Saturday, March 15, 2008

Let the Spending Begin! Croydon passes all five school warrants

Let the Spending Begin! Croydon passes all five school warrants

by Jim Peschke

Today's afternoon town hall meeting had a healthy degree of dialogue over the five Croydon School District warrant articles. Taken together, these five articles are estimated to raise our taxes by 63 cents per $1,000.

Initial budget clarifications from the District were quite disturbing. The budget book contained three significant accounting errors, even though it was apparently computer-generated. These are the same people that want to spend over $1.2 million of our money.

Discussion formally reserved for Article 2 (the school budget) quickly centered around concerns regarding "special education". Several members of the audience raised objections over the amount of special ed spending, the rate of increase, and the questionable practice of raising taxes to squirrel away money incase some new undefined six-figure expenditures arise.

The answers from the front table were woefully unsatisfactory. Superintendent Mealey explained that a special ed student can cost anywhere between $100,000 and $280,000 per year. These astonishingly high figures drew little criticism. More upsetting to the audience were the large transportation costs associated with a single student, drawing several "I'm in the wrong business!" type comments.

After yielding my time to permit the special ed discussion to run its course, I proposed an alternate budget based on a $25,000 (1.96%) reduction in the board's budget. To reduce the peer pressure routinely brought against voters seeking fiscal responsibility, I also proposed that the vote be taken by secret ballot.

Responding to the inevitable question of where we might find this $25,000 cut, I listed three sources. I proposed eliminating the new principal position/stipend for $3,500, making the board members volunteers to save $1,500, and cutting the special-ed budget by $20,000.

Cutting the principal drew the ire of the teacher crowd, aided no doubt by an expectation as I had made this suggestion at a recent PTO meeting. Superintendent Mealey said we needed this because our SAU services would be cut after Sunapee's departure and that we needed to subsidize these services. Newport is adding 81.5% to our SAU fees and simultaneously cutting SAU services. Public education in a nutshell!

The secret ballot initiative received the necessary three signatures, and a secret ballot took place. During the vote, several of the education crowd whispered snide remarks about this being a waste of time. (I guess an extra 5 minutes is too much to ask when addressing $1.2 million).

The vote tally was 20 votes for, 28 votes against the reduced budget initiative. This seemed to be the closest vote, so perhaps the secret ballot helped some vote for it who might otherwise hesitate in an open vote.

After the defeat, the board's original budget passed on a yea/nay vote. Article 3 received much less attention.

Article 4, the appropriation of $20,000 more for the special-ed capital fund revitalized the earlier discussion about waste in special education. Residents not among the teacher crowd expressed strong resistance to this warrant article and the idea of putting tax dollars into a fund, hoping it won't get spent.

In spite of this vocal resistance, the issue passed, as did Article 5.

After the final vote, some parents complained of Newport students not being fed (or well fed) when short on their lunch money. No formal action was taken on this topic.

Even the most modest attempts at spending control lost the day to a contingent of public school employees. The most enlightening aspect of the meeting was the abusive manner in which school districts pour taxpayer dollars into the special-ed fund through any means possible. (Three separate techniques used in this meeting alone.)

Today our district voted for bloated administration, uncontrolled spending, and a black hole of taxpayer dollars in "special ed" funds with no clearly defined purpose. The district even refused to provide answers under direct questioning as to where this "special ed" money was going. (I thought Enron was out of business.)

It must be all "for the kids".

Real value in trusting parents

All too often the public education establishment will fight anything that takes tax dollars away from their organization. Even if it means tax dollars would be spent more wisely and parents would be more happy with their child's results if they were given the choice as to where they could educate their child. Educrats have this almost liberal fascist view that they care for the children they teach more so than their children's parents and they know what is best for the students even more than the student's parents. They fail to realize that providing services to children at the expense of impoverishing their parents and grandparents is NOT "caring", it is selfish.

If educators and educrats truly believed it was "for the kids" and not the institution, teachers and teacher's union the money would follow the child and not the system in the city in which the reside.

