Sunday, June 23, 2019

Issues Simmer as 18/19 School Year Ends

Wednesday was the last day of school and the last school board meeting of an eventful school year. Let's catch up on the news.

Principal Carrie Vaich Resigns

Letter to Mast Way Families
Mast Way Principal Carrie Vaich announced last month she would resign at the end of the school year. The announcement came as a shock to many in the community.  

The news made me sad as I'm sure it did many Mast Way families. I was fortunate to be part of the parent interviews when we hired Carrie back in 2012 after Kris Gallo moved on. Thank you Carrie for all you've done for us here in Oyster River. We wish you well in your future endeavors.

Carrie's accomplishments at Mast Way include full day K,  a new elementary math curriculum and successful completion of the construction, among many others.

The timing was unusual.  Typically these announcements are made earlier in the school year to allow the district to participate in the normal leisurely hiring cycle leading to a summer onset of work to prepare for fall.  It appears no explanations were given, no future plans announced.

The superintendent got approval from the board for a process that quickly appoints an interim principal from within for next year while searching for a permanent replacement.  At the June 5 board meeting he announced Misty Lowecurrently ORHS Assistant Director of Special Education, would be interim principal at Mast Way for  the 19/20 school year.  Misty started her career as a paraprofessional in the district so she's truly worked her way up from the bottom.  Congratulations and best wishes Principal Lowe.

Jay Richard, NH Middle School Principal of the Year

Congratulations to ORMS Principal Jay Richard, who was awarded 2019 NH Middle School Principal of the Year.  (FostersPress Release page 4).  The award was bestowed by the New Hampshire Association of School Principals Leadership Academy.  Jay was honored at the New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards (The EDies) in Manchester on June 8.  The party honor continues June 26 to 28 at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort in Bretton Woods at NHASPLA's Leadership Academy.

I was lucky to be coaching Mathcounts the day Jay got his cake. Though nominally for staff only, I'd like to thank the assistant principal for giving the last of the cake to my students.

ORMS Teachers to Swap Grades

At the April 17th meeting Principal Richard announced a plan to the board in which next year 15 of 40 middle school teachers will change the grade they teach. The board seemed a bit miffed with the Principal of the Year for springing this on them at this late date.  Some teachers and parents echoed the sentiment, in particular bemoaning the loss of Mr. Grove's annual civil war reenactment with the 8th grade Odyssey team.

The plan is for at least one teacher per grade (on each team? not sure) to remain at their current grade for continuity.  There is some dispute as to whether the actual assignments reflected this for every grade.  

The justification was to "encourage a culture of collaboration" as suggested by the soon-to-expire strategic plan.  In particular one goal is to get veteran staff to work with staff newly hired over the last few years. 

One thing I noticed rewatching the clip is Principal Richard said he was ready to implement last year.  He also said 5 of the 15 had requested the grade change and the remaining 10 moves were the result of his assignments.  Chairman Newkirk wanted to be sure these teachers being forced to change grades, to develop all new curriculum in five months, will have the support they need.  The board as a whole was pretty shocked to be first hearing of such a major change two years after the planning begun and two weeks after the teacher assignments went out. 

Parents Push Back on High School Competency Grading
Strategic Plan draft summary

The old strategic plan has run its course and it's time for a new one.  A group of folks, mostly concerned parents (Oyster River Competency-Based Education facebook page) successfully rallied the board to clarify its goals for Competency Based Education (CBE) in high school, included as part of the new strategic plan. The initial draft of the strategic plan made it seem like the high school was inevitably headed down the same path as the middle school, which has switched entirely to a Competency Based Reporting (CBR) system.  Feelings toward ORMS CBR among parents seem to range from confusion to loathing. 

The parents focused on drawing a distinction between Competency Based Education, which is an initiative imposed at the high school level by the state, and Competency Based Reporting, which is not required at any level. The board pretty much heeded the parents' demands, modifying the offending language from the strategic plan and leaving something vague in its wake.

Algebra I Competencies
Many of the parents are experienced with the new middle school report cards, where the A,B,C,D,F system of letter grades was recently changed to Competency Based Reporting.  The idea is to judge around ten listed competencies per class, assigning to each B, P, M, or E, which refers to Beginning, Progressing, Meets and Exemplary.  We've gone from a system of well understood letter grades to a system where the various levels can't agree on their part of speech. Parents are justifiably concerned about this spreading to high school, where it matters.

At the school board meeting tonight the superintendent announced two committees dedicated to the questions around CBE and CBR.  One was the administration doing work over the summer in preparation for a committee with broad community membership to evaluate CBE and CBR over the next school year.  The board approved the community committee 6-1, with member Williams voting no, perhaps because it seemed like something fishy was going on. 

