Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Congrats Principal Filippone, Football Fails, Field Lights Pass

It was a well-attended meeting tonight, with a packed agenda that included football, start times, field lights and a new principal.   The 13 public commenters were restricted to two minutes each.  I made my public comment and had to run to pick up my daughter, so I missed the first hour.  I'll update this post if I see anything interesting on the replay.

New ORHS Principal Suzanne Filippone

The school board approved Suzzane Filippone as the new principal of Oyster River High School.  Ms. Filippone has been Assistant Principal at Spaulding High School in Rochester since 2013.  Before that, she served four years as Dean of Students at Doane Stuart in Rensselaer, NY.

Ms. Filippone is a local -- high school at Berwick Academy, UNH grad, and she currently lives in the district.  She starts at Oyster River in July.

The process went quickly.  Former principal Todd Allen began his new role as Assistant Superintendent in January.   Advertising for the new principal began in February, with applications due March 12.  There were 27 applications, 16 judged complete, with 6 being selected by a leadership committee.  These six candidates were interviewed on March 22 by a large committee of administration, teachers, parents and a student.  I was fortunate to be part of the committee, which recommended two finalists to go forward.  A subset of the committee visited the schools of both finalists.  Both met with the student senate and faculty.  It's not clear to me how the final choice was made -- I'll guess the superintendent alone was responsible.

I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so I can't say much.  I will say that all six candidates were great, and I thought any of them would make a great principal of ORHS.  But we chose the best.  Congratulations, Principal Filippone.  Good luck in your new job.

Football Fails

At the previous meeting, Athletic Director Parker said that the board endorsing the cooperative implies the district supports a local team once the cooperative ends.   Before this revelation, the board was ready to approve the coop as a compromise that allowed students to play at Portsmouth HS without having to host a team at ORHS.

Tonight's discussion on the football coop went oddly, with member Howland immediately moving the cooperative issue be punted to the March 2017 voters.  This was amended to ask 2017 voters to approve "a football program" at Oyster River.  Members Klein and Rotner thought it was the board's decision, and shouldn't be passed to the voters.  The motion failed.

Member Day made the sensible motion to approve an application that is up front with the NHIAA that the district currently has no plans to proceed with football once the cooperative ends.  In other words, instead of punting to the voters, punt to the NHIAA.  Member Rotner, a physician, worried about medical concerns related to sudden decelerations.   Chairman Newkirk worried that the agreement will end after one year if the NHIAA moves to four divisions.  He also was concerned about Title IX costs.   Member Falwell worried a later start time will mean football players miss a lot of class.  Member Klein lamented the proposed agreement does not assure the kids a sustainable program they can invest themselves in.  The motion failed, with only Member Day voting in the affirmative.

I think it's unfortunate the kids really into football won't get to play.  My opinion is much of the problem is with the current agreement, mostly Portsmouth's intent to dissolve it as soon as they can, not with coop agreements in general.  Perhaps there will be better cooperative opportunities in the future.

Start Time Discussed

The issue of moving middle and high school start times to after 8:30 to accord with current research is heating up in the community.  I made a public comment suggesting the district collect data now, to determine both student sleep habits "before" and parent sentiment.  I also suggested a plan I call Swap60+15: Elem 7:45-2:25 MSHS 8:45-3:45.  Swap means elementary and high school starts are interchanged, 60 means 60 minutes between the start times (versus the current 75) and +15 means 15 additional minutes in the elementary school day.

The board decided to interview staff at each school and then have another workshop.  I love the staff, but didn't we survey them a couple of months ago?  (76% were in favor of change, not the 56.2% erroneously calculated.)  I'll guess some of them won't like having their schedule screwed with, and some of them will, but they'll all want to keep their jobs so will work the hours they have to.

It's the parents that are going to make the difference.   I think the board's determination of the parents' views will determine their votes.  It looks like opposition against the change is getting organized, with this petition circulating.  The debate tends to go on on the ORCSD School Start Time facebook page.

Field Ahead of Schedule, Lights Approved

Construction on the field commenced several weeks early.  The warm winter meant the ground was not frozen as expected.  This moves the expected completion date to the end of September from mid-October.  About a third of the current field is fenced off, with heavy equipment already digging out the drainage space under the new track and field.

In a surprise to me, the board approved spending excess fund balance on the lights for the field.   Business Administrator Caswell stated this will not decrease the amount of fund balance expected to be returned to the taxpayer.  The found money came from unexpectedly low health insurance costs and some budgeted salaries for positions vacant or filled at less cost than expected.

The issue came up when the contractor offered a $20,000 discount if the lights could be included in the initial construction. The lights, along with dugouts (I had previously written "bleachers" -- I'm not sure about them now), were not part of the proposal approved by the voters last month.  It was stated then that the expected $300,000 cost would be raised from community donations.  Members Barth and Farwell voted against, saying the ballot was clear and the vote recent, so this change will cause the board to lose credibility with the voters.  I expect funds for the dugouts will still be raised privately.

I have to side with Barth and Farwell on this one.   First of all, contractor utterances should be treated skeptically.  I wonder what would have happened if the board had voted themselves a $40,000 discount?

Next, the whole transaction is ill-thought out.  If my buddy wants to buy me a gift, it doesn't make any sense for me to tell him I can get it cheaper so I'll just buy it for myself.  I'm out all the money instead of getting a free gift, and my buddy never got to give me anything.  It really doesn't make sense when it's not my money I'm spending, but the taxpayers'.

Last, my pet peeve is when the board goes on a spending spree at year end with fund balance rather than returning the money to the taxpayers.  Member Day made the comment that the problem with returning the money to the taxpayers is that in two years taxes go up more than expected.    I don't really find the logic that I should pay more tax this year so I don't get a big shock next year particularly compelling.  I want the board to keep as tight a lid on spending as is reasonable every year.  Plus if they really want to smooth out tax increases, there's a reserve fund the voters authorized for that purpose in 2013.  The board could vote to put the money in that fund rather than blowing it on lights that someone else was going to pay for.

Other News

The district held a forum on grief and loss earlier in the week.  Member Barth stressed she hoped this would be first of many, and that district would focus on prevention and gun safety.

Full Day K enrollment is currently 53 Mast Way, 51 Moharimet.  Once 54 enroll at Moharimet, future enrollees will end up at Mast Way no matter where they live.  So if you want your kid to attend Moharimet Kindergarten, you better enroll them right away.

The 35 houses expected to be built at the west end of Hayes Rd. were assigned to the Mast Way school.   Neighboring elementary students on Hayes Rd. attend Moharimet.  The move is intended to aid equalization between the schools -- Moharimet is still overcrowded.  As the houses are yet to be built, there's no one to complain.

Next year's health insurance premium increase came in at 8%, a savings of $324K or .75% of the budget.  One of the budget shocks this year came when our insurers gave us budget guidance of a "guaranteed maximum" increase of 16%.  It turned out to be half that, which means more money in next year's fund balance for the board to blow.