Category Archives: Superintendent

Education Funding in New Hampshire

Thanks to the many Pittsfield taxpayers who joined the recent meeting on Education Funding in New Hampshire. We were joined by many concerned taxpayers from across our state as we learned about the inequities in the state’s funding scheme and the failure of the legislature to address the issue in an equitable manner as required by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The presenters for our meeting – former Claremont case attorneys Andru Volinsky and John Tobin – draw two conclusions regarding next steps to correct the unjust system: a lawsuit that again challenges the state’s failure to meet its duty to our students and taxpayers and a focus on the issue of school funding in this fall’s elections for governor and the state legislature.

I’m sure that we’ll be hearing more about both of these initiatives. In the meantime, folks who were unable to attend the meeting (and those who did) can learn more about this important issue and its impact on Pittsfield through these links:

  • Pittsfield and School Funding – Impact of school funding “reforms” on Pittsfield’s taxpayers and students

School Funding Workshop – 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 13, PMHS

Reminder to Pittsfield taxpayers that the school district will be hosting a workshop on New Hampshire’s school funding system at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at PMHS.  All are invited.

The workshop will be presented by Attorney Andru Volinsky, a current Executive Council member and former lead attorney in the most recent challenges to the state’s funding system, which became known as the Claremont Cases.

In an opinion written for the New Hampshire Bar News and published in April, Attorney John Tobin, also a member of the Claremont legal team, recognized that the “inequities in NH school funding” have not only not been addressed by the state, but are indeed worsening.

In his article, Attorney Tobin reaches two conclusions: “first, by not paying anything close to the true cost of a constitutionally adequate education as the State itself has defined it, the State is violating its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education…”

(The state’s base per student allocation for the current school year is $3636.06, while the state average cost per pupil in 2016-2017, the latest year available, was $15,310.67.)

He further concludes that “by requiring school districts with greatly varying levels of property wealth per student to raise a large portion of the funds needed to meet the State’s duty, with the resulting disproportionate tax rates, the State funding system violates the holding” in the second Claremont ruling.

(For example, Moultonborough’s local education tax rate for 2017 is $2.12/thousand, while Pittsfield’s is $18.60.)

Important information on this topic can be found here published by the NH Center for Public Policy Studies, and in two recent documents written by Doug Hall, who has worked on the issue since the 1990’s.  Pittsfield and School FundingThe Claremont Reforms in 2018

To learn more about the state’s inequitable system and what might be done to correct it, plan to join the workshop at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 13, at PMHS.

New Hampshire Education Funding and Pittsfield’s Students

Our state’s over-reliance on local property taxes to support public schools disadvantages Pittsfield’s students and other New Hampshire students who live in towns that are often referred to as “property-poor” towns, towns with limited ability to support its students.

In multiple rulings, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has clearly affirmed the state’s responsibility to support public education.  But in reality, the state has provided little to no relief for taxpayers and continued inequity for our children and youth:  the unequal playing field that has been long established continues to be maintained.

The well-known Claremont Lawsuit and its successors was expected to remedy this problem, but in fact has not done so. In fact, the recent elimination of stabilization grants to property-poor towns has worsened the inequity.

The state’s negligence has been well documented in an analysis conducted by the former New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies issued in June 2017: http://www.nhpolicy.org/report/ education-finance-in-new-hampshire-headed-to-a-rural-crisis.

The result of this inequity has resulted in sky-high tax rates for Pittsfield and other property-poor towns and the limiting of opportunities for Pittsfield’s students. The Pittsfield School Board has recently eliminated teaching and support positions at both schools which increase class sizes and cut out such positions as foreign language teacher and technology education (shop) teacher.

At its meeting of April 19, the Pittsfield School Board discussed school funding with Attorney Andru Volinsky, the lead attorney in the Claremont Lawsuit. The Board is in the process of evaluating options regarding this very frustrating situation.

To assist in this decision-making process, Attorney Volinsky will be providing a workshop on New Hampshire school funding, to which all Pittsfield citizens are invited. This workshop will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at PMHS.

Pittsfield residents are invited and encouraged to enter into this very important conversation. Please give your participation your most serious consideration.

Teens and Sleep

Olympic gold medalist and former professional boxing champion George Foreman is credited as saying “I think sleeping was my problem in school. If school had started at four in the afternoon, I’d be a college graduate today.”

