Thursday, September 25, 2014

Budget Season Approaches

It's been over five months since I've posted.  I attended most and watched all of the seven board meetings in the interim (minutes 5/7 5/21 6/4 6/18 7/16 8/20 9/3 9/17).   Mostly the board spent money over the summer -- especially on Moh Café and the new floor in Mast Way's gym, because, you know, equity.  I don't really have the time or energy for a full report, so I'm going to mostly focus on the budget here.

Newsweek ranks ORHS 110th Best High School in USA

The 2014 Newsweek rankings came out and ORHS ranked 110th out of 16,000 high schools.   This is the second highest in NH.  (We were 753 in the 2013 Newsweek rankings.)  Somehow our graduation rate percentile, whatever that is, was 67.3, which doesn't sound like the perfect record I thought we had, so maybe there's room to move up next year.  Newsweek did a second list of Top Schools for Low Income Students, to address criticism that their lists were dominated by schools with low numbers of students in poverty.  We were 279th on that list.

Principal Allen, who normally doesn't put much stock in magazine rankings, was happy to trumpet this one.  Congratulations to all the students, staff and administrators who made it happen.

Newsweek 2014 selected high school rankings, click to enlarge


Next Board Meeting 6pm 10/1 at Moharimet

The 9/3 meeting was at Mast Way and the 9/17 meeting at ORMS.  The final stop of the tour is 10/1 at Moharimet.  Note the early start time of 6pm -- apparently there will be a dedication of the new Café/Gym before the meeting proper starts, presumably at 7pm.

It's been great getting out of the high school into the other buildings for these meetings.   Great for everyone, that is, but our crack AV guy Alexander Taylor.  Alex spends around 6 hours moving, setting up and tearing down a TV studio each time.  That's not even counting the actual meeting time or the time to reassemble everything back in the high school.   Hang in there, Alex!

ORHS junior Maegan Doody, the student member of the school board, happens to be one of the top runners in New England.  This impressive young woman was recently featured as WMUR's Hometown Hero

Budget Season Approaches

The board is getting ready to prepare and pass the FY16 budget, which covers the 2015-2016 school year.   They have set a broad goal to keep top line costs growing at 3% or below.   For the last few years the board has been keeping top line growth below inflation (currently running around 1.7% this year) but didn't think they could reach that this year.

Since the normal tendency is for the budget to grow faster than inflation (school cost inflation is generally higher than consumer price inflation, see the chart below) the board and administration have to find ways to cut to achieve zero real (inflation-adjusted) growth.  Generally, this has been done by pulling rabbits out of hats -- each cycle the board or administration has to come up with something to offset the increases.  A few years ago it was the energy audit and subsequent overhaul, which cut ORHS annual fuel costs by $90K.  There was also staff reductions through retirement incentives, which cut around 14 positions, saving $1M a year.   Last year there was a large reduction in health insurance costs.

This year's rabbit could have been the LGC fraud settlement of $500K.  But instead of passing that back to taxpayers, the board and the voters decided to spend it on Moh Café.   That $500K is almost exactly the difference between a 1.7% and a 3% hike.  With the extra extra space added, Moh Café will cost more than that, which will be paid with the liquidated capital fund and the fund balance.  The fund balance is the unspent money at fiscal year end that would normally be used to reduce next year's taxes (or go into the Reserve Fund).

It doesn't sound too bad, and it's not even quite as bad as it sounds.  The increase in tuition students (done so far without additional hiring) will bring in additional tuition revenue.   This will lower taxes, even though eventually the top line will increase.   Conversely, spending down the fund balance rather than returning it to taxpayers doesn't effect the budgeted amount.  Unfortunately the district has chosen to use what I've been calling the top line of the budget, total budgeted spending, as its measure.  This means the savings from tuition dollars won't be reflected in the measure nor will the losses from spending down the fund balance.  Perhaps a better measure would be total local tax burden, which has the various revenue streams that lower local taxes (fund balance, tuition, state and federal funds, fees, etc.) subtracted out from the top line.

A Brief History of Oyster River Budgets

I've been working on this chart that shows how our budget went awry in the 2000s.   If I can find the data, I'll extend it back in time even further.  I tried to include (for admiration or blame) the person who was Chair when the budget passed, but I wasn't sure on a few.  Note that (barring resignations, which occurred a few times) the board member who gets elected chair in March of a given year will be in charge of passing the budget for the fiscal year two years hence.  So, for example "Brackett 2013" refers to the FY13 budget passed by Henry Brackett.  Chairman Brackett was (re)elected chair in March 2011, got the board to pass the budget in January 2012 (or so) and sent it through the deliberative session in February 2012.  That budget was passed by the voters in March 2012 and was in effect July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013, which is FY13.   The idea is to associate a name with the increases or declines, though in actuality the other board members and the voters have influence. To my knowledge the voters have not voted NO on a budget over this period.

All the data (except school board chair names) were derived from the NHDOE cost per pupil and valuation reports (see nhdoe).  This means I used cost per pupil (CPP) rather than the total budget.  The CPP is adjusted to remove transportation, debt service and tuition expense to make the various districts in the state more comparable.   It's not the best measure, but useful and easily available, and since we're looking at the year on year change, the various adjustments are less important.

click to enlarge

The chart shows the year on year change in the various items.  In blue is the change in the state CPP, the average it costs to educate a child in NH.  Change in ORCSD CPP is in red.  These are all in nominal (non-inflation adjusted) dollars.   Rather than adjusting for inflation, I included the inflation rate in orange -- it's been hovering around 2% for a while now (though it did drop to zero during the initial part of the financial crisis, FY2009 in the chart).   The green bars are the change in ADM, which what the state uses for enrollment.  I think it's calculated from the attendance on October 1 every year, so it tends to be a little lower than what we usually think of as the total enrollment.  Looking only at the year on year change makes that irrelevant.  (If I'm right, parents you can make your school district appear more frugal by sending your sick kids to school on October 1.)
The blue bars are state CPP.  You can think of it like the CPI, but for school costs.  Notice that it generally exceeds the CPI  (orange bars), often substantially.  Districts have definitely tightened their belts after the financial crisis, as the earlier numbers are all above 5% and the later numbers are all below 5%.

