Monday, August 31, 2009

Potential city council and school board candidates ...

Dates have been corrected in this post
START YOUR ENGINES! Vroom, vroom ...
On Friday, Sept. 4, the filing period starts for city council, school board, and mayoral candidates.
The filing period runs through Monday, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m.
On the council side, there are 10 district seats for each ward of the city and two at-large [citywide] candidates. The ward councilors serve for two years; the at-large candidates have four-year terms. The mayor's term is for two years. Moderators and ward clerks will also be elected to two-year terms. Supervisors of the Checklist will also be elected to six-year terms.
On the school board side, candidates run at-large for three year terms. Three are up for re-election.
Candidates for council, mayor, or school board can either pay a $5 fee to run or collect 50 signatures.
To run for council, mayor, ward clerk or checklist, go to the city clerk's office between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the filing period and sign up.
School board candidates file at the office of Roger B. Phillips, Esq. at 104 Pleasant St. between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

In conjunction with my role as co-chairman of the Concord Taxpayers Association, we hope to set up at least two forums for the at-large council races and school board races. All candidates running in the races will be invited to participate and media will be invited to cover the events. While there are usually at least two forums for council candidates, there is only usually one for the school board candidates. It seems to us that there should be more debates and more forums for these important positions. Locations to be determined at a later date.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beware of funky school district building numbers ...

In Sunday's Concord Monitor, there is a piece about the city's school district figuring out how to pay for its grand elementary school consolidation scheme: ["For Concord schools, a consolidation unknown: How to pay?"].
Overall, it's not that bad piece of work, with the exception of the very one-sided information provided by school board members and administration documents. As I wrote online earlier today, it reads more like a one-sided analysis piece, with the school district's thumb on the scale, flat out fibbing to people.
In addition, there is no opposition comment at all in the article with the exception of School board member Laura Bonk who thinks the process should be slowed down and the elementary schools should be consolidated to three, not four [we don't agree on that one ...]. There are people who oppose this plan in the community who could have offered some comments to balance it out.

How do they get those crazy figures?
First, let's take a look at the numbers. It is important for the public to know that if you go back and look at the school district's own figures, you can see where they slanted it toward consolidation instead of renovation.
A spreadsheet was released in 2008 showing the cost analysis. This spreadsheet, which I have seen, states that renovating the schools is only a bit higher in cost than the consolidation plan. In the article, School board member Jack Dunn is proposing a wild-eyed $26 million cost difference between consolidation and renovation. This is just not right [or, if there is this kind of difference, they are adding or subtracting subjective figures and assumed costs which may not be genuine].
According to the 2008 spreadsheet, the real difference is only a few million between the two. But even that isn't correct. The renovation costs are a bit higher than the consolidation costs because when putting together the spreadsheet, the auditor used current student capacity at schools like Rumford and Walker, and not potential student capacity, like they used with the consolidation figures. This skews the cost to make consolidation look less expensive when it isn't!
When potential student capacity numbers are plugged into this spreadsheet, the cost of renovation is less, not more, than consolidation. Essentially, the figures flip.

The red herring of asbestos
Note to activists: Any time you want anything new built, pull out the bloody shirt of "asbestos." It's the same talking point that is brought up time and again by schemers who have no respect for history [or the fact that these old buildings were built like fortresses!].
The asbestos issues will be there whether the buildings are left alone, renovated, knocked down, or sold.
Take Kimball, for example. The school district wants to knock down this historic building that is loved by the community. They say it can't be renovated because there is too much asbestos and cost of mitigation will be too high. Umm, hello, where do you think the asbestos goes when you knock the school down? It's still there! Asbestos still has to be mitigated whether you renovate it or knock it down. There is probably MORE asbestos mitigation because they are not only knocking down Kimball but the seven other houses they bought for $2-plus-million at the height of the real estate market. Kaaa-ching ... who knows how much that will cost too. More than renovation? You bet!
The only way to truly escape the asbestos mitigation problem at Kimball is to do nothing [and, FTR, I'm not proposing that]. Future asbestos mitigation is also still there if they sell the building. And the value of the building is much less on the market due to the asbestos. So this is a bogus argument but it is one that they use because asbestos scares people [boo-boo, cancer, asbestos, boo-boo ...].
This lesson escapes those who are obsessed, for lack of a better term, with the supposed "green" building phenom too - any cost benefit or green analysis must include the waste and disposal of the old building [duh!] but often never does. What good to the environment is saving a few dollars on energy costs if we are putting toxic materials into the ground when it gets buried or air via construction debris incineration? It isn't any good. There is no benefit. Everyone knows that renovation is ALWAYS greener than new because of the waste byproduct and they have similar energy savings costs during the renovation.

