Thursday, February 1, 2018

Guide to the ORCSD Deliberative Session, Tuesday Feb 6, 2018

I haven't posted in a while so I thought I'd recap some district news first.  Please skip down if you just want to know about the Deliberative Session on Tuesday night.

Football Cooperative Approved

The biggest news is the board approved a cooperative football agreement so Oyster River students may play at Portsmouth High.   It's been widely reported (Foster's) so you probably don't need me to tell you.  It's expected that around 15 to 20 students from Oyster River will play football on the Portsmouth team.  If NHIAA approval can be expedited Oyster River kids will start playing in the fall of 2018; otherwise they'll have to wait until fall 2019.  The agreement must be renewed every two years to continue.

The problems with the unadopted 2016 coop agreement with Portsmouth have all been addressed. Previously the NHIAA wanted districts to intend to have a team at the school when the coop ended, which was a sticking point for the Oyster River board, especially with Portsmouth's stated desired to end the coop after only two years.  This time Portsmouth assures us they're with Oyster River for the long haul and the NHIAA no longer weighs if a district intends to continue after the coop.

Title IX was another major concern, with a nominal need to fill a slot with a girl athlete every time a new slot is filled by a boy.  Our lawyer has assured us the expected imbalance will not be a problem.  Furthermore there will be no cost to the district, the players provide their own transportation, the additional liability is minimal, and both schools have moved to later start times.

This is I think the fourth time the district has addressed the football issue since 2013.  It's been a divisive issue in the community and I'm glad a satisfactory compromise was reached.

I was at all the school board meetings where this was discussed and I went to the forum in the auditorium on 1/10.  The best thing about the process was watching the kids talk at the podium.  It's pretty scary up there the first time and they were all incredibly impressive. You could tell the board really wanted to find a way to give them what they wanted.

The worst thing was the adults. Just a few of them. Some people who wanted their kids to play football publicly accused the board members of all sorts of bad faith. A few scared member Rotner, a likely NO vote, to the point where he felt he had to recuse himself from the issue for his own safety. It's really, really unacceptable to treat our public servants like that.  I thought some people made inappropriate comments at the football forum; fortunately for them I don't see any video posted.

It's clear on this issue the board has consistently acted in the students' and community's best interest, rejecting the flawed proposals and accepting this better one.  So you know who you are.  When you see a board member, the words you're looking for are "thank you" and "I'm sorry."

Superintendent Morse Named 2018 New Hampshire Superintendent of the Year

Congratulations to Superintendent Morse, chosen as 2018 New Hampshire Superintendent of the Year by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators.  We all knew he was pretty great these past five years but it's nice to get official recognition.

There was a party in Dr. Morse's honor at the high school last week.  Thanks to Food Service Director Demers for the great food, including cake.  NH Education Commissioner Edelblut spoke first, followed by Chairman Newkirk, Assistant Superintendent Allen, two leaders of the teachers guild (someone help me with the names, please) and Dr. Morse himself.  Dr. Morse's daughter and grandson attended as well as around 75 community members, including me.  As usual, Dr. Morse gave the credit to others, but we're all thrilled he's getting the recognition he so richly deserves.

Siemens Lease-Purchase approved

Last December the board approved a $3.7 million capital plan with Siemens.  Under the deal Siemens will do capital improvements at the schools over the next year or two, mostly focusing on energy efficiency.  The district will pay them a fixed amount annually, I believe over ten years, for the work.

If this sounds like a bond, it is in all but name.  NH Law requires 60% voter approval for a bond.  It took us twenty years and five election days to get the approval to borrow $1.7M to build the track.  But it took the board just a few minutes to borrow $3.7M for this project.  It encumbers future boards for the next decade without any approval from the voters.  I don't like this end run around the voters, but it seems how municipal finance is done in New Hampshire these days.  We should have gotten Siemens to build the track and avoided all that hassle with the citizenry.

Deliberative Session Tuesday

Tuesday 2/6/18 is the Oyster River Cooperative School District Deliberative Session. As usual, it's 7pm in the ORHS auditorium. It's a real election where hardly anyone shows up, usually between 100 and 120 voters. So you and your majority of 60 can rewrite the budget. Or stop it from being rewritten.  Last year the football question got mangled at Deliberative Session which complicated the discussion this year.  I'm out of town again this year so I won't be there.

