Thursday, April 25, 2013

Parents Opine on Elementary Reshuffle

On April 18, Superintendent Morse hosted a forum for parents potentially affected by the proposed elementary school reconfiguration.  I would estimate over 100 people participated.  Parents who didn't attend missed a scary moment when a toddler fell off the stage while his mother was speaking at the podium.  The boy seemed OK as he was carried out by his mom.

Board members attend forum
There were about as many people at this forum as at the last deliberative session.  Board members Charle, Howland, Rotner and Chairman Barth attended. The questioning of the superintendent by parents went on for almost two hours.  I was very impressed by the knowledge and passion for education displayed by the parents, most of whom I did not know.  It was a real reminder of just how much the people of our district value education.  At the end of the meeting board member Rotner made a very welcome statement about how the parents were truly heard.  It's too bad that the meeting doesn't seem to have been recorded.

The basic problem to be solved is the inequity created by the enrollment difference between Mast Way and Moharimet.  The superintendent has been talking about a situation where Moharimet has 400 students and Mast Way 300.   That's a bit of an exaggeration -- the current difference is 69 students and the worst projected difference is 80.

Long Term Planning Committee Projections for Elementary Enrollments

Let's look at some measures of imbalance.
 (A) % needed to be switched to balance = (400-300)/(2*700)=7%.  
 (B) mohariment/mastway as %= 400/300-1 = 33%.

Let's look at the imbalance measures in the projections.

None of the projections is quite as dire as the superintendent's 33% example.  The imbalance stays pretty constant starting at FY17.  This is probably telling us something about how the projections were created. It may mean that the years through FY17 were estimated using actual births in the district while after that the numbers are just extrapolated.  For imbalance purposes, FY17 is probably the last useful year projected.

Nonetheless, the imbalance is clearly a problem.  In FY15, the first year I believe we're aiming to change, Moharimet is forecasted to have 60 more students (20% more) than Mast Way.  Moharimet has modular classrooms we rent for over $20,000 a year; Mast Way has empty classrooms.

Three options were presented: Option 1 turns Mast Way into grades K - 2 and Moharimet into 3 - 4. (As enrollment declines, preschool may move back to Mast Way and 5th grade back to Moharimet under option 1.)  Option 2 is centralized registration, where the district chooses your elementary school, i.e. it puts new kids in Mast Way no matter where they live.  Option 3 is redrawing the bus lines, which is probably the most common solution a school board chooses for this sort of problem, and has been the district's traditional remedy.

The March 6 meeting agenda has the options detailed (page 39), along with a (skewed, IMHO) list of pros and cons of each.  Due to the football presentation, the superintendent didn't present the topic until the March 13 meeting.   Here's the video of the presentation at that meeting.

District parent and Kindergarten
 teacher Trisha Hall prefers
more grade levels per school.
Option 1 (MW is K-2, MOH is 3-4) seemed to receive the most pushback from parents and educators.  It's by far the most disruptive, and would cost real money to implement.   John Collins among others referred to research indicating that more grades in a single school is superior.  (Basically more transitions to new schools means more time adjusting and less time learning. ) The bus routes are longer under option 1, as the plan would be for each elementary bus to stop at both Mast Way and Moharimet.  My point was with an expected 312 assigned to Mohariment and 395 assigned to Mast Way, this 83 student difference is more imbalanced than the largest projected imbalance of the status quo, so doesn't really solve the problem.  Former board member Krista Butts points out that the imbalance isn't as as bad as it seems, as Kindergarteners are currently half-day students.  The superintendent seemed to imply that it was more OK to be inequitable across grades than within the same grade, but he's way too savvy to ever say that.  Moharimet and Mast Way are each a central focus of social life in their respective towns, and option 1 may disrupt that.

Options 2 and 3 as presented had obvious drawbacks, but these seem much easier to overcome than those of option 1.   Centralized registration would result in families that move in near Moharimet sending their kids to Mast Way.  Redrawing bus lines would cause around 25 families to be forced to change schools.  I think it was Krista Butts who pointed out that the growth in the district is largely in Madbury, so the redrawing of the bus lines as proposed is probably insufficient and would need to be redone sooner rather than later.