The red line is ORCSD CPP.  Since the CPP is determined not only by the amount of spending but also the number of students, I included the green enrollment measure.   If the district kept total spending constant, CPP would increase by the amount enrollment falls.  In the years 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 the increases in CPP are mitigated by enrollment decline, so the red+green (which is a proxy for change in ORCSD total spending, as it's the change in per pupil cost plus the change in enrollment) is about equal to the blue state CPP those years.  Assuming the state enrollment stayed about constant (I have to check into this) this means our boards didn't so much raise taxes faster than the state education increases as failed to cut costs in the face of declining enrollment.

Former chair Barth is responsible for last year (FY14) and the current school year (FY15).   Both years the district brought in top line spending increases at or below the inflation rate, in the face of enrollment increases.  That should continue our recent pattern of growing below the state rate, but the data isn't available yet.

In FY2001 our CPP was around 13% above the state. We got as high as 36% above the state in 2006.  Since then it's been a slow march down to 23% in FY13.  I'll guess we're now around 20% in FY15.  I'd say 5% to 10% above state CPP is where we want to be while remaining a top school in a relatively well-off community.  If we can keep our belts tight a few more years we'll get there.   The rest of the state tightening their belts makes it a slower process.

Policy IIB

The real driver of costs is staff.  The main driver of faculty size is policy IIB, which sets the number of teachers per class.  I think the current policy, irrespective of the numbers, is rather deficient.  It's short, so here it is in its entirety:

Policy IIB, click to enlarge

My main problem with policy IIB as written is that the guidelines, all of the form "not to exceed," are essentially benefits to the teachers and students.   They limit the size of classes.   The only nod to the taxpayer who has to fund all this is "classes below 12 will be brought to the attention of the Superintendent for approval."  There is very little here that attempts to limit how small classes can get, and thus, there is little limit on how large the faculty can get.

For years, I've heard from the administration and board that Policy IIB has a guideline for minimum class size of 18 (for example, here and here).  I blindly parroted this factoid until I bothered to look it up.  As anyone can see, the only mention of 18 is the maximum K guideline, and the only mention of a minimum is "below 12" requires approval.

So I would respectfully suggest guidelines of "no fewer than N students" be added to the various grades.  Or perhaps, just an ideal class size goal to aim for, neither a maximum nor minimum.  Another deficiency of the policy is it mostly silent on how small classes like shop, which have fewer than 22 workstations, can get without approval.  Furthermore, the policy also lacks guidance about what happens when the principal wants to have a class whose size is outside the bounds.  How about: the principal needs no approval for a class with one student above or below the guideline, superintendent approval is needed for a 2 student deviation and a deviation of 3 or more requires board approval.   There should be an annual report on how the actual class sizes with the guidelines.  

The policy doesn't distinguish between general and special educators, though it has been interpreted not to include special educators.  Furthermore, no mention is made for guidelines to determine the number of paraprofessionals that assist teachers.  Another thing not specified is whether the guidelines refer to each section of a multi-section class, or the average as is often assumed.  Is there a difference between required classes and electives?  These all should be clarified.

Once the form of the policy is improved, the district could have a serious discussion of the actual numbers in the policy.  Is 18 the right minimum for high school?  How will we staff up in response to enrollment growth, locally and tuition students?

We always hear that staffing is the prime driver of the budget and that the class size policy drives staffing.  I have been making the point about policy IIB not having minimum guidelines since March.  (I've had the IIB reference in the banner above since then too, as I tried to guess at the current big issues.)   So I was really disappointed by the board discussion on 9/3 which concluded that the policy IIB had been reviewed and required no changes.

It's ultimately the voters, or perhaps the board as their representatives, who should determine the tradeoff between small classes and lower taxes.   With the influx of tuition students and the surprise turn in local enrollment we will be staffing up.  This is our chance to get to our class size goals while avoiding debilitating layoffs.  If we fail to reconcile the tension between taxes and class size now it will be much more painful to do later.

Well, that's plenty for now.  Bye bye.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moh Cafe Turmoil

Moharimet Cafeteria News 

At the school board meeting, the superintendent reported that contractor bids for the Moharimet cafeteria came in over $800K, greatly exceeding the $545K estimate approved by the voters in March.  Apparently the economic downturn is over and contractors are raising prices.  An effort was made to pare back the project to bring costs back in line.  Facilities Director Jim Rozycki is handling the redesign and negotiations. Examples of changes include cheaper acoustic tiles, eliminating duplicate  HVAC work and going from 5 to 2 skylights.

In addition, there is a lot of support to increase the gym width by 10 more feet.  That's in addition to the 20 feet already approved.  Two claims were made in favor: The 50% additional space would cost only 12% more and the modification leaves Moharimet and Mast Way with about equal gym space.  The argument against is that it doesn't make sense to spend more money on space given the expected enrollment decline.

Madbury selectman Jay Moriarty relayed the town's support for the additional expansion,  saying it's OK for the district to further encroach on the town's property line and going so far as to offer town resources to help remove trees.

My guess is the board will approve the additional space at the next meeting.  The money will come from the Capital Reserve Fund opened up by the voters in March and the expected year end fund balance.

The fund balance is the unspent money already raised from the taxpayers.  By law it has to be spent this fiscal year, transferred to the Reserve Fund or given back (i.e. used to reduce next year's taxes).  The business administrator compiled a list of possible uses for the leftover money, mostly facilities maintenance from the capital improvement plan.

Strings Teacher Hired

The board approved the hiring of Andrea von Oeyen as the music teacher who'll concentrate on strings. Ms. von Oeyen has 8 years experience and is currently a teacher in Alton.  She has been involved in our OREO (Oyster River Elementary Orchestra) after school program. 

Board Goals Enumerated

Most of Wednesday's meeting was devoted to a discussion of board members' goals for the district.  All the board and many administrators spoke about their top few priorities.   Here’s my read of the most commonly mentioned ideas -- the board will presumably compile its own list soon.

Math Consultant.  Apparently our students are doing well in math class but poorly on standardized tests.

All Day K Plan.  The idea is to create a transition plan for consideration.

High School Field. Lots of support to bring this long simmering plan to fruition.

