After reviewing the proposed budget for SAU16, I wrote to the Joint Board to express my concerns on September 25: that email can be found below. I did not receive a response to my email, however Cooperative Board Chair Helen Joyce addressed my email during the September 27 meeting. The video can be found here, with her comments beginning at minute 45:28.
Email sent to Joint Board on September 25
After initial review, I am concerned about the proposed SAU16 budget that will be presented to the Joint Board on Monday, September 27.
After reviewing the administrative salaries published through NH Department of Education (NH DOE), our Superintendent is almost the highest paid administrator in the entire state. There were only two at a higher salary: Oyster River and Hanover. In addition, despite being 16th in the state by enrollment in our SAU, we are one of three central offices to employ two Assistant Superintendents (though a total of three assistant superintendents are reported through for our SAU central office via NH DOE). Please see below as a point of reference:
Upon further review of the proposed budget, the administrative salary increase is 3.28% vs the budget adopted two years prior. This does NOT include: supplemental salaries, additional provision for retirement (which is an additional $5,000 annually for Dr. Ryan alone), Travel expenses (which is vehicle allowances), course reimbursement and a 22% increase vs the budget adopted two years prior for Support Services.
To the best of my ability, I was able to isolate and estimate Ryan’s annual compensation as follows:
Not only does Ryan’s total annual compensation estimate of $229,000 mean that he is the third highest paid Superintendent in NH, it also places him into the 97% percentile for all wage earners in NH. I would have little issue with this if his performance as the leader of this SAU was consistent with his earnings. While it was refreshing to hear Ryan address the declining rankings for our SAU and admit there is work to be done at last week’s school board meeting, it was disappointing to only hear him address it after several parents have raised the issue over the past several months.
Our central office now employs two full time equivalent (FTE) Human Resource professionals, as opposed to one FTE two years ago, and the proposed budget adds an additional director of DEIJ into the budget. Our Business Administrator is also the third highest paid in the state with a reported salary of $125,000 (not including benefits) vs. the median salary of $101,000 for this role in NH SAUs. The central office should exist to serve the schools that comprise the district. I am not convinced the SAU is better served today than it was two years ago, when the total SAU budget was 9% lower.
I realize as members of the Joint Board, your role is to consider the SAU budget as presented. However, I would encourage you all to evaluate the entire current landscape of our SAU, to justify this proposed budget. In the past two years, ERSCD has spent millions on an expansion for CMS, an additional $800,000 on building improvements for a commons area at EHS, and invested roughly $500,000 for DEIJ, 2 Revolutions training and additional professional development training that has little to do with academics. During this time, our school rankings have plummeted. Yet, the ERSCD has only one curriculum coordinator employed and during their last meeting tabled a discussion to improve STEAM due to budget impact. The financial decisions made over the past two years clearly show that our SAU is more invested in the idea of education, as opposed to actually educating the students it exists to serve.
While we will not know the official fall enrollment numbers of our SAU until October 1, some estimates have enrollment declining by 20% at SMS and CMS alone. Over the past five years, our SAU enrollment has declined by 7.5% outpacing public school enrollment declines across the entire state (data according to NH DOE). Conversely, data from the NH census show a 22% increase in population for our six SAU towns over the past ten years. Certainly not everyone moving into the area will have children that are school-aged, however I would urge the Joint Board to question the administration about the declining enrollment. What percentage of the families in our community are rejecting the education our SAU provides? And why?
I am asking the Joint Board members on Monday to provide the opportunity for the administration to justify another consecutive increase, in addition to an increase in travel expenses (aka vehicle allowance) and medical benefits, when combined, our central office is already the highest compensated central office in the state of NH.
Additionally, I urge the Joint Board to keep the DEIJ position into the ERSCD budget until further review of performance. This contract was presented by Ryan for one year and it would be prudent to learn the accomplishments and impact of this investment before moving this line item into the administration budget.
My second email sent to the Joint Board on October 17, can be found here:
Three weeks ago, I wrote to share my concerns about the proposed SAU16 budget. I never received a reply, and assumed the email did not go through. Imagine my surprise when I was informed that Helen Joyce addressed my email at the Joint Board meeting on Monday, September 26 where I was not not in attendance.
Fortunately, I received three copies of recordings taken by fellow taxpayers and was able to listen to Helen’s comments regarding my email.
First, I stand corrected with the enrollment numbers referenced in my email. Upon hearing of the discrepancy, I went back to the NH DOE website and realized we are the only SAU to report enrollment on multiple line items. For example, Manchester and Nashua, the two largest school districts, report their enrollments of 12,000 and 10,000 students on one line item.
However, whether or not our school district is third or thirteenth in terms of enrollment is irrelevant—Helen completely missed the point of my communication. Clearly it was read with the intention to discredit, as opposed to seeking to understand my valid concerns. Otherwise I would have received an email or a phone call from her.
My stated intention was to understand how the Joint Board determines if our administrative team is performing to the level commensurate with being the most expensive central office in the entire state of NH. What are the key performance indicators? What goals are the leadership team supposed to achieve? I have heard mention during school board meetings there is an evaluation, but apparently taxpayers are not privy to these findings, merely expected to fund it.
It would be of no consequence if Superintendent Ryan was the highest paid public school administrator in the US if the data supported the school was performing accordingly.
Here are the facts:
The SAU16 budget has increased 30% since Superintendent Ryan assumed the role (data from SAU16 budget, please see attached)
Enrollment in SAU16 has declined and outpaced the declining enrollment in public education in the state of NH (NH DOE, https://www.education.nh.gov/who-we-are/division-of-educator-and-analytic-resources/bureau-of-education-statistics/attendance-and-enrollment-reports). The largest drop is from CMS with a 20% decrease according to the data published October 2021 (data found on our own SAU website, however not used in the communication sent today to our community).
According to the census data in 2010 (which Ryan referenced at the last meeting), the population in the six towns of our SAU has increased 22%. Since 2019, the population in our six towns has increased by 9%, and the population of 18 year olds and below have remained steady—negating the argument that our towns have a predominately aging population. (State of NH, https://www.nh.gov/osi/data-center/2020-census/index.htm#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20Census%20Bureau%20announced,4.6%25%20since%20the%202010%20census.&text=94%2D171%20geographic%20support%20products%20for%20New%20Hampshire.) State census data does not tell the entire story—it is important to extrapolate the data from our six towns.
Rankings have declined within SAU16 over the past five years. In the most recent US News and World Report rankings, CMS ranked #35 in the state and is not proficient in math scores. These are 2018-2019 data, one full year before the pandemic. (US News and World Report, 2021; https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/search?grade=3&int=top_nav_Middle_Schools).
As Ryan mentioned at the last Cooperative School Board meeting, rankings are a subjective measure of success. This is true. However, it is unclear how the administrative team or the school board determines whether or not a school is successful. I would argue Portrait of a Student and Portrait of an Educator are subjective and have no evidence of success to support its implementation, but our SAU seems to be quite invested in this philosophy.
Last year, I stood up to publicly support our school budget during the Deliberative Session. I feel strongly that schools need the appropriate resources to help our students succeed. What I have witnessed over the past 18 months is undisciplined spending, a focus on the wrong priorities and a student body who has suffered greatly as a result.
A vote approving this budget is support of poor performance, no accountability and demonstrates a lack of fiscal responsibility. Each Joint Board member has one vote. As a taxpayer, I do too. And I will be watching on Monday with great interest.