I would propose a hybrid option 2 & 3 scheme in which the district is divided into three zones: Moharimet, Mast Way and Maybe. Within the Maybe zone the district would do centralized registration.  It could alleviate disruption by grandfathering families with students already in a given school.  The Maybe zone should be kept as small as possible, but needs to be large enough to handle potential inequities that may arise for at least a decade.

The superintendent was hoping for a decision this June.  There was a show of hands in which many parents indicated they would prefer the decision to be pushed later to allow for a more thorough exploration of the issues.

I believe at least part of the current imbalance stems from a perception that Mohariment is a better school than Mast Way.  The superintendent stressed that this was not the case.   For what it's worth, one of my children attended both schools and generally had a better experience at Mast Way.  It was pointed out that Mast Way is a SINI (School in Need of Improvement).  The superintendent rightfully downplayed this.  The SINI designation came from the Mast Way "educational disability cohort" (students with IEPs) not achieving proficiency at the rather high rate expected of other cohorts for two years in a row.  That cohort did make adequate yearly progress (AYP) last year.  If it does again this year (results soon) Mast Way would lose its SINI label.

That's about it. I did want to mention one thing that stuck with me.  Former board member Jocelyn O'Quinn spoke at the meeting. Her point was that it would be wise to consider the elementary school reconfiguration decision in tandem with the tuition issue.  In particular, Ms. O'Quinn seemed to prefer an option with a minimum of tuitioning, which then saves money by closing (and, she said, selling) one of the district schools.  It reminded me that board member Ann Lane asked about the economics of closing a school, I believe at the March 13 meeting.  And of course readers of Foster's or this blog know Calvin Jarvis is against tuitioning.  It makes me wonder if the district is once again cleaving along those old lines.   I'll be sure to write more posts about this soon, so please check back.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tuition? I reply to Cal's reply to my reply to Cal

School Board News: New Hampshire Education Commissioner Virginia Barry personally approved our request to grant a waiver allowing us to move graduation day back to June 7.   The board voted unanimously to put the decision in the superintendent and principal's hands.  Congratulations to the board on a successful passing of this hot potato. Principal Allen will quickly survey seniors and their families and the final decision will be made soon.  Check out ORTV for fun coverage by the students of this and other district issues.  (The graduation date story starts at 8:07.)

Also surprising, staffing up for tuition students began tonight, with a request approved for two .4 part time, no benefits teacher positions to teach required math and science to (I think they said) 34 additional Barrington students.  Principal Allen apparently aroused some consternation in Barrington by starting a waiting list that grew to four before the board could vote tonight.

Even though the tuition greatly exceeds the cost of these positions, the money for the positions still has be taken from the budget approved by the voters in March.  Since then, there have been three retirements approved, only one of which will be replaced.  Technically, that's where the money for the new hires comes from.

The superintendent suggested election day, early November 2013, as a target date the tuition student decision should be made.  This gives time for budget planning.  Transition planning has already begun.  If approved, the mass of students would start in September 2014.  That's also known as FY15, since that fiscal year (corresponding to the school year) ends June 30, 2015.

There's a meeting tonight (Thursday 4/18, 6pm, ORHS auditorium) to discuss elementary school reconfiguration.  Childcare will be provided.  The most radical proposal is to make Mast Way grades K - 2 and Moharimet grades 3 - 4, maybe 3 - 5.  There's an alternate proposal to redraw district lines to even out the currently projected enrollment of I think Mohariment 380, Mast Way 300.

Now to the main topic.

Calvis Jarvis has another letter in Foster's today.   It's an attempt to rebut my letter about his original letter.  I don't plan to respond in the paper, because I'd just be repeating my first letter. But I thought it would be worthwhile to respond here where I don't have to be so terse.

I've formatted Cal's letter in this font.

Tawdry deception

I see where the editor get's "deception" from the letter, but "tawdry?" That is apparently Foster's contribution to the debate. I looked it up: Showy but cheap and of poor quality. I'll agree my letter is a poor quality deception because it's not a deception. It's my understanding of the truth as best as I could articulate in 350 words.

