The town of Auburn Budget Committee will meet tonight at seven in Town Hall. The laundry list of items on the agenda is too long to repeat here, but we’ve linked to the agenda. Unlike many communities, their agenda also includes the backup documents so people have a clue what’s coming and what’s being discussed. I’m thinking the Derry Town Council, in particular, might want to make a note of that.
Money appears to be no object for school officials in two Manchester area towns. Last night officials in Candia gave preliminary approval to an eight point two million dollar school budget on a five to four vote during a joint meeting between the Budget Committee and School Board. That represents about a five percent spending increase over the current year’s appropriation.
Also last night, Superintendent Chip McGee in Bedford proposed a whopping seventy two point six million dollar budget, which represents a four point one million dollar increase over the current allocation. That’s a hike of six percent. While we’re still gathering information, it looks like a big driver of the additional spending is anticipated increases salaries and benefits as negotiations are underway with employee bargaining groups.
The project to connect twenty six South Manchester Homes to city water after their wells were found to have been contaminated by PFOA is moving along. In an update presented to Mayor Ted Gatsas, Water Works Director Phil Crosdale said the one point two million dollar project has essentially been completed, with the construction of nineteen hundred forty feet of main along Brown Avenue, Charlotte Street and Goebel Street. Temporary pavement has been laid until permanent work can be done in the Spring. The twenty six homes are at various stages of being connected to the main, with the expectation that all will be connected by the end of January. Saint Gobain Performance Plastics of Merrimack, the company responsible for the contamination, is footing the entire bill, per a deal brokered by Mayor Gatsas.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
As listeners of this show know, Timberlane Regional School Board member Donna Green filed a Right to Know request for information concerning Timberlane’s one hundred eighty four thousand dollar purchase of the Achieve 3000 reading program in September. Green said the program was sold under unusual and high pressure sales tactics at a September school board meeting, a board meeting at which it was not disclosed that Elizabeth Metzler, the wife of Superintendent Earl Metzler, was a consultant for Achieve 3000 at the time of the purchase. The board was also not told that the purchase included another one hundred thousand dollars for Achieve 3000 in the proposed 17/18 budget.
Green filed the Right to Know request after she learned Mrs. Metzler worked for Achieve 3000 from the a legal deposition filed in the lawsuit teacher Carolyn Morse filed against Superintendent Metzler after he disciplined her for negative comments she made about Mrs. Metzler’s work with the district as a foreign language consultant through SERESC. Green said Mrs. Metzler’s LinkedIn page confirmed she was working for Achieve 3000 at the time the sale was made.
The district implemented a trial of Achieve 3000 in early 2 0 1 6, but the results of the trial were not provided to the board, nor were they requested by the board, prior to the purchase. To make the purchase, Green said the board voted to transfer money from unknown lines to other unknown lines. In other words, they authorized the superintendent to move money within the budget to cover the un-budgeted expense as he saw fit.
Green said information contained in the Right to Know request revealed that teachers weren’t enamored with the program. She said teacher reviews contained significant negatives which were not disclosed to the school board as a whole. Some teachers said they knew of a free program they believed to be superior. Green says the negatives were massaged, if not altogether expunged, prior to a presentation about the topic to the Curriculum and Assessment Committee.
Apparently, not all teachers were quick to adopt this program. Based on information she received, Green said a large majority of the high school teachers of classes to whom this program was targeted were not using the program as of October 11th, just days before she made her request.
At the school board meeting on December sixth, Business Administrator George Stokinger was forced to admit that the district built in one hundred thousand dollars to expand the program to the elementary schools, despite not having approval from the board to do so, in response to questions form Green. All the proposed budget currently shows is ten thousand dollars for an Achieve 3000 program know as “Smarty Ants.”
Green said no contract regarding the purchase was provided to her, causing her to question whether or not the district actually entered into a three year commitment without a contract. Given all this and that the contract would have been a multi year financial commitment likely requiring voter approval, one has to wonder whether or not they decided to just do it on a handshake.