Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Incumbents win!

After a very turbulent year in Oyster River, with many folks understandably mad about rising taxes and the district's overall COVID response, all four school board seats were won by the incumbents.  The Oyster River School Board membership remains unchanged.  

The outstanding question is who will be chair now that long time chair Tom Newkirk has indicated he will not seek a leadership role.  The newly elected board decides as its first act, at the school board meeting on March 17.

While the voters might have been looking for a change, in the end none of the challengers proved to be a compelling enough alternative to the current board members.  While they might not have been thrilled about it, the voters picked the best folks from among the choices they were offered. Turnout was around average, with 2366 district voters, down from a record 3274 last year.

Congratulations to currently serving and now newly elected board member Yusi Turell, who becomes the Durham representative to the school board.  Congratulations to reelected members Brian Cisnernos, Lee rep;  Dan Klein, Madbury rep; and Al Howland, now an at-large member with a one year term.   

Brian was our most popular board member today, pulling in 84% of the vote.  It sure helps to have your opponent drop out and endorse you. (Though not for 16% of you who voted for the other guy anyway.)  Dan Klein and Yusi Turell each got 67% of the vote in tough races with multiple challengers, at least at the start, and one challenger each at the end.  Longest serving member Al Howland drew 61% of the vote against two challengers.

The district won as well, with all ballot questions passing: the $50.2M budget article got 76% of the vote; remarkably good in context (see below).  Bus drivers, paras & support staff got their raises.  The cap on the emergency fund was raised to 5%, around $2M, and the middle school solar array fund got its first $125K.   

The challengers did respectably, with Ms. Dunbar pulling in 23% for Madbury rep, Ms. Piparo and Mr. Durkee each pulling in 19% in the at-large race,  and the mostly absent Mr. Mason winning 11% for Durham rep.   Withdrawn candidates did similarly well: 21% for Dr. Fortin, 15% for Mr. Alcocer and 9% for Mr. Abbott.  Congratulations to all the candidates and the PTOs on a civil and well run campaign season that made us all proud to be citizens.

Lee note: Congratulations to newly elected Lee Selectperson Katrin Kasper, on what has to be the upset of the night.  She beat long time Chair John LaCourse and relative newcomer Jonathan Moss.  She really campaigned them to shame.  Great job, Katrin!

You might enjoy this little spreadsheet history of the district that covers the time I've been paying attention, followed by tonight's detailed results.

Detailed Results

Thanks to Todd Selig and Durham Friday Updates for these results.  Percentages are mine.




For Moderator (Vote for not more than one)

Richard Laughton - 1899   ELECTED

Write-in - 5




For School Board - Durham (Vote for not more than one)

Erik Mason        214  10.8%

Yusi Turell       1333   67.5%   ELECTED

Jeffrey Fortin   422   21.4%

Write-in              7      0.4%


For School Board - Lee (Vote for not more than one)

Nicolas Alcocer     283    15.1%

Brian Cisneros     1578    84.2%   ELECTED 

Write-in                 12      0.6%


For School Board - Madbury (Vote for not more than one)

Michelle Dunbar       446  23.4% 

Daniel Klein           1280  67.1%  ELECTED

Kevin Abbott            173   9.1%

Write-in                      8    0.4%


School Board at Large (Vote for not more than one)

Allan Howland    1261   61.0%   ELECTED

Jill Piparo            394   19.1%

Matt Durkee         403   19.5%

Write-in                  9      0.4%



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 $50,173,045. Should this article be defeated, the operating budget shall be $50,080,250 (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 = $48,707,995 (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  1584  75.8%  PASSED

NO      435  22.5%




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 Bus Drivers Association and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:


2021 - 2022      $18,070

and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $18,070 for the 2021-2022 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  1920   85.8%  PASSED

NO      317  14.2%




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 Para-Educators and Support Staff and the Oyster River School Board which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels:


2021 - 2022      $63,853

and further to raise and appropriate the sum of $63,853 for the 2021-2022 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  1811    81.2%  PASSED

NO     420    18.8%   




Shall the District vote in accordance with RSA 198:4-b, II to increase, indefinitely until rescinded, the retention of any unused portion of the year-end unassigned general funds from the preceding fiscal year from the current percentage of 2.5% to 5% of the current fiscal year's net assessment under RSA 198:5 for the purpose of having funds on hand to use in subsequent fiscal years? The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required).


