Monday, March 20, 2017

Day and Williams win, Football loses

The school district election results are in, combining the results from Durham on Tuesday, Madbury on Thursday and Lee on Saturday.  To no one's surprise, the two candidates for the two school board seats both won.  Congratulations to returning board member Denise Day and new board member Michael Williams.  We wish you both good luck over your three years terms. There's a school board meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, 3/22/17, but with the delayed voting, it's not clear that Denise and Michael will be certified in time to vote at that meeting.

Congratulations to Richard Laughton, reelected moderator after running unopposed for the umpteenth time.  Congratulations to the board and the district administration for all their articles passing by wide margins.  Thanks to outgoing board member Sarah Farwell, who chose not to run for reelection, for her excellent service over the last three years.  Thanks to outgoing student board member Troy LaPolice, for his always informative contributions to the discussion over the last year.

Turnout was around 1808 (the maximum votes for any question), relatively low for our district, which usually attracts between 2000 and 3000 voters, depending on how contested the district and town elections are.  The dearth of contested races on both the district and town ballots, together with the disruptions caused by the storm, are presumably responsible for low turnout.

Really the only controversial question on the district ballot was article 8, pertaining to football.  You'll recall during an acrimonious deliberative session it was amended to read:
Shall Oyster River High School continue to provide a large range of athletic programs, excluding football?
I really only ever saw the folks in favor of football campaigning.  (That's not totally true, I just remembered a letter to the editor against football from Dr. Bob Barth.)  Nonetheless, the district voted YES by a wide margin, 1315 YES versus 422 NO.  That's 76% YES, 24% NO, a rejection of football by a large margin of 52%.  I'd like to think this puts the issue to rest for a while; we'll see.

Thanks to Lee voters for voting down the SB2 repeal by a large margin.

There's not much to say about the rest of the district ballot.  I'll include without comment the unofficial results as reported by the superintendent.  My previous post includes the exact text of the ballot.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Voting Guide for the 2017 Oyster River Cooperative School District Election

ORCSDcleanslate busy voter guide: Election Day is Tuesday, March 14 in Durham, Thursday, March 16 in Madbury and Saturday March 18 in  Lee. Vote for Denise Day and Michael Williams for school board (there are two candidates for two seats) and YES on articles 3 through 7.  If you want football in the district, vote NO on article 8.  If you do not want football in the district, vote YES on article 8.

Lee voters, please vote NO on Lee article 5, to keep Lee an SB2 town.  A YES win changes Lee back to town meeting governance, as opposed to the current form, where there's a Deliberative Session in February to amend the ballot, and then articles are voted on on Election Day in March.

STORM UPDATE, Monday 7:02 pm  There's a big snow storm predicted for tomorrow.  As of now, Accuweather has it starting in the morning, 8 am. The NH Secretary of State's position is that postponing the election may subject the results to legal challenges.  Two of our three towns have decided to postpone.

Durham says their elections are ON!   The police are offering to drive folks to the polls Tuesday.  That seems iffy to me given that the major question on the Durham ballot is about an upgrade to the police station.  

Madbury says their election will be Thursday, 11 - 7:30, with town meeting commencing at 7 pm.

Lee has postponed, moving their election to Saturday, 7 am to 7 pm.

ORCSD has cancelled school for Tuesday due to weather.

Click to enlarge these official statements from the towns and the district.



District News

Passing of the torch: Board approves David Goldsmith as new principal of Moharimet

There hasn't been much news since my last post. The board has approved David Goldsmith as the new principal of Moharimet.  Mr. Goldsmith  (application here) is currently the Assistant Principal of the K-5 Stratham Memorial School in Stratham. He lives in Durham and has two children attending Moharimet, though one will be in the middle school next fall when Mr. Goldsmith takes over. He has 13 years experience as a teacher. Before Stratham, Mr. Goldsmith was a teacher in the Horne Street Elementary School in Dover and a professor at Franklin Pierce University. (NH1 story)

Dennis Harrington is retiring after 49 years as an educator.  He recently achieved his two long time goals of getting Moharimet a cafeteria and getting full day Kindergarten in the district.  Dennis is of course greatly loved in the community.  I'm sure there will be an event or two celebrating his career before he retires in July.

