2019 Raymond School Board Meetings


Board Questioned About Minimum Class Size at High School
By Leslie O’Donnell     3-11-19

Randy LaCasse and John Harmon both addressed the Raymond School Board March 6 to express displeasure with proposed increases in class size at Raymond High School.

Identifying himself as a parent, taxpayer and RHS music teacher, LaCasse said those roles could not be separated in his comments. He noted that he considers his job secure, and he thus was not speaking out to protect job security.

“I want to be clear that as we decrease teachers, particularly at the high school, class size will go up, and an unintended possible hole in that thinking is that with fewer teachers and fewer class sections,” students will face conflicts in their schedule for classes they need for graduation.

“I want people to understand that with decreasing staff and increasing class size, there can be unintended consequences and conflicts,” he said.

He also asked the board if it was its intent not to run an honors class if it had, for example, only eight students, and noted that it had been mentioned that both honors and regular classes in a subject could be taught in the same class at the same time.

“Are you going to ask a teacher to deliver two curriculums in the same class period?” he asked. “I do now, and it’s overwhelming. I hope we don’t get to the point where this board asks the administration to ask teachers to teach two very different curriculums in the same number of minutes.

“And if we can’t offer an honors class, what happens the next year when the student wants to sign up for AP (advanced placement)?” he added.

Board member Janice Arsenault, who had started the discussion months ago by stating her desire to set a minimum number of students for a class to be offered, said she thinks both honors and regular curriculum could be taught at the same time. “We’re letting numbers decide what classes will be held,” she added.

LaCasse responded that his music theory would never be offered under that guideline, which would likely mean no RHS student could be accepted into a music education major at college. “Without that class, they wouldn’t be able to pass the music entrance exam,” he said.

Board chair Joe Saulnier said the minimum of 12 students for a class to run was not a ”drop dead” number.

LaCasse cautioned the board that when they talk about class size, they are also talking about programs.

“The number of kids who sign up for a class will build the schedule,” Arsenault said. “I’m not going to agree that we should run classes with three students. I want a program that runs efficiently and serves students. We’ve had too many classes with too few kids.”

Saying she taught high school in a district where honors and regular curriculum were taught in the same class, she asked Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy to obtain information about other districts that have one teacher instructing two different classes at the same time with no extra compensation.

Arsenault said combining the honors and general classes would place a lot of responsibility on the honors students, who would receive additional work.

“Education is also about feedback from the teacher,” LaCasse said. “You can’t give the same feedback as you could in a separate class.”

Harmon, a former long-time School Board member as well as a parent and taxpayer, also spoke to class size. “I’m disappointed the board is taking a minimum class size of 12,” he said. “That’s too aggressive” he said. “If French 2 has six students and it’s the only section offered, it would not be held.

“I’m disappointed about taking this position when we have class sizes at the middle school that could be cut, and we could have cut a fifth and an eighth grade teacher,” he added.

Harmon also raised other issues, and cited what he termed a “disparaging” remark made by board member Beth Paris at a previous meeting, when she referred to some honors classes at RHS as a “joke.”

“I was shocked that no other board member or administrator took exception to that comment,” Harmon said. “What classes are the jokes and are not worthy of   being taught at the high school? It’s frustrating that we have this kind of comment at a board meeting.”

Harmon asked the board to step back and digest the current high school schedule, and to seek student and parent input. He expressed concern about reducing Ram time, and suggested that if board members are concerned about how Ram time is used, they should visit the school to observe what goes on and discuss how to make it better.

He acknowledged that the board had said it would have an appeals process for undersized classes, but said that does not mean the class would be offered.

Harmon also noted that Paris had missed nine out of 32 school board meetings, and board member Moe Titcomb had missed 10 out of 32.

“To do justice as a school board member and elected official, to me that is tragic,” he said of the absences. “Don’t sign up, or resign if you can’t do the job.”

Paris defended her record by citing “extenuating circumstances,” noting dying family members. And concerning her “joke” comment, she said her child moved to a non-honors class because work in that class was more extensive than in the honors section.

“Things aren’t as black and white as you made it out to be,” she told Harmon.

Titcomb spoke up as well, and said he was absent because of his own and family illnesses and marital issues.

In other business:

• Technology Director Kevin Federico presented his quarterly report, and in response to a question from Saulnier, noted what items had broken down or were beyond repair in the past year. Saulnier also spoke to a complaint he received that day from a parent whose student could not take part in a class because of incompatible software.

“This is a critical need for us. We need to start updating. If we can’t run our curriculum, something needs to be done,” he said, praising Federico for doing a “fantastic job” in working to rectify the problem.

“We’re trying to get the money reallocated to address the (compatibility) issue Joe raised,” Federico said.

Raymond High School Principal Steve Woodward noted that he had recently observed a CAD (computer-aided design) classroom with “pretty impressive offerings,” but because of a lack of equipment and outdated equipment, one machine was being shared by every two to three students.

“Students have outdated equipment, and it’s just not ideal,” he said. “We’re starting to offer things that we do not have the technology for.”

• In a related matter, Saulnier noted the election is Tuesday, March 12 and raised the issue of the default budget, which is lower than the proposed budget. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into our budget and don’t tack on extra money,” he said.   “This year’s budget has so much more technology in it because we’re so far behind. To be honest, our technology needs to be upgraded, and in my mind, if the default is passed, we would have to look at possible cuts – fifth and eighth grade teachers, music, JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates), YEES (Youth Educational Employment Service) – cuts we looked at before and will have to look at again.

“We never rubber-stamp our budget,” he added. “In the last three years, we’ve made about $1 million in cuts.”

Saulnier also noted that staff contracts make up about 70 percent of the budget, and emphasized that those contracts were approved by Raymond’s voters.

Paris emphasized that while she has been very vocal about the expense of technology in the past, she considers it important. “I am concerned about the default and don’t think a lot of people understand the ramifications if it passes,” she said.