To the editor: I have a news flash for those who were wondering (Big money, 4/11/2013): I do want to reduce taxes for Oyster River! I have advocated we should restore the cost of our own kids’ educations to a more competitive amount, before importing students at a discounted tuition we have to subsidize. 

I was wondering, Cal.  I'm glad you're back on the side of us taxpayers.  Cutting our costs "of our own kids' education" cuts taxes.  I'm all for it.   We should do it.  We have been doing it.  That's what retirement incentives and energy savings do, as I pointed out in my letter.  I hope we keep doing it.  I hope we find new ways to cut costs.

But why "before importing?"  Tuition students cuts our taxes now.   As I've attempted to show many times, even if our cost per student is higher than that the tuition we charge, tuition students still cut our taxes.  This is because it costs money just to have buildings open and staffed with principals and custodians, etc.  If we can spread that cost among more students, we get lower cost per student.

I'm not giving up on you Cal.  Let's try another analogy.  Say you and I ran a summer camp, Camp Jervine.  We have a dining operation to serve the kids and staff three meals a day.  We lease a high end kitchen with nice ovens, freezers and dishwashers.  We're staffed with a dining director, nutritionist, head chef, a dishwasher, cooks and waiters.  When we count up all the costs at the end of the summer and divide, it comes out to $10 per meal.  (Let's ignore cost differences between breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

Say we have a visitor for dinner.  At any given dinner, we could produce and serve another plate of food for essentially the cost of the food, say $2.  We wouldn't need to hire anyone.   If we charged the visitor $6 for her meal, we would make $4.  We surely wouldn't lose $4 because our average cost per meal is $10.  We are not subsidizing this visitor's meal when we charge $6.  That $4 we make can be use to lower the cost to the campers or to increase our profit, Cal.

Cal says we don't need a head chef, nutritionist and director.  Our nutritionist is a great manager and chef.  Let's make that one job.   That's great. Now it only costs us $7 per meal on average.  But that doesn't change the economics of that extra meal for a visitor.  That would still only costs us $2.

Cal says, sure that's OK for one visitor, but for a significant number you're going to have to hire waiters  and maybe even more cooks.   I agree.   But we don't need to hire another head.  We don't need a bigger kitchen with new appliances.   Our dishwasher is underutilized and we won't need another one.   We have extra space in the dining room.   We already have plenty of plates and utensils.  Say when you add in the additional waiters and cooks just for these extra meals, the cost goes up to $4 per meal.   We would still make money charging $6 for each extra meal.   Let's open Jervine Cafe!

This all seem straightforward to me.  The last point to make is that now is when the tuition student deals are being presented.  We may not have the opportunity to take a large number of tuition students in the near future. We have to decide now whether or not they make sense for the district.  I've argued they're a win-win, saving programming for the students and money for the taxpayers.

Mr. Rubine is used to throwing big $ amounts around like Hail Mary passes, figuring people will eventually just punt when figures get too confusing. Once we get past all the bemusement and deception, consider the content of his arguments:

It's Dr. Rubine, but that couldn't matter less.  Call me Dean.  I worked pretty hard, using only the roundest of numbers, to make things as simple as I could for our readers in my letter.  Let's recap: 

  • 200 new students covered by 10 new staff, generously estimated as $5,000 cost per student.
  • $12,000 tuition minus $5,000 cost is $7,000 the taxpayers save per tuition student.  
  • $90,000 annually in energy savings thanks to Sustainability Committee.
  • $1 million annually in staff savings due to board's retirement incentive.
  • $900,000 annual shift by Republican legislature from state taxes to local property taxes.
  • At least $10,000 in annual football costs not covered by the boosters.
OK, it's alot of numbers, I'll give you that.  I hope there's not too much here that your typical newspaper reader couldn't handle.  If you have a problem with any of these figures, state it.  Just because you're confused doesn't make what I say false.

The OR retirement incentive led to 17 takers, “only four of whom will be replaced.” Then, by his accounting, to manage an estimated 200 tuition students, 10 new hires are required. We net 3 employees less than before. Taxpayers rejoice! 