YES  1747  79.0%   PASSED

NO      465  21.0%




Shall the District vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $125,000 to be added to the Facilities Development, Maintenance, and Replacement Trust which was established in March of 2017. This sum to come from June 30 fund balance available for transfer on July 1. The School Board recommends this appropriation. (Majority vote required).  No amounts to be raised from taxation.


YES   1814  81.6%  PASSED 

NO      409  18.4%


Total ORCSD votes cast today:  2366.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Voting guide to the March 9, 2021 ORCSD Election

Hello everybody. Election day is this Tuesday, March 9, 2021.  Here's my annual voting guide where I review the Oyster River School District Ballot.  In the last section I'll go through the ballot article by article, tell you what it means, and tell you which way I'm voting. That's the biased part.

I'll keep it unbiased until then. If you just want to know how to vote and where to find information on and from the candidates and the ballot questions, you can skip the biased part which follows; it will be clearly marked.


Breaking News 9pm 3/7: I've been writing this for two days and missed the news that at 10am 3/5 Nicolas Alcocer has withdrawn and endorsed his opponent Brian Cisneros in the race for Lee representative to the school board.  That leaves the incumbent Cisneros running unopposed, so let me be the first to say congratulations Mr. Cisneros on winning another term on the Oyster River School Board. 

It's been an eventful week in Oyster River, with an impactful school board meeting sandwiched between two virtual Candidates Nights, excellently hosted and moderated by the Mast Way and Moharimet PTOs.  

Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen will retire effective this June 30.   The shocked school board received the news in non-public session around a half hour after the main public part of the meeting had ended.  They came back into public session to accept the retirement and tell some stories about Todd.

Tom Newkirk, who has been chair of the school board since 2014, announced he will not seek the chair again.  He will remain on the school board; his term runs another year.

The new board selects its chair as its first act after being elected, on 3/17. It's anyone's guess who the new chair will be this time.  In the past, running for vice chair has been a good way to telegraph your hope of being chair, and winning vice chair has been a good way to indicate you have the support of the board.  Member Michael Williams is the current vice chair.  The board chose him over member Denise Day last March. Member Day had been vice chair since March 2016. Former member Kenny Rotner, who sadly passed away last summer, cast the deciding vote for vice chair last year.

In other news all four schools are opening for more in-person learning.  The high school will bring in the 55% of the students who want to, two days per week, starting this Monday, 3/8.  Pursuant to the governor's order, so will the middle school, though the district has filed an appeal to try to continue the current model.  The board voted that the elementary schools will open for students Wednesdays starting April 9, over the objections of principals Lowe and Goldsmith.

There's some more detail about all this in my previous post.

Election Day Information

Election Day is Tuesday March 9, 2021.  Eligible citizens in the three towns can vote a school district ballot.  If you're a US citizen at least 18 years old residing in one of the three towns, you're eligible. Vote at your local town polling place like any other election.  If you're not already registered, same day registration is available.  It's best to bring ID, and if you need to register, proof of address like a utility bill, but you can still vote even if you don't bring those by signing an affidavit they'll give you.

Where and when to vote depends on where you live. Here's where and when to vote and some links to the town ballots, which you'll be given in addition to a school district ballot:

Durham, vote at Oyster River High School 7 am to 7 pm. Durham voting informationballotcandidate profiles.

Lee, vote at Lee Transfer Station 7 am to 7 pm (I know it's a Tuesday but please don't bring trash). Lee voting informationballot questions,  candidatesmap for transfer station voting.  They want you to bring your own black marker or black pen and a hard surface to write on.  Your car is your voting booth; they'll accommodate multiple voters in a car but come alone for maximum privacy.

Madbury, vote at Madbury Town Hall 11 am to 7pm.  Madbury voting information and ballot questions, townofmadbury.com. In addition to the daytime election with the voting booths and Sharpies, Madbury has a town meeting, 7:30 pm at Moharimet School, to vote on town questions.  The school district part is in the daytime.