The following piece appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online. The piece speaks for itself.

Real value in trusting parents

Posted: March 7, 2008

Patrick McIlheran

Number 68 on my list of reasons I drive my kids all the way to Wauwatosa for school is that the classroom parties in October marked All Saints' Day: Candy, games and traditional Catholicism instead of pumpkins. Call me weird, but I was pleased.

That my third-grader is learning to solve for variables in equations involving multiplication is pretty important, too.

One premise of Milwaukee's school choice program is that parents tend to choose - not always, but often enough - academically superior schools if they have a chance. Do they? It's a critical question, which is why the first-year report out of a five-year study of the program set people off.

The bombshell headline was that children in choice schools and a matched group in public schools came out about the same on academic tests. It wasn't much of a bombshell - the researchers repeatedly say that a single year's numbers tell you nothing but that they've matched two groups. What counts is what another four years of schooling does.

Still, the news gives some comfort to public-school partisans who are hoping choice proves no better than Milwaukee Public Schools.

This seems unlikely to hold up. There's already good research suggesting that choice schools outperform public schools. The latest was a study in January finding that choice school graduation rates were well above MPS.

So it seems likely that in four years, we'll see that choice schools really are generally better.

But suppose otherwise - that choice schools simply did as well public schools but no better. Critics dived at this conclusion right away: "We've spent over half a billion dollars on this and we have nothing to show for it," said Sen. Russ Decker (D-Weston). His take: Shut them down.

Why, exactly? Why, if choice schools really were performing only as well MPS, would we disempower parents and return to a monopoly?

This does seem to be the aim of Decker and others. He wants to freeze the booming enrollment in online public schools since we just can't prove parents are wise to choose them. Ten seconds' listening to any of those parents will tell you they are both attentive to results and quite capable of rationally choosing what's best for their children.

Nor is it just in Wisconsin. Charter schools are under attack nationwide. In California, a court just ruled that parents have no right to home-school their children. Some 166,000 children there are now illegally truant, even if they're doing calculus at age 12 and winning the national spelling bee. "We're happy," said a state teachers' union official about the ruling.

Home schooling is usually motivated by parents' beliefs, and not just religious ones. Years ago, when home schooling first blossomed in Minnesota, parents I reported on were secular liberals who found public schools too conformingly American. Home schooling is the ultimate for those who are particular about what goes into their children's minds.

Home schooling has always been attacked, just as charter schools and online schools and private schools have been. Some of this is turf-protection, but some is a genuine belief that decisions about what is best for a child can't be left to "unlicensed, untrained, unqualified" adults who "are not required to prove competence," as one state lawyer put it in arguing against virtual schools.

That is, parents are fools.

Some certifiably are, just as some people make poor choices that leave them unhealthy, poor or miserable. This is unfortunate, but we haven't yet taken it as a sign that society must prescribe a diet, run the checkbook or arrange marriages. People so cared for are clients, not free citizens.

We should be at least as reluctant to assume parents can't pick a school. Some 80% of Milwaukee's choice schools have a religious basis, just as my children's school outside the program does. Among public schools, there are those dedicated to beliefs such as environmentalism. Such things matter to parents, and they can't be quantified in any five-year study. If we're to be a free society, our default should be to let parents pick.

Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist. His e-mail address is

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why is union out to kill a good school?

Since the election we have been getting a great deal of new hits to our site. Some have asked why we post information from other states. We post out-of-state information because it is directly applicable to New Hampshire. A common mindset exists among public education apologists throughout the fifty states.

The organizational energy mustered by defenders of the status quo against any perceived threat is no accident. It is the progeny of powerful coalitions intent not on educational excellence, but on self-enrichment at the expense of education reform.

Such groups are easily identified. Listen for the phrase "Its for the kids!", then prepare for the maelstrom of hypocrisy as the subject invariably turns to more money for "the system". The most effective use of tax dollars for education has repeatedly proven to be money that follows the child, not "the system". This proven formula remains unpopular with the education establishment because government school employees would not receive the benefit of these tax dollars.

