlé, Tom Newkirk, and Al Howland on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ORCSD School Board Election

Dear Oyster River Community,

Hi.  I'm Dean Rubine, from Lee, NH.  I'm blogging here to express my opinion on how people should vote in the upcoming school board election, Tuesday, March 13th, 2012.  I'll try to back up my opinions with facts, and to link those facts back to their source so you know I'm not making them up.  I'll allow unmoderated commenting and I welcome opposing and concurring opinions, but I do want to encourage civil discussion so be warned I will delete posts that I think cross the line.  When somebody points out a mistake, I'll correct the post to minimize misinformation.   I'll also leave a comment about the change so nobody thinks I'm doing anything sneaky.  I'll fix typos and make additions without comment.

For those of you who trust me and just want to know my opinion on who to vote for, I'm supporting the T.E.A.M. - Tom, Ed, Al and Maria.  That's Maria BarthEd CharléTom Newkirk, and Al Howland.   They are running in four separate races, and every voter in each town can vote for all of them.   I encourage you to do just that.  I am also planning on voting YES on all the school board related warrant articles, including the large budget allocation of over $38 million.  

A Personal History of the ORCSD School Board

My wife and I have two children that currently attend Mast Way Elementary.  I started paying attention to the Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD) school board last summer, when my wife went looking for information on why Superintendent Colter was paid his full salary and benefits not to work this school year.  What she found instead was Board Member Jim Kach's twitter account.   Making these tweets public caused a big kerfuffle in town, and even some national news as the Associated Press picked up the story.   I'm encouraging people to vote for  Ed Charlé for the Madbury seat currently held by Mr. Kach, who refused to resign and is running for reelection.   Let's get this ugly incident behind us.

The buyout of the superintendent was largely done in illegal secret meetings, according to Strafford County Superior Court's recent decision in David Taylor v Oyster River Cooperative School Board and Henry Brackett, Chairman.   Among other things, the judge found that "(1) Plaintiff [David Taylor] was refused access to public documents from the Board and Brackett after reasonably requesting such access,  (2) this lawsuit was necessary in order to make proceedings open to the public, and (3) the Board and Brackett knew or should have known their conduct violated the Right-to-Know Law."   I find it incredible that after eight months and a successful lawsuit, I still don't know why they board spent $185,000 secretly buying out Superintendent Colter.  I guess they really didn't like him.   It's also interesting that the board had the full authority to do the buyout, yet chose to proceed in secret anyway.  They probably would have gotten some heat from the public had they acted aboveboard, but by doing it in secret they ended up getting even more heat.   I am recommending people vote for Maria Barth, who's running against the lawbreaking Chairman Henry Brackett.

We had inadvertently stepped into a fight between the school board and a significant fraction of the community.  Besides the buyout, there was the High School Principal Laura Rogers, who quit because she found "the political tension around the school system to be unproductive, and not in the best interest of the kids."   Much of this tension appears to have fomented on   I'm not sure if that blog is still claiming to be unbiased; editorially they usually slant toward supporting the current board and the Durham Taxpayers Association, in my opinion.  [Mr. Bebbington, the site administrator, says in a comment below that the blog never claimed to be unbiased:  "the views expressed on the blog are those of the authors, and we are happy to accept submissions from anyone, regardless of their views."    Thanks for the correction, Mr. Bebbington.]

Next came Justin Cambell, a widely supported candidate for ORHS principal that was summarily rejected by the board.   This led to the high school students actually walking out of class in protest.   The buyout of the superintendent Colter, who supported candidate Campbell, followed this incident.

This was followed by the tweet controversy.   Next came the policy to say the pledge before every meeting -- the board seemed pretty jazzed about it, which is why I find it surprising that it is now sporadically ignored.  There was some proposed policy about teaching religion, but that hot potato was tabled pretty quickly.

Then came budget season,  where interim Superintendent Levesque repeatedly asked the board for guidance as to the bottom line, and when he failed to get it he presented a bare-bones budget that represented a very modest increase (0.6%, if I recall) over the previous year.   Then the board asked him to find an additional $500K in cuts, which he presented though he did not support them.  The board rather haphazardly approved most of the cuts,  including the cutting of a high school assistant principal.  

Members of the board routinely but disingenuously refer to these cuts as recommended or supported by the administration.  Principal Allen has repeatedly stated that while he did as he was told when asked to suggest additional cuts, he does not support his own suggested cuts.  Anyway, this wasn't enough slashing for the current board.   Members Lane and Turnball got passed an additional list of cuts.

These last minute cuts seemed ill-thought out.  For example, the cutting of the Assistant Principal didn't jibe with the plan to increase the number of tuition students at the high school, and the cutting of the paper budget (because we're going paperless) was at odds with major cuts in the technology budget.  

Next came the superintendent search, secret ballots, and another lawsuit.  I could go on.  I didn't mention the loss of the Director of Instruction (two, now that Ms. Bolduc is leaving) or the loss of the IT administrator. 

It appears that this board goes out of its way to act divisively.    I appreciate that the board needs to make tough decisions, but the law requires them to deliberate largely in public.  When they thought the public would be an impediment, they illegally circumvented the law.  This is not just my opinion; it is the ruling of the Strafford County Superior Court.   I've come to the conclusion that much of the community no longer trusts the current board to act in the district's best interest, and that this loss of trust is beyond repair.   Thus I am recommending that all current board members that appear on the ballot be voted out.   Please vote for the T.E.A.M. - Tom, Ed, Al and Maria - on Tuesday, March 13th.  That's Maria BarthEd Charlé, Tom Newkirk, and Al Howland.

Very truly yours,
Dean Rubine
Lee, NH