Problems - Solutions - Actions
SaveSAU16 is comprised of parents who came together around concerns with our local schools. We are residents from Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Kensington, Newfields, and Stratham. Most of us have children or grand-children in SAU16. Others are simply residents who care. What we have in common is a deep-seeded worry about what is happening to our once great school system. This community is filled with people who came here for the schools, and rightfully so as our schools have some of the highest paid teachers in the state. Given the right environment, our students are just as capable as any past generation in succeeding at the highest level, but here in SAU16 they are not.
Problem - declining academics (details)
As you can see, every single elementary school within SAU16 shows a drop in it's rankings.
Just a few short years ago CMS was ranked 8th in the state. It is now holding at 38th. Many of us who moved here several years ago recall that EHS was ranked in the Top 3, but now it has fallen to 13th.
Superintendent, Dr. David Ryan, publicly attempted to defend CMS's rankings at the October 2021 Cooperative School Board meeting. Here is his unedited response which starts by him agreeing that the rankings are correct, but only if you are looking at "test scores". Video here
Over the past few years we have heard our school boards and administration say that "X" is the most important thing that we can do for the education of our students. Well, "X" has been many things, but since Dr. Ryan became Superintendent, and under the current make-up of our multiple SAU16 school boards, it seems rather clear that "X" has never been about rigorous academics. That has to change.
Problem - Spending not focused on students (details)
Make no mistake, we want our schools adequately funded and able to provide an amazing experience full of athletics, clubs, and extracurricular activities, but spending taxpayer money on programs, initiatives, and line items that lend little to nothing to academic success is contrary to our goals and beliefs as a parent (taxpayer) organization.
Spending on our central administration has increased dramatically over the last three years. That is astronomical, unprecedented, and unacceptable! Much of that spending increase is not on things that further academics, but rather things that distract our schools from their core purpose. At the same time, many of our paraprofessionals have not had raises in years. We fully support our teachers and paraprofessionals and want them to be compensated for their dedication, commitment, and hard work. They should be allowed to teach their subject matters with minimal interference and influence from administrators, after all, the teachers and paras are the ones on the frontlines of education and have the most contact with our students. At the January 2022 ERCSB meeting, we stood in full support of the teachers brave enough to speak up about the proposed termination of teachers that appeared in the school budget.
Another place where we have not spent wisely is the $18 million dollar renovation/expansion project recently completed at CMS. A primary rationale for this spending was overcrowding. Over the last three years, CMS has lost 20.4% of its students. This is a catastrophic drop in enrollment which can not be blamed on CoVID as the average drop in enrollment across public schools in NH during that same time frame was just over 5%. Although the school needed work, did it really need an $18 million overhaul? And to take this a step further, at the November 2021 Cooperative School Board meeting, the public was informed that the brand new elevator that was installed during this CMS expansion project is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. $18 million and the new elevator can't take wheelchairs????
It has been fairly widely known that the roof at the Seacoast School of Technology (an SAU16 school) was in need of major repairs due to leaks. These have unexplainably been deferred for more than three years despite the Cooperative School Board approving the funding for this project back in 2018. On a positive note, the Board has a goal for this year to do a facility-wide assessment in order to create a ranked list or priorities.
Problem - lack of accountability (details)
As concerns rose, and parents came together in various forums, it became clear that our elected officials (school boards) were not representing their constituent parents and taxpayers, but rather, voting inline with the recommendations of the superintendent, a hired hand of the Joint Board (33 school board seats representing many school boards within SAU16) . This is the polar opposite of how the system is set up to function. The school boards should be in control; not the superintendent.
Once momentum exponentially grew within our organization, we met regularly, set up a leadership team, and began digging deeper into the details of our SAU. Our members began attending and video recording all subcommittee meetings, budget hearings, and school board meetings. Those meeting minutes and video recordings were transcribed, dissected, and thoroughly reviewed for it's content accuracy. What became abundantly clear, and should be concerning for all parents, grandparents, current SAU16 educators, and taxpayers, is that none of our SAU16 school boards provide oversight to it's administrators, superintendents, and assistant superintendents, but rather seem to see themselves as cheerleaders, partnering with the administration, instead of acting to hold them accountable.
On issues of varying magnitude, the Boards never demand answers and accountability from the administration. During the 2021 discussions on the proposed 2022-2023 budget, a question was brought forth from a Joint School Board elected official in regards to the newly proposed salary increases proposed by Superintendent Ryan (for himself and other senior administrators); to paraphrase, "Can someone on the Joint Board make a motion to allow us (the Joint Board) the ability (power) to discuss, determine, and potentially approve any salary increases, compensation package changes, and bonuses for the SAU16 administrators including superintendents?" (Something that is standard for any type of board). Superintendent Ryan, confirmed on the spot that the Joint Board has the ability to take back that power by a simple motion, a second, and a vote. Astonishingly, no school board member (of the 33) then made what would seem to be a completely obvious motion to provide some accountability and oversight into administrator salaries. Is this not absolutely extraordinary?
So, it should come as no surprise that our SAU16 superintendent has one of the highest salaries in the state (and with vacation buy-backs and other perks, possibly the highest). Additionally, we have both the 1st and 3rd highest paid assistant superintendents in the state... and that is before the 3% raises that they just voted into the latest budget for themselves (completely unopposed by the 33 Joint Board officials). Wouldn't it be interesting to see what might happen if our administrators salaries were tied to state rankings?
There is only one way, and one way only. In a normal SAU, the school board, as elected officials, has the power to invoke change. They represent their constituents, or at least that is what they are supposed to do. That is NOT what has been happening in SAU16 in recent years. If this community of parents, grandparents, teachers, and taxpayers, wants to restore faith in our schools, confidence in our leaders, and trust in our elected officials, we must take a stand for our children and grandchildren, support school board members who will hold our administrators accountable for their direction, be fiscally responsible and not frivolous with taxpayer funds, and place a premium of academic programming to restore SAU16's once dominating rankings as a destination for families.
How can you help? Get out and vote on March 8, 2022.
SaveSAU16 will be endorsing candidates for the open school board seats in each of the six towns (including the Cooperative School Board) once they have declared their candidacy and we have thoroughly vetted them as an organization. Candidates typically register to run for these seats by the end of January. These candidates will share our values, goals, and passion for creating well-rounded students, exceptionally prepared for tomorrow's world, with a focus back on rigorous academics, while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers, holding accountable those who make key decisions guiding the direction of this SAU, all while fighting to regain SAU16's once state leading rankings.
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