School Board Candidates

The Oyster River school board has seven seats, three town-specific (one each Durham, Lee, Madbury) and four at-large.  They all have three years terms; this year it's the three town-specific seats that are up for election.  In addition, there's an election for someone to serve out the remaining year of Kenny Rotner's term in an at-large seat. Kenny sadly passed away last summer; Yusi Turell was appointed by the board to serve the five months until election day.  It's rare to have four seats up at once; the last time was March 2012, the election that started this blog

To run for a town-specific seat you must live in the town; any voter in the district can run for the at-large seats.  All the voters in the district are given identical ballots and can vote in all four races; you don't have to live in Lee to vote for the Lee representative to the Oyster River school board.

It's been an exciting election for school board this year.  It started with a total of twelve candidates, with an incumbent and two challengers filing to run for each of  four school board seats.  We've had three [edit 3/7 10pm] four withdrawals, Debra Cavenaugh and Nicolas Alcocer from the Lee race, Kevin Abbott from Madbury, and Jeff Fortin from Durham.  Only Ms. Cavenaugh withdrew early enough to have her name removed from the ballot. 

There's a surfeit of information this year, with the elementary PTOs really stepping up, running a facebook site as well as two Candidates Nights.  I'm just going to list links where various information about the candidates has been collated.

2021 ORCSD School Board Candidate Information [PTOs' facebook page] 
2021 ORCSD School Board Candidate Biographies
2021 PTO School Board Candidate Questionaire
2021 Teacher's Guild School Board Candidate Questionaire

Candidates Night 3/4/2021

The two debates on Candidates Night (Tuesday 3/2 Madbury & At-Large, Thursday 3/4 Durham and Lee) were very well done and worth watching if you have three or four hours.  I thought I heard a rumor of transcripts which would probably be quicker to digest but I haven't found any.

The two candidates for the Durham school board seat are Yusi Turell (facebookweb) and Eric Mason (no candidacy site known to me but he's CEO of RYSE Marketing & Communications). Ms. Turell is essentially the incumbent; she currently holds an at-large seat.  Jeff Fortin (facebook) has withdrawn but will appear on the ballot.

The two candidates [Edit 9pm 3/7]  only candidate currently running for the Lee school board seat is the incumbent Brian Cisneros (facebook).  Opponent Nicolas Alcocer (facebook) withdrew on 3/5 and endorsed Cisneros.  Alcocer's name will remain on the ballot. Debra Cavanaugh withdrew from the Lee race early and will not appear on the ballot. 

The two candidates for the Madbury school board seat are the incumbent Dan Klein (web) and Michelle Dunbar (facebook). Kevin Abbott (facebook) has withdrawn but will appear on the ballot.

The three candidates for the At-Large seat with a one year term are Al Howland (web), Matt Durkee (facebook) and Jill Piparo (facebook).   Let's call Al Howland the incumbent; he's served in the Durham seat since 2012 though this time he's seeking the one-year at-large seat. 

School Ballot

For my last bit of unbiased information, I present the school district ballot.

Ballot Questions

OK, now we go through the ballot questions. This is the biased part, because in addition to I hope fairly explaining the questions, I tell you how I'm voting and why.
TL;DR: For school board in 2021 I'm voting for the incumbents: Yusi Turell, Brian Cisneros, Dan Klein and Al Howland and I'm voting YES on all the questions. I'll summarize why below; for more detail, please see this post.

Lee voters: I'm really looking forward to voting for Katrin Kasper for select board.  Not that I don't have a soft spot for old white men, being one myself, but I've known Katrin has been working hard for the town and the schools for at least a decade and I would love to see what her energy could do for the Lee Select Board.  Among many other committees, she's been on the Oyster River Long Range Planning Committee for the long term, at least a decade, and has relatively recently taken over as chair. The LRPC is the district's oldest committee, and its enrollment projections play an important role in the budgeting, hiring and long term planning of the school district.  

OK, back to the school ballot. 
Article 1 elects the moderator. For as long as I've been paying attention Richard Laughton has been the only person ever to run for moderator, and that's true in 2021, so I'm voting for Mr. Laughton. The main function of the moderator is to run the Deliberative Session. I sometimes see him running between polling places on Election Day, but I don't know why.  