How could this article have been more balanced?
Overall, this isn't a bad article, don't get me wrong. But if the Monitor is going to do these long analytical pieces, it really needs to get a bit deeper. An exploration into the numbers is one thing. The issue of balance via some comment from opponents to this massive plan is another. Unlike some towns, Concord actually has an opposition group, ready for the quoting! The loosely organized group of opponents is called ABC and the Monitor has published their columns, letters, and even quoted some members in other articles. There are the any thousands of taxpayers who are rightfully freaking out about this consolidation scheme. Drop a finger in the phone book and find one [No, I'm being sarcastic, I'm not serious on this one ...]. There have been many other letters written in the Monitor about this issue by residents of the community who are not ABC members who could have been quoted. All of these people could have been given the opportunity to offer some wisdom, in order to make the article more balanced. Look at the figures - $58 million, $160 million, $186 million ... are these people insane? This is a smaller issue than the crazy school money numbers but it is relevant just the same.

The phony consensus argument
Proponents of the plan keep saying there is consensus on the matter. Well, no, there isn't. The reality is that there is no consensus on this issue despite what is going on in the heads of the proponents.
Here are how the numbers break down: On the Yea side, there are seven of the nine members of school board that agree with the plan. There is the administration too. There are some parent activists, most of them connected to the city's Democratic committee, and some connected lawyers who are in support of the plan. There are also some teachers who don't want to work in the old buildings. The Monitor's editorial board also supports the plan.
On the opposite side, there is the ABC group, about 10-plus active people [or more than the school board and administration combined], some city councilors and state reps. who are against the plan, and some members of the Concord Taxpayers Association, who are correctly freaking out about the cost of this scheme [and there isn't complete consensus on that side since I, for one, would buy Walker School and turn it into an artist colony in a heartbeat if I had the money and the opportunity!]. There are also a number of historic preservationists around the state who think it would be a travesty to knock down Kimball School.
In other words, the opposing views are just about even with proponents or maybe slightly more leaning towards the renovation/do nothing scale of things. There is no consensus no matter what anyone says. But there they go, plowing away at a flawed plan ...
Then, there are the masses of tens of thousands of residents who don't seem to care or are too busy to find out about what is going on. They, along with the rest of us, have to foot the bill. When are we going to hear from them? It remains to be seen. But if these folks don't plug themselves into the process, they will be shocked to see what happens.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Charter commission date: Sept. 9

I've been informed that the School District Charter Commission's first hearing will be Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.
According to the Legislature's Web site, all but one of the members has been chosen. It will be interesting to see how things go.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Charter Commission meeting date to be reset

I'm hearing that due to scheduling conflicts, the first meeting of the Concord School District Charter Commission will not be held on Sept. 9. When I hear about a new meeting date, I'll let everyone know.

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Save America'

Crossposted at
A lone man was standing at the intersection of Main and Centre streets in Concord at 9:45 p.m. tonight holding a sign: "Save America" ... I would have stopped to talk to the guy, to find out what he was all about, but I was busy racing home to play Thomas trains with my eldest before he went to bed. Maybe tomorrow night.

Friday, August 21, 2009

R.I.P. Justin Pellerin

So young, so very, very sad: ["Concord Soldier Killed In Iraq"].

Standing in rain ...

If you're not outside, standing in the rain, cooling off, you're missing out! It's beautiful outside.

Charter Commission update

Concord School Superintendent Christine Rath responded to a 91-A request today stating that the wife of one of the Commission members "is not employed by the Concord School District."
Due to this clarification, I'm rescinding my previous comments stating that this person should not be allowed to serve on the Commission since there is no conflict of interest. Clearly, anyone who has a spouse who is employed by the school district should not be allowed to serve on the Commission. I certainly hope that others also do not have a conflict of interest.
To correct the record, I'm editing out the previous comments pertaining to this member of the commission and his wife in posts on
There is still no word about who the PTO person will be on the Commission.
If anyone is interested in finding out more information about the Commission, please click here: ["COMMISSION TO STUDY THE CONCORD UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT CHARTER"].

