Saturday, April 19, 2008

Budget beef finds way into student backpacks

Union Leader.
Lizbeth McDonald the school president denies that she knew what she was doing was against school policy, she is either ignorant or lying either way she should not remain in her current position. The tactic of sending political propaganda home in students back packs is nothing new and a tactic widely used by PTA and PTO's which have been hijacked by teacher unions and their agendas.

Budget beef finds way into student backpacks
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff
Saturday, Apr. 19, 2008

MANCHESTER – A letter written by Weston Elementary School's PTO president urging parents to lobby aldermen on school spending was given to Weston students to take home this week.

That violates school board policy.

The board adopted a policy in the 1990s banning the use of school children as couriers to distribute material of a political nature.

Jennifer Lenox, vice president of Weston's parent-teacher organization, said the letter was written by the group's president, Kathleen Epperson.

Attempts to reach Epperson and Weston Principal Lizabeth MacDonald yesterday were unsuccessful.

Superintendent of Schools Henry Aliberti said both women became aware of the violation after the fact and regret the mailing.

"Liz was not aware of (the policy)," said Aliberti. "She's fairly new to the position. I know that both she and the head of the PTO feel very bad about it."

Aliberti said he learned of the letter yesterday and immediately called Mayor Frank Guinta.

"I wanted his office to know this wasn't a practice of the district," said Aliberti.

The administration also took steps to avoid a similar misstep this political season.

"We notified all principals, all assistant principals and school secretaries that any material containing political, budgetary information is not to go home through students," said Aliberti.

Though written by Epperson, the letter was approved by MacDonald for distribution to every child in the school.

The one-page, unsigned letter is addressed to "Weston Parents" with the headline: "EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ~ PLEASE READ."

The letter lists the city's 14 aldermen and their contact information.

"I urge every parent, guardian, aunt, uncle, grandmother and grandfather to place a call to their Alderman or send an email voicing their concerns as soon as possible," read the letter, in part.

"Please let the decision makers know that we cannot tolerate such a drastic decrease in the funding for our children's education."

The letter also urged people to attend an April 28 public forum on the school district budget at Memorial High School.

Guinta said that sending such information home with students puts the children in an awkward position.

"It troubles me that an organization that has good intentions would make an error in judgment and utilize kids in that fashion," Guinta said. "When I heard about it, I was surprised that it occurred."

Guinta said it is important to move beyond the incident and continue productive talks on the city's financial challenges and ways to improve education.

Lenox said the letter was not meant to be political.

"We all feel strongly about the class sizes increasing, especially in the Weston School district," she said, "because we have new houses and condominiums being built and we already have a portable (classroom)."

Alderman Real Pinard, whose Ward 6 includes Weston School, said he expected to be inundated with constituent calls after a neighbor showed him the letter.

As of yesterday, however, Pinard said he'd received just two calls, one from a person concerned about funding sports and another who was worried about music.

"I called the school yesterday and asked them who sent this letter and they couldn't tell me," said Pinard.

"As far as I'm concerned, this letter is worthless because it doesn't have a signature."

The letter actually understates the gap between the school board's and the mayor's proposed budgets for the district, citing a $7 million difference when it is $13.1 million.

Guinta's spending plan is approximately $7 million less than this year's district budget. The school board has proposed a $6 million spending increase.

Staff Writer Dan Tuohy contributed to this story.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Home schooling for 11

Our children our age 3 years and 9 months. We have not decided how we are going to formally educate our children when the time comes but we would like all possible options available to us. I say formally because we have been informally educating our children since birth.

Public schools, private schools and homeschooling all have their advantages and disadvantages. I would love to send my kids to public schools but they are severely under-educating our children, indoctrinating them into the socialist mindset and are terrible examples of accountability and fiscal accountability. If they would correct those problems it would be nice to have that option since we are already paying for them through property taxes. Hopefully things will change for the better in the next two years.