$49 Million Bond for New Middle School

The district is in full middle school development and sales mode.  Many school board meetings this school year have started with a presentation from Ron Lamarre, architect from Lavallee Brensinger. All the presentations are available on the district's excellent Proposed NEW Middle School website.  Topics include vision and timeline, traffic and parking, site plan, floor plan, sustainability and safety. 

School fatalities in perspective
Last Wednesday's presentation was a fascinating talk about designing for safety.  While everyone is concerned with active shooter scenarios, Mr. Lamarre had a slide indicating the main cause of fatalities at schools by a large margin is traffic incidents. (Though the goofy "11 times safer" claim makes me doubt his competency.)  He presented a plan where the part of Dennison Rd. that's now the middle school parking lot becomes two way, as does Garrison Rd. in front of the (current) building and there's a car loop to the new entrance and a separate bus loop on Coe Drive.  Member Rotner pushed back pretty hard on this aspect of the design.  He lives near the corner of Baghdad and Dennison so he's had a front row seat to observe the traffic problems at the middle school for many years.

Option 1 for Middle School Financing
At the June 5 school board meeting the superintendent presented several financing options, all variations on a 25 year, $49 million loan at 4.25%. The latter is conservative; interest rates for this sort of thing are running around 3%.  There's no state or federal aid expected. The $49M does not include the $800K already appropriated for planning.

The various financing plans work out to between $29M to $34M in interest.  (The interest would be about 3/4 that amount at current rates.)  The loan service works out to about $3M per year for 25 years, which is a budget increase (on our current $47M budget) of 6.7%.

I've been reporting incorrectly that the high school renovation bond would be paid off in this new school year, FY20.  It's more like FY23 for the last payment. That loan has a decreasing payment which takes around $750K annually from the taxpayers on top of $500K of government aid.  So paying off the HS bond frees up about 1.6% of the budget, so the increase to the budget to build the middle school is more like 5% after FY23.

The district is exploring some creative financing (starting page 70 in the minutes).  I don't want to go into too much detail about plans that will probably change, but the idea is to use the regular capital budget to partly offset the bond payments so the taxpayers see about a 1.25% annual increase for new school that takes four years to get to the point where the 5% debt service is coming from its own line in the annual appropriation.  During the ramp up the lower priority capital projects in the other schools will be kicked down the road.  The net effect is that we fit the new school into the budget but taxpayers only see more of the typical 3.5% annual budget increases of late without a shock to the tax impact out the outset. 

The community gets to vote on all this on election day in March, 2020.

Superintendent Planning To Retire

Superintendent Morse announced he plans to retire and wanted the district to prepare for the transition.  I think he said he was 64 years old.  He proposed a plan where the district would do a year-long search for a replacement and then have a transition year where there were two superintendents, one in training.  I don't think the intention was to begin the search until fall 2020, so under this plan Dr. Morse would get his cake in June 2022.  

Chairman Newkirk noted that one of the controversies during his first election was about paying two superintendents at the same time. He also pointed out that the high caliber talent we hope to hire might not be all that keen to be assistant superintendent for a year.

One to One Computer Plan extended to 9th grade

This past school year the district initiated its one to one computer model by giving each middle school student a laptop. That's every student in grades 5 through 8.  The board approved a plan to lease laptops for 9th graders this year. One of the goals in the new strategic plan is to extend the model to the entire high school over the next five years.  I thought I remembered a report on how the program was going.  I can't find it in the minutes, but I do recall it was a positive report.

The 238 new laptops are Dell Latitude 3190 2 in 1s, leased for four years at $428 a pop.  That's basically the purchase price; the leasing is just a way of doing the financing of four payments of $26.5K a year.  The quote annoyingly doesn't give configuration details so it's hard to know if this is a good deal.

IT Director Josh Olstad has been working with other district IT directors around the state drafting our new Data and Privacy Governance Plan (Policy EHAB).  The policy, newly required by the state, is relatively brief, but it's based on a very comprehensive 50 page report in these minutes.

In addition to laptops the IT department provides iPads, desktops, projectors, networks and whatever else is needed to keep our district running at a high tech level, so thank Josh and the rest of the crew when you see them.

World Language Survey Announced

A group of parents is trying to get foreign language instruction into the lower grades. They have a facebook group, ORCSD K-12 World Languages. I think it's been frustrating to them as the topic has been on the agenda a couple of times only to be pushed back due to too much other business. Assistant Principal Todd Allen and ORMS Principal Jay Richard finally got to present their plan at the last board meeting.

The buzzword is proficiency.  The idea is that students actually graduate high school proficient in a language. This past year the world language department expanded their program to the sixth grade. The new strategic plan has language to expand the program throughout middle school. 

For the upcoming year Principal Richard has made arrangements to continue Chinese instruction to ten incoming fifth graders who were getting private instruction.  The instruction would occur three times per week during Bobcat time, starting in October.