• Woodward presented a draft proposal for the 2019-20 RHS schedule, proposed because of the School Board’s expressed wishes to see less unstructured time for students. Currently students who have a study hall on a day when Ram time is scheduled could have three-plus hours without an instructional period.

The proposal eliminates RAP time (30 minutes daily) four days a week, stating it has not been used constructively, and shortened Ram time from 83 minutes while increasing its frequency. In addition, an eighth period was added, although this would likely mean more students have a study hall.

Woodward also noted that the class failure rate has dropped by double digits and is continuing to drop, thanks to Ram time data.

As an alternative to the proposed schedule, he suggested keeping the current schedule for next year and taking more time to consider changes.

McCoy said the administration is not pushing to change the schedule, but was responding to board discussion.

After hearing Woodward’s presentation, Paris said she thinks a committee is needed of teachers and students to look at the schedule. “I like Ram, and the data shows it is helping our kids,” she said. “I have a problem with the amount of time when kids are not doing anything, but I think it’s premature to change the schedule.”

Thanking Woodward for his “haste and effort,” Arsenault said she does not think the issue can be solved in two weeks, and remains concerned about Ram time. “I don’t think I’m ready to accept the new schedule,” she said.

When LaCasse noted that students who fail to do work on time can use Ram time to make it up, Arsenault said, “what are we teaching kids if we give them time each day to make up work they didn’t do by deadline?”

Saulnier agreed, saying “kids who do not bother to do their work shouldn’t have Ram time to do it during school.”

“This is where we have to teach responsibility,” Arsenault said.

She noted the proposed schedule does not alleviate any of her concerns about Ram time, study hall, and seniors who come to school late or leave early for no legitimate reason. “For Ram to continue, it has to convince me its being used responsibly,” she said. “Rather than changing the schedule, let’s come up with a plan.”

• The board heard a presentation from Lamprey River Elementary School students and counselor Laura Milner about the first year of the school’s social emotional learning curriculum, part of its Unified Arts program.

• School meal prices were discussed, but the matter was tabled to a future meeting, as guidelines from the National School Lunch Program have not come in. School breakfast and lunch prices were raised during the current year by 15 cents and are currently $1.65 for breakfast at the elementary and middle schools, $1.90 for breakfast at the high school, $2.70 for lunch at the elementary school, $2.95 for lunch at the middle school and $3.20 for lunch at the high school.

• In keeping with School Board policy, Patrick Arsenault, who directs the after-school program, requested Board approval of a survey of students in the program. The survey is required by the New Hampshire Department of Education annually for students who participate in the program, funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant.

He will obtain parental permission for students to take the survey, which is non-academic and conducted by an outside agency, thus requiring School Board approval.

The Board approved the survey 3-0-1, with Janice Arsenault abstaining and Michelle Couture absent.

• Curriculum Coordinator Mike Whaland presented the quarterly curriculum update.

• McCoy praised Whaland for his work with the Elliot Hospital, which had contacted the District about offering its Stop the Bleed program, and provided training and first aid kits free for staff to learn to identify life-threatening bleeding and how to react to it.

• McCoy reported that a bus accident had occurred that morning, with no injuries. The accident occurred at the first stop for the bus, after a child had just gotten aboard and while the child’s parent was still present. Another bus arrived after 15 minutes.

• McCoy noted misinformation appearing on social media about School District decisions and emphasized that there is no minimum class size for AP classes, and no change in high school class sizes for students with all varieties of learning styles. She also said it is false that the District is reducing staff to 3-1/2 teachers per high school department.

• The board unanimously approved a second reading of Access to Student Records – FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) policy.

 


Elementary School to Get Safety Improvements, Minimum High School Class Size Set
By Leslie O’Donnell    2-25-19

Lamprey River Elementary School will be implementing a new afternoon dismissal parent pick-up arrangement, which was explained to the School Board at its Feb. 20 meeting.

Lamprey River Principal Laura Yacek and Facilities Director Todd Ledoux presented the new plan, which Yacek said provides a way to have student accountability, matching a parent to a particular child.

“We also want to decrease parent wait time,” Yacek said. “Currently we load four cars at one time, and we want to increase that to eight.”

She noted that parking on Old Manchester Road creates a problem for fire and police vehicles and blocks the view of bus drivers exiting the parking lot.

Ledoux said staff spent time observing the parking lot, talking with parents and watching camera video of the area. He said on average, 82 students are picked up in 62 cars each day during the 3:15 p.m. to 3:29 p.m. time period. “The problem is in the first five to seven minutes,” he noted.

The plan involves converting to two lanes for pickup, with concrete barriers installed to prevent traffic from entering the playground and to keep parents from parking on the Dumpster side of the building and getting out of their cars.

Yacek has set up numerous means to notify parents of the change, and said police will be present for the first few days of implementing the new system.

Parents will be given tags to place on their rear-view mirrors with their child’s name and grade, and students will wait in the cafeteria for dismissal; they currently wait outside. The tags make it possible to match students to the correct vehicle. Parents will be asked to remain in their cars and students will be brought to them, with eight cars loaded at a time.

The anticipated implementation date will be in mid-March.

In another safety effort at Lamprey River, Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy said the District plans to reconfigure the school’s main entry to make it more secure and comfortable, much as has already been done at the middle and high schools.

A public hearing was held to consider expenditure of funds from the Equipment, Facilities Maintenance and Replacement Capital Reserve Fund (CRF) for the secure front entry reconfiguration at the school.

Ron Brickett, federal funds accountant for the District, said staff have been working on the plan for several months. He said the state Department of Education approved a $40,000 grant for the project, and after the District found the work would cost considerably more, the grant was raised to $68,800, subject to the School Board’s approval of matching funds before April 1.

He said a Request for Proposals went out in November and in December four bids came in, all much higher than anticipated, ranging from $128,000 to $164,000.

