Guest Blogs

Monday
Feb262007

An Open Letter to the Epping School District Superintendent SAU #14

by Tom Sutliffe

Dear Ms. Munsey:

Two weeks have elapsed since I presented your office with our letter of February 12th requesting a date by which to provide you with our opposing content to be included in the 2006 School District Annual Report. We requested to have our viewpoint included, only if the school board has planned to open a forum by only presenting selectively biased information concerning the school warrant articles. As publication of this report is rapidly approaching, if you chose to open such a forum, our viewpoint must be taken into consideration. As you know this publication is paid for with taxpayers’ dollars and as such, should include all consequences good and bad of the article coming before the electorate, not only the “benefits” of the school warrant articles.

We do recognize your right to inform the public with a fair presentation of the facts to aid them in reaching an informed decision on the school warrant articles, but there are constitutional constraints connected to your right to inform the public when using taxpayers’ monies and resources. P resently, in our federal c ase (06-CV-00474-SM) which illustrates very similar concerns, we are relying on our present Constitutional protections.

We presume, as you have chosen not to respond to our request that you have also chosen not to open a forum in the 2006 School District Annual Report, but might prefer to exercise your right to inform the public fairly, without advocating, when using taxpayers’ monies and resources, thus not necessitating our participation.

Please be forewarned however, if you choose to go forward and open a forum utilizing the 2006 School District Annual Report to advocate by promulgating selectively biased information, without our opposing view represented in the same forum, we shall earnestly pursue legal remedies.

Sincerely,

 

Thomas A. Sutliffe, Chairman

 

On behalf of the Epping Residents for Principled Government, Inc.

 

Sunday
Feb252007

FAITH LOST IN THE SCHOOL BOARD DUE TO BIG BUSING CONTRACT

by Dr. Richard G. and Ruth B. Juve

Connoisseurs attend George’s diner. Rabble-rousers do not eat at George’s, and scandals do not occur in Meredith. The supply of political news is unprecedented and spread at the speed of light in my favorite eating house. The diner has old 50's charm. Squeeze in and join me for the gossip.

These are taxing times. The public has an appetite for news. I thought of myself as a peaceful reformer. The Sunshine Law RSA 91-A attempted to keep the public in the know. Our school board is a virtuous one and definitely not involved in facilitation payments. There are no allegations of bribery in connection with the biggest-ever bus contract. No one is piously going about denouncing sleaze and promising to tackle corruption "wherever we find it." No one is challenging the board on conniving behind closed doors or over the internet or the phone to ratify a secret school bus contract that was not competitively bid. Our School Board members are public officials. No one is alleging that they are engaging in doggy business practices. No one wants to harm relations between the School Board and the public.

Still suspicions linger about the motive to avoid competitive bidding and the embarrassing deletion of emails, lack of detailed minutes or failure to publish an agenda or advertisement on the transportation bus contract. When you fail to advertise an agenda item you are engaging in wrongdoing. And when a person knowingly destroys an email or any information with the purpose to prevent it from being inspected or disclosed that person is guilty of a misdemeanor (91-A:9)

The Board may face a tougher reception at the annual District Meeting. The Chairman may attempt to lecture the public on his efforts but Assistant Superintendent Temperino (she costs $101,000), Supt McCormack and the School Board have engaged in a practice that undermines the rule of good business. Their actions have jarred the public’s nerves. They have perpetrated a frivolous act which makes it harder to trust them. For what we pay Temporino and Mc Cormack, we would expect a much higher level of competency in long range planning and thorough contract investigation and negotiating, not simply rolling over like couple of whipped dogs to accept whatever the bus company is pleased to offer the town--if they can't perform to a higher level, the town should consider replacing them or cutting back their lucrative salaries to adjust to their lower level of competency.

If we get less, we should pay less! We want good governance and not controversial and frivolous acts. We ponder and discourage frivolity. The cynics say that it is business as usual. New Englanders and especially good citizens of Meredith are penny-pinching freedom loving people. They tighten their belts so that they can provide a superior education to their children. The wealthy may be able to go along with the secret deals but suspicion has been aroused. Faith has been broken. Doubts have been raised. We wonder if decisions were made above board. We don’t know if financial inducements were explicitly traded in return for an honor.

The public just sees that the contract was a flagrant sale of our faith in the administration. The episode will not go away, and the scrubbing and omissions of the Board minutes, along with deletions of emails only suggest that there is a murky world of board financing and deal making regarding a nearly one million dollar bus contract and an 18 million dollar school budget.

Non-Default Contract

The Superintendent of schools (he costs us $133,000 per year) can not locate the Non-Default Certificate. This certificate must be provided by the British Contractor as a good business practice and is a part of the School Board’s discharge of its fiduciary duties. It is an exercise of due diligence by the Board in checking the vendor’s track record. It is a required part of standard practice in bidding all forms of contracts in both the public and private arenas. It substantiates one portion of the vendor’s qualifications to meet the standards necessary to be awarded a contract for the safe transportation of school district’s children.