Language at the elementary school remains a topic of debate. While of course babies learn their language when immersed, some research shows that classroom learning of language requires a certain maturity.
Draft World
Language Survey

Todd presented a draft of K-4 world language parent survey (starts page 15 in the minutes) for board approval. Some board members thought the survey didn't present the tradeoffs -- would you support world language at the expense of shorter recess, that kind of thing. Todd said he didn't want the survey itself to bias the answers.

One interesting thing to come out of the discussion was it turns out our elementary students have one of the shortest school days in the state. The time for world languages can be found simply by adding ten minutes to the school day.

The survey was produced by a committee of teachers, parents and administrators that is charged with making a recommendation to the board in the fall.  Due to the delays getting the issue before the board the survey won't be administered until the fall.

8th Graders Visit DC, High Schoolers Visit China

China or DC?
I was lucky to go with 115 eighth graders to DC this year.  We had an excellent time.  I got a new appreciation for how hard our teachers and administrators work. While I was there my daughter was in China with the band and some Chinese language students, a total of 52 students.

Mt. Vernon

 ranks Oyster River highly

The 2019 results ranked Madbury as the second best place to live in New Hampshire and Lee as the third best place.  You'll have to move to Hanover for the best place, or to Durham for #7.  Sure its got the college and restaurants, but it's no Lee!  That's all out of 254 possible places to live in NH.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Budget Passes, Rotner and Newkirk Reelected

March 12, 2019 ORCSD Election results

Congratulations to reelected school board Chair Tom Newkirk and reelected school board member Kenny Rotner. 

The school budget passed 67.5% to 32.5%.  Here's some history for perspective:
Percent YES     2015: 60.8%,   2016: 69%,   2017: 85%,   2018: 74%,   2019: 67.5%. 

 Congratulations to the district and the board.

ORESPA, secretaries and custodians, got their annual 2.5% raise for the next three years by a vote of 76.4% to 23.6%.  That's a noticeably better margin than for the budget.

In Lee, everyone was elected and everything passed except the Town Center, which got 336 YES (43%) and 442 NO (57%), far from the 60% needed for passage.  The citizen anti-nuclear weapon petition passed 481 YES (65%) to 258 NO (35%).

SCHOOL DISTRICT UNOFFICIAL RESULTS (Durham, Lee, and Madbury Combined Ballots from all three precincts.)

[Thanks to Todd Selig for these detailed results.  Percentages are my calculations.]

For Moderator (Vote for not more than one)
Richard Laughton - Approx. 1300.  ELECTED 

School Board at Large (Vote for not more than two)
Thomas Newkirk - 1277    ELECTED
Kenneth Rotner - 1189      ELECTED

Shall the District raise and appropriate as an operating budget, not including appropriations by special warrant article and other appropriations voted separately, the amount set forth on the budget posted with the warrant or as amended by vote of the first session, for the purposes set forth therein, totaling $47,405,510. Should this article be defeated, the operating budget shall be $46,850,794 (Default Budget) which is the same as last year with certain adjustments required by previous action of the District or by law; or the District may hold one special meeting in accordance with RSA 40:13, X, and XVI to take up the issue of the revised operating budget only. The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

Fund 10 = $45,940,460 (regular operating budget); Fund 21 = $824,050 (expenditures from food service revenues); Fund 22 = $600,000 (expenditures from federal/special revenues); Fund 23 = $41,000 (expenditures from pass through funds).

YES - 1047   67.5%
NO - 504      32.5%

Shall the District vote to approve within the provisions of New Hampshire RSA 273-A:3 the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:

2019-2020    $41,378

and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $41,378 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, such sum representing the additional costs attributable to the increases in salaries and benefits required by the new agreement over those that would be paid at current staffing levels? The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required)

YES - 1192 76.4%
NO - 368     23.6%

Total ORCSD votes cast today:  1600

Monday, March 11, 2019

Voting Guide to Tuesday March 12, 2019 ORCSD Election

There's some news, which I'll list so I remember to write about it soon: Superintendent planning to retire, Graduation Day June 7, 2019, rates Oyster River highly, Deliberative Session report, Congratulations Jay Richard NH Middle School Principal of the Year, New Middle School Sales Tour Begins.

Election Day Tuesday March 12, 2019

Election Day is tomorrow as I write this so that's what I'll focus on.  In addition to the ORCSD ballot, your town is having municipal elections; click for sample ballots (Durham, Lee, Madbury).

This is my annual guide to the March 12, 2019 Oyster River School District election. The ORCSD ballot is relatively noncontroversial this year. I'll be voting for all the listed candidates and YES on the questions.  Hopefully unlike the last two years there will be no weather incidents that disrupt the voting.

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 you don't bring those by signing a form at the polls.