“We felt that was unreasonable, and Todd worked with the lowest bidder to see what we could do,” Brickett said. That resulted in a proposal for $86,259, offset by the $68,800 grant, leaving a $17,459 cost to the District. The lowest bidder was JBC.

Ledoux explained the current front entry doors will be removed and replaced by ADA-compliant (Americans with Disability Act) doors. A secure waiting area will be created where the secretary currently sits, and Ledoux and maintenance staff will do some of the work. He hopes for construction to take place this summer.

Brickett noted that taking this money from the CRF would leave $494,000 in the fund for future projects.

The Board approved a motion unanimously, with Moe Titcomb absent, to take $17,459 from the Equipment, Facilities Maintenance and Replacement CRF for the project.

In other business:

• The School Board discussed class size guidelines for Raymond High School and unanimously approved a motion to establish a minimum class size of 12 for grades 9-12. AP (Advanced Placement), higher level foreign language and remedial classes would be exempt from minimum class size, but Honors classes would not be exempt.

School Board chair Joe Saulnier said after the meeting that the motion is similar to the current policy on maximum class size and will serve as guidance for administration and future boards. He said the Board looks at maximum class size during budget season, and will look at minimum class size at the high school in March from now on.

The Board discussed the matter extensively before taking a vote. Board member Michelle Couture said she would like to see an appeals process in place, in which a student could appeal to the board to offer a class that did not meet the minimum number of students.

RHS Principal Steve Woodward reminded the Board that minimum class size is a process and has a ripple effect, and said the final course numbers are not available until the week after school starts.

While board member Janice Arsenault, who raised the issue of minimum class size earlier in the year, said she would go along with that number being 10 students, if it would be revisited the following year, and board member Beth Paris agreed, with the stipulation of adding an appeals process as Couture had suggested. She termed that process a way for students “to take ownership of their education.”

As discussion continued, Saulnier said he was thinking of 12 as the minimum number, and Arsenault said she had wanted 15 but would settle for less.

Jeff Rivard, the RHS student member of the school board, asked about Honors classes, and noted he would not have been able to take some of the Honors classes he has taken because of the minimum class size numbers being discussed. Woodward noted that at least one Honors class has already been pulled from the schedule because it was below 10 students.

Paris said some of the Honors classes do not live up to their name, while Saulnier said he thought Honors classes would be exempt.

McCoy pointed out that the maximum class size policy has guidelines and flexibility, and she would like flexibility with minimum class size as well. She noted that if a student moves into the District in the middle of the year, “we have the flexibility to go over that maximum class size number (25 students per class at the high school). I’d like to see the same thing with minimum class size, so that if three weeks in, a student drops the class and it goes below the minimum, we do not have to cancel the class.”

She also emphasized the need for flexibility in finding ways for students to take classes that fall below the minimum. Couture said if RHS cannot offer a particular class, perhaps it could connect with another institution or VLACS (Virtual Learning Academy Charter School in Exeter).

The Board also discussed AP numbers, even though those classes are excluded from the minimum size. Woodward said AP classes in U.S. history and government usually run to 10, while English usually attract four or five. Sciences vary by topic.

Couture said she has taught AP classes with as few as four and as high as 12 students, and found that six to eight students are best.

Some discussion took place on whether to apply minimum class size to the middle school, but the Board determined to keep the motion to the high school only.

• The Board heard a presentation from Woodward about the school schedule and course sign-ups.

The school operates on a seven-period day, and freshmen, sophomores and juniors are required to take seven classes. He noted that high school teachers teach five periods per day.

Paris said she would love to see the RAP (advisory) time go away and considers it a total waste of time. She considers the Ram period, however, to be valuable.

Ram time can be used for a humanities lab, math and science lab, online learning, computer work, directed study or self-directed study. Its goal is to provide intervention and support for students within the school day, and to provide enrichment to students who are in good academic standing. Ram time occurs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Discussion focused on study halls, which would not be available to grades 9-11 with seven required classes per day, although the Ram period could be used in that manner.

Arsenault raised concerns about seniors taking a small number of academic classes, and Woodward said he would like to see Personal Finance be mandatory for graduation, something Paris seconded. He said that could be made a senior requirement, but Rivard, a senior, said he thinks the class would be useful to be offered to sophomores.

“I’m still tremendously concerned about the lack of time students are attending class,” Arsenault said, noting that some seniors take just two classes. “I’d really like to see a schedule with more structure.”

Students can leave school early for work – and Woodward said Raymond has more students who work than at other high schools with which he is familiar – but RHS does not require a sign-off from the employer.

Couture suggested unscheduled time for seniors could be used in a fruitful way, for internships or ELO (Extended Learning Opportunities). “You do not have to be in the building to be learning,” she said.

• Iber Holmes Gove Middle School Principal Bob Bickford discussed the school’s Response to Intervention (RtI) program. He said the program improves education for all the middle school students.

Bickford explained that in the past, teachers referred to the Student Intervention Team students who were struggling behaviorally or academically, but he has seen over time that some students were not necessarily improving and repeated their behavior year after year.

“The data showed we need to do something different,” he said.  In fall 2017, “(we) came to the conclusion that we couldn’t continue doing the same thing and expect different results.”

As a result, he began to research academic intervention models that had data to support their success. He talked with other middle school principals regarding Response to Intervention models, and visited Amherst and Belmont middle schools to observe their current RtI models. He returned to Belmont this fall after making changes in the local model.

“Because we’re so far below our goal of 80 percent of students proficient in reading and math, every student at (Iber Holmes Gove) is in RtI,” he said. “Every student in every grade at the middle school has 45 minutes of RtI.”

Students are placed in small groups based on their fall STAR benchmark assessment scores in reading and math. Students are assessed at the end of each six-week session in the subject of their group, i.e., reading or math.

He noted that reading intervention groups focus on comprehension; reading enrichment groups focus on persuasive speaking. Math intervention groups focus on math facts, while math enrichment groups focus on problem solving.