The taxpayers should rejoice under this story.  We save 3 employees' pay, say $200,000 and collect an additional $2,400,000 in tuition.  That's $2.6 million dollars less the taxpayers will have to shell out.  That's about 7% off your taxes.  And I really think my estimate is conservative.  Business Administrator Caswell is working on the actual numbers.

Tuition revenue for 200 students at $12,000 each is $2.4 million. However, OR taxpayers will foot the bill for the difference, $900,000, between the revenue received, versus our costs for those 200 students! Someone living in Deerfield can give their kid an Oyster River education for the state average cost, while we pay for 1/4 of their education, as part of the cost for our kids. Our total cost is “marginally” less, but this is our solution for educating our children? Why, so we can keep more people on the ORCSD payroll? 

There is no $900,000 bill.  The taxpayers have to shell out less money after they take the tuition students.  Less taxes is good.   

As best as I can tell, Mr. Jarvis' complaint is really that it's not fair that the tuition kids get a better deal than the district kids. That the tuitioning town ends up spending less sending each kid to high school than we spend sending our own kids.   Even though it's to our benefit to take the tuition kids at the good rate for them, it's still not fair.

I can see this.  It's a good deal for Deerfield.  Anybody who wants to could move to Deerfield and send their kids to Oyster River High at a bargain rate.   Here's a house on a nice lake for $135K and $3,214 in taxes.  Snap it up, Cal.

It's perhaps not as great a deal as it might seem.  Tuition doesn't include transportation or special education, two things that add much to the cost per student taxpayers see.  Once you adjust for those things it's less unfair.

Right now, anyone could move to Barrington and send their kids to Oyster River.  Maybe one of the kids on Todd's waiting list lives in this house that recently sold in Barrington for $37,500.

It suggests an alternate plan for the district.  We can be like Newmarket.  We close the middle school, squeeze the kids we can into the three remaining buildings and tuition out the rest.    I have no doubt that  this would save the taxpayers money.  I'd have to work out whether it would save more or less than tuitioning students.  Eventually enrollment may shrink until we no longer have excess students to tuition out.  I'm pretty sure that if you presented this plan in public it wouldn't be very popular.  But it's not really my idea.  Board Member Lane asked about the economics of closing one school at a recent meeting.

I think it would be great if our costs were such that this unfairness was eliminated.  But from a purely business perspective, tuition students benefit district taxpayers as well as the towns sending the students.  And benefits all the students too.  The world is rarely fair, but at least in this case it offers us and the tuitioning towns a win-win situation.  That's pretty rare too, so we should grab it up.

Mr. Rubine bemoans the fact that the “Republican” state legislature shifted costs back to the local communities. He was happy tourists and vacationers were supporting our kids’ educations. This epitomizes the problem we have in this country with spending. The local taxpayers would not see any effect from shifting costs, if the school administration would take care of the spending side of the equation. That is where the rub is with FORE and their clan, because it might cost jobs. I’d be concerned if we had a student-to-teacher ratio of 20:1, instead of 11:1, like it is. Their concerns reside with the Dept. of Labor, not with the Dept. of Education. 

Cal, of course I'm happier when taxes extracted from visitors to the state go toward schools.  Pretty much anyone who lives here would be.  It's got nothing to do with spending or jobs.  It's got to do with lessening the burden on local families.  Lessening the burden on the people of Oyster River.  You said you were with us, Cal.  I thought you were with us.

Readers will ultimately decide who in this debate is making sense. Just governance and prudent decisions for our schools depend on where the truth lies. Right now, money is flowing from the wallets of OR taxpayers. Collecting it does not require forks. It requires pitchforks, and wheelbarrows. High cost is one excuse used why there is no room for football at ORHS. 

The only position I've taken on football is that I want the board and the public to know how much it will eventually cost us before we say yes.  If the taxpayers are willing, I'm in.  I think the taxpayers are going to be a lot more willing when there are a bunch of kids paying tuition to support new programs like football.   I don't see football working out very well in a small school with declining enrollment that's frantically cutting to reduce costs.

Sure, people will decide.  The board will ultimately decide.  But this board will weigh heavily public opinion.  So the public should understand, tuitioning is good.  Let's make a list.