There's something of a family dynasty going on in Oyster River.  Beloved citizen and former school board chair Shirley Thompson was Mr. Laughton's mother-in-law and I see a District Clerk Jessica Laughton at the top right corner of the ballot, who I'm guessing is related.  

Article 2 elects the school board members.  There are four separate races, three town specific seats and one at-large seat.  Let's go through them:

Durham representative (3 year term)
      O   Eric Mason
      O   Yusi Turell
      O   Jeffrey Fortin (withdrawn but will appear on the ballot)
      O   ___________________  (write in)

I'm voting for Yusi Turell.  I think she's been great in her five months since being appointed to the board.  Among other things, her efforts have all district schools opening to more in-person learning in accordance with CDC mitigation guidelines, starting tomorrow at the high school, soon after at the middle school, and the elementary schools, already at two in-person days a week, will open more in April.  Yusi's run a great race, out there answering every question, with her opponent Erik Mason barely showing up (he skipped Candidates Night and one of the questionnaires, and I don't think he has a web presence for his candidacy) and her other opponent Jeffrey Fortin withdrawing.

Lee representative (3 year term)
      O   Nicolas Alcocer   (withdrawn but will appear on the ballot)
      O   Brian Cisneros
      O   ___________________  (write in)

Brian Cisneros is the current Lee representative to the Oyster River school board.  He's been among the board members trying hardest to increase in-person time for students.  Brian brings a lot of expertise to the table as his day job is business administrator of SAU #61, the Farmington school district. 

On Candidates Night 3/4 I got to watch his opponent Nicolas Alcocer, who has good values and would do Lee and Oyster River proud as our representative. He didn't have anywhere near Brian's knowledge or experience so I'm voting for Brian.  [Edit 9pm 3/7] Mr. Alcocer apparently agrees; he's withdrawn and endorsed Brian Cisneros.

Madbury representative (3 year term)
      O   Michelle Dunbar
      O   Daniel Klein
      O   Kevin Abbott (withdrawn but will appear on the ballot)
      O   ___________________  (write in)

Dan Klein is the current Madbury representative to the school board; he's running for his third term. He's done great job on the negotiating committee and the policy committee and much more. I'm voting for Dan.

His opponent Michelle Dunbar has posted on facebook she believes the presidential election was stolen, yada yada. I started this blog in 2012 because a school board member was tweeting inappropriately about Michelle Obama's body; this election stuff is arguably more damaging. Ms. Dunbar and I are not facebook friends; this was a publicly shared post made on November 5 that's still up as I write this.  I don't know how she currently feels as the PTOs chose not to ask my question on Candidates Night.

I thought Ms. Dunbar did well on Candidates Night; it was a civil discussion where she represented her point of view forthrightly.  I don't know who's right in the CDC versus NH DHHS guidelines debate -- that's a reasonable argument to have.  Ms. Dunbar was in favor of the school voucher bill, which I find unforgivable.  Personally you can believe what you want, freedom hell yeah, but as a public school board member at a minimum you need to be against proposed laws that take state money away from public schools, which then has to be extracted from the local property taxpayers, that's you, gentle reader. Ms. Dunbar also said she would vote NO on article three, the school budget.  It's largely symbolic; should NO win we get the default budget and your local school tax bill would be reduced by a miniscule 0.2%.   

Kevin Abbott has withdrawn but will appear on the ballot.

At-Large representative (1 year term)
      O   Allan Howland
      O   Jill Piparo 
      O   Matt Durkee
      O   ___________________  (write in)

I'm voting for Al Howland, who's been the Durham representative to the board since 2012.  He's running to serve an additional year before turning all his attention to Durham, where he's a town councilor.  He wasn't going to run, but with Kenny Rotner's passing I think Al feels an obligation to finish the work they started.  We're lucky have Al, who now has loads of experience under his belt.  His opponents Matt Durkee and Jill Piparo also did an excellent job on Candidates Night, though they couldn't hope to answer with the depth that Al brings. I look forward to supporting one or both of them next year, when this this seat (and another at large seat) is up for election and I do not believe Al plans to run.