Asked by Saulnier if RtI gives homework, Bickford said it does not. “The vast majority of teachers want to be there working with the students,” he explained.

He added that reading scores are up because the District has focused on literacy for years. “It has a very solid base in literacy,” he said. “It’s a solid curriculum. We now need to do something similar in math.” A full-time math interventionist for the school is included in the proposed school budget.

• McCoy presented the finance update, and said year-to-date revenues are mostly on target, and an effort is being made to get Medicaid reimbursement requests processed by staff in a more timely manner. She also noted that impact fees will be coming in higher than expected.

Couture said they need to start thinking differently about “how we feed kids,” and called the rising number of unpaid lunch charges a national crisis. McCoy said they are considering providing the opportunity for people to donate a small amount from each paycheck, and said there has been interest in the community to donate funds.

• The Board accepted the retirement of Lamprey River guidance counselor Veronica McNallen-Formon effective June 30.

• The board held a first reading of a proposed revision to Access to Student Records – FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and encouraged parents to read the document. The proposed changes are based on the school attorney’s recommendation, to better align the policy with the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. The proposed policy is available at www.sau33.com on the School Board Meeting Feb. 20 working agenda.

• The board approved the second reading of a policy on physical examination of students, and approved the second reading to rescind policies on family physician’s report of physical examination, school health service communicable diseases, confidential student information for nurse’s office and use of inhalers.

• Arsenault discussed a recent Raymond Coalition for Youth meeting she attended, where ACERT (Adverse Childhood Experiences Response Team) was discussed. The idea is to work with first responders so that when a child comes to school after an incident at home, the school is aware that something has happened and will “handle with care.” Cards saying “handle with care” would be brought to school by the student voluntarily, and the child could be linked up with appropriate resources.


School Board Denies Request to Remove Instructional Material
By Leslie O’Donnell    2-11-19

Raymond School Board members, in a 4-1 vote on Feb. 6, supported school officials in denying a parent’s request for reconsideration and removal of instructional material from the seventh grade English curriculum.

Parent Tracy Paradis informed the Superintendent of Schools that she was unable to attend Wednesday meetings but asked that the matter be presented to the Board and submitted correspondence in support of her request. Both Iber Holmes Gove Middle School Principal Bob Bickford and Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy had previously reviewed her request and each found the material in question to be appropriate. The final step according to District policy is the School Board.

Paradis’s concerns and the District administration’s response can be found on the District website at www.sau33.com under “School Board Meeting Agendas with Backup” for the Feb. 6 meeting. They relate to a personal narrative writing assignment titled “How Do You Turn Yourself into a Character? – Lopate’s Tips.”

In her request for reconsideration of instructional materials, Paradis claimed to represent “all parents (responsible ones).”

Bickford said that Paradis’s concerns focused on one aspect of the instruction, the Lopate Tip sheet. “She expressed her concern that the questions were too personal in nature and should not be asked of seventh grade students.”

In her reconsideration request, she described the questions as “flawed” and said they “ask deep self reflective questions that lead to negative analysis,” and added that their emphasis on self-worth would result in “self harm.” She said the questions were appropriate only for a college psychology class and noted that they are an invasion of privacy to families. Self-worth for seventh graders should only concern “positive thoughts, not ‘flaws,’” Paradis said.

After the parent had met with the teacher and with Bickford, both of whom supported the assignment, Bickford convened a committee that included two parents, the two seventh grade English teachers and himself to review the request.

Bickford and McCoy said the determining factor in their decisions was that students were not required to respond to the essay questions the parent objected to. They explained the questions served only as “thought starters” or writing prompts. In addition, students were not required to share their answers with classmates or the teacher, and the teacher had provided alternative ways to start their essays.

“The determining factor was that it was not required for the students to answer the questions, and we believe it is not necessary to remove that lesson from the unit of instruction,” Bickford said, noting that was his as well as the committee’s decision.

The assignment states, “You may not be able to answer all questions. That is okay. Everyone has different conflicts in their lives. Some people don’t have any conflict in their life. Just answer the questions you can and skip over the questions you can’t answer.”

Questions range from “when are you charming, pushy, moody, ridiculous, etc…How do you act in social situations?” to “What sets you apart from the majority of your peers? What are your quirks?” to “Ethnicity, age, gender, religion, class, geography and politics are all strong determinants in the development of character. Do you have challenges brought about by your life circumstances such as your age, gender, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, where you live, or your political beliefs?”

McCoy said she asked the school psychologist, in light of the concerns the parent had raised, to review the material when the appeal reached her desk, and both she and the psychologist found the material appropriate. “It was not mandatory or shared,” she said. “We’ve been doing this lesson for years. With all due respect to the parent’s concerns, I denied the appeal and think the material is appropriate.”

McCoy also noted that the teacher had collaborated with faculty at Phillips Exeter Academy on the lesson.

The parent’s concerns centered on Lopate’s Tips. Paradis’s letter to the school board claims Sharrow overstepped her role as an English teacher and “is not here to have students ‘think about their life.’” She also claims no adult would ever answer those questions, which she claimed are “all negatively based.”

“I also find this assignment a cheat,” she wrote. “It is an imposter for some other agenda, but mostly, it cheats the children from their childhood.” She also requested parent consent be obtained for the assignment.

She concluded, “Assignment is inappropriate, crosses boundaries, dangerous and shameful. For the sake of all future children, please discontinue this assignment.”

The School Board disagreed. student member Jeff Rivard, a Raymond High School senior, pointed out he is closest in age to the 12-year-olds in the class in question, and said, “I would have benefited from those questions when I was 12.”

“I have to agree with Jeff,” said board member Beth Paris. “The assignment says the student doesn’t have to do this or answer the questions or share, so I support your decision. It says right in there that you don’t have to answer, you don’t have to share.”