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

Durham:     Oyster River High School 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Lee:            Public Safety Complex 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Madbury:   Town Hall 11:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

As always, voters in each town are given identical school district ballots. Let's briefly go through the ballot questions, also known as the warrant articles.  For more information, please see my last post and the recently released SAU 5 Annual Report 2019.

Article 1 elects the moderator.  It's always Richard Laughton.

Article 2 elects the school board members.  This year we have two candidates for the two at-large seats, so they're both going to win. They are existing board chair Tom Newkirk and board member Dr. Kenny Rotner, so no changes there.  Tom has served on the board since 2012 and Kenny since 2013.

I don't think the teachers' guild even bothered with their usual questionnaire this year.  I saw that Tom put out his signs but I didn't see any Kenny signs.  I can't decide who's the wise one on this.

I went to Candidates' Night a few weeks ago.  Besides the district clerk Bill Leslie and the candidates, four members of the public showed up.  Thanks to the Mast Way PTO for refreshments as always.  No one recorded the meeting, which I think led to a more frank discussion. We covered the new middle school and its financial impact as well as the district's mental health programs, among many topics.

Congratulations Tom and Kenny.  You're sentenced to three more years of hard labor.

Article 3 asks the voters if the district can spend $47.4 million! That's a lot of dollars.

It doesn't say here, but after the state money and other revenue is accounted for, the amount asked of the taxpayers of the cooperative went from $40.2M to $41.6M, an increase of 3.5%.   Because Lee's property values went up 10% (as estimated by the state) in 2017, compared to 5% for the other towns, the cooperative's apportionment formula shifted more of the bill to Lee.  It will likely even out next year, but this year Lee's Local School Tax line is estimated to increase 10%, compared to 3.5% for Durham and a decrease for Madbury.

I don't think we in Lee should be mad at the school district for this increase, but I'm pretty sure much of the rest of the populace doesn't share my view.  Should the default budget be enacted through a NO vote on this article, the $550K saved will lower the Local School Tax about 1.5% but Lee will still get a big increase.

The budget includes $800K to develop plans for the new Middle School, 2 points of the 3.5 point increase.  I thought this was a shockingly large amount given that the voters don't get to weigh in until next March.

Article 4 asks the voters to approve the contract with ORESPA, the Oyster River Educational Support Personnel Association.  ORESPA is the collective bargaining unit for the Secretaries and Custodians.  The contract is for a 2.5% annual raise, slightly above the recent inflation rate.

That's it for the ballot.  See everybody at the polls tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Lee school tax up 10%, middle school cost doubles, Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day!

It's been forever since I've posted.  There is plenty of Oyster River School District news.  The Lee school tax news turned into an apportionment essay, so I put that last.  The main culprit turned out to be the 10% change in Lee's Equalization Ratio; which is the number the state calculates every year that estimates the ratio of assessed value to market value.  Lee is hot, taxes go up.

Middle school cost doubles
Dates of construction of various bits of ORMS
There was an ingenious plan to build the new middle school with virtually no tax impact.  There is currently a $25 million dollar bond on the high school renovation we're almost done paying off.  The plan was to start financing the new middle school for that same amount and presumably a similar interest rate when the old bond ended, resulting in no particularly noticeable change in your taxes.  Unfortunately that plan collided with reality when estimates for a new middle school came in around $50M.

The board adopted the middle school committee's report to build a new school, either on the current location or the Goss property, northeast of where Main Street intersects Route 4.  It's down Technology Drive where the UNH Interoperability Lab used to be. The Goss property was always a red herring; it wasn't actually for sale and would need major infrastructure and permitting work to make new roads etc. that would have added years and millions.  Plus it's a bad location, away from the high school, UNH and downtown.  The Interoperability Lab has moved to Madbury Rd, a stone's throw from the middle school.  The board decided to build a new building on the current location, with only member Michael Williams voting NO.  Williams liked the expansion possibilities at the new space.  Michael is emerging as the rebel on the board, the sole NO vote on a few interesting things.

The current number they're throwing around for the new middle school is $46 million.  Let's say that the taxes go up because we have to finance $21M of that beyond the $25M we're already carrying for the high school.  Back of the envelope, a 20 year amortized loan of $21M at 3% takes annual payments of say $1.3M.  At our current $45M budget that's a 3% increase; not that bad.  Assuming there are no outside funds offsetting it, the tax impact will be about 9/7 of that, so maybe a 4% increase on the School Tax line.  Depending on your town and the year, the school tax is between half and two thirds of your total tax, so the increase nets out to 2% to 3% on your total bill.  That's compared to a slightly bigger reduction in your tax bill if the high school bond is paid off with no new project.

The plan is to build the new building on the current footprint, while students still attend school at the old building.  When the kids are in the new building, the old one comes down to make room for fields again.  There is the possibility that Durham might want part of the old building as a community center; no decisions there yet.