Election Guide

This is my annual guide to the 2017 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, which is the biased part.  It's going to be relatively brief this year as I don't have a lot of time.

Voting Information

Election day in Oyster River is this Tuesday, March 14th. If you're a US 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 voter ID law you can vote even if don't bring those.

Your polling place and voting times depend on where you live:

Durham (Tuesday):     Oyster River High School 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Lee (Saturday):           Public Safety Complex 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Madbury (Thursday): 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.

Article 1 (but not really labeled so):

Article 1 elects the district moderator.  As far as I can tell, the only real duty of the moderator is to run the deliberative session in February.  (I often see Mr. Laughton running between polling places on election day, so the moderator may have some responsibilities then as well.)   For as long as I've been paying attention it's been Richard Laughton, and as he's the only one running, the trend will continue.

Article 2 (again unlabeled)

Article 2 elects two of seven school board members to three year terms.  Only two candidates are running, but please mark their ovals.  Denise Day has been on the board for three years, and has done a wonderful job. She currently serves as Vice Chair.    Michael Williams (website) ran three years ago and lost to Denise and Sarah Farwell.  Sarah isn't running for reelection, so now's the time to thank her for her fantastic service.  Michael is a great candidate, an engineer with a Masters from Stanford and three young children, two at Moharimet and one soon to enter PEP.   

Here is the guild questionaire answered by both candidates.  Unfortunately due to technical difficulties there's no video of Candidates Night.  I was there along with a few others.  There were actually about as many people in the camera crew as audience members, and it looked like they were recording with multiple cameras, so I don't really get how this failed.  The plan was for the Candidates to rerecord their answers without an audience, but I haven't seen anything posted yet.   

Article 3 ratifies the teachers' contract.  The raises are in the 2% range. I haven't been able to find the contract online to get more details.  The board has been doing a good job keeping the raises at about the cost of living.  I'm voting YES.

Article 4 asks the voters for permission to put $200,000 into the Benefit Stabilization Fund.  This fund is used in some years offsets some of the increase in retirement costs, as the state continues its trend of shifting more retirement costs to local districts.  I seem to recall we're using it this year, so a YES win sort of cancels that out.  I'm voting YES anyway.

My pet peeve is the "No amount to be raised by new taxation."  We always see this in articles that ask for permission to take money from the fund balance, which is the amount raised and appropriated but left unspent at the end of the year.   A NO win lowers the amount asked of taxpayers by $200,000 compared to a YES win, so this "no amount..." boilerplate language is pretty misleading.  The fund balance is not a magic way to pay for things that doesn't cost the taxpayers anything, despite the language.

Article 5.  We built the field, so we don't need to Track Fund anymore.   The three dollars in it goes into the general fund.  I'm voting YES.

Article 6 continues the housekeeping on the various funds.  This is just moving money around, and doesn't cost taxpayers anything.  I'm voting YES.

Article 7 is the big enchilada, the $43.8 million budget request.  The board met its goal of keeping the tax impact to under 3.25% in this very difficult budget  year.

If NO wins, we get the default budget of $44.0M.  In past years, the default budget replaced Fund 10, which was confusing.  It looks like this year they changed it to make it less confusing, which is confusing me.  The main point is the default budget is larger than the operating budget by $200,000, indicating that the board kept a lid on unnecessary increases.  In other words, if NO wins, your taxes will be higher than if YES wins.  I'm voting YES.