Chairman Joe Saulnier said he sees no reason to take this assignment out of the curriculum. “I even answered some of the questions myself,” he said. “They ask you to look at yourself; it’s a personal writing experience. I thought this was a fantastic assignment.”

“To me, there’s no better time to be thinking of these kinds of things. I think it’s a healthy and very helpful assignment,” McCoy said. “It’s really just to get them thinking, with the overall goal of improving their writing so they can become better writers and more compelling writers.”

Board member Janice Arsenault said that if students had been required to answer the questions and to share, she might have looked at it differently, “but I don’t see any harm here.”

Board member Michelle Couture noted the parent’s concern that the materials produced in the creative writing assignment would be used for some other purpose, and asked McCoy for reassurance that this was not some type of psychological test or “insidious plan” to identify students.

“That is absolutely not the case or the goal in any way, shape or form,” McCoy responded.

Bickford noted that eighth graders at the school visited the seventh grade class and expressed how much they had enjoyed writing the essay in question.

School board member Moe Titcomb said the student told the parent the teacher had said to answer the questions, adding that a 12-year-old is “very impressionable.” Rivard responded that the assignment says to “try to answer.”

A motion by Couture, seconded by Arsenault, was put forward to support the Superintendent’s position and findings on the request for reconsideration. Titcomb then said he supported the parent’s right to come to the Board and said he would not vote for the motion.

“I didn’t even read this,” he said of the supporting documents, which include the parent’s response and description of the assignment. “I’m not going to vote for it. I think parents have the right to come here.”

Saulnier explained that was not the purpose of the motion. “We’re not saying a parent doesn’t have the right to petition the board,” he said. “We’re voting on whether to take this out of the curriculum.”

“Oh, is that what we’re doing?” Titcomb responded. “I haven’t read the material in question. I don’t know if I even feel comfortable doing that.”

The vote to support McCoy’s decision was 4-1, with Titcomb opposed.

In other business:

• Raymond High School math teacher Bill Hayes and students from the High School Plunge for Special Olympics discussed last Saturday’s event in Hampton and the school’s Unified basketball team.

Raymond High raised $25,106 for Special Olympics through the High School Plunge, the most money of any school in the state, and had the most participants of any school at the High School Plunge – more than 80.

Hayes said participation of Raymond students was “absolutely remarkable. Raymond High School is one of the smallest schools to participate and we raised more than any other high school in the state. Their exuberance and caring for each other was better than from any other high school in the state, and I could not be more proud of this group of young people.”

He referred to the recent preliminary study comparing costs of tuitioning RHS students to Pinkerton Academy, and said RHS students “exemplify what is truly important in education. These students have become a family, and they’re what community is. Students that follow them should be afforded the same opportunity.”

Paris said she missed the School Deliberative Session last Saturday because she was attending the High School Plunge. “I was so proud of our town,” she said of the event and RHS achievements.”

“The impact you’ll make on Special Olympics is very important,” Saulnier said. Thirty percent of the money raised by RHS will come back to the Unified program at the school.

RHS band teacher Randy LaCasse also spoke of the Unified basketball program and said its games focus on “sport. It’s an amazing thing.”

• McCoy announced that Brittany L’Heureux is the new school board clerk.

• Affidavits of Completion were signed for the middle school’s secure front entry reconfiguration and middle school’s secure gymnasium entry reconfiguration to affirm completion of those projects.

McCoy said the projects enhance safety and security at the middle school.

• In Raymond High School Principal Steve Woodward’s second-quarter report, the Board learned that students are currently in the process of choosing their courses for next year; 24 percent of the RHS student body earned honor roll or principal’s list status, and seven students were invited to participate in the Granite State Music Festival.

He also noted that 109 students and parents attended the recent Eighth Grade Open House; Special Education Case Manager Michelle Dowling is the second quarter recipient of the Starfish Award, given to faculty or staff in recognition of going above and beyond to connect with students; and Nick Brazeau was chosen as this year’s Mr. Raymond.

The school’s discipline report for the quarter showed no cyberbullying incidents and one bullying incident, along with 68 discipline referrals in Grade 9 out of 119 students, 55 out of 84 students in Grade 10, 47 out of 97 students in Grade 11, and 19 out of 70 students in Grade 12. Total enrollment at the school is 370.

• Business Administrator Marjorie Whitmore presented the 2017-18 audit from Certified Public Accountant Sheryl Pratt of Plodzik & Sanderson, PA of Concord. Whitmore said she will attend to two deficiencies, one found with old account balances for student classes dating back to the Class of 2009 and another with signing off on student money at the elementary and middle schools.

• The School Board held the second reading of two policies – on HIV/AIDS policy guidelines and First Aid – and approved them unanimously.

• The School Board held first readings of a policy on physical examination of students, and the rescinding of policies on family physician’s report of physical examination, school health service communicable diseases, confidential student information for nurse’s office, and use of inhalers. The changes are a result of review by the school nurses. The forms to be rescinded are no longer in regular use, and their information is collected through different means.

• The Board unanimously accepted a donation of $1,291.46 from the Knights of Columbus to the Special Education department, and an anonymous donation of $500 for lunch program balances.

• McCoy noted the recent visit of Frank Edelblut, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education, to Raymond’s schools, where he talked with teachers and students and met with the Student Council.

• McCoy said work continues on an ASERT (Adverse Childhood Experiences Response Team) for Raymond, which would involve coordination with the Town Manager, Police, Fire and Ambulance. Celeste Clark, executive director of the Raymond Coalition for Youth, is serving as coordinator.

 


School Board OKs Four-Day Preschool, Raises Preschool Tuition
By Leslie O’Donnell   1-21-19

Raymond School District Special Education Director Scott Riddell, along with Lamprey River Elementary School principal Laura Yacek and preschool staff, presented a recommendation to the School Board at its Jan. 16 meeting to increase the cost of preschool for non-Special Education students and change the program from five half-days to four.