Finances aside, it's an exciting project.  I'm only sorry my youngest is currently in eighth grade and so my kids won't get to attend the new school.  Grandkids maybe.

Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day!

The board changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day in time for last Columbus Day, pardon Indigenous Peoples' Day.  This follows Durham, which changed it a year ago.  It took two meetings; both times local and regional Native Americans spoke at the board meeting.  They were dissing old Chris pretty good: he wasn't the first to discover America, there were already people here, he personally ordered tortures, enslavements and mutilations, and the whole smallpox blankets and subsequent few hundred years of genocide were bad.

On August 29th, 2018 the board approved Indigenous Peoples' Day. Member Cisneros was the sole NO vote.  Most school documents seem to now refer to the day as the Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples' Day Holiday. Columbus Day remains a New Hampshire and national holiday, as well as a holiday in Lee and Madbury.

Orchard Drive Sale

A few years ago, the voters approved the sale of district property, 25 acres on Orchard Drive.  The original idea was to help finance the new field; the hope was to get a few hundred thousand dollars.  The property went out to bid and I think the best bid was $150,000.  Some residents and the Town of Durham floated the idea of purchasing the property and developing a recreational area. Durham's plan involves fundraising, and the school district agreed to sell the land for $150,000 to Durham if the funds are raised.  Both Durham and the school district have committees attending to this issue.  I zone out whenever this comes up so I'm a little hazy on whether the district is severing the buildable 8 acres from the 17 acres of wetlands.

Mental Health Forum

On November 29, 2018 the district held a Mental Health Forum in the ORHS cafeteria (video).   It was modeled on the diversity forum held a year before.  The Student Mental Health and Wellness Committee ran the event; their supervisors are Counseling Office Director Heather Machanoff and school psychologist Dr. Ryan Long. It is part of a district-wide effort to focus on student mental health, generally under the banner of Social and Emotional Learning.  I can't find my notes, but I recall around 150 community members attended. Though I don't think the district says this, I would venture that the precipitating event was the very public suicide of a student last April.

There were three sets of presenters: Professor Erin Sharp on adolescent neurobiology, Grace Smith and her mother on mental health challenges in their family, and Michele Watson & Laurie Foster from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  After each speaker the audience was given discussion questions which each table considered for a few minutes and reported out.  A wide variety of community service groups set up tables; I got an Ally button from an LGBTQ group based in Portsmouth and a Strafford Country Public Health Network water bottle among other swag.

Parents Push for K-12 World Language

I haven't been as lonely as usual at some recent board meetings because community members have been coming to advocate for World Languages to be taught all grade levels.  Currently the elementary schools and early middle school grades have no foreign language instruction.  The board seems willing, at least for middle school, the main concern being finding the time in the schedule.   They've added a sixth grade world language goal to their board goals this year, to be discussed at the May 9, 2019 meeting.  Mark your calendars.

Deliberative Session February 5

The Deliberative Session is February 5th, 7pm, ORHS.  It's a real election where a majority of the typically 50 to 120 voters who show up can amend the March ballot questions. There may be some irate folks from Lee upset about the tax increase. Unfortunately, I'll be at sea and won't be able to attend. Member Howland is tasked with explaining the budget including the Lee millage; I'll be tuned in.

Here's the warrant that will be presented at Deliberative Session and eventually go to the voters in March.  Really the only possible amendment to make at DS is to lower the $47.4M (!) budget by some amount; usually no one makes that motion so likely the warrant questions will appear on the March ballot unchanged. 

Oyster River Youth Association Mini Audit

The ORYA saga continues.  The original concern surrounded a coach declaring to other coaches that he'd get a pitcher to bean the sole girl in the league if she was on his team.  This made national news and Major League Baseball, which apparently has some supervisory role over little league, got involved.

Fosters reports Durham will only provide $28,000 to ORYA this year, and that only after an audit.  That's down from $41,000 last year.  I checked Lee's current budget; Lee is fully funding ORYA at an amount larger than Durham even though Durham has around 40% more children.

I couldn't help but notice the next line where the Board of Selectman cut $7,150 out of the Lee Rec budget despite the recommendation of the Advisory Budget Committee to fully fund.  I went to a couple of Lee Rec events last year with my kids which were really great, especially model rocket day. Much care was taken to keeping everyone safe.  To my knowledge none of adult supervisors plotted to injure any of their charges.