The piece below appeared in the online version of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Why is union out to kill a good school?

Posted: Dec. 6, 2007

Patrick McIlheran

"They could learn a lot from our teachers about a new way of teaching," Rose Fernandez told a radio interviewer.

She's a parent at Wisconsin Virtual Academy, the Fredonia-based online public charter school. She was talking about the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union whose slogan is, "Every kid deserves a great school."

WEAC, not in a learning mood, had just gotten a court to outlaw Fernandez's kids' great school. About 850 children who attend the school are now left hanging after Wednesday's Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision. The school will stay open while it appeals, but a further loss would endanger every virtual school in the state.

Why would the teachers union try to kill a high-performing public school?

Because, said a written statement from the union, laws written for traditional schools can't be applied to virtual schools. We need new laws to "make them accountable."

Accountable? Such as testing students and reporting results? They do that. The academy's scores on state tests are just dandy - exactly in line with schools in Cross Plains, Mukwonago and Fond du Lac that the academy families I talked to would otherwise use. Ninety-two percent of the academy's students score proficient or advanced in reading.

And if the virtual school doesn't satisfy, parents can put their kids back in the school down the block. Yet it's the virtual school that may get closed. Have you heard of the union suing to close any brick-and-mortar schools that are failing?

All irrelevant, argued the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. It sought, with the union, to close the academy. Whether the school successfully teaches is beside the point, said the department's lawyer. Whether it fits the state's regulatory model is what counts. The court agreed.

This makes Wisconsin unique, says Susan Patrick, who heads the North American Council for Online Learning. She used to head educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education. She says to her knowledge, no state has shut down virtual schools over a teacher licensing dispute.

That's the core of WEAC's argument, that because parents help students with lessons that are planned, delivered, tested and evaluated by licensed teachers, the parents are teaching without a license.

About 92,000 students attend 173 virtual schools in 18 states, says Patrick. Nowhere else, she says, have courts ruled virtual schools illegal. "Wisconsin is kind of unique," she says.

Nonetheless, says the court, the law is the law. This is admirably constructionist, though the judges also said laws must be "tempered and clarified" by regulators or the state would be banning everyone's unlicensed parent volunteers and teachers aides. It's fair to ask why regulators then took such an obtuse view on this particular school, arguing parents were such detriments that the whole thing should be closed.

We can guess why WEAC says that. It's because the union isn't interested in making the model work.

The court acknowledged the law could be read as meaning that anyone without a license - such as parents - be kept at arm's length from classrooms. The virtual academy is a paradise of parental involvement. The union aims to shut it down anyhow.

If it succeeds, it will disemploy its own people, since the academy's teachers are dues-paying union members. The union persisted anyhow. It did this because it cannot bear to see success for a kind of schooling in which there's about one teacher for every 42 students, not when WEAC's aim for years has been to see more teachers hired even as enrollments statewide begin to fall.

The union says it wants laws to govern virtual schools. Yet when such a law worked its way through the Legislature last session, WEAC opposed it, eventually tugging on Gov. Jim Doyle's leash to get him to veto it. The law embodied the ideas of a panel of experts that state schools superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster convened. Her agency nevertheless opposed the bill and has apparently offered no guidance on a replacement.

This is the teachers union, and the officials beholden to it, in action. They're torpedoing a good school and, possibly, a whole branch of school innovation. One in five students nationwide will take an online class in college, says Patrick. Michigan now requires all children to take at least one online class. Yet when a school here goes entirely online and spends four years evolving how to do it right, the union's reaction is to spend four years suing to shut it down. How dare WEAC use that slogan?

"Perhaps the legislation simply has not caught up with times and technology," wrote the court. If so, the Legislature needs to change that now. DPI and the union need to get new attitudes. And 850 kids need to know the great school they deserve is going to stay open.

Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist. His e-mail address is

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Recommendation - The Alliance Against Education Reform

The following piece appeared on the Heartland Institute's website
and also appeared in their monthly newspaper called School Reform News. By going to the Heartland Institute's website you can order a free subscription to School Reform News. You can order a copy of the book through or ask your local library to order a copy for the library.

Teacher Unions Exploit Due Process to Protect Their Own ... And Students Are the Victims

Written By: Richard G. Neal
Published In: School Reform News
Publication Date: March 1, 2008
Publisher: The Heartland Institute
Wherever teacher unions exist, the rigors of state-mandated due process are exacerbated by excessive procedures negotiated by the union designed to frighten off any principal who tries to discipline a teacher. Plus, the unions have access to top-notch attorneys specifically trained to defend teachers brought up on dismissal charges.

In my book, The Alliance Against Education Reform (AuthorHouse, 2007), I discuss the meaning of due process and dissect its complicated requirements as they pertain to teacher discipline.

For several years, I was responsible for handling all disciplinary actions, including dismissals, for a large school district. During that time I presented seminars to school board members, administrators, and attorneys in other districts on how to dismiss tenured teachers.

From these unique experiences I learned many lessons, including the following:

School board members don't want to get involved in dismissing teachers.
Union reps are well-prepared to defend even the most incompetent teacher and will do so to enhance their image as defenders of "exploited" teachers.
Dismissal procedures are rigged to protect the guilty. Whereas tenure originally was designed to protect competent teachers from interference with their academic freedom, tenure has degenerated into a process for protecting the incompetent.
-- Richard G. Neal

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Open Letter to Croydon Voters

Dear Croydon Voters,

I would like to thank each and every one of you who supported my candidacy for the Croydon School Board. The 17 votes I received was significant for a little-known write-in candidate. This figure was woefully short of the 60 votes delivered to sitting board member George Caccavaro. This was a hotly contested election, due in no small part to the PTO's unfavorable response to my calls for fiscal responsibility.

I wish George the best, and hope that he has the courage to champion the changes needed to control spending and place the interests of Croydon citizens first.

There is much to do, and I plan to continue working with the citizens committee developing long term plans for the District. Our greatest opportunity lies with the Newport agreement due to expire in mid-2010. During my involvement in school district matters, parents have consistently expressed concern for various aspects of this agreement, and of the services provided by Newport School District.

The departure of Sunapee from the SAU caused Newport to scale back its SAU administrative operations. Unfortunately, they failed to scale back in proportion to the loss of revenue from Sunapee. As a result, the spending in the SAU bureaucracy per property dollar will rise dramatically. This can be seen in the "SAU Services" line item of the Croydon budget. This item alone is budgeted to increase 81.5% this year! Double-digit spending increases on non-educational services is unacceptable and a direct consequence of the terms of our association with Newport School District.

Together, we can restore community control of education and operate our schools in a manner that best serves our community, not the special interests. I look forward to working with members of our community today and in the future.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at 863-7613 or by email at

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jim Peschke Running for the Croydon School Board as a Write-in Candidate

Dear Croydon Residents,

My name is Jim Peschke, and I've been a resident of Croydon since November 2006. I am a parent of two small children. I would like to ask for your support as a write-in candidate for the Croydon School Board on March 11th.

Since I am new to Croydon, I'd like to explain my positions and motivation for running. The Croydon School board created a citizen's group tasked with addressing the arrangement we have with Newport. As an active member of this group, I've familiarized myself with the issues facing Croydon when this agreement expires in 2010. Any new agreement could be a boon or a bust for Croydon, and I'm determined to see things work in our favor.

My wife and I have been active in education reform since 2002. But let me be clear: Neither of us works in the education field. My sole objective as a school board member is to obtain the best possible deal for the people of Croydon and their children. I have no intention of promoting the interests of "the system", its administration, or the status quo. As board member, I will answer to the taxpayers/parents of Croydon.