Article 8 was originally a proposal to add a football program to the high school.  It was added to the ballot by citizen's petition.  It only takes 25 signatures to get an article on the warrant.  The original proposal had a budget of $35,000, only $5,000 of which would be raised from taxes.  The athletic director determined that $64,000 would be a more realistic budget for first year costs, not including money needed to start a new girls' program, which would be necessary to satisfy Title IX without cutting other boys' sports.  The AD also said the program would require $37,000 annually to operate in years two through five, though the original article only funded the first year.  Mainly because of the budget, the board had indicated they even if the article passed, a football program would not be implemented.  Such a decision is within the board's prerogative.

At Deliberative Session the article was amended by anti-football folks to read like it does.  It doesn't matter much; either way we aren't getting football anytime soon.  This is more a poll of voter sentiment.  Vote YES if you don't want football, and NO if you do.

See you at the polls on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.  Vote Day and Williams!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Football Amended, New Moharimet Principal

Football Amended

Election day is one week from now, Tuesday March 14.   At the Deliberative Session February 8, the citizen petition warrant article asking if the voters want football at Oyster River was amended to read:
Shall Oyster River High School continue to provide a large range of athletic programs excluding football?
The warrant article had read:
Shall the district establish a football program at the Oyster River High School with the object of moving toward a varsity team in coordination with the rules and regulations of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA)? Budgeted start-up costs of $34,000 include; $15,000 raised by a community based "booster" club, $5,000 contribution from the school district and the balance of approximately $14,000 paid by the players (larger number of players lower cost per player) at 35 players it would be $400 per player
I've tried to accurately convey the grammar and punctuation or lack thereof.  

David Taylor proposed the amendment, which was debated for almost an hour before being passed by a narrow margin.  I wasn't at the DS; I unfortunately had to miss the two feet of snow because I was on a Caribbean cruise.   Folks who attended told me the football boosters were livid at the outcome.

I personally had a problem with the amendment, which I made clear before the DS, in that it wasn't clear exactly how a football supporter should vote.   A NO vote could be construed as a vote against athletics in general.   That didn't seem to be a problem for the folks at DS; the boosters were clearly against the amendment and will vote NO on election day; the anti-football folks will obviously vote YES.

I should point out that while this amendment effectively killed any hope of a football program next year, there really wasn't any hope of one given the original ballot article. The law says the board can read these articles much like what dogs hear: blah blah blah $5000 blah blah blah.

The board had already indicated that football wouldn't be implemented even if the article passed.  The primary reason given was the $5000 raised was insufficient to address all the considerations involved in a new program.  Looming large is Title IX, which says if we have 30 new boy athletic slots filled, we need to fill about 30 new slots with girl athletes.  In other words, we'd have to create a new opportunity just for girls, and find girls to take it.  The district is under extra Title IX scrutiny as the result of a lawsuit a few years ago.  The district could choose to drop other boys sports to keep the numbers even.

At the school board candidates' forum both candidates (see below) said they did not support the amendment and voted NO at the DS.

I've likened the original article to asking "does to district want Santa Claus to give us a football program?"  As YES vote wouldn't really mean much -- who wouldn't want a gift from Santa? So it's really not that different than a NO vote on the new amendment.

I had proposed an amendment which upped the amount raised to $50,000.  If such an amended article passed, the board wouldn't have the excuse of insufficient funds.  There are plenty of other reasons to be against, especially the risk of concussion and other brain injury, but the board would probably have gone ahead with football if a reasonable plan was voted in next Tuesday.  Either way we'd get a definitive voter sentiment on a realistic proposal. Of course no one presented my amendment at DS.  Now we'll never know; at least we won't know from the result of this election.

There was I believe a procedural error at the end of the DS.  Once the amendment had passed, the moderator should have opened the floor to further discussion on the article, including possibly additional amendments.   But, seemingly at the request of the district's lawyer, the meeting ended as soon as the first amendment was voted upon.  This seems wrong.