It’s likely that Mr. Foreman was thinking about middle school or high school when he hoped for a later start to his school day. Research generated over the last fifteen to twenty years documents the ways that sleeping patterns change over our lifetimes and points out the powerful impact of sleep deprivation on our lives.

We know, for example, that while some of us are early birds and others are night owls, most of us fall somewhere in between. And we also know that lack of sleep or lack of good quality sleep increases the risk of a range of disorders, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and obesity, among others.

We’ve also learned that teenagers’ sleep cycles shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty, typically between 10 and 14 for girls and between 12 and 16 for boys. As a parent of three former teenagers, I can recall the challenges of getting kids up and running for early-morning family commitments:  not my fondest memories of our kids’ growing-up years.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of pediatricians and pediatric medical specialists, issued a report back in 2014 in which it recommended a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high school students. (At that time, only 15% of American high schools started at 8:30 a.m. or later.) 

Pittsfield School District Voter’s Guide

The 2018 School District Meeting Session 2 for ballot voting will be Tuesday, March 13, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Town Hall, located on Main Street in Pittsfield.

The Pittsfield School District is providing this Voter’s Guide to District residents to support your understanding of this year’s ballot voting decision. This document includes the warrant articles which will be decided during the ballot voting portion of the annual school district meeting on Tuesday, March 13.  Each article is followed by a brief explanation of the article (in italics).  Please contact school board members or the superintendent of schools with any questions:

To vote, completely fill in the OVAL to the RIGHT of your choice, YES or NO on the ballot that you will receive at Town Hall on Tuesday, March 13.

Election of School Board Members and School District Moderator

School Board Members: Vote for not more than two:

  • Ralph Odell
  • Heidi Ann Asdot
  • Adam Gauthier
  • (space provided for write-in candidates)

School District Moderator: Vote for not more than one:

  • Gerard Leduc
  • (space provided for write-in candidates)

Articles

 ARTICLE 02 – School Lunch Program

To see if the Pittsfield School District will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $330,000 for the support of the School Lunch Program. This appropriation will be funded by a like amount of revenue from the sale of food and state and federal sources.  (Estimated tax impact of this article:  $0.) Recommended by the Pittsfield School Board. Recommended by the Pittsfield Budget Committee (13 yes, 0 no).  (Majority vote required.)

A YES vote for Article 02 – School Lunch Program authorizes the school district to expend funds raised through sale of food and entitlement grants from state and federal sources. The funds raised will support the lunch program entirely with no school district funds being required.  A NO vote would prevent the expenditure of funds to operate the food services program, which means that the school lunch program would be eliminated or be supported by school district funds.

 ARTICLE 03 – Receive and Expend Grant Funds

To see if the Pittsfield School District will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $1,100,000 for the support of federal and private foundation grant-funded educational programs of the Pittsfield School District. This appropriation is contingent upon receiving revenue from federal grants and private foundations and will be expended in accordance with federal and state requirements upon approval by the New Hampshire Department of Education or private foundation requirements.  (Estimated tax impact of this article:  $0.) Recommended by the Pittsfield School Board. Recommended by the Pittsfield Budget Committee (13 yes, 0 no).  (Majority vote required.)

A YES vote for Article 03 – Receive and Expend Grant Funds authorizes the school district to receive and expend both entitlement and competitive grant funds. (Entitlement grants are assured by our government as long as grant guidelines are met.)  Grant funds provide funding for several educational programs including support for special needs students and students requiring academic help, among other purposes.  The article also commits the district to expend funds in compliance with government rules or requirements of private fund sources.  It is anticipated that the district will receive no more than $1,100,000 in gratd funds in 2018-2019.  A NO vote would prevent the receipt and expenditure of grant funds.  Funds from the state or federal government would be refused, and the district would not accept any competitive grant funds.

 ARTICLE 04 – Operating Budget

School District Budget Voting

Pittsfield voters are strongly encouraged to join the deliberative session of the annual school district meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 8, at the Pittsfield Elementary School for explanation, discussion, debate, and amendments to the proposed operating budget and warrant articles.

