Board highballs the facility bid, admits finance committee is running the school

Published July 9, 2018 by justicewg

The process for updating to school buildings has been ongoing for years, and from the start, the board declared they wanted to build expensive new buildings. They are following through on that declaration, and more – the board has proposed a ridiculous highball number ($55 million) and tacked on an operating levy of one mill, just to remind parents that they can hold the school children hostage. If you are voting for this $55 million plan, you are also voting for a replacement (probably another $25 million) of the Stevenson building, because the plan under funds upgrades to the building.

The board also now has no defense from the charge that the finance committee was a policy deciding group that should have been open under the Ohio Open Meeting laws.

How highballs work in negotiations

The school board has known since the G4G group went public with opposition to the superintendent’s request for a $50 million facility plan last year that the first try at a levy would fail. There has been unprecedented opposition to the school’s attempt to manipulate the facility process, even the most optimistic on the board must have known that the $50 million plan was not going to pass. Given that fact, the board decided that a highball bid was the way to set expectations for the future.

Negotiation is all about setting the expectation for a “good number”, a price that seems normal to pay. Some ruthless negotiators find no worth in starting mid range, a high number sets the top of the range, and brings up the bottom. If the school board carefully cut into the plan as presented by Culp last year, they might have come up with a plan that cost $45 million. But the board saw that as leaving money on the table, they said, “if you are going to lose the first bid anyway, go for the big money”.

Make no mistake – this sort of hard negotiation is not normal for a Grandview Heights board. Most levies in the recent past have been in the normal range of past operating levies. Most levies pass with 60% in favor. There was one ridiculous levy attempt back in 2002 that was a big lesson for the board, and which will be used as a template for the present.

The fantasy levy of 2002

The school board of May 2002 used a similar tactic for highballing the voters, with a twist. The “incremental operating” levy asked for 9.8 mills, already a high number. They then added an additional 4 mills, to take effect the next year, and 4 more the next year. Only 35% of the voters were in favor, the biggest loser of all levies.

Nobody expected that levy to pass – but it set the expectation for the “right number” higher. That fall, the voters approved 10.7 mills, the highest millage issue in the history of the school.

The board that approved the original highball levy should have been immediately recall voted out of office, the fantasy incremental levy was an insult to the community that should have been punished. But in the minds of those board members, they saw it as a needed hardball tactic. And the approval of the fall levy was a submission by the community. We got played, and we didn’t fight it.

Stevenson replacement in the future is part of the $55 million bid

When Culp presented his initial plan for the school upgrades in September 2017, he included $6 million in refurbish work on the Stevenson building. That money was nearly zeroed out by the finance committee, they said “we are only looking at doing security and ADA upgrades at Stevenson”. If the school board under funds the maintenance of Stevenson – and nothing will stop them – that will place the closing of the building at the top of the board’s list. Shortly after the new middle school is completed, the board will come back to the voters with irrefutable evidence (because they created the problems) that Stevenson MUST be replaced. Add another $25 million to the construction costs, in the near future.

Two “no on the levy” votes will be needed

The highball bid of $55 million will not pass. But it will set the expectation high, and allow the board to come back to the voters with a $50 million plan in 2019. Cutting a few frills will be presented as painful cuts (funny how all the real pain will be suffered by the taxpayers).

There will need to be two consecutive no votes on the school’s levies before the board can be convinced to come down to a real number that will get the support of the community. This will be hard, because another, higher operation levy will be sure to be tacked onto the second bond levy. The board will threaten major cuts in after school programs, and cuts to classes that are offered. The re-implementation of activity fees will be on the table for the second vote for sure.

Unfortunately the best solution for a school board that is extorting the community – voting out the present board – will not be up for a regular vote until November 2019, when Palmisciano and Brannan can be replaced. If Truett and the other two board members elected in 2017 want to cause maximum damage to the community before they are voted out, the three of them can run the board until 2021.

The board broke the laws on open meetings Read the rest of this entry →

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Checking the council and the board member’s email responses, part 2

Published June 25, 2018 by justicewg
eudora_email

guess the email client

Time for another email policy request for the council members and school board officials. I did this same poll back in 2014, and got everyone on the council to get back to me. In 2014 the board was slow, but except for a notable hold-out, I also got the answers I needed. This year, however, there is a big change for the worse from the board.

