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.