Why the board and the school administration can’t be trusted with “transparency” on consultants

Published July 10, 2017 by justicewg

Facility ass web shot3The school board (via the Superintendent, no board members ever talk to the public) kicked off the Facilities Planning process back in August of 2016, and claimed that the entire process would be “Transparent”. They were going to have a website with full disclosure of all documents related to the process.

Let’s take a look at that website.

One of the most important questions that any Grandview resident can ask about the process is “Who are the people who are being hired to do the consulting work? What does their contract say for the scope of the work, and how much are they being paid?

Go the the school Facility website, a part of the entire school site. It isn’t clear from the options on the home page of the Facilities section where you might find the contracts that have been signed by HPG or Frank Locker Educational Planning, or TRIAD Research Group, or FutureThink, or any of the other companies that has been hired.

You can guess that the “Facility Assessments” link on the right of the page might have something, besides just Facility Assessments. But opening that page gives a couple of paragraphs that have no mention of the contracts that have been negotiated with the contractors. But there is a cryptic file called “Facility Planner Hiring Documents.zip”. You can’t open that file with your browser, you have to download it and unpack the Zip file.

And after all that work, you will find – a supplementary contract with HPG (who quit in disgust back in fall 2016), and some old checklists used to hire HPG. Nothing about any of the other contractors. Not even the first contract with HPG.

If the school board is wondering why there is a parent group who has been doing their own surveys, not trusting the school to be open with the information about the facility process, this is a prime reason.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this page to see if the school improves the information they chose to share. I’m not expecting much.

Share your experience with document requests

Have you asked the school administration for documents? What kind of response did you get?

I found out that Super Culp is on vacation, so I sent a request for some documents to his assistant, Hayley Head. After receiving nothing in reply for 8 days, I sent a reminder email. Ms Head finally got around to doing something – she forwarded the request on to the school treasurer. So either it took her 8 days to get around to reading my email, or she was sitting on it for all that time.

I know that there are many school employees on vacation right now, but they are supposed to keep the office running and answering emails. This was significantly worse time lag than than any other request for documents I have made from the school.

How much time has it taken you to get a reply for your document requests from the school? If my experience is not common, I’m suspecting it may be a simple incompetence issue, but if the superintendent has no problems with throwing document requests into a file to be answered “whenever we feel like it”, this is just another symptom of the failure to be responsive to the public. That failure comes from the top – the board and the superintendent.

Reynolds adds some drama to council meeting about kid’s helmets

Published June 19, 2017 by justicewg

Council 6-5-17Have you been following the city council as they debated a new law to require helmets for kids on bikes? Did you express you opinion to a council member? According to city council member Steve Reynolds, the process to explore new rules has been rushed through the council law making process, leading to a proposed law that has not been given enough thought.

If your kid gets a proposed ticket for riding a bike without a helmet, are you ready to spend some time attending the Mayor’s court with your child, at which you will be lectured and fined some amount of money?

The new law as read by Reynolds says that the bike of an offending child can be seized by the ticketing police officer. Do you think it is a good idea to have police snatching away kid’s bikes for failure to wear a simple helmet? Is it a good use of police time to deal with taking away bikes, storing them, and arranging for the return of them after a fine has been paid?

The 9/11 of council drama

Reynolds said the council president didn’t follow her own promise to hold off on writing down a proposed law. Reynolds added some hyperbole to the debate by saying that there was a perception that the council make laws outside the council chamber, and that rushing this law “is throwing jet fuel onto that”. He didn’t feel that any positive reinforcement (cops giving treats to kids who wear helmets) could be done now that the law punishing kids for no helmets has been written.

The above video will start at the point where Reynolds begins his complaint (if it doesn’t in your app skip to 40:20). Skip forward to 1:23:55 for Panzera’s heated reply to Steve.

Read the rest of this entry →

Revision in plans for school facilities – June 2017

Published June 14, 2017 by justicewg
May Facility meeting with options3

June 8 meeting looked a lot like this May meeting

Superintendent Culp presented a shorter list of facility options at a June 8 community meeting, The three choices now being presented by the board are:

Moderately renovation of all three buildings – $35 million.

Extensively renovate the schools – $55 million.

Renovate Stevenson school and the high school and build a new Middle school on the current Edison/Larson site – $50 million.

Stevenson should be saved

A top choice in the first facility meeting was to move all of the Stevenson classes to a renovated or new campus at the middle school location. The board implied with a survey question that there may be a deal in the works to turn Stevenson into a “community center”, but no council member had knowledge of any plans for the use of the building by the city.

The reason for moving schools into a smaller number of buildings is efficiency, a single large building is cheaper to heat and cool than many scattered buildings. This is of course making the efficiency into the prime factor, and ignores the historical considerations about the old buildings.