A majority of voters at the Deliberative Session can amend the existing warrant articles (also known as the ballot questions). You must be eligible to vote in one of the three towns to be given a voting card at the DS. Sometimes there's been same-day registration at the DS. So if you can legally vote in any of the three towns (i.e. you're a US citizen at least 18 who lives in the district) you can show up at the DS, (maybe) register if needed, and vote. It's best to show ID (and proof of address like a utility bill if you need to register), but if you're willing to sign an affidavit you don't have to.

The voters at the DS get to amend each warrant article, but the articles themselves aren't approved or rejected until election day, Tuesday March 13, 2018. Usually we get two or three thousand March voters.

I couldn't find the official post of the warrant.  I got this copy from recent minutes.

This year only the big budget article, article 5, can be modified at Deliberative Session, so I don't think it's going to be very exciting.

The ballot starts like this every year.  These articles are skipped at the Deliberative Session.

Article 3 asks the district to approve the agreement with the Bus Drivers. The bus drivers got unionized this year, and they're getting substantial raises.  The salaries weren't too much of a sticking point during negotiations.  The district wanted to raise driver pay because of the current difficulty hiring and retaining drivers.  The numbers are the total increase in salary and benefits to be divided among all drivers each year.

These negotiated agreements cannot be modified at Deliberative Session, so ideally this article gets moved and approved without discussion.

Article 4 ask the district to approve the agreement with ORPaSS, the paraprofessional and support staff bargaining unit.  (I don't think they're officially unionized, but there's a standard three year cycle for negotiating contracts.)  Again, there's nothing to do at Deliberative Session for negotiated agreements.

Article 5 is the main budget.  It's really the only article that can be amended at this Deliberative Session.  I don't see any particularly good reason to do so, but if something is going to happen at DS this year, it will be to article 5.

Over the last few years the state has reworded this boilerplate to make more sense. We see the default budget is only $70,000 less than the full $45.6M budget.  That means if NO wins (and there's no subsequent vote) and we get the default budget, the taxpayers save 0.15%, fifteen dollars off a ten thousand dollar tax bill.

Of course the voters at DS are free to cut the budget to below the default budget if they like, but the closeness of the two is an indication of how tight a lid the board has kept on spending.  

That's it.  Short guide this year.  Even though I won't be there, I encourage all of you to go to ORHS auditorium at Tuesday, Feb 6, 2018, 7 pm.

Useful Things to Know for Deliberative Session

The articles are taken one at a time. An assigned board member reads the article, then says "I move article X". Other board members second. The assigned member continues the presentation for a few minutes. Then the moderator opens up the floor. At this point, voters lined up at the podium get to propose amendments. They can also ask clarifying questions, and actually get an answer from the board or administration.

Sometimes the voters don't get the idea that they're there to amend the ballot. I suggest if you go up to the podium to make a speech, include either "I propose we amend the article by changing the amount to $XXXX" or "I support/oppose the amendment under consideration." If there's no amendment under consideration and you don't want to propose one, save your speech and let's get on to the next article.

Lots of people feel compelled to speak for or against the article. The deliberative session is a good place to air the debate, but it's better if there's something you don't like about the article that you propose to amend.

If the speeches drag on, you can move to "call the question." This means ending the debate and voting on the amendment (or if there's no amendment, voting to put this article on the ballot as is and move on to the next article). If there's a second, the moderator will ask people who are for calling the question to show their cards, and then against, and eyeball it. A 2/3 supermajority is required to call the question. If it's close it can take a long time to count those cards. At that point you should say "I withdraw my motion" because it's going to be quicker and more interesting to let the speeches continue than a tedious count on this 2/3.

Once an amendment under consideration is about to be voted on, you can request a secret ballot. You need to give the moderator a written request with the signatures of five voters. If you request a secret ballot before there's an amendment under consideration, you're going to look silly. If you request one while people are still lined up to speak, the moderator will ask if you're calling the question, and if you say yes we get into all that 2/3 nonsense.

When there's no one left to speak or the question is called, we vote on the amendment, if any. Then we vote to "move the article" which appears to mean putting the article on the ballot and moving to the next question. I'm not sure what happens if there are no more amendments but we vote not to move on. Maybe we just sit for a minute and vote again.  (In practice the moderator has broad discretion over the conduct of the meeting.)

By the way, if you wanted to get your own article on the ballot, all it requires is the signature of 25 district voters. The deadline is usually early January, too late for this ballot.