Email is now the standard communication channel

If anything has changed since that last test of the email abilities of the politicians, it has become even more standard to use email to contact officials. Old fashioned paper through the mail is unusual enough for contacting representatives that it might be a better way to get your message to stand out from the firehose of emails most people receive. While face to face conversations and phone calls are harder for the politicians to avoid, unless you record them you will have an off the record chat that will be forgotten in a short time.

It is now important to know if your email will be answered, how long it will take, or is a phone call a better way to get in touch. I asked all of our representatives.

First, the good council

Every one of the council members answered my emails. Panzera was a little late because of a vacation, and Houston had a problem with my emails ending up in a spam folder, but all eventually answered, and were happy to provide information on how to contact them about city policy.

Steven Gladman again was the record holder for fast replies, three minutes. He gave me his personal phone number for voice calls (I don’t feel it is right to post that number here, but he will send it to you if you ask). Keeler, Kearns, and Reynolds replied within a day, and said they normally gave answers to email questions within 24 hours.

Panzera said he prefers phone calls for more complex questions. Houston had an issue with a spam box that was eventually solved. She also shared her personal cell phone number, which I will not post, but she was happy to provide it to anyone who tries to contact her.

The board has a problem

When I tested the reliability of the school board in answering my emails back in 2014, I was already well known for being the owner of this blog. I have emailed all of them (except the new members) in the past, and although they might not have been happy to see the questions I asked, all have replied in past years.

This year was a new experience. I sent all of them three emails within a week, just to be sure that it didn’t get lost in their inboxes.

I was expecting Jessie Truett to throw my emails away, unanswered. He is the president of the board, his job is supposed to be the point of contact for all of the members when discussing school policy. And yet he can’t even answer a simple “are you listening” email message. Brannan and Palmisciano also refused to answer.

Eric Bode had a two sentences long reply (which I guess is better than zero). As a test of their willingness to discuss school policy, I send him (and Molly Wassmuth) some questions about the G4G group. Bode seemed to think they were just an anti-tax group (despite their website that shows them to be much different). When presented with proof that the board and Culp had lied to the community about opening up the finance committee, he stuck his fingers in his ears.

Wassmuth had an interesting position on answering policy questions. She claimed that she could not talk about school policy via email, because of some rule or something that she couldn’t point out, but she was sure that the only place she can talk about school policy is in board meetings.

She is wrong, of course. The council and board members are free to discuss any policy matter they want before the vote. And that is their job really, making us aware of their positions and reasoning is what they get paid to do. Wassmuth seemed to think she was a human suggestion box – thank you for your submission, your words will be conveyed to the board meeting (where I don’t have any intention to share them with the board).

Will your emails be sent to the black hole?

Three board members didn’t answer my email at all. That’s really troubling, especially because this is the time that the board will be getting the most emails they have ever in years, because of the intense conflict they will be setting off with their upcoming decision to spend $55 million on the school facilities.

Will everyone who sends them an email opposing the school facility plans find their emails black holed if they are not supportive of the board?

There is a list of 360 community members publicly posted on the G4G website. Will the board use this list as a filter – support the G4G, and you will never get another answer for your emails? I wouldn’t be surprised if the board could be that petty and small.

Video of the May 29, 2018 finance committee report

Published June 3, 2018 by justicewg

Finance comm video stillHighlights of the Video of the May 29, 2018 finance committee meeting at the high school auditorium.

Update – as of 6/7/18, the video of the finance committee report has been deleted from the Google Drive where it was located.  (later) As of 1:30 PM, the video has been returned, but the URL has changed (updated in the link above). The time stamps were slightly changed because of the re-upload, but are close.

The numbers seen below are the time stamps for the sections of the meeting video, which is posted on the school website. You can drag the progress mark of the video up to any section that are mentioned below (on a desktop, not sure if you can step ahead in a phone video). Warning – the video is almost two hours long. This post is long too. Both are important to understand what is happening at the school.

 

:10 Superintendent Culp gives an opening speech.

4:00 Someone asks if the minutes of the finance committee meetings will be posted on the website, along with other material. Superintendent Culp tries to deflect the question by answering that there will be agendas and “outcomes” posted, and tries to slide past the fact that the real meeting notes are not going to be given to the community.

5:10 A questioner asks again about the meeting minutes, and tries to get Culp to admit that the meeting notes will not be shared. Someone off camera tries to shut down the questioner by shouting at them to hold their questions until the end.

5:35 Culp says “we have outcomes, we have meeting notes, we have all kinds of documentation that was shared at the meeting, but most importantly, the document you have in your hands”. He again avoids saying that the meeting notes are not going to be posted. Listen carefully here, he said the meeting notes exist, he just doesn’t want to talk about them.