Article 3 is the district budget, asking the taxpayers permission to raise and appropriate 50.2 million dollars.  If NO wins we get the default budget, essential expenditures only as prescribed by law, 50.1 million dollars.  Despite popular opinion, the board has kept the increase to the bare minimum while wedging in a new middle school.  

I don't want to go into a long diatribe, but maybe just a couple numbers about how well the board has managed the finances in the the years since 2012, when Tom Newkirk, Maria Barth, Al Howland and Ed Charle ousted the bad board.  Checking NH DOE  (FY13, FY20), Oyster River's Cost Per Pupil went from $16,553 in FY13 to $18,244 in FY20, an increase of $1691, 10%.   Over the same period the state average went from $13,459 to $16,844, an increase of  $3385, 25%.  That's two or two and a half times larger than our increase, depending on how you look at it.

The truth is the school board has pretty consistently delivered budgets, by which I mean the total amount of money asked of the towns, that increase at 3% a year.  That's compared to an inflation rate that's around 2%, and an inflation rate of school costs that's in the 3.5% annual range judging from the state CPP.  This year the board managed 3% while financing half a middle school. 

So why is the tax rate so hurtful, hitting Lee and Madbury with forecasted increases of 10% and 9% respectively on the local school line, and Durham only 2%?  There's some similar story every couple of years, and everyone wrongly blames the school board.  The answer is the way the bill is split, a combination of the apportionment formula agreed to when the cooperative was created, and the state adequacy aid granted directly to the towns.   

The apportionment agreement splits half the school budget, half the bill, to a given town proportionally to the number of students in the town, and the other half proportionally to the equalized real estate valuation of each town.  Those numbers move around pretty much randomly year to year as students come and go, and as various home sales that year get compared to their appraisals, affecting the equalized valuations of the towns.  Then the state weighs in, granting each town state adequacy aid according to a formula that tries to help towns with students from lower incomes and other considerations. 

So even though this year the district kept to its nice and steady if annoying 3% annual rise, state aid was reduced this year compared to last year's rather generous aid.  This affects Lee and Madbury more than Durham because of the state aid formula helps Lee and Madbury more than Durham.  

That's just the story this year.  A few years ago it was a change in the equalization ratio, where a few house sales that year made Lee appear like it has appreciated greatly in value relative to the other towns, making Lee responsible for a larger share of the school bill.   There's always some specific reason for the spike; the real problem is the entire system has this inherent churn that's out of the district's control.

Anyway, I'm voting YES on the budget; the board kept it tight as I tried to illustrate, and if NO wins you only save $0.2% on your taxes, that's $20 off a $10,000 tax bill.  Enjoy a large number six meal with an extra large fries and a shake with your savings. 

You can read more about the tax rate this year in this post from January.

In Article 4 the board switched to a one year contract with the bus drivers, a total increase of $18,070 split among all the drivers.  That doesn't sound like much to me; I expected more.  In recent years the district has been forced to pay more than its negotiated wages because it's so hard to attract enough bus drivers around here, even before the pandemic.  It probably makes sense to do the contract annually with the bus driver market so difficult. I'm voting YES.

Article 5 is another one year contract, this time with ORPaSS, Paraeducators and Support Staff.  The raise is in line with previous years, actually less than the 2020-2021 amount approved in 2018.  I don't know why it's only a one year contract; it's probably due to the pandemic. I'm voting YES -- those paras and support staff do hard jobs for not that much money that's risky during a pandemic. 

There were some slides that went along with the Public Hearing that I can no longer find on the district's website that may have explained this.  Why can't they just leave those links alone until after the election?

When I say the district has kept the increase to 3%, that includes all these warrant articles recommended by the school board.

Article 6 is slightly difficult to understand due to the lawyerly language.  The district is currently allowed to maintain an emergency fund.  The maximum amount of the fund is proscribed by law to 2.5% of the net assessment; for us that works out to around $900,000, which the district had collected over a number of years from the fund balance, the appropriated but unspent money at year end.  This year they used $500K of it to try to offset the tax increases.  There's no way to direct it to just Lee and Madbury so it didn't have that much of an effect.