Why Tuitioning is Good

  • It's good for students, who get to maintain or even increase their electives.
  • It's good for taxpayers, who pay less because tuition revenue greatly exceeds costs.
  • It's good for the tuitioning town, which due to market forces will get a good deal on an Oyster River High School education.
  • It's good for teachers, who get to have a job teaching kids who want to be there.  I said it, Cal.
  • It's good for all the employees of the district to work in a successful district.
  • It's good for the administration, which has a chance to correct any past understaffing without painful layoffs by assuring that all teachers are fully utilized in a larger school.
  • It's good for the community, which has a long history of valuing education, to be the winner in the secondary education market.  To be the place that other towns want to pay to attend.  To have the culture of a thriving high school.
  • It alleviates the pain of a shrinking system where cost per student would skyrocket, large layoffs would ensue, morale would stink, performance would suffer, property values would tank and soon we'd be looking to tuition out our own kids.
Why Tuitioning is Bad
  • It's not fair the tuition towns get a better deal than us locals.
  • That unfairness may have a negative effect on district property values.
This isn't Mr. Jarvis' list, it's mine.  He'd probably claim tuition students cost district taxpayers money, but I think that's simply incorrect. The property value thing is a concern of mine, one that Mike McClurken makes an attempt to downplay in a recent letter to Foster's.  I'm not sure if it's true.  It relies on people being able and willing to move to a town with a tuition agreement with another town.  That doesn't seem that attractive a prospect to me.  Also, the people who would be willing to scheme to get their kid into our school are probably self-selecting to be just the ones we want.

Occasionally you hear special education as a reason not to take tuition students.  Our agreement with Barrington states that they pay any special education costs we incur for their students.  The superintendent has made it clear any tuition agreement would work this way. Apparently Dover left this clause out of their agreement with Barrington and thus probably has almost all of this population.  Dover will obviously fix that in this cycle, so we can expect a share of this group.  It should have no effect on taxes.

I've assumed a pretty low tuition.  In reality, the district should try to charge the maximum amount for tuition that would still end up with enough demand to fill the school.  Since it's a market that doesn't really trade very often, it's hard to know what that price is.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Future Searched

Here are the pictures from Future Search.  I thought I'd post these for the record largely without comment.  Thanks Ruth for all the photos.

For a conference concerned with the future, it sure spent lots of time dwelling on the past.  Here are various tables' answers to "what about the history does the strategic planning committee need to know?"

Click caption to enlarge

This is a "mind map" exploring the "Forces At Work" in the district.

Click caption to enlarge

Here's another shot at stitching together the timeline, this time with higher resolution photos.

Click on this caption for full resolution

Here's the "Message from our Future Trends," whatever that means:

Click caption to enlarge

- Dean

Thursday, April 11, 2013

FORKed up

Foster's kindly ran my letter to the editor today. It was a response to the 4/5/2013 letter from Cal Jarvis entitled "Hiking Costs Versus Fumbling Spending."  It's an extension of a pretty good debate Cal and I have been having about tuition students in this post.

Though I don't always agree with Cal, I do want to thank him for his attention.  Ever since my first post, Cal has been there to push back on what I said.  He is my most prolific commenter.  His contributions have definitely made this blog more interesting and relevant.   Thanks for taking me seriously, Cal.  I hope you keep your comments coming.

Cal, with your permission I'll include your letter right here.

Here's my response.  Thanks to Foster's for running it and for the free editing advice.  The editor encouraged me to take out all the objectionable terms like "we're FORKed" and "they FORKed us over."   That's probably for the best.

Foster's also edited my quote "NOT requesting Tax Payer Assistance" that I should have tagged "[their emphasis]" or some such.  I've restored the quote to the way it was originally presented at the March 6 school board meeting.