The two key articles include:

  • Article IV: collective bargaining agreement with teachers’ union
    • Since the defeat of the previous proposed agreement, Pittsfield teachers have been working without a contract this year; the proposed one-year agreement will cost an estimated $99,885 or a tax impact of $.37/thousand.
  • Article V: school district operating budget
    • The proposed budget includes no new positions or programs; due to increased cost of various obligations, the current version of the proposed budget includes an increase of $303,490 or a tax impact of $1.15/thousand.

The Board had originally developed a budget that was $92,500 greater than the current version; however, the Budget Committee recommended a reduction of this amount. The Board has since voted to support the Budget Committee’s recommendation and thanks the Committee for its thorough review of the proposed budget.

Voters are encouraged to visit the school district website – pittsfieldnhschools.org – to find proposed budget information. Reading school budget data can be confusing; good understanding of the budget has been hampered by misinformation being circulated in the community.  School Board members and the district administration are available to answer budget questions:

Pittsfield voters are asked to support our students, teachers, and schools with your participation in the deliberative session and to vote in favor of our collective bargaining agreement and proposed school district budget.  Our chlidren’s futures depend on the strong educational foundation provided by our Pittsfield schools.

School District Proposed Budget for 2018-2019

The Pittsfield School District proposed budget for the 2018-2019 school year reflects an increase of $517,461 and increases from the current year budget of $10,105,763 to $10,623,224 (an estimated tax rate increase of $1.50/thousand). While this is a greater than usual Pittsfield single-year increase, the ten-year increase (since 2008-2009) has been about 7%, or about half the rate of inflation. The proposed budget includes no new programs or services to students.

Additional expenses in this proposed budget over the current year budget include the reinstitution of a behavior support position, the addition of a student assistance program (drug and alcohol) counselor, the replacement of two and a half positions back into the budget that are grant-funded this year (all had previously been district-funded), increased special education costs, technology equipment replacement, and modest salary increases for non-union employees.

Savings in this proposed budget over the current year budget include electricity and oil savings due to energy efficiency measures and changes in suppliers, the elimination of one administrative position, the elimination of the school resource officer position, the hiring of three teachers to replace nine support staff positions, the replacement of health insurance plans in favor of a less-expensive plan, and the increase of the employee contributions to health insurance plans.

The district has also developed a default budget, which is the budget that would be adopted if the proposed budget were to be rejected by voters.  The default budget is intended to mirror the current year budget with certain allowable increases that include contracts and other obligations incurred or mandated by law.

The default budget reflects an increase of $96,756, or an increase from the current year budget of $10,105,763 to $10,202,519 (an estimated tax rate increase of $.37/thousand). Adoption of the default budget would effect a reduction of $420,705 from the proposed budget, 4% of the total proposed budget.

Additionally, the warrant will include a proposed new collective bargaining agreement between the district and the teacher bargaining unit. The proposal represents a one-year agreement that will cost an estimated $99,885 (or an estimated tax rate increase of $.38/thousand).  Terms include a salary guide increase of 1.5%, the replacement of health insurance plans in favor of a less-expensive plan, and the increase of the employee contribution to health insurance plans.

In the larger picture, Pittsfield’s annual funding struggles and conflicts reflect inequities built into the state’s school funding scheme that disadvantage property-poor towns and school districts. Although our Supreme Court mandated that the legislature fix this system back in the 1990’s, there has been no fix; voters might be interested in the non-partisan report on this critical issue at http://www. nhpolicy.org/report/education- finance-in-new-hampshire-headed-to-a-rural-crisis.  The legislature may exacerbate this local funding crisis with the tuition bill  now under consideration in Concord (https:// reachinghighernh.org/2017/12/06/reaching-higher-nh-study-sb-193-finds-disproportionate-impact-cities-property-poor-districts/).

Voters are strongly encouraged to join the deliberative session of the annual school district meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 8, at the Pittsfield Elementary School for explanation, discussion, debate, and amendments to the proposed operating budget and warrant articles.