Furthermore it substantiates whether or not other school districts have been satisfied with the vendor’s performance. Finally, if the vendor is unable to certify its non-default, the school district t can investigate reasons for the vendor’s inability to provide it. It is one element of disclosure by the vendor. This non-default statement is national in nature and not just for the state of NH. At the last School Board meeting, Ms Temperano, said she would have it. The Superintendent cannot locate it. Certainly our high priced administrators can do better than this.

Tuesday
Feb202007

A CONFUSED CONGRESSWOMAN

By Ed Mosca

In her remarks during the recent U.S. House debate on a non-binding resolution against President Bush’s plan to send reinforcements to Iraq, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter drew a sharp contrast between Afghanistan and Iraq: “Our nation was attacked by evil people who trained in Afghanistan. We have a right to go into Afghanistan to remove the terrorist training camps. As a matter of fact, we should be working even harder there to make sure our Afghanistan mission does not fail. We must not allow the Taliban and other terrorist groups to control Afghanistan again.”

I am glad that Shea-Porter believes that we must prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base to attack America. It is troubling that the Congresswoman doesn’t seem to understand that the terrorists are also in Iraq and that it is even more vital to prevent terrorists from using Iraq as a base.

Iraq is located in the strategically vital Middle East, a region much more important to our national interests, and Iraq is rich with oil that could be used to finance terrorism against America. If it is in our national interest to have a terrorist-free Afghanistan, as Shea-Porter contends, then it is at least as much in our national interest to have a terrorist-free Iraq. The Congresswoman, however, doesn’t seem to even be aware that Al Qaeda is in Iraq. Her remarks lay the blame for all of the death, destruction and violence that have occurred in Iraq on America.

The most famous aspect of Shea Porter’s remarks has been her reference to Davy Crockett: “What is this talk I have heard tonight about freedom and liberty? This talk of glory that I heard on the floor. This romanticized language, this talk about Davy Crockett. There is no Davy Crockett in Iraq. Our troops need clear-eyed leaders, not this romantic rabble that we have been hearing.”

I’m all for clear-eyed leadership, but a non-binding resolution is hardly that. Congress’ constitutional role is not to provide commentary on the President’s effectuation of the war. If Shea-Porter and her Democrat Party believe their own words, then they are obligated to end the funding.

And as for Davy Crockett, I get the sneaking suspicion that Shea-Porter’s sympathies would have been with Santa-Anna.

Friday
Feb162007

GIVE CANNON MOUNTAIN A NEW LEASE ON LIFE

by NH Sen. Ted Gatsas and NH Rep. Gene Chandler

Cannon Mountain Ski Area located in Franconia Notch, is known for its challenging terrain and family friendly atmosphere.  Unfortunately, it is also known for its low skier attendance, yearly deficits and financial burden upon the state park system and taxpayers.  It’s time for a new day at Cannon Mountain, one with thriving attendance, improved infrastructure and increased revenues to enable it to run on its own two feet.  It’s time to seriously consider leasing Cannon Mountain. 

Cannon Mountain is a businessa business that’s losing money.  The ski industry is volatile and the State of NH is ill equipped to be successful in this type of business.  A public-private leasing partnership of Cannon Mountain is the answer to its financial woes. 

To clearly understand the benefit of leasing Cannon Mountain, one must examine the Mount Sunapee success story.  Over the course of seven years at Mount Sunapee private monies have been invested to improve trails and infrastructure while maintaining the integrity of the state park.  The numbers speak for themselves: skier attendance at Sunapee has increased 45%, $2,892,492 has been paid to the state of New Hampshire in lease payments, $635,000 collected in state business taxes, $589,000 collected in state rooms and meals taxes, $720,000 has been paid in local property taxes and $2.7 million has been invested annually in salaries and wages at Mount Sunapee. 

Conversely, the financial history of Cannon Mountain is spotty at best.  Year after year, Cannon runs in the red.  Since 2004 Cannon Mountain has lost nearly $1.2 Million from its Capital Account and that is just where the money drain begins.  Year after year, skier attendance has flat lined due to Cannon’s lack of terrain diversity, and because it is a state-owned entity, no taxes at the state and local level are being collected.  Cannon is operating on the back of the taxpayer regardless of an affinity for skiing. 

The other piece of the Cannon Mountain story is the entire state park system of the State of New Hampshire.  The parks are in total disrepair; campgrounds need upgrades, trails need maintenance and historic landmarks and structures need refurbishing.  In 2006 the legislature, in conjunction with, Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) produced an in-depth study of the overall system.  Part of their findings read as follows, “The Legislature should approve two bonds totaling $20 million in succeeding biennium’s. The Commission believes that is the minimum necessary to meet the most urgent needs in the state park system. As part of a request to the legislature, the Director of Parks will provide a detailed and prioritized plan for the expenditure of these funds, including the impact on revenue generation throughout the park system.”