Big money
To the editor: Calvin Jarvis used to want lower taxes in Oyster River. But his F.O.R.K. proposals have us taxpayers FORKing out big money. (Letters, 4/5/2013). 
Tuition students are a fantastic deal for us, but Mr. Jarvis says no. We could squeeze in one more student for the cost of some supplies. For 200 we’d need to hire about 10 people. Conservatively estimating the cost as $5,000 per student, each $12,000 in tuition means $7,000 that we district taxpayers don’t have to FORK up.
Mr. Jarvis is against the Sustainability Committee, whose energy audit led to $90,000 in fuel savings. Annually! He criticizes the board for not addressing staffing, though their incentive led to 17 retirements, only four of whom will be replaced. We save half a million next year when the incentives are paid and a million each subsequent year.
He wants football, presented as a program “NOT requesting Tax Payer Assistance.”  But they spoke with FORKed tongue. The superintendent said the athletic director “easily identified another $10,000” in annual costs not in the proposed budget. The boosters’ proposed contract allows them to end support immediately anytime, but we pay startup costs if we even consider terminating. There’s no external funding for trainers, support staff, marching band, cheerleaders and Title IX girls sports. “Full” external funding surely won’t continue forever. We taxpayers will have to FORK it over. 
The previous Republican state legislature shifted $500,000 a year in retirement costs to the district. They cut an additional $400,000 a year in school aid. Now this money comes from our local property taxes instead of room taxes paid by visitors and dividend taxes paid by the wealthy. I don’t know if Mr. Jarvis supported this FORK in the back.
Board members pay taxes too. I know each is acutely aware of the burden high taxes place on all of us, especially the least well-off. Energy savings, retirement incentives and tuition students are all ways the board is trying to bring taxes down. So let’s all commend the board for what they’ve done for us taxpayers, encourage them to do more and stick a FORK in F.O.R.K.
Cal’s mistaken about at least one more thing. F.O.R.E. didn’t endorse anyone in the last two elections. I did, at
Dean Rubine

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Graduation Date Exhibits Quantum Behavior

Superintendent Morse wants everyone to know that graduation day is June 14th, 2013.  New Hampshire law is very clear that this cannot be changed without a waiver from the New Hampshire Education Commissioner.

The Oyster River school board voted to request a waiver from Education Commissioner Virginia Barry, asking to move graduation back to June 7th.  Only board member Newkirk voted against, saying "by asking for the waiver we continue an indefinite period of uncertainty about graduation." The superintendent vowed to call the commissioner's office asap.

[Update 5/1/13: As reported, the school received the waiver from the commissioner. Nonetheless, I just called the high school and they told me graduation date is June 14.]

The 7th was the original date, still on the district calendar as of this writing.  A surfeit of snow days forced the delay. Apparently we're required to actually spend some number of hours teaching the students before we hand them a diploma.   When we gonna git ridda doze dang gubmint reggalayshins?

Senior Pranav Nanda argues graduation should be June 7
Senior Pranav Nanda made a persuasive case that many people had made plans, purchased tickets, signed contracts to begin employment and so on, based on the original June 7th date.  These people have or will suffer real monetary losses if they change plans.  Many cannot reschedule due to cost or commitments and will not attend on the new date.

It just goes to show that procrastination can be prudent.  Apparently we saved this lesson for graduation day.

The board graciously allowed Mr. Nanda to exceed the three minute limit on public comments.  Congratulations to the young man for successfully persuading the board to seek a waiver.

Principal Allen reported that plans for switching graduation to June 14th are proceeding apace, and that there is no guarantee that we will be able to switch back to the 7th even if we are granted the waiver.

ORMS Principal Jay Richard will be partying with ORMS teacher Nate Grove and Commissioner Barry soon, and he promises to "put a good plug in" for the waiver.   Congratulations to Nate Grove for being nominated for 2014 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year.  In an unfortunate moment, Kanye West interrupted to announce "Mrs. Nadori is the Best Teacher o' All Time!"

This means you, Rubine!
Let's play a game.  First we divide into teams:  (A) People who had plans for June 7 and are holding onto them.   (B) People who had plans and changed them when the date changed.  (C) People who waited until winter was over to plan and now are in limbo.  Ready? On three, everybody yell at the board.

I want to send a big thank you out to Kathleen Young and Alexander Taylor in the booth for getting the videos of the meetings online so fast.  The minutes aren't even out yet, but here's the 4/3/2013 meeting we've been talking about.  Pranad starts at 1:00, board discussion at 18:30, 56:30 for Jay.