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More charter commission updates

Editor's Note: The date of the meeting and other information have been corrected or taken out of the original post.
The Legislative commission created to analyze potential changes to the Concord School District charter will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. in the City Hall chambers.
No word yet on the exact proceedings for the first meeting, but some are speculating that a chairperson will be elected and then a schedule for future meetings created. After the discussions take place and recommended changes are made over a number of meetings, there will need to be at least one public hearing about any recommended changes to the charter.
According to sources, School Board Chairwoman Kass Ardinger - who is up for re-election in November - has named School Board member Clint Cogswell to serve on the commission. Cogswell is the former principal of Walker Elementary School. He was elected last year, filling out the one year left on Betty Hoadley's term. He is also up for re-election in November. Filing for school board candidates begins in a couple of weeks.
There is no word yet on the PTO choice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bonding for architecture fees?

Yup, that's what the school board is proposing to do, borrow money to pay for the architects that will plan the elementary school consolidation scheme.
While interest rates are pretty low these days, this seems like a waste of money, especially when the board has millions set aside in reserve accounts [like the money that they have been setting aside from the Concord High School bond, which was paid off years ago ...].
The hearing will be held this Wednesday, Aug 19, at 5:30 p.m. in the school board offices.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More charter commission members named

More members have been named to the Legislative charter commission created to look at the Concord School Board charter.
Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, along with Rep. Bev Ferrante, R-Derry, have both been named as the Legislature's representation on the commission. Watrous just missed being elected to the school board back in 2007 and was elected to the Legislature in 2008. Ferrante is a member of the municipal committee that was debating issues relating to the school board charter in this legislative session.
State Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, as expected, has named herself to the commission.
City Councilor Steve Shurtleff, who is also a state representative and a Democrat, has also been named to the panel by Mayor Jim Bouley.
This is an interesting choice. First, Shurtleff is an at-large city councilor and doesn't live in the Concord school district - he lives in the Merrimack Valley School District. He also had a bill before the Legislature, changing the way board members were to be elected, from at-large members to district members, based on the state rep. districts.
According to sources, the school district has not named its second board member and a PTO member has also not been named.
The commission will meet for the first time in September.

Two newspaper notes ...

First, I don't know if it was a snafu or if they wanted to bang the point home, but the Concord Monitor ran the same Weare sexual assault story on the front page of the Friday and Saturday editions of the newspaper. I would bet that it was a mistake ... Oops.
Second, about that Saturday rail ... some readers may remember that I had a note a bit ago about how big that new rail on the Saturday newspaper was, and how it just seemed too big. Well, on Saturday, I took a good look at the newspaper at a store because the front page was different than the one I received at home [I recently re-subscribed, so the difference jumped right out at me ...]. Simply put, the Monitor seems to have a Saturday "newsstand" edition that is slightly more content than the regular edition. In the case of this week, the newsstand edition had that huge rail and then, a story about the Woodstock anniversary. Both were not in the home delivered editions.
So, I want to retract my original comments about the rail being too big. It's clear, after seeing both editions, that the rail is big to entice people to buy the Saturday edition at newsstands - not because they don't have enough stories on the front page. One would wonder whether this shold be done everyday ... maybe it is, I wouldn't know since I'm rarely in a local store on weekdays. A very good idea, indeed, and I hope it is boosting sales for them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Little Shop of Horrors!

Check out "Little Shop of Horrors" this weekend - Aug. 13, 14, and 15 at 7 p.m. at the Audi by RB Productions. Tickets $18/15 at and info: 225-7779.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Controversial charter commission starting to come together ... but is the fix in?