Stevenson is no longer on the chopping block in the latest plans. This probably means the board will not chose to close the school, but they don’t have to follow the will of the 75% who wanted it saved, they can do whatever they want.

Millions for sports renovation

The board also announced a 2 million plan for new locker rooms, renovations to the home bleachers and resurfacing for the track. If the board follows the same tactic it used to complete the renovation of the artificial football field last year, there will be no public meetings to discuss the options, the board will simply do what they want.

Financial advisory committee to be formed

A financial advisory committee is scheduled to begin work at the start of 2018. The group will be reviewing project funding, whether the project should be completed in phases, and what the cost of a bond issue or levy would be for taxpayers. They might shoot for a fall 2018 levy.

One obvious choice for new school funds has never been mention by the school board, placing an income tax for the school system on the ballot. I can’t quite understand if this is because the school board doesn’t like income taxes, has never discussed the matter, or has been told by residents that they didn’t want a new income tax.

Treasurer Collier said that the Financial committee will be looking at the income tax possibility (during the June8 meeting), but with no statement of support or public disparagement of an income tax from the school board, the committee will be left to take all the heat generated from proposing a new tax. This seems like a cowardly way for the board to deal with tax issues.

I’m also waiting to hear if the board will chose to make the new finance committee closed to all visitors, keeping the proceedings secret like the Facility Task Force. That was a dumb move by the board that gave them no advantage, but served to reinforce the idea that the board works in secret and refuses to let the community know what they are doing in closed meetings.

New survey is super duper push polling

I noted in another story that the school board was using push polling in the last survey, using the questions more as a way to influence public opinion, rather than to learn about those opinions.

The new survey is even worse – pushing the statement that $44 million are needed as a baseline, and implying that the least costly option – $35 million – is a bad choice.

One of the questions asks you to give your own idea for an option for the schools. I don’t want to “push” anyone. But you can leave a message for the board about what you think of their performance in running the facility process in the “fill in what you want” box.

A third community facility meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3.

Live YouTube videos of city council meetings now available

Published May 31, 2017 by justicewg

The city council has begun a new chapter in responsiveness to Grandview Heights residents with live video posted to YT as the meetings are in progress. The council has recorded the last four council meetings, with variable quality, but the effort shown is a big step up in opening up meetings and improving responsiveness for the city.

Councilwoman Keeler, as chair of the Communications & Technology Committee, was most responsible for bringing the camera to the council meetings. According to her, the city did look into how some other cities use video to record meetings, but had no special request from the any visitor to the council meetings to start offering live meetings on YT.

The video feed has some rough recording issues, mostly with the audio. Some council members sit back and make it difficult to hear their voices. The worst problem is microphone “thump”, caused by council members shuffling papers or taping the desk, it is magnified by the desktop and gets really annoying when a low “boom” makes listening to quiet voices painful.

They could improve the quality of the sound by placing something soft, like a mouse pad, under each mike.

The video was in low quality 240P resolution for some of the first meetings, but now is at an acceptable 720P HD. The video could be improved by the use of two cameras so that the members with their backs to the camera could be seen better, but that would require a person to be operating a switch live, activating the camera that is pointing at the current speaker.

The real advantage for the residents of the city is to allow us to see how easy it is to get your voice heard before the council. The example above, from the May 15, 2017 Council Meeting, shows how the council spent a full 30 minutes listening to residents proposing a new law that required children to wear helmets while bike riding. The council was not enthusiastic about adding a new law that stacked more work on the city police, but the issue got a full hearing and will probably be under more discussion at future meetings. This level of attention to issues that residents bring before the council is not often seen in larger cities.

If you have not gone before the city council and voiced your concerns about problems on your street, you are missing out on a big part of what makes this a democracy.

Don’t expect video from the school board

Grandview is a city of contrasts, no where so much as the attitudes of the board when compared to the council. The board doesn’t want you to speak, is probably not going to give you answers, and will be sending pigs into space before they volunteer to make video recordings of their meetings.

Board president Jessie Truett has this to say when requested to make audio recordings:

“Today’s (special) meeting was not recorded and as in the past, we do not intend to record future work sessions. “ – Jessie Truett

I don’t think video recordings will be made at board meetings unless a real change happens in the next election.

The push polling for building new schools has begun

Published May 7, 2017 by justicewg

I mentioned in the last post that I was told a PR firm was doing paid focus groups and polling on the schools here in Grandview, at which they are probably doing Push Polling, a standard method for political groups to influence public opinion. I don’t have proof this is happening with that PR firm.

I do have access to the online poll the school has created, and was a little surprised at the blatant push polling in that survey.