My three year old has been able to read her letters and identify the phonetic sounds they make since she was 18 months, she also can read, count to well past 100, add, subtract and understands the concept of zero. She has known her shapes since she was 18 months including hexagon, octagon, pentagon and trapezoid. She knows her planets and can identify some states on the map as well as the United states to name a few. She knows the names of the president and the vice president of the United states. This is only a fraction of what my three year old knows. I am afraid that public schools will not be able to keep up with her thirst for learning so homeschooling appears to be the best option at this point.

Quote of the Day - " To confuse compulsory schooling with equal educational opportunity is like confusing organized religion with spirituality. One does not necessarily lead to the other. Schooling confuses teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. "
-- Wendy Priesnitz

The following article appeared in the Union Leader.

Home schooling for 11
Union Leader Correspondent
Friday, Apr. 18, 2008

TASHA PARKER SAT with two of her 11 children at the kitchen table and pointed to a plastic clock.

"Can you show me 2:15?" she asked.

Seven-year-old Adeline and 5-year-old Brigham moved the bright red hands around the face of the clock, then showed their mother the results.

Across the table, Benjamin, 11, was sitting with two of his little sisters, showing them how to make animals out of play dough. He and his brother Jacob, 9, take turns running a preschool with the younger children while their mom teaches math to Adeline and Brigham in their Merrimack home.

The rest of the children - who range in age from 16 to 1 - were scattered to different corners of the house doing their daily schoolwork.

Tasha and Jim Parker started homeschooling when it was time for their oldest son, James, to go to school. But it wasn't an easy decision.

"I cried the first day as I watched the other children get on their school buses," Tasha Parker said.

She said she was worried she wouldn't be able to manage the demands of homeschooling - something that's hard to believe now as she coordinates her children's schedules throughout the day.

Her husband, who is a finance director at software firm Novell, works from home two days a week so he can help keep an eye on things.

The three oldest children - James, 16, Julia, 15, and Anna, 14 - start their day at 5:45 a.m., when they head off to a religious education class on the Old Testament at their church. The Parkers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The rest of the children get up at 6:30 a.m. and help prepare breakfast, before Jim leads a morning devotional where the family reads scripture and prays together.

By 8:30 a.m., school starts. Tasha Parker works with the younger children, but once a child hits third grade, he or she is expected to work independently.

Throughout the day, the children also take time out for music lessons, physical exercise and chores. All but the youngest have responsibilities, including making the meals, doing the laundry and cleaning.

The children also are involved in community extracurricular activities such as sports, 4-H, scouts and church youth groups.

"I am pretty strict when it comes to most everything," their mother said, "but it never works out perfectly.

The children say they are happy being homeschooled, and would not want to be in a public school.

The Parkers said they use a "classical" education model with their children, teaching them to read, write and problem-solve by reading from literature such as Shakespeare, Homer and Tennyson.

All of the children are at or ahead of grade level academically. James and Julia are already taking college courses independently through Brigham Young University.

And at the center of their curriculum, they say, is their belief system.

"Our ultimate goal is to help them become everything God wants them to become," said Jim Parker. "There's no better place to do that than in the home."

Opposed to legislation
Like most homeschoolers, the Parkers also believe the state should not interfere in what and how they teach their children.

"The God-given right and duty to train up our children belongs to us, not the government," said Jim.

The Parkers were in Concord Tuesday to testify against Senate Bill 337, which would require parents to submit curriculum plans to the state in their first year of homeschooling.

Currently parents who homeschool have to submit a letter at the beginning of every school year stating the name, birth dates, address, and dates when the homeschooling program starts, according to Merrimack Assistant Superintendent Debbie Woelflein.

At the end of the year, parents are required to submit an evaluation of their children's schoolwork for the year. The evaluation can take various forms, including a portfolio, an evaluation by a certified teacher, or taking a state standardized test, she said.

Parents used to be required to submit curriculum plans every school year, but that changed in 2006 when legislators revised the homeschooling law.

The new legislation would put some of that oversight back.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Iris Estabrook, D-Durham, said she sponsored the legislation because she believes the state has an obligation to provide some oversight of homeschooling families.

"My job is to look out for those who have no other voice, no other adults for them to turn to if an issue needs to be addressed," she said.

