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.