Oh, and I apologize to Pranav for referring to him as "Red Soccer Shirt Guy" in the past.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Future Search Finds Past

The first half of Future Search went very well according to my sources.  It produced this incredible timeline of the history of the district:

Timeline of ORCSD -- click on this caption (not the image) to really enlarge
As you can see I pieced it together out of emailed photos of varying quality.  If you have better pictures, please send them to  Thanks.

I had to look up Tom Carroll, Don LaffertyRay Roy and Ann Brown.  Rest in peace, all.

I like how the controversies surrounding the superintendent firing, tweets, Right to Know lawsuits and callous budget cutting were summarized as "Community Explodes."

Here are a couple of highlights from the timeline:

I like:  "D. Taylor 2nd Lawsuit Blocking Supt. Hiring -> wins  Not Really (-> Dr James Morse Hired)  yes really!"   To me the lawsuit decision worked out pretty well: David Taylor was rightly vindicated but we still got to hire Dr. Morse.  Unfortunately the board and its members still serve under the threat of contempt citations if they're found to violate the Right-To-Know law again.

Thanks for everyone's hard work at Future Search today.  Good luck tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Future Search Begins Thursday

The long-awaited search for the future of education in Oyster River will take place this Thursday and Friday, April 4th and 5th.  Future Search consists of a pair of four hour dinner meetings.  The original plan, proposed last summer by then new superintendent Dr. James Morse, had 100 stakeholders meeting to discuss how to achieve the vision and mission of the district.  I have no idea how many people actually volunteered, were accepted or will attend.  I don't know if it's too late to volunteer now.

I can hear you thinking: obviously Rubine doesn't know anything, so why am I still reading?  Good point.  I do know packets were mailed out at the end of March.   I scanned the packet that  my wife received. The mailing also includes the 2013 Annual Report of the District.

Update 4/2 5:30 pm: I just got a call from someone who ought to know telling me that there were no volunteers, that the participants were selected by the Future Search committee and that if you were not invited you may not attend.  Now I really want to go.

Update 4/3 11pm: The superintendent announced at tonight's board meeting that Future Search is a posted public meeting (which enables a majority of the board to attend) and that he's prepared a table for the uninvited public.  It sounded to me like they're not really rolling out the red carpet for the uninvited but if they show up they won't be turned away.  He reported that more than 120 invited people are planning to attend.

I didn't see the words "Future Search" in the packet.  (In a comment below Julie calls it "Futures Search" which appears in the minutes from September; other times it's called "Future Search."  I think the website she refers to is  The meetings are referred to in the packet as "The ORCSD Education Planning Conference."   The cover letter states suggestions generated at the meeting will be forwarded to a "Strategic Planning Team." I hope this doesn't mean that the district is going to ignore the strategic plan generated a year and a half ago.  I'm sure many of the participants who produced that plan will be at Future Search and will do their best to not let that happen.

The packet includes a menu that looks pretty good (though "whipped topping" is worryingly vague).  It also includes information (mostly already out) about tuition students, reconfiguring the elementary schools and the Common Core standard.  Football wasn't mentioned, but I'm going to go out on a limb and bet the subject comes up.

The packet includes a "Leadership In Action" briefing series from the New England Secondary School Consortium.  I hadn't heard of them before, but they seem to be education reformers with good intentions like increasing graduation rates, decreasing dropout rates and assuring graduates are college ready.  One of their big pushes is for "Proficiency-Based Diplomas," i.e. diplomas that indicate students have demonstrated proficiency in the areas of the learning standard, rather than just having put in their time.  I guess this is what counts as progress in education.

I'll be staying home with the kids.  If I could go, I would make the following points, from the perspective of a taxpayer:

Declining enrollment means lower taxes.    For years I've been hearing what a tragedy declining enrollment is, as it will cause cost per student to increase.  It will, because there's a large fixed cost in running a school district that will be divided among fewer students.  But overall, and this is an obvious but often overlooked point, it costs less to educate fewer students.  Not proportionally less, but less.  Fewer students from the district means more slots available for revenue-generating tuition students.