While she said the number of homeschooling families who don't do a good job is small, she believes the one-year requirement for submitting a curriculum will help parents understand the obligation that goes along with homeschooling.

"I think some people are against any government involvement in their homeschooling," she said. "I can respect that, but I can't leave it at that."

For the 2006-2007 school year, 4,599 children in New Hampshire were homeschooled. That compares to 207,000 children in public schools, according to Roberta Tenney, the state Home Education Administrator.

The state Department of Education supports the new legislation; Tenney said she believed it is a good compromise between what used to exist and what exists now.

Jim Parker said one of the reasons he and his wife chose to move to New Hampshire two years ago from Utah was because of the political culture, so he was disappointed the state has what he believes is already a high level of regulation for homeschoolers.

To view the pictures and the proposed rules for homeschoolers go to the Union Leader.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Home-schooled Evanston teen accepted by Harvard, Yale, more

We moved to New Hampshire in November of 2006 just as for the first time in almost a 100 years the Democrats took control of the Governor's office, the house and the senate. Needless to say we were not pleased. One of the reasons we decided to move to New Hampshire was because we fell in love with it after a vacation 6 months earlier and because we thought we were coming to a place were people really believed in the motto "Live, Free or Die." We really thought when we left Illinois we were leaving Daley politics and Illinois' special interest group controlled government behind. The one thing Illinois had over New Hampshire was their homeschooling policies or should I say lack thereof. In Illinois you do not even have to tell the school district you are homeschooling, which is unlike New Hampshire, which soon may be more restrictive if Comrade Estabrook gets her way.

The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

In what has been called the most competitive year ever for college admissions, Chelsea Link defied the odds to get accepted into Yale. Then Harvard.

Then came the fat envelopes from Princeton, Columbia, University of Chicago, Stanford and Northwestern University.

Making that feat still more extraordinary, Link has been home-schooled since age 5.

"I was a little nervous," the Evanston 18-year-old said. "I was worried that I might not get into even one school."

This isn't false modesty on Link's part, but an acknowledgment that many stereotypes about home schooling—think barn raisings and "Little House on the Prairie" wardrobes—are still entrenched.

True, she had nailed perfect scores on the SAT and ACT, is the reigning world Irish harp champion, aced all her AP exams and enjoys nothing more than kicking back with the latest copy of Scientific American.

But being both first and last in your senior class poses a challenge for colleges accustomed to comparing credentials from conventional high schools.

"There's a built-in conflict of interest when the person evaluating your performance is Mom or Dad," said Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Still, many admissions officials say they are becoming more at ease with applicants who took alternative paths, if for no other reason than it's a booming market. Almost 2 million American students are educated at home, and more than 80 percent of colleges have formal policies for assessing these applicants—up from 52 percent in 2000.

While the pool has expanded, so has home-schoolers' savvy about how to package themselves, said Christopher Watson, dean of undergraduate admissions at NU, where the number of such applicants has doubled since 2002.

"We haven't changed the way we review applications, but the way home-schoolers are submitting applications has changed," he said. "They've become very good at taking out the question marks."

Now, the only uncertainty for Link, who hopes to study neuroscience, is where she will attend. She has until May to decide, although the crimson sweat shirt she wore may have provided a clue. Harvard offered slots in the class of 2012 to only about 7 percent of 27,000-plus applicants, an all-time high.

To make that coup even more impressive, Link received the good news via phone in late February, even though the official letter did not arrive for another month. Only 10 non-athletes nationwide received one of these "heads-up" calls.

One way non-traditional students have won over skeptics is by relying more on outside sources to document scholastic rigor. Link's transcript includes courses ranging from tiny Shimer College on the South Side to the Sorbonne in Paris, along with plenty of accredited online instruction, from groups such as the Stanford University's Education Program for Gifted Youth. To further bolster credibility, a stack of glowing recommendations from tutors and mentors, not relatives, is part of the mix.

Despite all this excellence, Link's mother shared her daughter's angst.

"I'd wake up in the middle of the night and wonder: 'Whatever made me think that [home schooling] would be looked upon favorably?' " said Cindi Link, who prepared detailed course descriptions for the applications.