A public-private leasing partnership for Cannon Mountain is the solution to our problems.    Lease payments to DRED (from Sunapee and Cannon combined) will be enough to pay the debt service on a $20 million dollar bond.  Business taxes and the rooms and meals taxes will provide the revenue to the state for ongoing park improvement after the upgrades are made.  The local communities will be able to collect property taxes from the mountain to aid their local economies.  From a public-private partnership upgrades and improvements are possible and with that comes more skiers, which mean more tourists that equals more spending that will benefit the local economies and the state park system as a whole.  What is also important about a lease proposition for Cannon is the potential to save the taxpayers of New Hampshire millions of dollars.  We owe it to the taxpayers to make Cannon profitable.  

Opponents of this possibility see Cannon through rose colored glasses, choosing to ignore its serious funding issues, and claiming that leasing the mountain will jeopardize the integrity of the park and decrease access.  The success of Sunapee is a testament to these concerns.  This is not an issue of development, there is no place to build as Cannon is surrounded by state park land and the state will have control of lease details.  The issue is about saving our park system without hurting the taxpayer.  

Cannon could and should be the crowning jewel of our North Country.  It’s time we give it a new lease on life. 
***************************************************************************************************************************************

Senator Ted Gatsas of District 16 which is comprised of Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Wards 1, 2 and 12 in the city of Manchester and Representative Gene Chandler who represents Carroll District 1 which is comprised of Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Hale’s Location, Heart’s Location, and Jackson

Wednesday
Feb142007

LYNCH’S RISKY SCHEME

by Ed Mosca

John Lynch claims he wants to define an adequate education first, and then “have a discussion as to its cost.” Don’t believe him. He already has a good idea of what his definition will cost, and he already knows how he wants to fund it. The problem we face is that the cost is in excess of $2 billion, which means we’re looking at an income tax if Lynch then doesn’t get his targeted-aid constitutional amendment passed. To borrow a phrase from Al Gore, Lynch’s approach to education funding is a risky scheme.

Lynch has proposed making the State's existing school approval standards and curriculum frameworks the “starting point” for defining an adequate education. The standards and frameworks are voluminous, covering in excruciating detail every aspect of the operation of the public schools from curriculum, class size and teacher qualifications to janitorial services. This means that what it has cost us to fund the public schools should give us a good idea of the minimum cost of Lynch’s definition. In 2004-2005, the most current school-year for which data is available, the cost was about $2.2 billion. No wonder, then, that Lynch wants to put off discussing the cost of his definition to another day.

While Lynch doesn’t want to talk about cost yet, his definition does provide that the resources needed to provide that education will “vary from school to school” based on students' needs, “requiring more resources in districts with greater challenges.” What this signals is that Lynch is going to bring back the funding scheme that he proposed in 2005.

In a nutshell, that scheme was based on a per pupil cost of an adequate education of $8,290.00. Each town was formulatically assigned a “measure of risk,” which was simply the percentage of the $8,290.00 that was to be funded by the State. For example, Allenstown = s measure of risk was .5733, which meant that the State would have paid 57.33%, or about $4,753.00 per pupil in that town. The remainder of the $8,290.00 per pupil cost, $3,357.00, would have been paid for with local property taxes. Londonderry, in contrast, was assigned only a .1465 measure of risk, which meant that it would have received only $1,215.00 of State funding per pupil. As a result, it would have had to pay for $7,075.00 of adequacy’s per pupil cost with local property taxes.

Substitute an updated per pupil cost of an adequate education, say between $9,000.00 and $10,000.00, for the $8,290.00 used in 2005 and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Lynch’s 2007 education funding scheme will look like. This explains why Lynch intends to offer a “narrow constitutional amendment” to allow the State to target aid before he unveils his funding scheme. Towns like Londonderry would not support his amendment if they knew how poorly they would fare under his funding scheme compared to towns like Allenstown.

The problem with Lynch’s approach is that it puts the cart before the horse. If his definition is passed, but his targeted aid amendment either is not passed by the Legislature or is passed but then loses at the ballot box in 2008, we will be forced to choose between increasing State taxes by more than $2 billion to comply with Claremont and confronting the Supreme Court. To borrow a couple of other phrases from Al Gore, Lynch is playing income tax roulette and gambling with the New Hampshire advantage.

The best course would be if the Legislature did not define an adequate education. Let the Court be the one to tell the people of New Hampshire that their constitutional right to an adequate education comes with a $2 billion income tax string attached. Then we’ll have a true idea of just how popular the right to an adequate education is with the voters.

Given that Democrats and Republicans-in-name-only make up a plurality of the Legislature, that obviously is not going to happen. What conservatives need to do is to make it clear to everyone that a vote for Lynch’s definition of an adequate education is a vote for an income tax because there is no guarantee that Lynch’s targeted aid amendment will pass.

Conservatives also should not allow themselves to be stampeded into voting for a constitutional amendment. They need to take a long, hard look at Lynch’s targeted aid amendment, and oppose any amendment that writes any aspect of the misbegotten Claremont decisions into the constitution because such an amendment will make a bad situation worse.