Many other goals were mentioned,  including improving teacher evaluations, later start time for middle and high school, solar power and improving areas of academic weakness. 

I'm in Florida typing this on my phone, so I'm gonna end this here.  I'll add links later.  Bye. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

4th Grade Band Nixed

4th Grade Band Cancelled

As part of a sweeping overhaul of the music department, including the addition of a strings program, the 4th grade band program has been eliminated.   I actually wrote about this two weeks ago, but apparently few read that far down on my posts.  I buried the lead then, but it's more interesting than anything that happened last Wednesday so I'm starting with it this time.

The music presentation (video, slides in the agenda), includes the following:

In addition to the presentation, the music teachers sent around a letter detailing the new program. The teachers claim the research shows that the more mature fifth graders will have more success as instrumentalists.  As the parent of a third grader I was looking forward having my boy begin a band instrument next year and I'm a bit disappointed.

Bus Accident in Madbury

There was a fair amount of news from the last meeting.  I learned that there was a bus accident in the district (Dr. Morse tells the story).  Bus driver Cindy Bushong was commended for her defensive driving which avoided a head-on collision with an out-of-control truck in Madbury on that last slushy day.  The 14 students on board were uninjured.  The superintendent himself had ordered the two hour delay that morning -- the assistant superintendent who normally handles snow days was off.

Language Teacher Reinstated

The 0.4 FTE World Language teacher position that was eliminated in the recent budget has been reinstated.  Wendy Gibson gets to keep her job because an inordinate number of students signed up for French next year.  You may recall that an effort to reinstate this position failed at the deliberative session.

Slush Fund Revealed

Where does the district get the money to pay a teacher after the budget is approved?  The superintendent revealed the health insurance budget line is used as a slush fund.  Typically a large increase is budgeted for and if the actual increase is smaller the difference can be directed as needed.   This little game resulted in the large fund balance from 2009 (I usually say $2.2 million but I've heard the superintendent say $2.8 million) which was used to lower taxes the next three or four years.

End 68 Hours of Hunger Funded

Member Maria Barth (absent due to back problems -- get well soon, Maria) and Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Eastman were commended for raising $12,000 to fund End 68 Hours of Hunger through the rest of the year.  This is a program to give underfed students food to take home for the weekend.  The fundraising largely came from a meeting with local business leaders.

Board Approves Administration Raises

The board approved about $50,000 in equity raises for administrators.  The stated rationale was to raise the pay among administrators to the top quartile in the state in order to reduce turnover.  The district suffered from a whole lot of turnover around 2012, which has quieted lately.  (Carolyn Eastman was reportedly a finalist for superintendent of SAU 50, Greenland, Newington and Rye, but she didn't get the offer.)  I mistakenly reported the raise would be $50,000 a year for two years last time -- it's $50,000 total over two years.   The superintendent was given some latitude because Director of Special Education Catherine Plourde's salary was not raised sufficiently on the approved salary schedule.

Principal Allen reported on Oyster River's success in one act play and robotics competitions, and the upcoming Todd's Trot and production of Oliver.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Congratulations Chairman Newkirk

Congratulations to Tom Newkirk, who was unanimously chosen as Chair by the ORCSD School Board last Wednesday (video). Al Howland was elected Vice Chair 6 to 1. The board includes newly seated members Denise Day and Sarah Farwell and a new student rep, a sophomore named Maegan Doody.  Meagan was recently chosen New Hampshire’s Gatorade 2013-14 Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year.  Congratulations to them all.

Maria Barth voted no on Al, having nominated Denise Day while declaring the vice chair position is best held by someone who can eventually be chair.  (Al has only one year left in his term.)  In the end, even Denise voted for Al.  Al didn't attempt to refute the idea that vice chair is training for chair, so I'm going to start the rumor here that Al is running for reelection next year with an eye on becoming chair in 2016.  You heard it here first folks because I just made it up.

Outgoing Chair Maria Barth seemed happy to pass the baton to then Vice Chair Newkirk. You may recall two years ago both Maria and Tom vied for Chair, and Tom magnanimously allowed the more experienced Maria to take the reins.  It was a time of upheaval in our district, with four new board members, a one-year interim superintendent near the end of his stint, new principals in the high school and Mast Way and lots of turnover at the assistant superintendent/director level.  Maria was the calm at the center of the storm, a farmer in Lee, a grandmother of Oyster River students who had 11 years experience as chair of the Kittery school board (they call it school committee).  To me, she was immediate relief from the seemingly unremitting irritation of the previous chair.

Then things ran smoothly.  They could have gone much worse. There was turnover for a while longer, but that seems to have long since settled down to a more typical level.  Chairman Barth and new Superintendent Morse systematically addressed the outstanding controversies in the district, to the point now where they are largely settled.   Elementary rebalancing -- approved.  Tuitioning -- approved.  Moharimet cafeteria -- approved.  Strategic Plan -- community portion done, goals approved, staff implementation plan coming along.  Two budgets under inflation -- check.  Community divided no more -- check.  At this point it seems like the outstanding major decisions are behind us and the task now becomes managing the execution of these decisions.

If Maria got into trouble anywhere, it was when she appeared to be suppressing public comment.  I have to admit I was surprised to see it from someone I'd assumed was a staunch first amendment advocate.  The first controversy was over eliminating the second round of public comments.  Eventually, the current format of public comments at the beginning and end of the meetings was adopted.  Last October, Maria interpreted policy to not allow current district employees, even teachers who live in the district, to speak at public comments.  It appears Chairman Newkirk has reversed this.

Anyway, I want to personally thank Maria profusely for her service as chair in this difficult period.  She was reluctant, but her admirable sense of civic duty led her to step up when we all needed her experience.  We're all better having watched how Maria guided us through difficult decisions with her calm, unflappable manner.  Maria can be very proud of her accomplishments as chair as she serves out the last year of her term as a regular school board member.

Let me try to quickly sum up the news from the last two board meetings.  Last Wednesday, the board unanimously voted up to $40,000 for survey, test pit and architectural drawings for new fields at the high school.   Member Barth in discussion objected that these requests come to the board in isolation, with insufficient consideration and prioritization of other outstanding uses for funds.  The plan is to fund-raise half the $2.4M budget (about $300K already raised) and have the district supply the rest. The intent is to aim for a bond vote, perhaps as early as next March.