The program combines 3- and 4-year-olds in the same classroom in half-day, morning and afternoon sessions and includes children with a variety of identified special needs with their typical peers in a 50/50 split.

After the presentation and discussion, the School Board voted to increase the tuition cost from $108 to $150 per month, and to change the schedule from five half-days to four half-days. The preschool is required by law to be free for students identified for Special Education. Half the students – 21 – are non Special Education children.

Current tuition revenue based on 21 students is $22,680. The potential estimated revenue with the price increase for 21 students is $31,500.

The staff also discussed a survey given to parents to determine their views on prospective changes and current offerings. The survey showed a 49.21 percent majority favored a multi-age preschool; 57.14 percent said they were “very satisfied” with the five-day program, while 1.59 percent were not satisfied. In addition, 82.76 percent said they were satisfied with the curriculum.

The survey did not offer a five-day program alternative, and 59.02 percent favored a four half-day, multi-age schedule. Without receiving a cost amount, 68.85 percent said they would still consider enrolling their children if the cost were to increase.

In order to more effectively use their time, staff favored changing the five-day multi-age program in place now to a four-day multi-age program with morning and afternoon sessions, along with increasing tuition to $150 per month.

School Board member Janice Arsenault asked what the fifth day of the week would be like for the teachers, and the preschool teachers, who also serve as case managers, said they would hold their case manager meetings at that time, do project planning and IEP (Special Education Individualized Education Program) evaluations, and potentially have the chance to collaborate more with other staff.

Asked by Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy how that would produce a stronger program, they said sometimes they do not have the time to prepare for in-depth activities, and with the extra day, the quality of student projects would increase.

Riddell said the parents did not want to see anything change, but the four-day program was their next choice. “The overwhelming theme with the parents was keeping the classrooms multi-age,” he said. “It’s overwhelmingly awesome what (the teachers) do.”

McCoy also noted that if a preschooler requires a fifth day per week of service on its IEP, that would be provided, just not in the classroom. No such students are currently in the program.

Board member Beth Paris said the fact that the program has an extensive waiting list (for non-Special Education students) “is testament to your hard work.” She said a music therapy program that had been utilized in the past might be able to be offered on the fifth day, and suggested contacting area universities where students may need clinical hours.

Arsenault said the jump in tuition was a big one, but Riddell said tuition was higher in other area programs.

“I think $150 is fair for this area,” Paris said. “The quality that students are receiving from this team is exceptional.”

The board unanimously – with Moe Titcomb absent from the meeting – approved changing the preschool to four half-day, multi-age sessions and to increase the tuition for non-identified students to $150 per month.

In other business:

• Riddell also presented an update of Special Education in Raymond. He noted that Raymond has 1,254 students currently in pre-kindergarten through Grade 12, down from 1,257 in September. The District currently has 288 identified (Special Education) students, an average of 23 percent of the district. The state average is 16 percent.

In pre-K through Grade 4, 498 students are enrolled and 25 percent – 123 students – are Special Education identified. Thirty-six percent – 44 students - of those identified students have a developmental delay.

The middle school has an enrollment of 386, with 26 percent – 100 students – identified for Special Education. Out of that number, 43 percent have a specific learning disability.

And at the high school, with an enrollment of 370, 18 percent of the students – 65 students - are Special Education identified, and 31 percent of that number – 20 students - are identified with a specific learning disability.

Currently 13 Special Education students are educated out-of-district, down from 16 at the start of the year. That breaks down to two students in elementary school, three in middle school and eight in high school.

McCoy asked whether the fact that the District provides a preschool may be skewing the numbers of identified students in elementary school, and board member Beth Paris asked why there is such a large discrepancy between identified students in Raymond and the much lower state average.

Riddell assured her that Raymond uses the same criteria and assessments as the state does, and noted the tests are not subjective. But he also agreed that the preschool numbers “can really skew the data.”

Paris asked if Raymond over-identifies Special Education students, and Riddell said they continue to look at the data to determine if that is happening.

McCoy said if a district does not have other ways to help a student, he or she may be pushed toward Special Education.

The superintendent also said she thinks the identification rate for Special Education in Raymond is too high, and board chairman Joe Saulnier said that one of the first things McCoy did when she arrived in the District was to direct staff to review every IEP (Special Education Individualized Education Plan).

• The board unanimously approved procedures for accepting monetary donations to pay for outstanding student meal accounts. Business Administrator Marjorie Whitmore noted this is not policy but is an internal procedure.

According to the procedure, donations made in a specific student’s name will apply to that student’s account. Donations without a specific student designation will first be applied to outstanding balances of students currently eligible for free lunch. Those balances would have been accrued before their free lunch eligibility was established.

If all the free lunch-eligible student balances have been paid and donations remain, they would go to outstanding balances for students currently eligible for reduced lunch, a change from what was previously determined by the state. If reduced lunch balances are paid off as well, the business administrator will work with the principals to determine which familes are experiencing financial difficulties, and apply the donation to those accounts. If no eligible students remain, students with outstanding balances of $200 or more, after the District has made two attempts to clear up the balance, will then receive the donation on their account.

• The board unanimously approved a five-year contract for bus service with Dail Transportation (Student Transportation of New Hampshire). Two bids came in for nine buses – from Dail at $512,131 per year and from Durham School Services at $560,620 per year. Dail’s percentage increase each year was set at 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent, and 3 percent for the following two years. Durham’s was 3 percent for each year. Cost per bus was $56,903.44 for Dail and $62,291.11 for Durham. Dail, with a terminal in Epsom, is the current bus provider.

In awarding the contract to the low bidder, Saulnier said the price discrepancy was too much to ignore.

• McCoy presented a proposed calendar for 2019-20, which was approved by the board with the stipulation that the District would not have school on whatever date is set for the Presidential Primary. Aug. 28 is listed as the first day of school.