I'm not really sure what an audit has to do with the other stuff.  Athletic associations tend to form as 501(c)(3) non-profits, so have public tax returns.  We can conduct our own mini audit, comparing the tax returns of similar nearby Youth Associations.   The smaller ones only have to file a postcard return; we'll skip those.  I googled NH Youth Associations and picked out some nearby ones:

Oyster River Youth Association
Hampton Youth Association
Concord Youth Hockey Association
Dover Youth Hockey
Barrington Youth Association

It's the 2015 ORYA return, which seems to be the latest available; the other are 2016.  I made a spreadsheet picking out some of the relevant boxes, amounts in thousands, click to enlarge:

There are rumors of lawsuits and retaliation so I will endeavor to make only factual claims. When I looked for comparable youth associations, I found most in New Hampshire are smaller than ORYA, many small enough (under $50,000 revenue) to file the postcard tax return.  Lots of towns get by with their own Recreation departments doing the heavy lifting.

ORYA has the largest municipal grant by far.  ORYA grants are 18% of revenue, compared to 2% to 13% for the other YAs.

ORYA has the largest salary expense by a large amount.  Most YAs get by with no salary expense at all.  Dover Hockey salaries are split among a dozen employees; OYRA reports seven but they left blank the form where the key employees are named.  The 2013 return shows two program directors making $52K and $56K respectively, about a $7K raise each from the previous year.

ORYA has a huge accounting expense.  Concord and Dover hockey have similar sized programs but get by with $2400 and $8600 accounting expense respectively.  Here's Manchester Regional Youth Hockey, $2000 accounting expense on $812K of revenue.  ORYA's accounting firm is in Durham and the preparer is also the treasurer of ORYA, so this is pretty similar to a wage paid to an officer. I presume that doesn't need to be reported in part VII of the return where $0 is reported paid to the treasurer.  On the other hand one point of the return seems to be the disclosure of conflicts, so I'd need to ask an accounting professional.

ORYA has outsized cash and non-cash assets.  They list as an asset $358K of leasehold improvements  (less $155K depreciation) which means improvements to a space they don't own.   I'm not sure what all that is about but these are huge numbers so I'd like to know more.  I didn't notice more than a few thousand dollars of leasehold improvements on any of the other returns.  ORYA doesn't seem to have much in assets like athletic equipment as far as I can tell from the return.

In summary, ORYA has substantial cash and non-cash assets.  It has outsized salary and accounting expenses which exceed the large grant they get every year.   It appears a few people in Oyster River are getting paid a total of $128K or so whereas most other youth associations around us rely on volunteers.

My preference as a taxpayer is for none of the towns of Oyster River to grant ORYA money.  They seem well on their way to being a viable business without direct taxpayer support; let's help them take that final step.  We'll still let them use the fields. 

[Note added 1/22: Tonight the Lee Board of Selectman cut the ORYA line from $28,700 to $15,000 as part of additional cuts in response to the ORCSD millage prediction.]

From this little mini-audit we did I can understand why Durham wants a professional audit.  The finances of ORYA look a bit different than that of other youth associations.  I look forward to the audit report.

[Edit 1/26.  Someone send me a link to this IRS site and a 2017 return for ORYA.  The return shows more of the same: $97K grants on $523K revenue (18.5%), $134K salary, $35K accounting, $502K assets. The link makes it easy to find all the charities in the state with YOUTH in their name, here sorted by income.  This makes it much easier to choose comparables than the guessing I did.  Just to spot check, Wolverine Youth Football has revenue of $421K (not sure where $2.8M in the table comes from) on a grant of $0, salaries $0, accounting expense $1095.]

Lee School Tax Up 10%

The district met its budget goal of a tax impact (change in budget less revenue) of 3.5%, impressive in this difficult budget year.  Below is the table of major drivers.  The big ticket items include $800K toward preliminary work on the new middle school.  The school can't go ahead without voter approval; this money gets the project to the point where it can be presented to the voters.  $755K goes to yet another construction project, fortifying and expanding Moharimet's entrance.  The federal matching funds are available, so it's now or never, and the board chose now.   Mast Way's construction, including a new entrance and four new classrooms, is reportedly complete, though I think the construction fence still lingers.

The budget hearing for school year 19/20 was Monday, January 8.  Superintendent Morse broke the news that the millage will be increasing $0.52 in Durham, $1.91 in Lee and actually going down $0.20 in Madbury.  On the slide it appears the more we spend the more Madbury's millage goes down; I have to meditate on that one.

I'm overdue for another extensive post on apportionment in the cooperative so I guess this is it.  We're all familiar with getting a tax bill twice a year; exactly how that Amount Due line gets calculated is a bit involved.  At its simplest, it's the product of two other numbers on the bill, your total tax rate, also known as the millage, tax per thousand dollars, and your property's net value, also called the assessed value. The total tax due is divided into two payments, due July and December.  Actually the calculation for this year's tax isn't done until the December bill; the July bill is always half last year's total tax.