Out of all the options the board wants to build, the moving of the K to 3rd grade out of Stevenson and into a building on the present Middle school location seems to be mentioned the most. It is in the 3A, 3B, and 3C options. The master plan doesn’t say what will happen to the building. “Evaluate  future  use  of  Stevenson  Elementary” is what they say on the option list.

The online Poll that the school wants us to fill out has a very different thing to say about Stevenson school:

 “If Stevenson Elementary was converted to a community center for the city, would you favor or oppose moving the kindergarten through 3rd grade students into a new building on the high school/middle school campus?” – from the online poll.

Nobody from the city has said a word about using Stevenson as a “community center”. This is completely from the school board, used as a method of confusing the options on closing down Stevenson, a move that will be stridently opposed by all the parents on the east end of the city.

What kind of “community center” could even be built in that building? No way a Rec Center is going to fit into the many small classrooms. The auditorium is way too small for any adult ball courts or community swimming pool.

I’d like to hear one of the city council members comment on this – they have never said a word about it that I know, and I don’t think they would support closing down Stevenson (unless they are looking to get booted off the council by the voters).

(Edit – I confirmed with Council President Kearns, no one from the board has ever talked to them about a “community center” at Stevenson, no plans have been discussed by the council about any alternate use of the building.)

After some thought, I’m not sure if push polling is the correct label for what the board did. There was not even the slightest establishment of the possibility of the school building being turned into a community center. That makes it more a flat out lie from the school board, intentionally done to deceive the voters of Grandview

Keep an eye out for the push polling, I’m sure we will be exposed to all sorts of assertions in the polls that are just fantasy created by the board to manipulate public opinion on their plans. Read the rest of this entry →

School facilities options – first impressions

Published May 5, 2017 by justicewg

May Facility meeting with options3The school board has presented three major options for the school facilities (with seven sub-options). There is a lot of information to digest in the Master Plan Options but here are some quick first impressions.

Board doesn’t care about state borrowing limits

Six of the seven options are asking for more bonds that the state will allow by law.

How is it possible to borrow more than the state of Ohio allows? Some net research shows that it is possible to ask the state for a waiver of the rules, and if a general funds levy is set high enough (and passed by voters) to cover the difference in cost between the state bond limit and the construction cost, it is allowed.

Just like a homeowner might dig themselves into a deep hole by finagling a mortgage that he can’t really afford, and risks defaulting on the loan if the person is hit with a financial crisis, a district can dig itself into a hole that could cause catastrophic problems if a recession hits the economy. And what is the chances of that happening – who even remembers 2008?

Will the state allow Grandview to go over the legal bond limit? Remember, the state republican party, lead by Kasich, has singled out Grandview for the largest cuts in state funding. They want small schools to merge with larger ones, in order to be more efficient. What is stopping the state from saying “no, Grandview, you may not exceed the state limit”?

No mention of mills in report

The millions of dollars needed to build new schools (up to $70 million in the most expensive plan) has to be paid by the voters with increases in the property tax millage. There was no mention of mills – because the board knows that they would be calling the squad and wheeling homeowners out of the Glenn suffering from heart attacks.

The board didn’t make it easy to find information on mills needed to fund the facility plans, but there is some clues posted on the schools Facility FAQ page. According to this page, “a 5.52 mill levy today would generate enough to finance a project of approximately $33 million.” So if the board wants the $70 million to build a new “campus”, they would be asking for over 12 mills. Remember, the state is cutting their funding, and the number of administrators and their salaries continues to grow, so operating levies will be needed too. We might be looking at a 15+ mill request from the school board.

What is the history in Grandview for passing high millage levies? In May 2002, voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy (the additional mills would be added in later years). It wasn’t even close, the voters rejected the high levy request with a 70% no vote.

Grandview Heights currently has the highest Total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) in the county.

May 12 update – from a TVN story:

If the district were to pursue a project costing its current bond-borrowing capacity of $45.3 million, an 8.2-mill bond levy would be needed, Collier said.

There is no backup plan

Any serious, professional planner has an option ready for any contingency. The school board will be expected to push for one of the expensive, “no contact with reality” plans for massive new schools. It will fail to get the votes. They will then attempt one of the cheaper options (if you call $35 million cheap). Depending on the general economy, and the mood of the voters, that plan might also fail. What happens then?

I asked Culp if the board has a contingency plan ready if it can’t get the votes for the least expensive plan. I asked what the board would do about facility repair during the 2 or more years the school might ask for levies to pay for the expensive option. He replied with the usual bureaucratic non-answer.

The options in the master plan – ranging from a no contact with reality $70 million, to a near the limit allowed by law $35 million, are all of the plans the board has made. They are so sure they will charm us, and if needed threaten us, that they have no alternate to their expensive plans.