School District Meeting Calendar

As a result of last year’s vote, the Pittsfield School District will be conducting this year’s annual meeting under the rules of the Official Ballot Law, commonly called SB2. As a result, the annual meeting will take a different form from past meetings, and the calendar of events will also be different:

  • Wed Jan 10: Budget Committee Hearing – 7:00 p.m., PMHS Lecture Hall
    • The Budget Committee will hear comments and suggestions regarding the proposed school district budget
    • Snow date for Budget Committee hearing: Thurs Jan 11
  • Thurs Feb 8: First Session, Deliberative – 7:00 p.m., PES Gym
    • All warrant articles will be considered
    • Voters will have the opportunity to hear explanations of articles, to discuss articles, and to amend articles
    • Each warrant article will be voted on to determine the final language of the article
    • Voters will not be voting on whether to pass or not pass warrant articles
    • Snow Date for First Session – Deliberative: Fri Feb 9
  • Tue Mar 13: Second Session, Voting by Ballot – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Town Hall
    • Voters will mark yes or no on each warrant article in voting booths
    • Voters will not have the opportunity to ask questions about the warrant articles
    • Voters who cannot cast their ballots in person may request an absentee ballot
    • Final outcomes of warrant articles will be decided by secret ballots cast during the voting hours

Pittsfield voters are encouraged to participate in these important events. Two key issues on this year’s school district warrant will be the (1) district’s operating budget for the 2018-2019 school year and (2) a proposed collective bargaining agreement between the district and the district’s teacher union.

PES Rises Above “Focus School” Designation

For several years, Pittsfield Elementary School (PES) has been identified by the New Hampshire Department of Education as a “focus school.”  This has meant that the Department has calculated that the “achievement gap” between subgroups of students (such as “economically disadvantaged” or “students with disabilities”) has been among the ten percent of schools with the largest gap in the state when compared with the combined index of all New Hampshire students.

As a result of this designation, PES has been required to develop annual improvement plans and has received additional support for this important work from the state.  Among these supports provided by the Department of Education have been an improvement coach, regular professional development, and participation in an annual summertime educational summit by our teachers and administrators.  The Department has also closely monitored PES’s planning, implementation, and annual results.

On October 12, Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced that “Pittsfield Elementary School has reached the criteria necessary to exit the status of a … Focus School for the 2017-2018 school year.”  Needless to say, we were very pleased to receive this announcement and are very proud of the fine work of our students, teachers, support staff, and families in supporting the achievement of all students.

In his letter to the district, Commissioner Edelblut wrote “Please share our thanks with your staff for all the hard work and effort to improve your school and community culture, instructional strategies, and support for your teachers and the achievement level of your students.  Your diligent work over the past four years is highly appreciated by all the staff at the New Hampshire Department of Education.  Keep up your good work!  Once again, congratulations!”

Removal of the designation of “focus school” does not mean that PES will cease school improvement work; of course, school improvement is a constant goal.  However, it is important to pause at milestones such as this one to recognize the school’s positive achievement.  Rising above the state’s “focus school” designation is an achievement in which our entire community of Pittsfield can take great pride.

School District Collective Bargaining Agreement

We strongly encourage all Pittsfield voters to cast your ballot in favor of our proposed new teacher contract. This important vote will be held from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 19, at Town Hall.

The proposed contract is a one-year agreement that maintains the same salary schedule and benefits offered that were agreed-to in the now-expired agreement in place last school year. No changes to the salary schedule or benefits offered are part of the new agreement.

Because teachers are facing increases in their required contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System and health insurance, take-home pay is being decreased unless the new agreement is accepted by voters. With a yes vote, experienced teachers will advance a step on the salary schedule, resulting in modest salary increases.

If accepted, the estimated cost of this new contract is $66,486; this represents an increase of $.25/thousand on the tax rate. In other words, a property valued at $100,000 will be assessed an additional $25.00 for the next tax year.

At this point, the district’s fund balance from the 2016-2017 school year is estimated to be about $85,000. However, because bills are still coming in for services provided or authorized prior to July and because the district’s revenues have not been finalized, the tax impact of this estimated fund balance is not yet known.

For more information, please visit the school district website – pittsfieldnhschools.org – and see articles printed in the Suncook Valley Sun over the past three issues.  Please also feel free to contact our superintendent of schools, John Freeman (435-5526 or sau51super@metrocast.net), with your questions.

Both the Pittsfield School Board and the Pittsfield Budget Committee recommend that you vote yes on this proposed contract.  Your vote is important to our students, our schools, and our teachers.  Please vote yes on Tuesday, September 19, at Town Hall.

Submitted by the Pittsfield School Board

Mike Wolfe, chair; Bea Douglas, vice-chair; Linda Freese, Ted Mitchell, Ralph Odell