Choice in School Board election

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Choice in School Board election

Postby MattPublicover » Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:55 pm

This year, the people of Merrimack have a clear choice in the School Board election. There is one seat up for grabs, and two candidates with very different viewpoints. Both are experienced, and both have strong, vocal constituencies. This election is an opportunity for voters to indicate unmistakably what their vision is for the Merrimack School District. Let's see what the majority decides.

The situation is very different for the School Budget Committee. Once again, there are only as many candidates as there are openings. I thank the six people who chose to put their name in. But I do think it is unfortunate that the townspeople will have no say on whether they want a budget committee that is focused on tax cutting or education preservation. Regardless of what the majority in this town would like to see on the Budget Committee, what they will end up with is the viewpoints of the 12 people who happen to have signed up over the years. Even having Budget Committee members appointed by some elected board would result in a more thorough vetting process.

This is not a knock on the individuals who are running. They look like a good group, and there should be lively discussions next fall. But is it a good example of a representative democracy?

Having two very different candidates running for School Board is a good thing. Personally, I would suggest voters keep in mind that serving on the School Board is not JUST about managing the budget. It is also about managing the quality of the education we are giving to the children of our town. Please keep that in mind when you vote.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby RBarnes » Fri Apr 01, 2011 6:55 am

Matt I agree with you on the point that it is unfortunate that we do not have more choices but that's not a new issue, seems to be the unfortunate reality most years.

I do take issue with one other point you make though...

MattPublicover wrote:But I do think it is unfortunate that the townspeople will have no say on whether they want a budget committee that is focused on tax cutting or education preservation.


I don't see this as a one or the other choice. Our current school board has done an amazing job taking us from being 14% above the state average per spending level to below the state average per spending level and at the same time has gotten us out of being a district in needs of improvement and put us above state average for test scores. Smart cuts and budget redistribution will remove unnecessary spending and refocus it on areas that show a better return on investment.

The biggest problem with government in general is it doesn't often do this. We never look to see what the bang for our buck actually is and consider options that may give a bigger bang for less bucks.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby ggkrupp » Fri Apr 01, 2011 7:39 am

Matt & Rick,

I think you both make some great points. Since you are both former members of the Budget Committee I wonder how you would answer the following question that I submitted for candidate's night

Given that the sum total of all budget committee changes in the last 5 years represents only two-tenths of a percent (0.2%) of this year's total operating budget, how would you characterize the need for this committee on a spectrum ranging from unnecessary bureaucracy to absolutely essential oversight?

Budget Committee Changes to the school operating budget:
2007 - a cut of $109,944 that was the realised savings due to replacing 10 teachers who were retiring with new hires.
2008 - removed $500 from the Thornton's Ferry School Postage Account
2009 - added $4,480 to the middle school budget to reinstate its Academic Assistance Program
2010 - added $21,918 dollars to fund a part-time business teaching position that had been cut by the School Board
2011 - No change
Total $136,842

2011 Proposed Budget Total $65,340,419
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby ggkrupp » Fri Apr 01, 2011 7:50 am

BTW, I also think that frugal spending and a quality education are not mutually exclusive concepts ...
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby andysinnh » Fri Apr 01, 2011 8:04 am

Matt, Rick and Gary - all very good points, and let me see if I can give my two cents into the conversation.

First, to Matt's point about a BC that is focused on either educational preservation or tax cutting. You can go back for decades in Merrimack and see that virtually every board and every committee has cycled back and forth between focus on reduced costs and focus on advancements in programs over the years - and it's dependent on the economy at the time and the interest of those who choose to run for a position, and the mindset of the voters. This is typically more choice at the SB or even TC levels, as the board is smaller and a single vote can sway things a whole lot more. The BC (whether under it's current school focus, or even before when it had town responsiblity) is always a larger pool of viewpoints, and typically have limited contested races in terms of choices at the ballot box. I can think of ony a few times in the past 5 years when there were more candidates than there were available seats. So, yes, it might not be a balanced representation of all viewpoints - but it really boils down to those who choose to run and care enough about the spending in the school (or town) to volunteer their time. It is what it is, and that's our local government in a nutshell. I don't know how you'd ever go to an appointement method for the BC - because there'd always be a worry of bias by the group that does the appointment that the appointees would not be truly impartial. At least in our current model the voters get to choose.