Please consider writing me in for Croydon School Board on March 11th.

Teacher Union Facts

Before voting get the facts about the New Hampshire Teacher Unions. Teachers Union Facts is a project of The Center for Union Facts.

Today I went to vote with both of my children in tow. Right off the bat I was faced with a woman pushing me to write in George Caccavaro and in the end stated George is "for the kids." I knew right than that Jim had no chance as the education machine even in the small town of Croydon and SAU 43 was hard at work. I was not at all surprised to find out she worked for the schools. Jim spoke out about fiscal responsibility the night before at a the P.T.O. meeting at Croydon School. Of course teachers and school employees do not like that so the Croydon/Newport machine started up, teachers and parents were called to write-in George Caccavaro. The usual lies were told about Jim and I. There is no doubt that Jim will lose the election and a higher number of voters will turn out to write in George Caccavaro than the number of voters that seated last year's Croydon School Board member.

Know the facts before voting March 11

In this Argus Champion
article, SAU 43 Superintendent Bill Mealey serves as cheerleader for the March 11th budget vote. While there is no explicit statement of position, the article leaves little to the imagination.

Strikingly, the "80 percent committed to contractual obligations" is hardly given a passing thought. This is how the education establishment likes it. If voters gazed into the waste embodied in teacher contracts, health insurance, and other annual throwaways, they would reject the budget regardless of how frugal the remaining 20% might be.

Before accepting the sincerity of Mealey's invitation to the public, consider how a resident proposing a $1 million budget cut was received by the Superintendent at Newport's budget meeting.

If Mealey wants voters to be informed, perhaps voters would do well to consider how much could be saved with frugal open-shop non-tenured teacher contracts that reward results instead of birthdays.

Croydon voters be sure to tell our neighbors to the south to reject said budget. As the cost of sending our children to Newport Schools will increase our taxes at the end our current contract with Newport Schools. Our schools have a spending problem not a funding problem. Newport continues to have a decline in enrollment yet the cost of educating our children is out pacing the rate of inflation. This has to do with salaries far out pacing the rate of inflation and school employees refusing to take a larger responsibility for paying for their own benefits as those of us in the private sector have had to do over the past decade.

Know the facts before voting March 11

Bill Mealey
SAU 43 Superintendent

It certainly is the "Information Age." We have so much information to read, give and explore through many different sources. In the school business at this time of year, voters are given even more information so they can make an informed decision about the budget.

Everyone wants a fair budget that meets the needs of the students and results in the least tax impact for the voters. For school board members, administrators and staff, the process began last September when the guidelines for the budget process were developed. Then the administrators and staff went to work to examine the "must haves" and the "nice to haves" were discussed. A first draft of the budget was constructed and given to the SAU for further examination. The superintendent and business administrator questioned items, and made adjustments to the building budgets according to the guidelines set forth. The school boards scrutinized the budget along the way and were responsible for presenting the budget to the voters.

The budgets in SAU 43 are transparent. It is my belief that nothing should be hidden and that all items can be justified. The public is invited to all budget review sessions to ask questions and express alternative ideas. The budget hearing is designed to give voters an opportunity to participate in discussions about any part of the budget prior to a board vote. The deliberative session gives voters another opportunity to express their thoughts prior to putting the budget to a community vote. (This year in all SB2 New Hampshire school districts, the vote will take place Tuesday, March 11.) Personally, I am always hopeful that more people will take an interest in the process and participate more fully.

My urge to all of you is to ask questions, read the annual reports and get the facts before voting.

In most school budgets you will see 80 percent is committed to contractual obligations - salaries, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, professional development, building maintenance and obligations by law to our special education programs (in-district, early childhood support, and out-of district). Many cost items (debt service for a building program and teachers contractual obligations) were approved by voters in past year voting, and have a multiple year obligation, just like our home mortgage payments.