The board will “manifest” the money

I wrote a posts called What’s wrong with the School Board’s optimism?, I think it is the best explanation for what is happening on the board. Please read that post, and watch the Barbara Ehrenreich video.

The board has been in a self-reinforcing, protected from outside comments bunker mode for a long time. The carefully selected facility task force, segregated by board rules that prevented any visitor from attend their meetings, has reinforced the wall the board put up to keep reality out.

I think the board thinks that there is no reason that the expensive new campus options can’t be built. They are probably telling each other, “we can do it, we just need to say the right words, and we will manifest the money to build new buildings. It is just a matter of how much will power we have”.

We will have to endure multiple public meetings, at which the board will drone on endlessly about the numbers, then they will plead, then they will threaten. They will say that new building are the only moral choice, and those who oppose their plans are bad people who want to hurt children.

You didn’t vote for this

We haven’t gotten to the finger pointing section of the debate yet, so let me direct the first arrow.

Grandview didn’t vote to have buildings that need expensive maintenance. The only levy that has been rejected in the last 30 years was in 2002. All of the fault for the condition of the school buildings are on the school board. The priorities of the school board are clear in the spending they have done on a overloaded, high salary administration.

I’m sure that the present school board will claim they are heroic visionaries for proposing new school buildings. I think they are like the car dealer that notices a small patch of rust on your old car, and tries to convince you that the only solution that makes sense is to buy a $100K luxury car – because your kids deserve the best!

We do have an opportunity to vote for board members in the fall. Let’s send a clear message by rejecting all of the current members.

(Later) I should have added “spend a lot of money on experts in public relations” on my list of things the board is telling each other they need to do to get their new buildings. I have heard there is a PR firm that is paying Grandview residents to attend focus groups at which they are “asked about their opinions”. Push polling is a standard practice for PR firms, they slant the questions in ways that make doing what they want to be signaled as a virtuous act, and resistance is subtly associated with ignorance, close mindedness, and anti-social acts.

A message to the PR firm – Hi! I’m sure you are reading my blog, I have a offer for you. Want to get a look into the mind of a person who is going to be a vocal opponent of the construction of new schools? Pay me! Use the links in the About section to send me a message.  Lets make a deal!

City addresses long term plans for Goodale Blvd.

Published April 28, 2017 by justicewg

Brexton BldgConstruction of a five-story building on the former reTAGit site on Goodale, as well as street work and the nearing completion of the pool, has focused attention on the area. A TVN story gives the latest news on the city’s long term plans.

I think the parking and flooding issues are the main challenges the city must confront in developing the street. Although past work on the floodwalls has improved the classification of some of the area, there are still lots that might end up under water.

“Because the property sits in the flood plain, federal, state and city regulations limit the cost of renovation to being no more than 50 percent of the property value … The high cost of flood insurance also required the first floor (of the five story building) be used for covered parking rather than the retail or office use desired, Galvin said. “

Patrik Bowman, the city’s director of administration, recounted past efforts to work with the city of Columbus to build flood flap gates across the train tracks that would hold back flooding, but that never worked out. He mentioned a possibility of a re-calculation because of a lowering of the Olentangy River , but didn’t put much hope in that occurring.

The small size of the lots on Goodale makes any future tall buildings difficult to plan because of a lack of parking. The use of the first floor for parking is a serious strike on the profitability of any future construction, the utility of the first floor for retail businesses is a key to the income for most developers.

Bowman predicted that future re-development on Goodale would be limited to renovation of existing structures, rather than tall new buildings.

The newspaper article ended with a odd quote:

Galvin said he is concerned that property values on Goodale could lead some developers to seek approval of higher density, residential development along Goodale. He said he would rather see smaller development involving office or retail use.

The Galvin who is quoted in this part of the article is the CEO of Brexton, the developer of the five story building. I’m not sure why his wishes for the future are of importance for a story about the long term plans from the city of Grandview. (Edit) I was reminded that Galvin was a city council member from June 2014 – January 2016, but was not re-elected. His opinion on development for Goodale might be well informed, but he is no longer a office holder, so his wishes for the future of the city are not as important as the current council and city director of administration. The story would have been improved with their comments.

More Bozos on the bus

Grandview doesn’t need to look far to find examples of small towns that were overwhelmed by new housing. Powell, Ohio shows what can happen when too many residents turn the streets into gridlock and government services stretched too thin leads to unhappiness.

New residential housing on Goodale would cause the least disruption on inner street traffic for rush hours, out of any other location in Grandview. However, choke points like the intersection of Goodale and Grandview Ave. will become worse.

Allowing more development without careful city planning is a sure fire way to turn Grandview into Powell. Careful watch of the city council members is needed to prevent pro-development boosters taking the city the wrong direction.