Next, to Gary's comment on what the BC ends up changing. I can share first-hand experience from the last 4 years. On paper, one could argue that the BC has carte blanche to adjust the bottom-line spending figure to whatever they want, and send that along to the DS and ultimately the ballot box. But in reality, we are an oversight committee looking at the significant detailed budget as prepared by the school district administration and then reviewed/adjusted by the school board. These two levels of creation/review are not only detailed and scruitinzed, but also done in a very mindful way based on what the realities of the current economy and environment might be for that particular year. By the time the BC gets the budget, many of the questions have been asked/answered and the "what if" scenarios have been played out. And having the BC members listen to every meeting and conversation helps to give our committee the background to prepare us for our own deliberations.

This past year, several people have been critical of the budget committee for not taking actions to reduce the budget given the tough economic times. And two of our members did try to propose some cuts in the budget, and the full committee thoroughly discussed each proposed change. And, in the end, the 12 members of the committee (including the SB liaison) voted and the majority thought the cuts were not warranted, based on the information we had at the time. Each of us had to balance, in our own perspective, the benefits of the spending item vs the downside of not having the money to do it. This year, most thought the cuts shouldn't happen. But other times, we have voted for cuts. And let's be fully honest. If the governor's proposed budget had been laid out while the BC was still deliberating the budget, I can all but guarantee that some additional cuts would have been approved by a majority of the committee. All one has to do is look at the vote of the BC members at the DS when the $500k reduction was proposed. The majority was in favor of it, as opposed to the overall DS vote which voted against the cut. I think it says something siginficant about the mindset of the BC and our desire to balance reality from the educational needs.

So - is it unnecessary beaurocracy or a necessary oversight? I contend that we must have it in place to, at a minimum, be a sanity-check on the budget process of the administration and SB. Recently I think the administration and SB has done a great job of trying to pare costs and keep the educational level where many parents feel it should be, and the BC is just another set of eyes/ears/research to help add some credence to that process. And the fact that we have the ability to adjust the bottom line - in cases like the budget changes should the timing fall into our window of opportunity - is something that we should not lose.

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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Jeannine Stergios » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:49 pm

Andy

I think your committee will have to look at the bottom line. Marge was able to find an additional $1million in cuts if our state aid doesn't arrive. Seems to me your group needs to consider the cuts in aid coming our way next year and be a bit more pro-active with making cuts. I was one of the people who criticized the rubber stamp given to the school budget this year. The only reason the 500K got voted down at the DS is because the place was loaded with teachers. If you don't pay close attention in this town you have no idea what's going on or why. This is how the budget keeps rising when you've got a place filled with people who only care about saving their jobs or their colleagues' jobs. I really don't think the system we have is feasible any more. When 100 people have the power to add $500k to the budget well it's just wrong in my mind. We have an elected School Board and a School Budget Committee to make those decisions - we don't need the teachers to have the ability to change their decisions.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Dennis King » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:59 pm

Jeannine Stergios wrote:Andy

I think your committee will have to look at the bottom line. Marge was able to find an additional $1million in cuts if our state aid doesn't arrive. Seems to me your group needs to consider the cuts in aid coming our way next year and be a bit more pro-active with making cuts. I was one of the people who criticized the rubber stamp given to the school budget this year. The only reason the 500K got voted down at the DS is because the place was loaded with teachers. If you don't pay close attention in this town you have no idea what's going on or why. This is how the budget keeps rising when you've got a place filled with people who only care about saving their jobs or their colleagues' jobs. I really don't think the system we have is feasible any more. When 100 people have the power to add $500k to the budget well it's just wrong in my mind. We have an elected School Board and a School Budget Committee to make those decisions - we don't need the teachers to have the ability to change their decisions.