When the green light came from Harvard, all the doubt melted away. Cindi Link was jubilant, but she had to stifle her excitement because her husband, Ross, was on a business call. "I got down on the ground and started beating the floor, trying not to scream."

The Links—who own their own marketing-analysis business—have been assuming responsibility for their only child's studies since kindergarten.

"I begged them," said Chelsea, who started reading at age 2 and remembers being so bored that she made spelling books for her fellow kindergartners. "They dug it, but the teachers didn't," she recalled dryly.

With no idea it would turn into a long-term commitment, Cindi Link started scouring the Internet and bookstores for curriculum, and started a group called Home Schooling Gifted Students, which now has about 100 families in the metropolitan area who meet regularly to share instruction, experiences and resources.

Cindi Link augmented her daughter's lesson plans with enrichment classes and lots of travel (they learned about Buddhism in Tibet, philosophy in Greece and Taoism with an abbot atop China's holiest mountain). Less exotic but equally important was immersion in Chicago's rich arts scene.

"One of the saddest parts of leaving home will be losing my subscription to the Lyric [Opera of Chicago]," Chelsea said.

Therein may lie a key to her success—one that Nassirian, of the registrars association, pronounced as "an almost unheard of accomplishment," regardless of where and when she was educated.

While other students talk cynically about the admissions "game" and "résumé-building," Link seems propelled by a genuine intellectual curiosity that can't be faked.

(Parents who can't pry their kids away from the PlayStation should stop reading here.)

How else to explain her love of literature and theater? For the last three years, she has taught Shakespeare classes to 40 youngsters (the furniture in the living room was still pushed to the side from a recent production of "As You Like It") and counts as one of her favorite memories holding a party for the Bard's 442nd birthday.

Or her passion for the harp, which she has studied in Ireland most summers since she was 10?

Or her fondness for French?

"She is the best student I have ever had, and I have been teaching for 40 years," said Michele Hall, a native of Provence and Chelsea's French tutor for the past decade. "She is brilliant, but without any of the social awkwardness or emotional problems that usually go along with it."

Link revels in the non-geek description, seizing the opportunity to debunk another common misconception of home-schoolers.

As proof, she ticks off some of her favorites: "CSI," chocolate, music (especially Radiohead and the Shins) and a boyfriend.

And, she did taste rejection:

"I was rejected at Juilliard," she revealed, almost gleefully. "I had a really lousy audition."

The past 12 years have provided a stimulating and creative ride, but now, she's ready to move on.

"I think I've had a pretty normal high school experience . . . just without the high school."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Employee longevity pay costing NH millions

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader.
It is time to support and legislators that will do away with archaic legislation that is squandering our tax dollars.

Employee longevity pay costing NH millions
Senior Political Reporter
Sunday, Apr. 13, 2008

Concord – With the state facing big budget shortfalls this fiscal year and next, a 61-year-old state law mandates that state workers receive extra pay simply for being employed a decade or more.

Under the law, anyone who has worked full-time for the state continuously for 10 years receives $300 in longevity pay each year. At 15 years, the worker receives $600 a year until the worker's 20th anniversary, when it jumps to $900 a year. Additional sums of $300 are added every five years.

In 2007, it added up to $3.6 million for 5,020 employees, according to the latest available figures from the state Department of Administrative Services, and has been in the $2 million to $3 million range each year for the past decade.

Longevity pay has been in state law since 1947 and it is unclear if it has ever been seriously questioned by elected officials.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, said, "I'd never heard of it until you mentioned it. It's obvious that if we don't know about it, we should."

Eleven-term Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, a member and former chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he knew the state makes longevity payments but could not recall the issue being closely reviewed.

"It's an incentive for people to stay in state service," he said. "But I can't tell you its history and I suspect that it's now the kind of thing that no longer serves the intended function.

"It's too small to make a difference, and, therefore, it's something that's traditional and provides more money for the employee but doesn't factor into the decision to stay with the state," Kurk said.