McCoy noted that the Raymond Education Association (teachers’ union) had asked for two full weeks for the holiday break, but McCoy did not include that because of concern that snow days could push the school year into late June.

• McCoy and Curriculum Coordinator Mike Whaland presented an update on the District’s Strategic Plan. McCoy noted that a big goal for Curriculum and Instruction is that by 2013, at least 80 percent of all Raymond students in kindergarten-Grade 12 will achieve mastery of grade-level standards in reading, writing and math.

To date those figures are 53.4 percent for the District in English and Language Arts, and 35.9 percent in math.

• McCoy noted that Iber Holmes Gove Middle School media specialist Sarah Arsenault received a commendation from the New Hampshire School Library Media Association for her work in the Collaboratory Makerspace at the 2018 NH Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference. A letter from the association president, Caitlin Bennett, said Arsenault’s volunteer work in the Collaboratory Makerspace gave attendees a chance to connect directly with someone successfully integrating maker activities.

McCoy said Arsenault had done a “phenomenal job” with her makerspace project, in which students create characters from cardboard tubes and write stories about them.

• The board heard from three members of the elementary school’s Robotics Club and their advisor, Unified Arts teacher Doug Roy. They explained they had received a $4,000 grant to build a robot to traverse the school’s nature trail and then video the project.

Roy said the robot failed to move, however, but the students showed “tenacity and creativity” and videotaped the trail, including underwater shots following a frog. “Our robot never moved but the kids never gave up, and we made the video we had planned,” Roy said. “It was phenomenal.”

• New School District Moderator Ed French joined Town Moderator Kathy Hoelzel to discuss procedures at the Feb. 2 School Deliberative Session. “The point of the Deliberative Session is to get the warrant articles on the official ballot,” French said. “It’s an opportunity for people to be heard and to tell people what they feel.”

Hoelzel emphasized that amendments cannot change the purpose of the article.

• Whitmore presented a financial update, and said revenue is right where it should be at this time. She recommended continuing the budget freeze, as she and Riddell work on tracking Special Education expenses.

Arsenault said she would like the freeze lifted sooner rather than later.

• McCoy noted that the Ray-Fre Senior Center has donated hand-knitted hats for children in need of them at the elementary school.

• McCoy said a new program, Bowling for Books, has been set up at the Strikers East Bowling Center in Raymond. On the third Wednesday of the month, starting Jan. 23, four lanes will be reserved at $2/lane, and children hitting a strike will receive a free book.

• McCoy noted that a used clothing drop box has been installed near the Dumpsters at the elementary school.

• The board unanimously approved the second reading of three new and revised policies on non-public and home education matters. The board held the first reading of policies on HIV/AIDS Policy Guidelines sand First Aid and emergency care.

• The board set 7 p.m. Feb. 13 for McCoy’s evaluation. Saulnier asked board members to complete their evaluations by Feb. 4.

• The board members signed the warrant for the Deliberative Session.


School Board Hears Pinkerton Tuition Analysis
By Leslie O’Donnell   1-5-19

After more analysis and information gathering, the cost of closing Raymond High School and sending the Town’s high school students to Pinkerton Academy, the subject of a recent study in the District, has become a little clearer. (Editor’s note: Corrected comparison figures for Pinkerton and Raymond costs were presented by the School District at the following evening’s Budget Committee meeting – Jan. 3 - and are used in this article.)

At the Jan. 2 Raymond School Board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy presented comparison information about the two schools, although she emphasized that it was like comparing apples to oranges. Pinkerton, 14.1 miles away in Derry, is a semi-private school with 3,184 pupils, compared to Raymond High’s 373.

Raymond voters will face a warrant article in March that is advisory only, asking whether the School District should form a committee to study the possibility of the District’s entering a tuition agreement for RHS students with Pinkerton Academy, and authorizing the School Board to conduct a building needs assessment and design analysis of the potential to convert and renovate RHS into an elementary school. The article would also raise and appropriate up to $50,000 for committee and needs assessment costs.

After receiving a request for information from the Raymond School District last fall, Pinkerton officials said they would be agreeable to accepting RHS students on a tuition basis. Students are currently tuitioned to Pinkerton from Derry, Chester, Hampstead, Hooksett, Candia and Auburn.

Using current student enrollment, the projected base tuition rate to Pinkerton would be $12,066 per pupil. Multiplied by 305 students (373 students less 68 Special Education students), that comes to $3,680,130.

The annual operating cost for RHS is estimated at $7,492,969, including salaries and benefits; transportation; co-curricular and athletic programs; Seacoast School of Technology; and out-of-district costs for Special Education students, including tuition and transportation. The current bus provider estimates six additional buses would be needed for regular transportation, for an annual increase of $341,500.

Based on current Raymond pupil numbers, Special Education tuition would be $1,624,046. McCoy noted that if something outside of Pinkerton’s Special Education programs were needed, Raymond would pay for it. Special Education transportation costs, according to the current provider, would not change.

Closing the high school would save $432,908, including the cost of custodial staff.

The comparison emphasized that the School Board has not entered into any agreement or negotiation with Pinkerton, and all costs are preliminary estimates.

The study also looked at other comparison factors related to education, as follows:

Pinkerton’s graduation rate is 90.98 percent, while RHS’s rate is 83.33 percent. Pinkerton’s dropout rate is .085 percent; Raymond’s is 2.13 percent.

In state assessments, Pinkerton’s rate for students scoring proficient or above in reading is 62 percent, compared to the RHS rate of 48 percent; in math, Pinkerton achieved a 41 percent rate, compared to Raymond’s 30 percent. And the percentage o f Pinkerton students enrolling in a four-year college after graduation is 51.9 percent, compared to 33 percent at RHS.

Pinkerton’s 18 career and technical education (CTE) programs are provided on its Derry campus, while CTE is provided for Raymond by12 programs at Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter.