The superintendent pitched pay-equity raises for district administrators, around a $50,000 budget increase (0.12%) for each of the next two years (and paid forever thereafter, of course).  I think it's on the agenda for the next meeting.    The board unanimously approved retirement incentives.  I don't think the amount was specified, but last time I recall it was up to a $20,000 bonus to teachers and staff who chose to retire.  Some concern was expressed about overusing this incentive.

An enthusiastic music department presented the new Oyster River music curriculum.  The surprising thing was no more 4th grade band!  Chorus will now be mandatory.  I think there are going to be a few shocked third grade parents -- I know I'm one. The teachers cited research on the benefits of starting band at the middle school level.  Elementary students would be getting more music instruction time and there were ensemble opportunities for young students getting private lessons. All students will be offered guitar in 8th grade. The preponderance of effort seemed aimed at the middle school, with significant increase at the high school too.

Principal Allen urged Friday, June 13th as graduate day.  With snow still expected this spring, the board wisely did not take up the matter immediately.

At the previous meeting the police reviewed changes to the emergency response plan in the hopper (video).  In the new protocol, called ALICE, during certain events as much information as possible is spread in clearly understood language and staff are given discretion to leave the building with children if they judge they can do so safely.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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

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

Congratulations to Richard Laughton, who won handily for moderator.

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

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

Newmarket voted down the new high school.

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

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

Total ballots: 1,588

Article 1: Moderator

  Richard Laughton 1,290
  Write-in          3

Article 2: Two at-large school board seats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidate Denise Day with Jean and Annie in Lee

Candidate Sarah Farwell in Durham

Sarah and Sarah

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

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

View from the road in Lee

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's Election Day, Tuesday March 11, 2014

Today is Tuesday, March 11, 2014. It's Election Day in the Oyster River Cooperative School District.

I'm a busy voter; tell me what you think I should do. Vote today at your regular polling place for Denise Day and Sarah Farwell for school board. Vote YES on all the YES/NO school district questions, approving the new teacher's contract (question 3), approving a Moharimet Cafeteria (questions 4 and 5), approving the 10 year tuition agreement with Barrington (question 6) and approving the $39.3M school board budget (question 7).

Well, I have a little time to read. Familiarize yourself with the ballot by reading ORCSDcleanslate's Voting Guide for the 2014 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election.  It has explanations and links about the candidates and ballot questions.  Here's my endorsement of Denise Day and Sarah Farwell.

Why should I believe you when you tell me who to vote for?   I'm really just telling you who I'm voting for and why.  In my mind, this is not a good versus evil school board race like two years ago.  It's been an incredibly uneventful election cycle. It's pretty tough to find a substantive difference between the candidates' positions on issues. I went with the candidates that had by far the longest history and experience with the district. I think this year showed how such district experience could be of value.  So often this year we ended up with solutions based on our history, like redrawing the bus line and exempting families or tuitioning in more Barrington students.

The third candidate, Michael Williams, is an engineer and parent who first got involved with the board last summer during the elementary reconfiguration decision.  I welcome him.  He seems to have good intentions. I'll comment obliquely on his run by saying I too am an engineer who got passionately invested one summer and involved with the election the next March.   I was fortunate to get to know many of the current board members as candidates.  I have a good basis for comparison when I say Sarah and Denise will certainly be better board members than I could have been at that time.

What about the YES/NO Warrant Articles?  I'm voting YES on all of them.  I'm worried the Moharimet Cafeteria might not pass, as there doesn't seem to be an active campaign to drum up votes.  I think the Barrington tuition agreement is about as gradual an evolution from the status quo as you could hope for, but there are people out there who think there are bad consequences once the 125 student mark is reached and ORHS becomes Barrington's school of record.

What's next? The results of the election should be announced around 9pm tonight.  I'll post them here as soon as I can.  Check FORE -- they're diligent and they'll post immediately.

Are there any other websites for information?

 As much as I'd like to service all your Oyster River School Board needs, don't forget about FORE and Oyster River (and their associated Facebook page). There's not too much excitement about the election at the district's site  The last week of Foster's opinion has a few Oyster River letters, and lots of agonizing over building a new school over in Newmarket.

Anything else?  Happy Election Day. Go vote. Bring some friends.

Dean Rubine, Lee

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Voting Guide for the 2014 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election

 This is the 2014 Guide.  Clear here for the 2015 Guide.

ORCSDcleanslate busy voter guide: Vote for Denise Day and Sarah Farwell for school board and YES on all the school district questions.

This is my annual guide to the 2014 Oyster River School District election.  I call it a biased guide, because in addition to (I hope fairly) explaining each warrant article, I tell you how I'm going to vote and why, which is the biased part.  I hope it's useful even to people who don't agree with me, but if you just want to see the unadulterated ballot click here.  I'll try not to pontificate too long on each question, instead providing links to source documents and previous posts to those interested in digging deeper.

Election day in Oyster River is this Tuesday, March 11th.   If you're a citizen over 18 who lives in Lee, Madbury or Durham, 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 new voter ID law you can vote even if don't bring those.

Your 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.
Madbury: Town Hall                         11:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

As always, voters in each town are given identical school district ballots.  Let's go through the ballot questions, also known as the warrant articles.

Articles 1 & 2: Elect a Moderator and Two School Board Members

Article 1 elects the moderator -- there's one choice, take your pick.  Last year as a kind of joke reaction to what I thought was a badly-run deliberative session, I showed a sample ballot with a former board member's name written in for moderator.  I think she got 14 votes.

This year's deliberative session ran much better.  A touching bond developed between the audience and the moderator, as tributes were repeated paid to his mother-in-law, beloved citizen Shirley Thompson, who recently passed away.  This year I'm urging everyone to enthusiastically vote for Mr. Laughton.

Article 2 chooses two school board members to replace departing members Ann Lane and Megan Turnbull, both of whom declined to run for reelection.  It's been an incredibly calm election season this year as no material differences between the candidates' positions have been uncovered.  I've decided to go with the two people who have by far the most experience with the district, Denise Day and Sarah Farwell.  You can read my endorsement here.