6:00 Culp turns the meeting over to Jack Kukura, who is speaking for the finance committee. At this point they inserted a video with high production, complete with dramatic music. It is about the finance committee, and it tries to dazzle you with public relation buzz words, praise for the board and superintendent because they want to build a new school, and more. There could be another post covering just the contents of this slick video, but I’ll just summarize it with one observation and a question.

They make a big point in the video about how the information for updating the facilities is complex, with engineering data, with lots of state and federal standards that must be considered. If that information is so important, why didn’t the board allow community members to attend the finance committee meetings? Why didn’t they video the finance meetings? Why is the board refusing to release meeting notes from the finance committee?

10:20 Kukira speaks for the committee. He tells us that he lives in Marble Cliff, but that he used to live on Wyandotte in Grandview. I think he was trying to say “I’m just one of you middle class people”, but by bringing it up, he suggests a question – just what is the average income level of the finance committee? Do they know what it is like for a normal middle class resident who struggles to keep up with high taxes?

11:05 Katie Matney asks, “Out of curiosity, can I have a show of hand of those who graduated from Grandview Heights? Who had children in the school, but not now? Who has children in the school now?”

Why use the show of hands to get this information, they can always use the “tickets” that people are supposed to fill out to get that info. Maybe the reason there needed to be raised hands was to make clear to people in the auditorium which of their neighbors in the seats are natives, because born residents tend to discount the views of new residents? Maybe they want the current parents to know who are the older people who no longer have kids in the schools, so that they can discount the opinions of those who will not have to use the school buildings (but will have to pay the taxes).

My suggestion for the next community meeting at the school – have a show of hands for the people who have a total household income of more than $100K. Then ask who has more an $200K income. If those other questions were valid, the income of the guy sitting near you also should be known.

12:00 “Grandview buildings are 90 years old, and are past their lives”. The finance committee is starting from the assumption that the school buildings are dead, and as they imply throughout the meeting, they don’t want us to fix these “Dead” buildings, they want new ones.

12:40 Matney says her kids are not being sent to private schools, and they are happy to send them to Grandview schools. Why is that important to say? Maybe some of the committee members didn’t send their kids to Grandview schools?

16:00 Kukuria returns to talk about the scope of the committee meetings. He says that the group was only looking at the “tear down the middle school” option, and didn’t look at other cheaper paths. He tries to say that the committee was somehow independent enough to reject some of the recommendations from Culp, but when you look at the final documents, you see that their “independence” was limited to asking for more expensive total numbers. The only cuts they suggested – and according to Kukuria the only split in opinions for the committee – was for renovation of Stevenson.

I listened carefully to that section where he talked about issues that could not be brought to consensus on the committee. He said “there were concerns about safety and security in the buildings, which cost more, and therefore we were not able to come up with all the renovation needs at Stevenson”. He later says “we are only looking at doing security and ADA upgrades at Stevenson”.

And yet the committee had no problem spending more on the cost of the new middle school, like the connector section to the HS. Kukuria didn’t make it clear what the disagreement was about on Stevenson, but I think I can figure it out by reading between the lines.

There has always been a segment of the community who wants to see Stevenson and the High School building torn down, and a large campus built on the middle school location. Energy efficiency is best with one large building, and those with a fetish for new modern buildings hate the old fashioned look of the schools.

I think the disagreement on the committee was about spending funds on Stevenson, the “old building haters” don’t want to spend a dollar on a place that they assume will be torn down soon anyway. Even though 75% of the responses on the surveys said that Stevenson should be saved, that 25% who want it gone were in control of the finance committee. So the recommendation is “do the least possible at Stevenson,” (and hope that the board will get more money from the community to tear it down later). I would bet the board will also will do inadequate maintenance at Stevenson, so the building gets progressively worse. And then they will say “look at this old falling apart building, we MUST replace it”.

More after the jump.

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School Finance Committee report May 29

Published May 30, 2018 by justicewg

Finance report may29The school’s Finance committee, the closed group that refused to share meeting notes, finally gave its report to the community last night. As expected, they followed closely to the plans the school administration has been pushing, with small changes.

The big question before the report was presented was, what they were doing in the closed meetings? They were more than two months late in presenting the findings. I’m still processing all the documents and the video of the meeting, but I think they answered my question – they were not taking so long because they were evaluating the faults in the plans pointed out by the Good for Grandview group, and others. If the performance of the committee last night was representative of the general tone of the meetings, the delay was caused by self-important bloviation by some committee members.