Tuition students are a good deal for the taxpayers.  The real issue with declining enrollment is loss of programming.  If we want to offer our students a wide variety of subjects and electives, we need enough students so that classes are sufficiently full.  Tuition students are the solution.  Obviously they fill the available seats.  They also come with tuition, typically around $12,000 - $13,000.  That is probably below our cost per pupil (even when adjusted for transportation, special ed and other things not included in tuition), but way above the marginal or variable cost per pupil.  When you compare that to a student from the district, who imposes costs without any offsetting tuition, you can see why tuition students are a good deal.

Tuition students may affect property values.   There's one problem someone pointed out to me about the fact that tuition is lower than average cost per student.  It makes a loophole. Right now, every homeowners' property value is higher than it would otherwise be because the home is in desirable school district.   It's an important reason why homes generally cost more here than in Dover or Newmarket.  But if families realize they can get an Oyster River education more cheaply by moving to Newmarket (where houses cost less and taxes are lower compared to adjacent Durham) they're going to do that.  This will result in district property values decreasing while Newmarket's property values increase.   I don't think the problem exists as badly for Barrington (where families have to pay part of the tuition themselves) and is less acute in Deerfield, where the inconvenient distance from our high school probably attenuates the effect.  There are some mitigating factors (e.g. there's no guarantee a tuition agreement will be renewed) but it's a concern.

Not all tuition students are equal.  Maintaining property values requires we maintain and enhance the good reputation of our school district.  This in turn requires good educational outcomes: high test scores, high graduation rates, high rates of college acceptances, and so on. So it's in our interest to try to accept the best students we can.  I've heard some concern voiced about increasing the number of Barrington students, but as I think the families themselves actually pay part of the tuition these students are probably better than average, and the administration consistently reports no significant difference in the performance of the Barrington tuition students.  Newmarket's NECAP scores are very close to ours and thus accepting all Newmarket students probably wouldn't make that much of a difference in outcomes.  It's harder to separate out Deerfield as their scores are lumped together with other towns, but the percent of people with bachelor degrees is about the same in both towns (Newmarket 32.3%, Deerfield 31.7%).  Deerfield's 2009 median income was $74,041; Newmarket's was $54,712.

Well, this is getting long so I should wrap it up.  I do want to mention that a great place to start studying up on all this is Mike McClurken's report, website and tuition letters (3/8/13, 3/20/13) in Foster's.  I just mentioned percentage of bachelor degrees and income as Mike's report identifies those as key predictors of student performance.  Mike seems to have evolved his position on tuition students since his report, which argues that Barrington's tuition is too low, causing the district to lose money.  His current position is tuition students are good for the district.  I think his initial conclusion was based on the fact that tuition was set below (adjusted) average cost per pupil.   My view is for the district to make money they need to set the tuition above the marginal cost per pupil, which is much less.  In Mike's latest letter he touches on special education but doesn't mention what's in his report: the Barrington tuition agreement clearly indicates that Oyster River does not bear the cost of special education of tuition students. Foster's has covered the tuition issue here and here, among other places.

So, though Mike and I begin from opposite ends of the political spectrum, we've basically arrived at the same conclusion on the tuition issue.  We're also in a similar place on taxes (less is better), but who isn't?  I am especially grateful for Mike's thorough focus on education outcomes.  I suspect his reason is he understands how important they are to local property values.  I mainly want my children to have the opportunity for a good education, but here again we've arrived at a similar place.

Interestingly, Dr. McClurken has come out against football in Oyster River, based on cost concerns.  On this he seems abandoned by his normally fiscally conservative cohorts.  I noticed OyC'mon, which frequently calls attention to Mike's writings, failed to mention his letter to the editor in Foster's about football.  My personal issue with football is that I want the board to be fully aware of the consequences, both in safety and costs, before deciding.  Thus, I objected to attempts to prematurely approve the program and to mislead the district about costs.  I am otherwise reserving judgement until the report is presented.  Rather than a divide between spenders and cutters, this issue is splitting up more like it might in high school: jocks versus eggheads.

Let me place myself squarely on the egghead side and end with a link to Easy As Pi, some math rock by Jim Schliestett (music and lyric) and Dean Rubine (additional lyrics).  Performed by $ense for RPM 2013, Jim S. (guitar, bass, vocal), Dean R. (keyboards) and Lee Cruikshank (drums).