I'm voting YES.  If this passes it will double the amount of the emergency fund the district can have to almost $2 million.  They'll build it up slowly over the years until they need it again for a big shock.  

Article 7 gets a fund rolling whose purpose is to purchase the middle school solar array when it's up for sale.  The way it works is the initial financing for the array is done by outside investors; Oyster River pays for power from the array for five operating years and then has the option to purchase the array outright, which is a good deal so we're saving a little every year to do so.  I'm voting YES.

That boilerplate about "No amounts to be raised from taxation" is very misleading, if you ask me. Money from the fund balance was raised from the taxpayers last year, so doesn't need to be "raised from taxation" this year in the new budget.  However, if left unspent it would go back to the towns and reduce this year's taxes.  

See everybody at the polls.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Asst. Supt. Allen to retire, Chair Newkirk will not seek chair, Elementary schools to open Wednesdays, Candidates Nights

Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen to retire in June

I don't normally report on the ups and downs of every school board meeting, but last night's was especially newsworthy.  Presumably only the truly obsessed school board watchers like myself stuck it out to the very end of the meeting.  Usually nothing much happens after the board goes into non-public session to discuss sensitive topics at the end of a meeting.  The start of non-public is my cue to go home. 

This time the board had three non-public meetings lasting over a half hour.  They reconvened after each to do the roll call vote to start the next one.  The last time, before adjourning, after 35 minutes of mostly a sign indicating the board was in non-public session, the board came back around 10:30 pm to vote on accepting Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen's retirement effective the end of this year, June 30, 2021.

They seemed as shocked as anyone.  There was nice round of members recounting stories of the first time they met Todd Allen; start the video at 2:52:30 if it doesn't start there automatically.  Thanks to Alexander Taylor for getting the meeting video up so fast.

As for the first time I met Todd, well, I didn't exactly meet him before I inadvertently insulted him in public. Back in 2011 I was at the school board podium making a comment to the bad board (Brackett, Kach, et. al.) about how they had screwed up the ORHS principal selection by failing to hire superstar principal candidate Justin Campbell, who was subsequently snapped up by Hanover.  Todd, the newly selected principal, was of course right there. I added something like, "I mean no disrespect to our new principal."  He graciously smiled and nodded, indicating no offense was taken.  He's a real gentleman. 

It's a big loss to the district, and a big hole to fill.  Unfortunately we probably can't throw much of a party for Todd given the pandemic, so I'll say thank you so much Todd for all your work and dedication to the Oyster River schools for over thirty years, and good luck in the next phase of your life.

Tom Newkirk will not seek the school board chair this month

After the election on Tuesday is certified, the first act of the new board is to choose its chair and vice chair.  Chair Tom Newkirk was first elected vice chair in 2012, right after he was elected to the school board, and has served as chair continually since 2014.  Chair Newkirk announced last night that he won't seek another term as chair.

Tom led the district through many difficult issues over the years.  Just a scroll through the headlines of this blog, we see issues of football, the high school field, redistricting, later start times, the new middle school, racism, cell phone policy, competency reporting, the pandemic, the turnover of every administrative position except superintendent and ORMS principal, and much more, all handled during his tenure with his usual aplomb.  

Tom will remain on the board; his current term runs another year.   He didn't mention if he'll seek reelection then.

I'll start the speculation on the new chair.  It of course depends on the outcome of Tuesday's election; it's the new board that votes for chair. Vice Chair Michael Williams signaled his interest in the position by running for vice chair against Denise Day last March. Ms. Day had been vice chair for a few years before Mr. Williams.  

I think of Board Member Williams as the maverick on the board, often the 1 in 6-1 votes.  It's hard to advocate and be chair at the same time, but I'm sure Mr. Williams could make it work.  

As for the other possibilities; let's assume the incumbents win election. I'd rule out Member Turell as being too new, and Member Howland probably isn't interested as I don't believe he's planning to run for reelection should he win the one year term on Tuesday.  That leaves members Williams, Cisneros, Day and Klein as the likely possibilities.  