The February 17th candidate forum is available online but unfortunately Mr. Williams did not attend.  All three candidates were at the student candidate forum last Wednesday, but the video has not been posted online yet.   It is however being broadcast on our new cable channel, Comcast channel 95 pretty often: 11am, 3pm, 5pm, 11pm and the middle of the night.  Here's the questionnaire the Teacher's Guild gets the candidates to answer.   You can check out the candidates' websites, and (Full disclosure: I helped Denise and Sarah get their websites going.)

Article 3: Approve the 3 year teacher contract just negotiated

Article 3 ratifies the new 3 year teachers' contract negotiated recently.  The Guild and the district came to a pretty fair agreement, so I'm voting YES.  I'm not sure what happens if a majority the district votes NO  -- probably they have to go back to the negotiating table.

The contract contains an additional raise for teachers at the highest rung in the pay latter.  This is significant because most of the teachers in the district are at their highest step.  The effect is to make their pay go up 2.0-2.3% annually instead of the 1.7% you might guess as the average of the three percentage increases.

If we want our salaries to grow at the nominal rate shown in the contract we need to replace teachers leaving from the highest step with new teachers hired at lower steps.  This doesn't have much to do with the warrant article directly, which I support.

Articles 4 & 5: Build a Moharimet Cafeteria

I put articles 4 and 5 together as they really should be voted as a pair:  Vote YES on both if you want to spend around $545,000 to build a Moharimet cafeteria and NO on both if you don't.  I'm voting YES on both.

The complications (two articles, confusing wording) arose from the funding of the cafeteria.   $500,000 or so is expected to come from a statewide fraud settlement with our health insurance broker LGC.   The rest comes from a Capital Reserve Fund with around $100,000 in it.

Article 5 doesn't mention the cafeteria in case it passes and the article 4 doesn't.  The dollar in article 4 adds the line to the current (FY14) budget and allows construction to begin immediately after passage.

Moharimet has suffered without a cafeteria for a long time, and deserves one.   They especially need it in this period of overcrowding.

While it's technically true that no new tax dollars are being appropriated for the cafeteria, if the article fails the LGC settlement will go into the fund balance and lower your taxes around 1.4% for one year.

Article 6: Approve a 10 year tuition agreement with Barrington

The tuition agreement was probably the major decision taken by the board this year.  I was mostly in favor of the Newmarket option, which would have provided the most tuition students and thus the biggest break to district taxpayers.   The difficulty would be swallowing 250 new Newmarket tuition students in the first year.  There were some trouble with the negotiations that made me doubt it would work out with Newmarket and in the end all that was moot -- the new enrollment projects implied a substantial probability that if we took Newmarket students enrollment would exceed the 915 capacity under current board policy (max 22 per class).

So the board chose Barrington.  As we currently take 70 Barrington tuition students and the contract stipulates they will not increase the number more than 20% per year, the transition will be much smoother.  That's great for the students and teachers, but a bit disappointing to the taxpayers, who aren't going to see much of difference for a while.  The contract also has a minimum number of students that Barrington pays for:

The basic plan is to take at most five years to ramp up from 70 to 125 students, then maintain a level between 125 and 200, an increase from current levels of between 55 and 130 students.   This assures we have a sufficient student body to offer a wide array of electives.   Barrington gets a good tuition rate and preserves Oyster River as one of it's high school choices, we get a guarantee of additional tuition students, additional income and (slightly) lower taxes and the students get more electives.   Win win win.

There's not much downside to the deal.  It's possible (but I think unlikely) we might get more tuition income negotiating year to year than with this long term agreement.  My worry, which I've been assured by the superintendent several times is unfounded, is the tuition charged will actually decrease after the first year (much more of a concern with Newmarket than Barrington).  We might want to hold out for Newmarket, who may vote down a new school this year and be in the market to tuition out their kids again in a few years.  But the Barrington deal is real and it's now and we should ratify it.

Foster is running this article about the tuition agreement today.   They always miss the point that when comparing this year's and other schools' tuition to the $14,000 in the deal being voted on that the $14,000 includes (most) special education while the other numbers don't.

Let's go through the fairness question for what is hopefully the last time.  The complaint is that we're only charging $14,000 for the same seat local taxpayers pay around $17,000 for, which isn't fair. There was a false argument that we're losing money because of this, but the truth is it costs us significantly less than $14,000 to serve each incoming tuition student (because we don't pay for any more heat or principals or custodians, etc.) and that difference goes to lowering local taxes.  I don't think there was a financial analysis done of the final deal, but earlier presentations showed an additional cost of $10,000 to $11,000 per incoming tuition student and thus a savings to local taxpayers of $3,000 to $4,000 per student.  So while it might not be fair, it's a good deal for local taxpayers as well as for students and for Barrington.  I think the cost estimates are high and could be tightened, but that's something we can work on in the year ahead.

There was a letter March 3 in Foster's urging a NO vote that was full of bad information. "If we accept 200 or more Barrington tuition students, they will be a majority town at ORHS." I'm not sure what a majority town is, but we currently have 600 local district students in the high school, most from Durham, along with 70 Barrington students.  The agreement says we won't go over 200, so "or more" can't happen, and we probably won't get that close to 200 as Barrington's model requires parents choose ORHS from among three high schools and pay the difference between ORHS's and Dover's tuition themselves.  Ramping up an additional 55 tuition students over five years isn't going to change ORHS much at all.   The letter expresses concern that bad enrollment projections might lead to an overcrowded state, but the current projection of around 250 available seats to handle a maximum of 130 new students (probably much fewer) gives us a comfortable margin.

Article 7: Approve the $39.3 million budget

Article 7 is the budget. It's confusing, but the default budget (what we get if "NO" wins) is only for Fund 10, and thus represents a cut of $550K, around 1.4%.   I'm voting YES -- the board and administration did a great job holding the nominal growth of costs to 1.7%, below the inflation level (a reduction in real terms).  Despite attempts to add SROs and add back a language teacher and a paraprofessional, the board-passed budget was left unchanged at the deliberative session.

I always say the default budget is what we get if "NO" wins, but that's a bit of an oversimplification.   If NO wins, the board could choose to pass another budget and have another election.   If it doesn't (or the voters vote the new budget down too and we don't have another vote) we get the default budget.