New Moharimet Principal

The district has announced the top candidate for the Moharimet Principal job, David Goldsmith.  Mr. Goldsmith (application here) is currently the Assistant Principal of the K-5 Stratham Memorial School in Stratham.  He lives in Durham and has two children attending Moharimet, though one will be in the middle school next fall when Mr. Goldsmith takes over.   He has 13 years experience as a teacher. Before Stratham, Mr. Goldsmith was a teacher in the Horne Street Elementary School in Dover and a professor at Franklin Pierce University.  (NH1 story)

The board still needs to ratify the decision.  It will do so at tomorrow's school board meeting.  Principal Goldsmith's appointment is the sole item of business on the agenda, so I expect tomorrow's meeting will be short.

The folks I talked to who attended the parent meeting with Mr. Goldsmith were all very impressed.  While it's hard to imagine Moharimet without Principal Harrington, it looks like the school is in good hands for the foreseeable future.  Congratulations, Principal Goldsmith.

School Board Candidates Very Likely to be Elected

There are two candidates for two school board seats this year.   Denise Day is currently on the board, having served the last three years.  The somewhat new face is Michael Williams.  Mr. Williams (website) lost to Sarah Farwell and Denise three years ago.  He is a mechanical engineer who works on medical devices.  Michael graduated Iowa State and got his Masters at Stanford.  He has three young children, two currently at Moharimet, one soon to start PEP.  At the candidate forum he stressed the desirability of the parent of elementary school children and a special needs child to add perspective to the board. He sees his analytic skills as complementing the educational experience of the existing board members.

Let me congratulate Michael Williams and Denise Day on their likely election to the school board.  I also thank Sarah Farwell for her stellar service over the last three years, especially as a voice for fiscal sanity.

Bomb Scare Forum

I attended the forum on the bomb scares tonight.  In addition to superintendent Morse and Principal Filippone, three police officers attended:  State trooper Sgt. Dade of the NH bomb squad, Chief Kurz of the Durham PD and School Resource Officer Malasky.

I was disappointed there wasn't a review of the incidents to date.  There was a bomb threat written in a girls bathroom at the high school before Christmas.  That perpetrator has been caught and punished, though neither identifying details nor details about the punishment were offered, with state confidentiality laws cited.  Some parents expressed dismay that the perpetrator was walking the halls of the high school, seemingly unaffected by punishment.

In the past week or two there were two more bathroom bomb scares, in a boys bathroom this time (at least for the first; not sure about the second).  The superintendent announced tonight there were good leads.  SRO Malasky said she interviewed 25 students identified as using the bathroom from hall video.  She was certain the perpetrators were among them, but said there would be nothing public until an admission or witness was forthcoming.  The district has suspects.

There are two separate tracks of investigation, or at least punishment.  The school district can suspend or expel the students.  The police can investigate criminal charges leading to a possible felony indictment.

There was one more incident, involving a bag at the middle school that turned out to be gym clothes.  I'm not really sure, because like I said, they didn't really review the incidents.

I live tweeted (really facebook comments) the meeting here.   I'm not sure if video was recorded  (It was, here's the link).  The main conclusion I got is that the district is really looking for a student who has information about what actually happened to get in touch.   Apparently there's an app called Quick Tip that lets students anonymously contact the district and they're encouraged to use it.

Foster's has an article about the meeting.

Election Day is Tuesday, March 14

That's one week from today.  I'll try to get a guide to the school district ballot out soon.  I probably should have mentioned earlier that all articles except football were approved as is (i.e. not amended) at Deliberative Session,

Lee voters, please vote NO on article 5 on the Lee ballot.  That's a citizens' petition to eliminate SB2, the form of government in which there's a Deliberative Session to amend the ballot articles which are then voted upon on election day a month later.  If article 5 passes, Lee would revert back to town meeting governance, where everything gets voted on at the town meeting.  This makes it difficult for many folks who don't have multiple hours to spend at town meeting to weigh in on town affairs.  I think the SB2 system is much better, as it allows the truly engaged to shape the ballot at DS, while allowing a large number of voters to weigh in on election day.