The total tax rate is the sum of four millages: County, School, Town and State Ed. The school district isn't involved with the Town and County lines.  The State Education tax goes to the state, which metes it back to the towns according to their need. The district has no say in that particular millage but the so-called adequacy aid each town gets from the state goes to lower the town's School millage.

Though it's unstated, the millage impacts on the slide are only talking about the School line.  Here are the current amounts from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue:

So in context we see the School (Local Ed) millage increase are .52/14.93 = 3.5% for Durham, 10% for Lee, and -1% for Madbury.

As I write this I don't know why Lee's estimate is so large.  Keep reading and we'll try to find out together. After the superintendent reported it he didn't try to justify it, he backpedaled.  He gave a lecture about how poor the predictions have been over time.  He presented a slide with the sum of the state ed and local ed over the years, confusingly called that the increase each year, and showed how the predictions were often off.

This was odd for several reasons. We don't actually predict that total, we predict the change in the State Ed line. And it misses the point that the intent is not really to predict the change in millage; the intent is to give us all a number which we can each multiply by our assessment to estimate the change in our taxes.  It's that estimate in dollars which we want to know is accurate or not.

The predictions are assuming assessments are constants,  the same as last year.  So the millages are really proxies for the change in the amount of school tax.  If the town's valuation goes up (it's tied to the real estate market) it's liable for more school tax even though its millage would go down.  The positive estimate more accurately reflects the change in the tax you'll have to pay which makes it a more useful indicator than a correct prediction in the millage without a corresponding prediction in valuation. What I mean is Lee's millage could actually go down but we still might be paying 10% more tax like our predicted millage told us.

The superintendent is right that some alarming predictions we've seen have regressed in actuality, appearing smaller than predicted. But presumably a big predicted change in general means a big actual change, otherwise why would be bother to make predictions?

How Apportionment Works, continued

Let's talk about how we pay for schools.  We're only talking about the School (Local Ed) tax.

The top line for us today is the amount to apportion, let's call it B for budget. Each fall the district prepares a budget which the voters approve in March.  The budget has a total amount of expenses E and some non-state revenue R.  E is all the spending, including operations and debt service.  R is the expected revenue, including grants from the federal government, income from renting facilities, last year's fund balance (unspent money), and tuition income.  The amount to apportion is B = E - R.  Simple.

Not so fast.  There's Keno Kindergarten Aid to each town and this year Durham got $97K in a column marked "National Forest or Town Impact Fees."  There is also a small adequacy aid adjustment which is different for each town.  All of that seems like it was counted as part of R.  That's backed out by adding it back to B because it will be accounted for later as part of the state aid to each town.  Let's call the sum of the backouts S, so now B = E - R + S.  (When the equations spell out "BEERS" it's time to start drinking.)

Here's how B is apportioned, split among the towns. Half of B is split proportional to the student population from each town.  There's a measure called ADM, Average Daily Membership.  For each student in public school it's the fraction of the year they're enrolled, so 1 for a student enrolled all year.  It's added up for each town and the result is the ADM for each town, the number of students from each town. There are rules to count students which the district pays tuition to send elsewhere and other unusual situations.

The other half of B is split proportional to the equalized assessed property values for each town.  Then each town receives adequacy aid computed as $3700 per student, with around $2000 extra for each special education and free-and-reduced-lunch student and $700 for each ESL and poor third grade readers.  Let's call the amount A; there's a different A for each town.

Call the result of the apportionment f, the percent of B that a given town owes the school district. There's T=fB-A left to split among the property owners in town. That's done in proportion to the net assessed value of their property.  Each lot has a certain value L including land and buildings; the sum of all of those is the total valuation of the town V.  (UNH buildings and government buildings don't count.) The millage for the school tax line is T/V and your share in dollars is LT/V.

This is a very complicated system that in the end works out to approximately a pizza with 9 slices; Durham buys 4, Lee 2, Madbury 1, and the state 2.  The 4:2:1 is pretty close to the equalized property values of the three towns so pretty much works out to the same as if we were one big town.  4:2:1 is 57%:29%:14%; in current school year FY19 equalized valuations D:L:M is 59%:27%:13%, final local tax assessments 57%:28%:15%.

There are some straightforward reasons why these numbers swing from town to town, so pretty often it seems like one town or another is bearing a disproportional burden.  Most obviously, the number of students from each town varies as new students enroll in Kindergarten, old students graduate, some leave for prep school, and some move in or out of town.  Half of the bill is split according to the average number of enrolled students from each town.

The other half is split according to the equalized town valuations.  So if more real estate is built in a town, its share of tax goes up.  If real estate becomes tax exempt in a town, that town's share of the school tax decreases.  Assessments occur constantly, so these numbers fluctuate.