The budget usually passes in Oyster River, though a couple of years ago it was kinda close.  I think the board has done a great job of turning things around the last couple of years, and I hope that is reflected in a big YES vote for the budget on election day.

Foster's just published the superintendent's message to voters which is somewhat similar to this guide.  Typos: "0.08%" should read "0.8%" and "mount" should read "amount."  More worrisome is the misleading implication on the default budget, which you know is only for Fund 10, so a NO vote reduces the budget by $550K (1.4%), not the $1.8M (4.6%) implied in the message.   I also don't agree with the explanation of the one amendment that passed the deliberative session.

See you all at the polls Tuesday. Vote Day and Farwell!

Day and Farwell for School Board

Election day is Tuesday March 11th, just a few days from today.  I want to urge everyone in Oyster River to vote for Sarah Farwell and Denise Day to fill the two at-large school board seats.  Both Sarah and Denise have extensive experience with the district, making each the right choice to win a school board seat this year.

Sarah Farwell

Sarah Farwell is the long-time co-chair of the PTO of Mast Way.  She's a former teacher whose three children attend Mast Way and ORMS.  As a Mast Way parent the last five years, it's been unsettling to me to have had three different principals.  Fortunately, there has always been Sarah there helping out.

Under her guidance, the PTO purchased items for teachers that wouldn't fit in the school budget, including sets of readers, a whiteboard and a Promethean board.  Sarah is behind the scenes at most every PTO event, organizing volunteers and providing the knowledge and experience so they can do their work.  She's served as a parent representative on two principal hiring committees, visiting candidates' schools, hosting their visits to Mast Way and participating in the excellent choices made.

When she's not running the PTO, you can usually find Sarah volunteering in the library or classroom at Mast Way or the middle school.  If you can't, look out the window -- she's probably doing the landscaping.   Or training middle schoolers to compost.  Or something else that is just making things better for the students, teachers and staff around her.  Sarah has been an incredibly positive force advocating for our children, parents and teachers and I am sure as a school board member she will continue to be so.

I've been posting on the district since the beginning of 2012.  Before becoming a candidate, Sarah Farwell showed up twice, each time with pictures!  Here's a story I wrote about the search that led us to Principal Carrie Vaich and here's a story about last election day.

Denise Day

I met Denise Day during the myriad controversies several years ago: a principal quitting in disgust, a botched principal search that led to a student walkout, a board member's hateful tweets discovered and illegal meetings to swap superintendents uncovered.  It was a pretty crazy, intense time in the district that if you ever cared to you could read all about by starting from the beginning of this blog and reading the first 15 or 20 posts.  There's nothing quite like a school board run amok to arouse the citizenry, and that was what got me and apparently Denise interested.

For as long as I've known Denise, she has always been the voice of reason, intelligence and calm.  This is of course especially valuable when emotions were running so high during the controversies.  Since then, we've both been regulars at school board meetings.  Denise has impressed me with her knowledge of the issues and with her ability to make insightful public comments, usually urging prudent and careful consideration with an eye toward how things were handled in the past.   Along with her deep grasp of issues in the district, Denise possesses a calm demeanor that is well suited to handling the many hot potatoes the board will have to deal with.  She is already shown herself to be a valuable part of the board discussion, as you can tell from her public comments. I especially like how she often asks what we can learn from events and how we can improve.  Denise has demonstrated she's ready for a seat at the table.

As a parent, Denise has experienced every grade Oyster River has to offer, as her son completed K through 12 here.  Denise was active in the PTOs all through her son's education, and, incredibly, still attends high school PTO meetings.  Her knowledge of the district goes all the way back to the mid 1990s.  Professionally, Denise has relevant experience from her current position as a supervisor for Strafford County Head Start and from a 7 year stint as a middle school counselor.  We are very fortunate to have such a qualified candidate as Denise Day.

Denise too has appeared in before becoming a candidate (here and here).


I don't mean to imply anything bad about the third candidate in the race, Michael Williams.   I don't know him very well.  He is a relative newcomer to the district.  One silver lining of turmoil like from the elementary reconfiguration decision is that it inspires good folks like Mr. Williams to get the idea to serve.  I welcome him.  While I believe that Sarah and Denise each bring knowledge of the district that make them superior candidates this cycle, I look forward to perhaps supporting Mr. Williams for school board in the future.

Sarah and Denise are known quantities, and known to be very good.   Unfortunately, we know much less about Mr. Williams, who missed the Candidates Forum on February 17 and did not attend last night's board meeting, the last before the election.   He seems pretty busy with a brand new baby and a job that requires travel.  Mr. Williams did attend yesterday's Student Candidate Forum, and I've asked the video folks to post it while it's timely. I'll post a link if they do.

It's been a relatively pleasant couple of years since Chairman Barth took the reins as chair.  The recent controversies surrounding football, tuition students and elementary school reconfiguration were passionately debated, but without the severe rancor that characterized the aforementioned tweet-era controversies.  After a sometimes long process the board reached the correct decisions.

 I'll point out that the decisions each were resolved in accordance with our history.  Redraw with family exemption is the district's traditional response to an elementary school imbalance.    We already take Barrington tuition students, and the decision to slowly ramp up and take more is really just a continuation and expansion of the status quo.  Similarly, the district has said no to football in the past and did so again last year.   I believe it's usually best when the district does things the way it has in the past (and thus reasonably expected by the public to do it that way again).

Sarah and Denise will help by bringing their long experience with the district to bear on future problems.  In the process, they will continue to unify and heal the community.  I urge you to vote for them on Tuesday.  

[A 350 word version of this essay was sent to  There's a fair amount to say about last night's board meeting, the last one for the current board, but I'll save that for another post.  You can watch here or on our new cable channel, channel 95, which is all Oyster River School District.  Durham keeps channel 22 all to itself. ]

Sunday, February 23, 2014

We Met the Candidates

Well, two out of three anyway.  Last Monday night about 17 citizens gathered to question the three candidates for two at-large school board seats, Denise Day, Sarah Farwell and Michael Williams.   Unfortunately Mr. Williams was traveling in Italy for work and could not attend.  His wife Laura read a statement then left the podium.  Three board members, Tom, Kenny and Ed, were in the audience.