In addition to being in state law, Gov. John Lynch noted through a spokesman that longevity pay "is part of the collective bargaining agreement, and any change would have to be negotiated with state employees.

"One of the issues that state government is struggling with is retaining long-term, experienced employees," said Pamela Walsh, Lynch's deputy chief of staff. She also said Lynch "thinks that performance pay could possibly make sense in some areas, but it would need to be considered in the overall context of our collective bargaining negotiations and our goal of retaining valuable employees."

The expenditure for longevity pay is small compared to the state's latest projections of a $47 million budget hole by the June 30 end of this fiscal year and as much as $150 million by end of the two-year budget cycle on June 30, 2009.

But a conservative researcher says it is an example of the personnel costs that drive a large portion of government expenses.

"Costs in state government are often defined by programs," said Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, "but the programs are of course carried out by people, so that personnel costs are one of the biggest items in state government -- the salary, the high cost of health insurance, retirement costs and other smaller items like this.

"It explains that every time there is some sort of a budget crisis, every governor has at some point issued an executive order that includes a hiring freeze," Arlinghaus said.

Arlinghaus said he believed that in the private sector, employees "are not guaranteed to get more money simply because they have been there for a long period of time."

According to state Commissioner of Administrative Services Linda Hodgdon, three state laws define longevity bonuses, and all are rooted in a single law that passed in 1947. At that time, she said, the bonuses were $60 at the 10-year mark and $60 more on every succeeding five-year anniversary.

Separate laws now cover unclassified (management) employees, classified (rank-and-file and unionized) employees and state troopers and their command staff.

Hodgdon said 5,020 of the state's approximately 12,000 workers receive longevity bonuses. They receive separate checks containing their longevity pay along with their first paychecks each December.

"I was surprised how far back it went," Hodgdon said. "I don't know what the thinking was back then, but today, when we look at it we think of it as an effort to retain workers, but it's really no longer enough to dissuade workers from leaving."

Longevity pay in New Hampshire is not confined to state government. Several cities and towns in New Hampshire give employees longevity pay. Manchester, for instance, has been making longevity payments for more than 40 years. Its ordinance says that after five years of continuous service to the city, an additional 3 percent "shall be added to the employees' base pay," and additional increments of 3 percent every five years after that.

Longevity pay is also widespread throughout the nation. In South Dakota, for instance, state employees with at least seven years of state employment get $100 annually. The compensation increases to $10 for each year of employment in years 11 to 14. In the 15th year of employment, the longevity pay is $15 for each year of service. The longevity pay then increases at $5 increments for each additional five years of employment.

In Tennessee state workers become eligible for longevity pay after three years of service, while in North Carolina it is 10 years.

The last detailed study of longevity pay found in a New Hampshire Union Leader review was in 1990. At that time, a University of South Carolina researcher found that 26 states award longevity pay to state employees. The author, contacted for this story, said he did not know how many states make such payments today. Nor did officials at the Council for State Governments.

Scarcity of detailed, comparative information is part of the problem, said Peter Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union.

"Longevity pay is not new," said Sepp, "but it's a relatively new phenomenon in terms of how long the general public has known about it. The public has heard countless stories about generous pensions, about using vacation and unused sick time toward pension calculation and being able to bank retirement to get a big bonus, but I've only heard about longevity pay on a regular basis for two or three years.

"It's one of those long-standing perks that has remained hidden in a corner for many years," Sepp said.

Sepp also said longevity pay is rare in the private sector.

"The private sector equivalent, if there is one, is either not as generous or as sweeping," he said.

"Some employees get bonuses for what is called loyalty. Having been on the job for, say, 20 years, you might end up getting a small bonus or the proverbial gold watch.

"But there doesn't seem to be many equivalents for getting a bonus for sitting at the same desk for decades on end."

Sepp said longevity pay is "a relic of a bygone era, when the teacher was a single woman being paid very poorly or the file clerk made very little money toiling away in the same office for 30 years.

"It was probably done to compensate for lower salaries in the public sector 30 or 40 or more years ago," Sepp said. "But the trouble is, salaries aren't as bad as they used to be in the public sector."