Only the middle school replacement was on the table

The school administration repeated often that the finance committee was going to be an independent group that would have all options on the table. That was a lie – the group members themselves said that their work was only an “audit” of the 50 million dollar “tear down the middle school” choice. No time was spent on evaluating cheaper options that could have renovated the middle school. The only real changes the group made to the administration plans was to add an additional $5 million for things like a connector between the new middle school and the high school.

Why was the committee looking at an operating levy?

Part of the recommendation of the finance group was to suggest that the board add a one mill operating levy onto the request for 7.5 mills to build and renovate the schools. Why was this group considering an operations fund? That was a purely political question that should only  have been considered by the school board. The answer they gave was that adding operations funding was a “holistic approach”. I think by holistic, they mean that it gives the board leverage to hold the students hostage – pass our levy, or your kid gets services taken away, we close down class options, we add fees back for activities.

Scare tactics will be in full effect

The finance report spent a page of the report on “safety and security”, and told us all about how we needed to be adding “basic security measures” that are lacking in the old schools. Never miss a chance to freak parents out about school shootings, if it will pass the levy. You can be sure that these security options will also be used as levers to pass the operations part of the levy – vote for the tax, or we will not have the money to protect your kids from anyone with a gun who wants to walk into the school.

For a little history of the school using scare tactics to push for more money, read the history of the SRO in the school. They used the threat of Al-Qaeda terrorism to push for a police officer in the school. Not kidding!

Culp “fully committed” to open Finance committee meetings, until he wasn’t

The video of the finance comm. report has been posted on the school website. One of the questions you might have about the meeting is the insistent questioning by parents – where are the finance comm. meeting notes we were promised? Why were the meetings closed to the public? Watch this short video to understand why that was so important to many parents.

A community member asks superintendent Culp about the Finance committee, asks if there will be notice of meetings, public participation, minutes online. Culp says “I fully commit to that, I don’t think you can do it any other way.”

If you are pedantic, you might say he didn’t use the words “promise” when he said those words. But “Fully committing” is good enough to call it a promise. Culp didn’t say a word last week when questions were being asked about his commitment. He doesn’t answer questions via email. The board refuses to even acknowledge that Culp made a promise at meeting seven.

Standing by your word is what gives a person integrity. Failing to answer questions shows a lack of honor. Culp has a big problem, and if he is too cowardly to answer questions, the board should step up and tell us – why was the Facilities Task force closed to the public, and meeting notes kept secret? Why, even after Culp promised to have an open fiance committee, was the door slammed shut?

Those are important questions, and the split in the community cause by the failure to address these questions might cause the failure of the levy.

Even if you don’t care about those questions, and just want to see the board fix up the schools, you should be asking the board why they are not answering those questions. Because you are going to see a long protracted fight, because the school board can’t fess up and answer questions they don’t want to answer.

Part two on the finance committee report, a detailed look at the meeting video, is now posted on my blog.

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The high school turns Brown

Published April 26, 2018 by justicewg

Robert Brown TwitThe principal of the high school can be seen as the number three position in the school administration (after the super and the treasurer). The school has just announced a replacement for the departing Ken Chaffin. Robert Brown, Assistant Principal and Athletic Director, McCord Middle School in Worthington, OH, will be heading the high school soon. He will be starting Aug 1, at $110,000 salary.

A search of the social media shows not much beside a twitter account – @rbrown035 .He is not very active in tweeting his own material, most are re-tweets of others at the school. I do see some anti-bullying material in his tweets, good to see that he takes that seriously enough to repeat. A lot of his posts are about sports teams, which can be expected for an asst. principal who is also an athletic director.

While looking around in Brown’s tweets, I again found links to the blog used by Trent Bowers, the Superintendent at Worthington. Read the post he made about cell phone policy at the school.

https://wcsdistrict.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/what-is-the-role-of-the-smartphone-in-schools/

The post is a very interesting look at the positive and negative effects of cell phone use, including an experience in his own family that showed the ways it can distract students from learning just to keep up with frivolous chatter. Most importantly, the post ends in a question, asking if there should be changes in policy at the school, and then allows a conversation to develop among the people who are reading his blog.

Could you see that happening with the superintendent at Grandview Heights? Why is that something that will never happen at our school (at least until there is a major change in the school board).

Although he never had much public conversation on his blog, Ken Chafin did have a wordpress blog during his time at Grandview. It is possible for an administrator to have a blog – but feedback from parents just isn’t encouraged here.