Some programs need further explanation, and early childhood support is one of them. This is a program that serves students ages 3 to 5, before they enter kindergarten. It is mandated by law. If a parent of a young child (or a doctor) observes that a child is having difficulties learning to walk/talk/think, or if the child has a medical issue or brain-based disability, the child can be referred to the early childhood support program for screening/evaluation. If the child is found eligible for services, the team works to help the child learn. At kindergarten age, the child is transitioned to school. There is a misconception that this is an "optional" program. It is not. Newport's program serves students from outside of the district. The communities then pay tuition for their resident children to Newport so they can receive service. The tuition paid by other districts can be found in the "revenue" section of the budget.

The revenue section of the budget is important. This section of the budget tells you what revenue there is to offset certain programs. Early childhood support is only one. You can see federal grant monies offset positions and programs. Monies from the state for a building bond can be found in the revenue section. The Croydon School District has an "area agreement" to send their students from grades 4 to 12 to the Newport School District, and the tuition payment can be found in the revenue.

The bottom line is your tax rate is calculated by taking your expenditures and subtracting your revenue. What is left is the amount taxed. , In the end, the districts are looking for the voters to support what is believed to be an effective learning program and a safe environment for all of our students. Since such a large part of the budget is already dedicated to staff and facilities, if the school board needs to cut, the only place to find monies is in staff and programs (examples are course options, athletics, etc.).

The voting date is March 11. If you need more information, please be sure you have a copy of the annual report from your district. In Sunapee and Croydon, the annual reports are mailed to every community household. In Newport, the annual reports are distributed at the deliberative session.

If you did not receive a report, you may obtain one from the SAU 43 office, borrow one from the Richards Free Library, or go to any of the school libraries. Call 863-3540 if you have questions.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Questions to ask yourself before supporting any tax warrant.

Our government and government schools have a spending problem and not a funding problem. We continue to see reduced productivity, deficit spending, debt, guaranteed pensions far exceeding social security, salary increases exceeding the rate of inflation and benefits far exceeding those of us in the private sector that pay these benefits for our government/school employees.

Here are some questions to ask before voting on any education warrants and tax increases.

1. Can I afford an increase in my rent or property taxes?
2. Do I have credit card debt that should be paid off first?
3. Do I have six months salary in my savings account to live off of, if I lose my job?
4. Do I save 10% of my salary each month for my retirement?
5. Am I saving enough money for my children's college education?
6. When I retire my spouse and I will need between $500,000 - 1,000,000 when we retire to live for the next 30 years. Do we have at least 500,000.00 dollars in our retirement account? (This assumes that you are not a state, city, county or school employee with a guaranteed pension that is a percentage of your 3 highest years salary.)
7. Can I continue to afford this warrant if it does pass, because as my assessment increases so will the amount that I pay for the warrant each year?
8. Do I want to put my house at risk for foreclosure?

Here are some questions to ask your school boards, administrators and teachers before voting.

1. How will you balance the budget if the warrant fails?
2. Why is the cost of education going up as much as 10 times faster than the cost of living?
3. Some teachers and administrators are receiving salary increases far exceeding the rate of inflation. How do you expect people in the community to afford the warrant when their salaries went up 3% if they got a raise or 2.1% if they are on social security?
4. 15% of the population does not have health insurance and the rest of the working population pays on average 22% of their own insurance and as much as 100% of their families' premiums. What percentage of their insurance premiums do teachers and administrators pay for themselves and their families?
5. If the warrant does pass do you promise to balance the budget and never come again to the public for another tax warrant?
6. If you plan on coming to us again for a warrant when will that be?
7. Does this plan to spend more money include class size reduction? If so do the teachers plan to take a proportionate pay cut for the reduction in workload?
8. Why do teacher salaries and administrative salaries increase at a rate far above the CPI?
9. Are your unions or associations trying to raise our state taxes as well as our property taxes?
10. If a warrant passes, when will we see our property taxes increased?
11. If asking for a building warrant when do you planning to come to us with an education warrant to staff the new building.