You may watch the entire one hour meeting here:

I didn't find anything particularly surprising in the answers to the questions.  Rather than try to recap the meeting, I will direct everyone to the candidates' nascent websites,, and  (Full disclosure: I helped Denise and Sarah get their websites going.)

Here's a picture from the event.

Mr. Williams kindly sent me a new photo to replace the school board video frame I used before.  I also have pictures from Ms. Day and Ms. Farwell.   Here's the updated poster for the meeting that's already happened:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meet the Candidates Tomorrow

Tomorrow (Monday, February 17) you can meet and question the candidates for Oyster River school board. The meeting is 7pm in ORHS C124, the regular board meeting room.

The candidates for the two at-large seats are

Denise Day – Durham
Sarah Farwell – Lee
Michael Williams – Durham

Most of you school board watchers out their are familiar with Denise, whose son graduated Oyster River a few years ago and who's been speaking up at school board meetings the last few years. Sarah's been running the Mast Way PTO with Sarah Miner for years now.  I don't know much about Michael Williams.  He started showing up this summer (with his wife, and lately, with a very cute new baby) as the elementary reconfiguration issue came to the fore.  If I recall correctly, Mr. Williams was generally against K-2/3-4 and for a more prudent, structured decision making process.

I'm sure I'll see you all at the Meet The Candidates event.  Hot topics are sure to include: elementary school resolution, the tuition deal, cost savings next year and beyond, evolution, world language, SROs in the elementary schools and maybe even football.

I've collected their mug shots here to remind you who they are.  See you there.

Denise Day
Michael Williams
Sarah Farwell

I've made a poster for the event:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Budget Unchanged in Pleasant Deliberative Session

In a strong show of support to the current board and administration, the warrant approved by the school board was left almost entirely unchanged by the voters at last night's deliberative session.  I'm happy to report that this year the approximately 110 voters present understood that the idea was to propose amendments.  About a half dozen amendments were proposed, and discussion was generally short and to the point.

The crew was there with a bunch of cameras so I'm sure pretty soon the meeting will be on YouTube/ORCSDvideo and probably on DCAT, too.

Moharimet Cafeteria Costs Explained

In the end, only David Taylor's "technical" amendment passed: Article 4 was changed to make clear the estimate for the Moharimet cafeteria rehab is $545,000, of which $500,000 is expected from the LCG fraud settlement.  It's unclear why the superintendent reduced the estimate from the $560,000 previously stated.  It's still unclear about what happens if Article 4 passes and Article 5 fails, leaving us $45,000 short of the estimated cafeteria cost.

Last September the initial, very round guess reluctantly offered by the superintendent was the district would retain $500,000 of the LGC settlement.  This was the estimate of the fraction of the $688,555 LGC settlement that did not have to go back to employees (who too overpaid in their past contributions to their health insurance).   It implies employees paid 27% of their own premium, which seems high, so we may have more money coming.  In any case, it's odd to me that the estimate of what has to be a pretty involved calculation of figuring out which current and past employees get a rebate has not been sharpened since last summer.

Ruth Sample proposed amending the explanation to make it clear that the outcome of the vote will have an effect on your taxes.  If the Moharimet Cafeteria was not built, the LGC refund will make it into the fund balance (the money the district could have but didn't spend) and reduce next year's taxes 1.4%.  But the moderator told Ruth it was not permissible to amend the explanations, only the articles, and that the explanations would not appear on the ballot in March.  This was a surprise to me.

Another amendment, which proposed that $545,000 be the maximum we could expend on the cafeteria project, failed.

All Other Amendments Failed

As predicted, district parent and former board member Ann Wright proposed adding back Wendy Gibson, the 0.4 FTE Spanish teacher.   This was the closest vote of the night.   After two tries counting, the moderator declared the amendment failed.

Parent Lindsay Raynes proposed about $52,000 to add SROs (police) to Moharimet and Mast Way.  This was resoundingly defeated by voters present.  The discussion against was divided between those who did not want police in elementary schools and those who thought the current effort was hasty and required more planning.

I predicted those amendments. In the not-predicted category:

Someone proposed adding back the high school "Building Paraprofessional" for, if I recall, $32,000.  Bad prep work -- the actual amount according to the budget presentation was $24,582.  The building para seems to have many jobs, including nurse's assistant.  Failed resoundingly.

Someone proposed adding a full day Kindergarten pilot program to Mast Way for $75,000, to commence this coming fall.   Failed resoundingly.

Shirley Thompson Remembered

There were touching moments as Shirley Thompson was remembered.  Shirley, Oyster River's long-time paragon of citizenship, passed away last Friday.  Coincidentally, Shirley is moderator Richard Laughton's mother-in-law.  On behalf of the family, Mr. Laughton warmly thanked the community for their affection and support.

Last year, Shirley counted votes at the deliberative session.   That turned out to a pretty demanding job.  Shirley was truly missed at last night's deliberative session.


All in all I find this a very strong show of support for the current board and administration.  All substantive changes to the board-approved warrant were rejected by the voters.

Although there were stark differences of opinions on the various proposals, the discussion always remained professional, respectful and pleasant.   Refreshingly, the divisiveness and rancor observed in the last two deliberative sessions was absent this time around.

Unlike last time, all three candidates for school board were present last night.  The three candidates running for the two at-large school board seats are:

Denise Day – Durham
Sarah Farwell – Lee
Michael Williams – Durham

Stayed tuned for more on the coming election soon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Deliberative Session Postponed to 7pm Friday Feb 7.

I just got an AlertNow call saying that due to the weather the Deliberative Session has been postponed to Friday, February 7, 7pm ORHS Auditorium.

This gives you a couple of more days to read my guide to the DS.

The announcement is exasperating, as the snow date Thursday February 6 has been on the district's calendar for a while.

This annoys me as yet another example of the district's prepared response to a foreseeable problem abandoned once the problem actually occurs.

Last April, when snow days forced a one week delay in graduation to June 14, the resultant outcry led the board to petition the New Hampshire Secretary of Education for permission to move graduation back to the original date June 7.  Even though the permission was granted, the board and administration came to their senses and had graduation June 14, the date dictated by the rules in place.