This is the very reason why we should go back to a town meeting form of government. All you need to do is to close each article after the vote (no "reconsideration"). That way, the town has a better chance to make up for all the teachers as instead of 200, we have 2,000 turn out (Last town meeting was in 3 locations by satellite hook ups.

Of course if the SB follows the all powerful TC, who cares what the voters want, just change the budget. Why even bother will a town vote, they just need to put it in the budget. After all, Tim Tenhave has shown the way on this form or "leadership". Sure glad he was on the TC when the ban on alcohol ordinance the whole town voted for was changed by the TC to allow exceptions. Funny how he was the first one to get an "exception" in direct opposition to the town vote.

Our votes are meaningless when the TC decides to do what they want even with town opposition. So Marge wants 2 million for new digs, take a page from the TC, why ask the taxpayers, just put it in the budget! After all, didn't those teachers do the same thing at DS?
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby RayWhipple » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:01 pm

Jeannine Stergios wrote:Andy

I think your committee will have to look at the bottom line. Marge was able to find an additional $1million in cuts if our state aid doesn't arrive. Seems to me your group needs to consider the cuts in aid coming our way next year and be a bit more pro-active with making cuts. I was one of the people who criticized the rubber stamp given to the school budget this year. The only reason the 500K got voted down at the DS is because the place was loaded with teachers. If you don't pay close attention in this town you have no idea what's going on or why. This is how the budget keeps rising when you've got a place filled with people who only care about saving their jobs or their colleagues' jobs. I really don't think the system we have is feasible any more. When 100 people have the power to add $500k to the budget well it's just wrong in my mind. We have an elected School Board and a School Budget Committee to make those decisions - we don't need the teachers to have the ability to change their decisions.


How many teachers actualy live in Merrimack? I can accept that the reason it was voted down was beacause of all teachers in the room. Can't be that there was people that did not believe in the cut? No one person or group influence my vote on any subject. I look at all the points on both sides. And to say like Dennis has that if those that voted against the cut were afraid of the teachers is just wrong.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby ggkrupp » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:13 pm

andysinnh wrote:So - is it unnecessary beaurocracy or a necessary oversight? I contend that we must have it in place to, at a minimum, be a sanity-check on the budget process of the administration and SB. Recently I think the administration and SB has done a great job of trying to pare costs and keep the educational level where many parents feel it should be, and the BC is just another set of eyes/ears/research to help add some credence to that process. And the fact that we have the ability to adjust the bottom line - in cases like the budget changes should the timing fall into our window of opportunity - is something that we should not lose.


Andy,

Thank you for your response as it really helps this rookie gain some perspective. :)

Let me ask this, when the town switched over to the charter (which happens to be the same year I moved into the State), why was budget committee dumped for the town portion yet kept for the school bit?
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Dennis King » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:25 pm

RayWhipple wrote:How many teachers actualy live in Merrimack? I can accept that the reason it was voted down was beacause of all teachers in the room. Can't be that there was people that did not believe in the cut? No one person or group influence my vote on any subject. I look at all the points on both sides. And to say like Dennis has that if those that voted against the cut were afraid of the teachers is just wrong.


The vote was much closer to 60/40, not a landslide as Stan has portrayed it to be. If I was there, I would have asked for a secret ballot. It is one thing to listen to teachers and aides who are going to loose their jobs argue it is for the "children"

(funny never hear them say we should cut their benefits so we can keep the teachers, wouldn't that be better for the "children")

Of course there were also the liberal parents who equate spending with quality education speaking against the cuts.

(just ask the charter school that provides a far better education for 1/4 the price we pay).