I won't try to guess who'll they choose.  I'd say members Day and Klein have the most calm demeanor / team player / consensus builder / good listener / attention to procedure qualities that would be ideal to for the chair to have, and that Chair Newkirk had in droves.  But really any of the members would be fine chairs. 

Schools to open for more in-person time

This Monday, March 8, is the scheduled day for ORHS and ORMS to start bring every student who cares to attend in person into the buildings two days per week.  The ORHS change has been planned for a while now; I think the principal said that 55% of the students opted to attend in person.  The students get another chance to change their minds when the fourth quarter begins, I think in early April.

The ORMS change is a consequence of the governor's order.  Middle school students who wish to, currently attend in-person one day a week.  The district considered writing an appeal to the governor to keep the current system, as the middle school change results in an increase in asynchronous time, in which the student is expected to complete work independently. That was what one of the non-public sessions was about; they didn't take any action after it so I don't think the appeal will be made and the district will scramble to comply with the governor's order.  [EDIT 2pm 3/4: I'm told that no action means the decision to send the appeal stands; it's not likely to succeed given a similar appeal from Dover failed.]  It's not particularly reasonable for the governor that's punted the responsibility to the local districts for the last year to now issue a decree because he doesn't like what some have done, but that's life.

The elementary school is increasing in-person time by opening up Wednesdays, starting April 9.   The board approved the change 6-1, with Chair Newkirk voting against.  The elementary school principals Misty Lowe and David Goldsmith presented a three way choice: first graders back full time, bringing kids in for additional time on Wednesdays, or keeping everything the same.  It seemed pretty clear to me (and Chair Newkirk) that the principals favored not changing, though I don't think either came out and said it. It's unusual for the board to overrule the administrators but here they are clearly reflecting the parents' desire for more in-person time at school.

The principals were most concerned over the loss of the Wednesday relearning days; not sure if they call them that at the elementary school level.  Currently throughout the district, teachers don't teach new classes on Wednesday; the students use that day for relearning and the teachers use it as planning time, meeting time, and for professional development. The principals repeatedly warned essentially that education would suffer without those Wednesdays for teachers; the board said to do it anyway.

Candidates Nights

The Moharimet PTO did a great job hosting and moderating Candidates Night for the Madbury and At-large seats last Tuesday, 3/2.  There are two candidates for the Madbury seat, incumbent Dan Klein and Michelle Dunbar (Kevin Abbott has withdrawn), and three candidates for the one-year at-large seat, incumbent Al Howland, Jill Piparo and Matt Durkee.  The hosts and all the candidates should be very proud of the debate on Tuesday night.  I suggest all interested citizens watch it.  It lasted a little under two hours, exceeding the 90 minutes scheduled, but long enough for all the candidates to make their positions known on most of the issues.

Around 53 people watched on Zoom; I assume there were a similar number on facebook chat but I forgot to check.  I won't try to recap the debate here.  My pet peeve is when some candidates don't seem prepared enough to even know when they're misunderstanding the question.  But that's just me; they all came across as reasonable and Oyster River will likely be fine with any of these folks elected.  I didn't change my opinion about who I'm voting for on Tuesday (the incumbents), but the debate did make me look forward to supporting some of the others in future years.

Tonight, Thursday March 4, is the second Candidates night, hosted by the Mast Way PTO, nominally 7-8:30 pm, for the Lee and Durham Candidates.  Here are the links; it was fun to watch live on Tuesday; at the end they asked audience questions contributed via Zoom chat and Facebook live chat; presumably they'll do the same tonight.

                Zoom link: https://unh.zoom.us/j/93958293211... Password: 123456
                Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/events/2813560815534517

The Durham candidates are the incumbent Yusi Turell and newcomer Erik Mason. Controversial candidate Jeff Fortin has dropped out to spend less time with his family.  

The Lee Candidates are the incumbent Brian Cisneros and Nicolas Alcocer.  There was a third candidate, Debra Cavanaugh, who filed and quickly withdrew, I think in time to have gotten her name off the ballot; we'll see. 

This is just meant to be a quick update; I wasn't going to write anything until after tonight's debate, but there was just too much news to get out.  Please see my previous post for more on the candidates.  

See everybody on chat at the debate tonight!