Also noted was an offering of 37 sports at Pinkerton, and 18 at Raymond, with 12 to 13 percent of Pinkerton students participating in sports and cut rates of 20 to 30 percent, compared to 44 percent participation in Raymond, with rare cuts.

McCoy cautioned that one-time costs would also be involved in a shift to Pinkerton. As many as 82 employees could be eligible for Unemployment Compensation at $20,000 each, paid out over two years and totaling $1,640,000, and up to 24 employees would be eligible for severance pay totaling $191,973. Employees with 10-plus years at Raymond would be paid severance at 90 percent of the substitute rate for unused sick days, up to 120 days. That sum would be paid at one time, and totals $191,973.

Looking at an overall estimated comparison of ongoing costs, the cost at Raymond High would be roughly $7,492,969, compared to Pinkerton at $7,502,628. That translates to a total annual savings, however – without severance and unemployment - of $423,249, which includes savings from operating one less school in Raymond.

“At first we were projecting a lot more savings (at Pinkerton) than we do now,” School Board chairman Joe Saulnier said.

Information forums on the Pinkerton warrant article and other School District warrant articles will be held Jan. 9 at Raymond High, Jan. 10 at Iber Holmes Gove Middle School, and Jan. 23 at Lamprey River Elementary School, all at 7 p.m. The warrant articles will also be discussed at coffee hours with the school principal at 9 a.m. Jan. 24 at the middle school, 9:15 a.m. Jan. 25 at Lamprey River, and 10 a.m. Jan. 28 at RHS.

Saulnier said the board will not be taking a position on the warrant on the Pinkerton advisory article.

In other business:

• Food Services Director Judy DiNatale updated the School Board on the food service program and said that in spite of a meal price increase, figures are “recovering some lost ground” and doing well. For lunches, the elementary school is at 55 percent participation, compared to 56 percent for the same period last year; the middle school is at 56 percent, compared to 59 percent last year, and the high school is at 43 percent, compared to 40 percent last year.

She also noted that the free and reduced-price lunch population has stabilized at about the same numbers as last year at this time, 27 to 28 percent.

DiNatale and Business Administrator Marjorie Whitmore discussed plans for a procedure for the district to accept donations to pay for outstanding meal accounts.

“People have expressed an interest in donating money to help pay off outstanding lunch accounts,” McCoy said. “We’re the only district in New Hampshire to do anything with this – others are waiting to see what we do.”

Whitmore said if someone donates money and designates it for meals for a specific student, that wish will be followed. Undesignated donations will go to outstanding costs of students in the free lunch program first. If those are all current, the donation would then go to the accounts of students in the reduced-price lunch program or other paying students. DiNatale and Whitmore have devised a percentage formula in which the amount of the donation would determine the percentage paid on a bill.

She noted they contacted the state for guidance and were advised that students in the reduced-price program are considered “paying” students and thus are not considered in a separate category.

McCoy added that it is not always the case that people with the highest need have the biggest lunch balances.

DiNatale said that 75 percent of the school districts in the United States have lunch balances due. “This has been mushrooming in the last two to three years, and there is not a lot of methodology to deal with it,” she said.

Board members expressed positive views toward the proposal and said they would make a motion on the matter after administration receives a legal opinion on the proposal.

McCoy reminded the board and television audience that the district’s meal charging policy talks about unresolved debt. “First and foremost, if someone’s situation changes and they are having difficulty, they should contact us and we will come up with a payment plan,” she said. “We will meet with them. There are a few people with very high balances who don’t respond to meeting with us and doing a payment plan, and we are looking at options to deal with them, such as Small Claims Court.”

Whitmore explained the costs and procedure of Small Claims Court, and McCoy acknowledged its use is a “balancing act, probably reserved for rare circumstances.”

“It may be worth your while if there’s a significant balance,” said Whitmore, who would be the staff person going to court in such matters.

“I have a fundamental moral problem with going after people because their kids want to eat,” board member Michelle Couture said. “I’m not in favor of Small Claims at this moment.” Board member Moe Titcomb agreed with her.

Board member Beth Paris said a lot of assistance is available with the free and reduced-price lunch programs, but “unfortunately some people just are not paying,” and rely on others to pay for their children.

“We’re trying to teach students how to be good citizens, and that there are consequences,” she said. “People need to take responsibility for saying they need help. People have to take that step and be responsible. All this money could be recovered if people took responsibility for paying their balances.”

• The board approved a motion to refund $6,150.39 to employees, the amount of their contribution, from the SchoolCare holiday refund. This refund is part of SchoolCare’s surplus, which the courts have determined must be returned to their members. In the past, the Board has voted to return to employees a percentage of the District’s refund equivalent to their original contribution. Raymond received $123,126.14 in July, but was not allowed to issue the refund to employees until December. The remainder - $116,975.89 - was placed in the budget.

• The board approved the hiring of Jennifer Atkins as a reading specialist at Lamprey River, at a salary of $48,290, to be pro-rated. She is a certified reading specialist.

• The board named member Janice Arsenault as alternate delegate to the New Hampshire School Boards Association (NHSBA) Delegate Assembly; Paris is the primary delegate. The board also approved a motion to continually determine an alternate to the NHSBA.

• The board approved the second reading of policies on Student Conduct and on Student Health Services. The board also heard the first reading of three policies involving non-public and home education students.

• The board voted to express its positions on several NHSBA resolutions presented by other school districts for consideration at the NHSBA Delegate Assembly on Jan. 26.

 

 

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Raymond School Board Members

Joseph Saulnier
J.Saulnier@sau33.com

Janice Arsenault
j.arsenault@sau33.com

Michelle Couture
m.couture@sau33.com

Beth Paris
b.paris@sau33.com

Moe Titcomb
m.titcomb@sau33.com

To email the entire Board: schoolboard@sau33.com.

Emails sent to more than one Board Member may be subject to disclosure under the NH Right to Know laws.


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