A new panel formed to eye whether or not Concord's school board charter should be reformed is starting to take shape but it has a clear tilt towards preserving the status quo.
According to legislative and city hall sources, City Manager Tom Aspell has submitted his five seats on the commission: Chuck Douglas, Wilbur "Bill" Glahn, Maureen Redmond-Scura, Charlie Russell, and Anthony "Skip" Tenczar.
Three of Aspell's choices - Douglas, Glahn, and Russell - are attorneys. Two - Russell and Tenczar - were former CCTV/Concord TV board chairmen. Three are also closely connected with the school system: Glahn is a former school board member who lost re-election last year; Redmond-Scura is chairwoman of the Concord Trust for the enhancement of Public Education and a Kimball Elementary School volunteer, according to a Google search. She is also self-employed, an author, and a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen; and Tenczar was the only citizen to speak against reform bills forwarded in the 2009 legislative session, stating that he thought the school board charter did not need to be reformed and if people wanted charter reform, they should elect new members to the board. Both Tenczar and Glahn have been open supporters of the school system's $60 million elementary school consolidation plan.
Russell is the only pick by Aspell who has been a vocal opponent of the consolidation plan although one could assume that Douglas, being a budget hawk and the only Republican chosen by Aspell, would cast a critical eye on the plan's mega millions pricetag. Russell also forwarded one of the two reform bills to the Legislature - a proposal to force the school board to have a city-wide vote on any debt bonding more than $5 million.

Sidebar and disclosures: Douglas and I are both co-founders and serve as co-chairmen of the Concord Taxpayers Association, a non-profit, non-partisan organization. I was also recommended by Russell and others to Aspell as a potential commission participant. In many ways, it is good that Aspell did not choose me since I was quoted in a Concord Monitor news article and published column opposing the commission's creation. It would have looked slightly hypocritical of me to participate in something that I was vocally critical of, despite my willingness to serve. I will, however, be attending each and every meeting that I can and will be writing about the process here. After all, that's kinda what I do best.

Rounding out the commission
Along with the five chosen by Aspell, the 13-member panel will include two legislators, Mayor Jim Bouley, another city councilor chosen by Bouley, and a state Senate representative. School Board Chairwoman Kass Ardinger will also have a seat on the commission and will get to choose another board member to serve. There will also be another elementary school PTO person appointed by the Rundlett Middle School PTO to serve on the commission.
Rumors have been floating around the State House that Senate President Sylvia Larsen will appoint herself to the commission although that has not been confirmed. There are also rumors that Rep. Jessie Osborne, a sponsor of the bill that created the commission, will not be seated by Speaker Teri Norelli due to her opposition to the state budget.
In addition, one of the legislators will be a Republican from outside of Concord, according to sources. This would mean that the commission would only have two Republicans seated on it [although Bouley could pick one of the five Republicans on the Council to serve with him].
No word yet on who Bouley or Ardinger will choose but expect Kass to pick someone with legislative or legal experience like Jennifer Patterson.

Preserving the status quo
After analyzing the choices and current dynamic of the commission, it is a safe bet that no real reforms will come out of the commission's work. Sure, maybe some token changes will be made to save face. But it is doubtful that this commission will recommend the only acceptable reform that needs to take place: Allowing voters to have direct control over charter changes via ballot initiatives like virtually every other community in the state.
While there is no guarantee that the commission members will vote one way or the other, the writing is clearly on the wall: At least seven of the members - a majority - will have either some connection to the school system, have been vocal opponents of charter reform, or will be appointed by opponents of school board charter reform.
Ardinger, Glahn, Tenczar, and whoever Ardinger picks, will oppose real reform.
It is doubtful the Redmond-Scura or the other elementary school PTO member will cross Ardinger or the school administration when you consider their connection to the school system. That's six votes.
Although, admittedly, Redmond-Scura and Tenczar could surprise people. Redmond-Scura has an interesting employment background and Tenczar, in the past, has always talked a good game about "democracy." That's what makes his previous comments opposing legislative reforms so baffling.
But does anyone really believe that Larsen - or whoever she appoints if it isn't her - will actually vote for direct democracy? This commission - a clear stall tactic to keep reform from occurring - was formed at Larsen's insistence. Does anyone believe she is going to allow change to happen after creating this commission? Why not just approve the initial bill in the first place and not waste everyone's time? She has already stood in the way of direct democracy once. She will probably stand in the way again. Insider Democrats are very good when it comes to spouting about "change you can believe in," but don't ever expect it because it never comes.
That's seven votes ... a majority ... the fix is in.
One can hope for the best with this commission but unfortunately it seems as though the deck is stacked against reforming Concord's school board charter before the process even gets started.