Less straightforwardly, it's equalized valuation.  Each year the state does a calculation that compares sale prices to assessments in each town and determines the factor for your town.  That's the number which when multiplied by the market value of your house gives your assessment. Sometimes there aren't very many sales so there's some randomness in these numbers.  The factor is called the Equalization Ratio.  Assessed values tend to be lower than market values, so the equalization ratio is usually less than one.

We can see the equalization ratios at work in the State Ed column in the above table. Property owners around the state pay the same State Ed rate on their equalized valuation.  The millages are on the assessed value before equalization, which is why they're all different.  They're each a constant rate multiplied by their town's Equalization Ratio.  The County column is similar; everyone in the county pays the same rate, it just looks different because of the differing town equalization ratios.  (There's a detail where the State Ed valuation calculation doesn't include utilities and railroads while the Local Ed valuation does.)

Equalization makes your tax bill a financial derivative where you're short your own town's real estate and long the other two towns.  When home sale prices go up in your town more than the other two your tax bill goes up as well.

If that's not complicated enough, there is the timing.   Let's talk about the current school year, 18/19, known as FY19 in the budget.  The district prepared the FY19 budget in fall 2017, presented it to the public in January and February 2018, and the voters approved it March 2018.  The state calculates the apportionment and associated tax rates by the first half of October, 2018 in time to be reflected in the tax bills which are due December 1, 2018.

That October 2018 report is calculated using the 16-17 school year attendance for each town; i.e the FY19 apportionment uses FY17 attendance data.   It also uses the 2016 valuations and equalization ratios.  So the data which goes into the calculation is two or three years old.  That should make it easier to predict next year.

OK, a lot of words and we still don't know why Lee's up 10%.  It's probably because it's its turn.  We see how as the numbers slosh around from year to year the burden appears to fall unequally on the towns, but it evens out over time.  Lee's been lucky lately and its luck just ran out.

Let's make a spreadsheet that tries to capture the calculation for the last few years and see if we can gather the data for the prediction.  The data comes from NH DOE and NH DRA, 1 2 3 4 5 etc.
[somehow this reverted to an older version, along with many text edits.  The world will just have to live without those edits, but I have the updated table.]

It took me a while to get the calculations to match reality. I never got the computed equalization ratios to match the state values for the ratios, though they're close for Lee.   Note how the apportionment percentages are calculated using two year old valuations and attendance to compute the tax each town owes the school, and the towns use the current valuations to apportion the tax among the residents.  The Modified Raw Value including utilities is the basis of the school tax but it's not really used in the calculation except to check the ratio; instead I use the equalized valuation reported by the state.  I didn't notice that 12% reduction in Durham's school tax millage this year (FY19) until now.  It's a reflection of the 10% increase in Durham's 2018 raw assessment.

For the FY20 prediction, I used the $47.45M top line off the warrant.  I didn't find the predicted revenue in the budget so I fudged the FY20 revenue until I got about 3.5% impact.  I made it a bit higher because of the Keno, which I left the same except for removing Durham's tree grant which looked like a one time thing.  I used the enrollment data the superintendent showed at the budget hearing because I couldn't find a more official report.  I left the current assessments unchanged and got the latest version of the equalized value which generally matches the one on the apportionment calculation.

The result wasn't that close to the forecasts from the district.  Lee's millage went up $1.82, not quite the $1.91 but pretty good.  Durham is up $0.49, again not quite $0.52.  Madbury is predicted up $0.52 as well; I didn't see the downward -$0.20 rate change as predicted by the district.  The district may predict or get guidance on the state aid as well which they incorporate.

The reasons for Lee's rise are apparent.  The main driver is the equalized value that went from $473.69M to $530.86M, a whopping 12% increase, leading to a 6% rise in taxes. Actually the effect is not quite so big because Durham and Madbury saw increases as well, though less than half as big.  The modified raw assessed value only changed from $446.75M to $451.76M, a 1% increase.  So the change is almost entirely in the Equalization Ratio, which went from 94.3 to 85, a 10% change.  In other words from a few sales in Lee in 2017 the state determined all real estate in Lee was worth 10% more than in 2016.  That's why Lee's taxes are going up this year.  Attendance-wise Lee's share of the students went from 33.94% to 34.64%, an increase of 2%, adding 1% to the tax (because it's half the apportionment formula). The remaining component of the increase is the increase of the budget itself, adding another 3%.

We can try to predict the future beyond next year.  The 2018 equalization ratios come out on May 1, 2019.  Assuming no surprises, we might expect Durham to see a spike in their fraction of the FY21 apportionment as the 2018 spike in real estate gets incorporated into the apportionment formula.  Until then the more raw real estate in Durham the more property to split the bill, so a lower millage.  But a few years later the additional real estate is incorporated into the apportionment so the millage goes up again, but only half as much as it went down because equalized value is only half the bill.

This is a long post I've been composing for a week or so now, so I think it's time to let it go out.  I'll write more after the deliberative session.