School Board member berates taxpayer

At the May 19th, 2016 School Board Meeting, I asked the school board to provide an update on what the School Board had done over the last several years to investigate alternatives to the building renovations which are part of the current $5.5 million Russell School capital improvement plan.

The school board representatives responded by making reference to a study done back in May 1988.   The study was titled “Feasibility study on the establishment of a Cooperative School District on an area plan for grades 9-12 in SAU #48 with and without Ashland.” The study had nothing to do with addressing the educational needs of Rumney for grades K-8.  So why is the school board referencing a 28 year old study which is obsolete and totally irrelevant to the circumstances which exist in Rumney today?

I requested access to that study and reviewed it.  The only information I found applicable to today’s circumstances was the following quote:

“Two reasons for the school districts in SAU #48 to stay together under a cooperative plan:

EDUCATION: It is not possible for any one district to provide the range of educational opportunities required by students today in order for them to be prepared for the world of tomorrow.

FINANCIAL:  By combining resources, the Taxpayers will be better served.”

Those two reasons ring more true today than they did back in May 1988.

Studies done with Wentworth were also cited by school board representatives at the May 19th meeting.  However, when I asked if these studies were in written form so that I could review them,  Jerry Thibodeau, school board vice chair, rudely interrupted me, and said:

“You’re really going over the edge right now”

“Are you the only person in this town?”

When I did not respond, Jerry Thibodeau repeated in a louder voice

“Are you the only person in this town?”

“You’re calling us all liars”

Clearly, Jerry Thibodeau thinks the taxpayers should take his word for anything he says even if its going to cost the taxpayers $5.5 million dollars. Apparently, Jerry Thibodeau believes that asking for documentation which details their analysis and due diligence to investigate alternatives to the building renovations amounts to calling them liars.

I didn’t answer his question then, but I will answer it now.

I am a Rumney taxpayer.  As a taxpayer and a concerned citizen, I, along with everyone else, has a right to know what public officials are doing on our behalf.    When a school board claims that ‘studies’ have been done, they should be willing to put forth, for public review, the documented results of those studies.   And they should be able to substantiate their conclusions and recommendations.  After all, we’re talking about the future education of Rumney’s schoolchildren and at least $5.5 million dollars of taxpayers money.

I may be the only one asking these questions now.  But when the taxpayers are asked to raise an additional $5.5 million in taxes,  some other concerned taxpayers may start asking similar questions.  Will Jerry Thibodeau be asking them: “Are you the only person in this town”?

 

School Renovations estimated at $5.5 Million

Latest estimates to complete the renovations at the Russell Elementary School came in at $5.5 Million Dollars!

Here is a timeline of estimates provided by/to the School Board:

  • $3.2 million (2/19/2014)
  • $3.6 million (8/20/2014)
  • $4.0 million (12/17/2104)
  • $5.5 million (12/16/2015)

So over the course of almost 2 years, the estimate went from $3.2 million to $5.5 million; a 72% increase.  Given the escalating estimates, what is your confidence level that the $5.5 million price tag won’t go even higher?

The school board formed a Capital Improvement Committee to work out the details of the design for the school renovations.  The  Capital Improvement Committee met numerous times and here are their results.

How will this $5.5 million cost impact the taxpayers?  Well, for each $200,000 it is estimated that it adds $1 to your tax rate.  So take a look at your tax bill for this year and multiply it by 1.15 to get a rough estimate of what it will cost you over the life of whatever bond they float to pay for it.   Of course, all interest expenses on the bond will be added to your tax burden as well.

 

 

Rumney School District Expenses

Detailed expense reports regarding the Rumney School District

Vendor Detail

Account Detail

2013

2014

2015

2016 (fiscal ytd thru 3/31/2016) 

 

This information was ascertained via a Right to Know request filed with the school district.

The Rumney school district should post this information periodically to their web site so that all interested citizens would have easy and timely access to this information.  Taxpayers shouldn’t have to file a right to know request to gain access to this information.

School Board wastes Taxpayers money on 2nd ROW lawsuit

My work order authorizing the contractor to construct my Right-of-Way over the school property was very explicit with precise measurements to insure the contractor’s work would be in full compliance with the Court Order.  In response to conversations between the contractor and District Agents, the contractor, without my knowledge or authorization, chose to address public safety, public use, and drainage concerns raised by School Board Agents by placing gravel outside the 12 foot right-of-way.  After the contractor’s work was completed, I asked the School Board to convey, in writing, any concerns regarding the width of the gravel travel way.  One and a half years went by before the School Board responded to my request.  Why did they take so long to respond?  Upon receiving notice from the School Board, I met with the contractor to review their objection to the work which was done.  The Contractor and I then attended the next school board meeting to start a dialogue towards an amicable resolution of this matter.  The District made no effort to respond or further communicate with the contractor or myself; instead the School Board chose to file a Contempt motion in Court. I responded to them with a letter.  Additionally, the contractor removed the gravel from outside the right-of-way and also sent them a second letter.  The School Board chose to seek a costly resolution through the Court.

So we went to Court again! Once in Court, the Judge dismissed the case.

Even though the case was to be dismissed, I offered to sit down with a representative for the school board and work to bring a resolution to this matter in order to avoid a continuing legal battle.

They agreed and after about 1 hour of discussions, an agreement was reached.  If only the School Board was willing to engage in a dialogue before choosing to go to court, we could have easily reached an agreement without the costly legal expenses to the taxpayers.

So the lingering question remains. Why was this second legal battle necessary?  You be the judge!

Now the Rumney taxpayers have incurred total costs in excess of $ 41,000.

For details regarding the first lawsuit filed by the School Board and the resulting Court Order check out the ‘School Board Lawsuit’.

Learn more about Right to Know in NH

Learn more about New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law during national Sunshine Week.  Come to a panel discussion on The Right-to-Know Law in New Hampshire: “Where are We? Where are We Going?” on Tuesday March 15, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.  This event is sponsored by the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Nackey S. Loeb School.

The discussion will cover your right to know what your government is doing, how to access information and when other societal interests compete with your right to know.

The panel will feature experts from all perspectives on the Right-to-Know Law:

  • William L. Chapman, attorney and Board member, New England First Amendment Coalition;
  • Lisa M. English, Senior Assistant Attorney General;
  • Rick Gagliuso, attorney and Board member, New England First Amendment Coalition;
  • Cordell A. Johnston, attorney and lobbyist, New Hampshire Municipal Association;
  • David Saad, President, Right to Know NH, a citizens’ group working to improve access to government in New Hampshire;
  • Trent Spiner, President, New Hampshire Press Association.

The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications is located at 749 E. Industrial Park Drive in Manchester, NH. We look forward to seeing you there!

Used with  permission of Right to Know NH, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving adherence to and strengthening the Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A). RighttoknowNH.wordpress.com