Monday, August 3, 2009

School board meeting tonight

The Concord School Board will be discussing its consolidation proposal at a meeting this evening at 7 p.m.
At issue, mainly, is whether or not the school administration can or should apply for a school site waiver from the state for a new Kimball Elementary School.
At least one school board member has privately raised the issue that the Kimball site, at less than 3-acres, falls far short of the 10-acre state standard needed for new school buildings in the state of New Hampshire. The administration has reportedly decided to apply for a waiver. But according to state law, the school board needed to meet to discuss the matter and then direct the administration to ask for the waiver. The administration couldn't just do it on their own, which is what they seemed to want to do.
Another matter at issue is the cost of a new Kimball School, which will be at least $25.6 million or more than $51,000 per student. The project will come in, according to sources, nearly 70 percent higher in costs of the Conant and Rumford elementary school consolidation renovation proposal.
Clearly, there are still too many questions that need to be answered before this waiver is requested. First, is this the best plan? Is this the best use of millions in taxpayer money? What is the best thing for the children and not the administration or school board egos or legacies? What happens if Concord goes through another growth spurt like it is expected to do during the next 15 years? Where will all those new children go to school if you just spent at least $60 million consolidating the community's elementary schools from nine down to four?
I don't know all the answers but it is clear that the school board doesn't either because they are forging headfirst into this project without hesitation when it is clearly the wrong direction to be headed in.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Resubscribing to the Monitor

During the last seven or so months, I have lived without the print edition of the Concord Monitor. It's easy to say that not having the Monitor has been both a blessing and a curse.
First, it wasn't an easy decision to cancel my subscription to our local daily. It was mostly made for financial reasons [eight weeks for $34, plus a $1 tip, because, you know, times are bad ...] Or, more than $200 for the year, which is a lot of money.
As I spent as much time on the online version of the Monitor as I did with the print edition, I began to realize that most everything that was important to me was online. And reading the back and forth of the commenting is almost as interesting to read as some of the stories [granted, it isn't as interesting as it was when people made anonymous comments but still, you get the point ...]. When their circulation department kept calling me over the weekend at ungodly morning hours, that secured the decision.
Lately though, I began to think about the fight for journalism and all the time I put into my journalism career with the expectation that readers in the Massachusetts town I cover, would hopefully pony up the money to keep me fed [$46 for an annual subscription for a weekly]. Sure, our company, like the Monitor, gives most of the content away for free online. But, as we all know - or should know - the online advertising isn't enough to sustain the product. Print ads and subscriptions pay the bills and keep journalists fed, as meagerly as they are these days ...
I'm not going to get into my job too much but needless to say, we're down just like everyone else is while I'm trying my damnedest to make sure that people subscribe AND visit the online edition, daily, for breaking news, comments, and extras, like videos, blog entries, polls, etc. While I was cleaning my office the other day, I found some stuff from 2002 which show the newspaper getting very few Web hits per month - about what we get in a day now - but nearly 800 more subscriptions. So there you go: A transfer from subscriptions to the Web, without the revenue stream.
As we all try to navigate through the Depression and figure out how to save journalism, getting people to support it is going to be the major hurdle. But what kind of hypocrite am I if I, as a journalist, won't help my local newspaper fight to stay alive, by continuing my subscription?
During the last few months, the Monitor has been running sales - subscribe for six months at $56, or about 40 percent off. Of course, this deal was only available to me because I hadn't been a subscriber for 30 days. I missed the last one that expired on May 31. The latest one expired on July 31 and I made sure I called on that day to sign up. I realized that yeah, I can manage less than $10 a month to support my daily newspaper ... and so can everyone else in Concord and the Capital Region.
I don't know if the Monitor will offer the deal again but I know that it was nice having the physical newspaper back in my hands this morning for the first time in ages. I sat there, coffee in hand, thumbing through the newspaper and flipping through the flyers. There is no replacing that feeling.

High School Musical 2 at the Audi ...

Looking for something to do this weekend?
Check out High School Musical 2 at the Audi on Aug. 7 at 7 p.m., and Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. presented by RB Productions. Tickets are $5 at the door.