The district has traditionally redrawn the bus dividing line, exempting existing families when an imbalance in elementary school enrollment develops.  This time around the superintendent and board embarked into an exploration of modern elementary education theory, really rankling the community for a good 9 months.  In December they came to their senses and redrew the line, exempting existing families.

I think it's important to operate the district on some sort of principle of least surprise.  If there's a plan in place, there has to be a strong reason not to use it.  To do otherwise disrespects the people who bother to pay attention and plan according to advance notice the district provides.

I was told earlier the moderator and lawyer were unavailable for the Feb 6 snow date.  I don't know if was just bad planning with the lawyer.  You'd think the lawyer would assure they or a suitable substitute could make the snow date if necessary. The moderator is Richard Laughton, who is Shirley Thompson's (post) son in law. Shirley's memorial services include visiting hours Thursday, 6-8pm.  My deepest sympathy goes out to our moderator and Shirley's entire family.

New Hampshire law RSA40:3 allows for a pro tem moderator to be appointed if necessary.

See you Friday.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Guide to the February 5, 2014 Deliberative Session

The Deliberative Session is tomorrow, Wednesday February 5, 7pm at the ORHS auditorium.  Since it looks like there's a storm coming it's important to note the snow date is Thursday, February 6, same time and place.  I've been informed that the lawyer and moderator are not available on the snow date, so the deliberative session is likely to happen on Wednesday, even if the weather is iffy.

As I've explained before, the Deliberative Session is a real election in which voters present get to amend the warrant articles (ballot questions) which will be voted on by the full district Tuesday, March 11.    I expect amendments proposed to add SROs (police) to the elementary schools and to add back the cut 0.4 FTE World Language teacher.  Last year only around 120 people showed up, so each vote counts a lot.

FORE just explained the nuts and bolts of the DS, so I won't repeat that here.  Here is the warrant from the minutes of the last school board meeting.  I think a slightly modified warrant is slated to be the starting point for the Deliberative Session (click to enlarge).


The DS warrant is slightly changed from the one presented at the January 14 budget hearing.  I personally don't think the board should have modified the warrant after presenting it to the public.  Instead, they should have saved any modification needed for the deliberative session.

I've explained the warrant before, and I will again as we get closer to election day.  A quick summary: Article 1 elects the moderator, who is running unopposed.  Article 2 elects two at-large school board members (three people have declared, so it's a real race again this year.)  Article 3 approves the contract negotiated with the teachers -- I don't think the public can amend that one as it reflects a previously negotiated deal. 

Article 4 is the confusing one, appropriating one dollar to build a Moharimet Cafeteria.  The one dollar is really permission to go ahead. The renovation is expected to cost $560,000 of which $500,000 will come from the LGC fraud settlement.  Article 5 authorizes the approximately $100,000 Capital Reserve Fund to be transferred to the general fund, to fund the balance of the cafeteria as well as Middle School HVAC upgrades.  The two articles are written in the confusing way they are in case one passes and the other fails.  I suspect the board may ask to amend these to articles to add explanations which clarify things.

Article 6 is the ratification of the tuition agreement with Barrington.  It represents a negotiated contract which has to be approved by the voters of both districts (ORCSD & Barrington), so I do not believe it can be amended at the deliberative session.

Article 7 is the budget.  It's confusing, but the default budget (what we get if "NO" wins) is only for Fund 10, and thus represents a cut of $550K, around 1.4%. 

The buzz is that there are likely to be two amendments to article 7 proposed.

Amendment SRO:  At the January 15th board meeting Madbury parent Lindsay Rains and board member Megan Turnbull discussed adding $50,000 to the budget for the purpose of hiring School Resource Officers (policemen) for Moharimet and Mast Way.    I personally am against this amendment, as there appear to be no evidence that it makes kids safer, but there is evidence that it increases the criminalization of student misbehavior.  It also is insufficient, as ORMS and ORHS currently share an SRO, so by this logic we would need 3 for $75,000.

Amendment LANG: Last December, the administration and board cut 0.4 FTE (i.e. a part time) language teacher from the budget, for a savings for $31,517.   The justification was that this brought the language department up to compliance with the board class size policy of 18 to 22.   Former board member Ann Wright wrote the following on her facebook page;

I hope everyone comes to the ORCSD Deliberative Session and votes to KEEP Wendy Gibson (yes, the .4 Spanish teacher has a name!). She is an amazing teacher who has never been afraid to email or CALL me when she thought my son was having problems and even when he was doing well. We cannot lose teachers like her. Read this, and understand the importance of teachers who CARE!  
So I'm guessing Ann will propose adding $31,517 to the budget for a 0.4 FTE world language teacher.  I'm going to vote NO and support the board and administration's attempt to live up to their stated policy.  There was a long discussion of the issue on January 15.

See you all there tomorrow, weather permitting.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Shirley Thompson, Beloved Citizen, Dies

Shirley Thompson, well loved local citizen, passed Friday, according to the January 31, 2014 Durham Friday Update.  Shirley served on the ORCSD school board, including as chair, in the mid-2000s.   But that was just one of a long list of elected and volunteer service to which Shirley Thompson selflessly dedicated her life.  I'm sure I speak for many when I thank Shirley for all the great things she's done for the town and the district, and for her wonderful example of how to live.

At the school board meeting on December 18, 2013 Shirley announced  that she and her daughter have given a "sizable check" to the Track Fund.  I was lucky to be there, but you can watch it here:

Here are some links:

Shirley's Track Fund Donation

December 18, Shirley Thompson gives a sizable check to the track fund.  (same video as above) 1:34-4:08

January 8.  Kenny thanks Shirley Thompson 7:07-8:01

January 15 Todd & Board thank Shirley and offically accept the gift.  31:07-33:00

Shirley Around Town 

Shirley Thompson Grand Marshall of the Durham Fire Department Parade, July 2011

Shirley Thompson  Assistant Moderator, Election Day March 2012. By the way, I think Ruth Sample deserves a lot of credit for the increased turnout on March 13, 2012.

Shirley Thompson, Oyster River School Board wins New Hampshire School Board of the Year, 2006.   Serves with Joann Portolupi, chair and a bearded David Taylor.

Durham will post funeral arrangements on Friday Update soon.