When these people step to the mike and with tears in their eyes they talk about spending over a half a million more that the SB wants as it is for "the children", well it is hard not to raise your card when they are sitting so next to you, especially if your child might be in their class.

I favor a return to the BOS with town meeting form of government, it will dilute the influence of the teacher/government unions and get us back to our roots.

While not as "convenient" it does allow all to have a voice, to learn from each other and in essence to be a town. It was the social event of the year, those who remember it know what I am talking about. Time to go back in time, it was not that long ago, lets return the power to the people, we only need to look at the TC to see the result when you have all that power. What is it they say, power corrupts and absolute power.,,,
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Jeannine Stergios » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:29 pm

Ray

I don't know how many live in town but I do know that only 100 people were able to stick 500K back into our tax bills. Most the of the people who spoke against the cuts were directly impacted as employees of the Merrimack schools. They were trying to save their own job or their colleagues. Then you have a few who love to spend other peoples' money with the mistaken notion that more money increases the quality when in fact, more money is typically for raises or increases in health insurance and does ZERO to improve the quality of education for a single child.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Brian McCarthy » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:34 pm

The Charter was only for the Town government. If the Charter Commission had recommended that we go to a City form, then the School District would have been rolled into it and the wording would have been such as to abolish both budget committees.

I believe all the minutes and such for the Charter committee are on the town site, or on the Charter site http://charter.merrimacknh.org


ggkrupp wrote:
andysinnh wrote:So - is it unnecessary beaurocracy or a necessary oversight? I contend that we must have it in place to, at a minimum, be a sanity-check on the budget process of the administration and SB. Recently I think the administration and SB has done a great job of trying to pare costs and keep the educational level where many parents feel it should be, and the BC is just another set of eyes/ears/research to help add some credence to that process. And the fact that we have the ability to adjust the bottom line - in cases like the budget changes should the timing fall into our window of opportunity - is something that we should not lose.


Andy,

Thank you for your response as it really helps this rookie gain some perspective. :)

Let me ask this, when the town switched over to the charter (which happens to be the same year I moved into the State), why was budget committee dumped for the town portion yet kept for the school bit?
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Wayne » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:48 pm

RayWhipple wrote:I can accept that the reason it was voted down was beacause of all teachers in the room.

Maybe you can, but you shouldn't. I have heard no proof that this was the case - it might be just an excuse for some people on this forum who don't like the way the vote went.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Jeannine Stergios » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:53 pm

Wayne

DId you attend or watch the School DS? I watched it and the majority of people who spoke against the cut were school employees whose jobs were on the chopping block or their friend's jobs were being cut. There were also a few parents (as if cutting 500K out of a 65Million is cuase for a panic) who want the best but expect others to foot the bill rather than spending their own money for a private school.
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Re: Choice in School Board election

Postby Norman Phillips » Fri Apr 01, 2011 3:01 pm

GGKrupp posted as follows:
Let me ask this, when the town switched over to the charter (which happens to be the same year I moved into the State), why was budget committee dumped for the town portion yet kept for the school bit?

These were two separate actions.
1. The charter commission explicitly eliminated the Municipal Budget Committee from the proposed charter. And, according to state law, the charter proposal could not be changed at the Deliberate Session.
2. As a member of the Municipal Budget Committee I did not like this change and submitted a petitioned article to initiate a BC for the School District.

My petition passed by a very large majority, even slightly larger than the majority that passed the charter. ( Incidentally, the next election cycle saw a large element of confusion, because of undefined changes by the new council in fire department personnel. These changes would have been clarified by the former Municipal Budget Committee if it had existed. )
I did not submit a petition to undo the elimination of the Municipal Budget Committee because it was my strong view and understanding that the Municipal Budget Committee existed primarily to serve the taxpayers. It did this by providing a studied oversight of the budgets proposed by the Council, School Board, and Village District commissioners. As such, I felt that it should be up to someone else to initiate such a petition.
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