New school group critical of Facility process named “Good for Grandview”

Published December 1, 2017 by justicewg
GfG website

Home page of the Good for Grandview group (at http://www.goodforgrandview.org)

A group that calls themselves “Good for Grandview” has announced they will oppose the current school plan to spend $50 million on a new middle school, as well as extensive remodeling of the other buildings. Via a new website, they list a number of complaints with the facility review process, and state that they believe there is no way that voters will pass an unprecedentedly large levy. They say they are not just a “No” group, they are in favor of a right sized facility upgrade.

The founders of this group are an impressive list of parents and former school board members. This is not a bunch of anti-tax zealots or a sore losers club, they are the people who were sitting in the front rows during the many meetings of the facility review and educational process.

The group speaks well for themselves on their website – go read it! The reasons for their creating the group can be summarized as the following:

If the school board tries to pass an unprecedentedly high levy to pay for $50 million in construction at the schools, the group feels that there is no way it can pass. There is simply not that much money that can be raised in this small town. There has not been formal organized opposition to levies in the past, and almost all were approved by the voters. Tension between the pro-levy boosters, and opponents, will tear apart the community. The schools will remain in the current condition. They call it a lose-lose-lose proposition.

The group points out that the “$44 million in deferred maintenance” that has been repeated at every opportunity by the administration is a figure that is not applicable to the reality of the buildings – that number assumes that complete tear out and replacement of all systems in order to meet current codes and standards as though they were built today. An older report by a company called “K-12 Consulting” concluded that around $500K per year would be needed to keep the schools running for the next ten years (that included major new systems like boiler replacement).

The GfG (I guess that will be their acronym) saw a number of problems with the way the facility review process was run by the school board. They mentioned the closed to the public Task Force meetings, and the way the surveys and exit tickets were designed to minimize open-ended discussion and steer the process toward a narrow range of possible outcomes. Although the word “transparency” was a favorite of the administration and the board, the reality was that they failed to act in any way that would earn that name.

My suggestions

This is a big deal, there has never been organized opposition to the school board like this before. The board was probably going to go with the full $50 million plan, that option is now dead as a doornail.

The question is, what now? I sure don’t have any pull on the board, but if I thought they might listen, I would tell them this. Read the rest of this entry →

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Quick answers from council candidates – part 2

Published November 3, 2017 by justicewg

Link to part 1

(Edit after the election – the three candidates who responded to my questions received the most votes, and Panzera also was re-elected. Not sure if any positions held by these candidates were deciding factors, as the conventional wisdom goes, working hard on door knocking and answering all questions seemed to be way to gain office.)

Melanie Houston

Neglected issues – Houston makes a good point about the lack of park space in Grandview, we are low in terms of per capita park space, and have no “wild” areas. I don’t know where we can find more space inside the present city boundaries though. Maybe connect the community garden with the McKinley Field Park (the strip in the back by the tracks is already owned by the city). Buying and tearing down the homes south of Goodale has been suggested in the past, but that doesn’t really feel like greenspace when it has trains a few yards away. Increasing park space is a good topic for the council, I would like to see more discussion, maybe it would be part of the community planning process that has been mentioned in the past.

More about money and parks in this 2016 story on Wallace gardens.

Medical marijuana – Houston says she believes medical marijuana as a viable treatment option for our community members, but she got no requests to support dispensaries in Grandview while door knocking. She also has the “but what about the children?” worries, and correctly assumes that some other town in the area will have no problem taking in the taxes that will be generated.

Apparently Grandview council had no issues with allowing the sale of alcohol at the Ox Roast (approved in 2016 by unanimous votes), which somehow didn’t trigger any “but what about the children?” worries. Someday there will be acceptance of the facts about which drug is the real danger, we have a way to go on that issue.

School facilities – There has been a long discussed plan to somehow make a community recreation facility that could be shared by the schools. Houston also likes the idea. Where to find the millions needed to build a indoor pool and track facility has always been the stumbling block. Houston mentions a paid pass system as a possibility, but that still puts the funding problems on the schools.

The logistics of how to share a rec center, while keeping random people away from school kids, has never been explained in the plans I have read. And recreation facilities is not the problem, finding funds to build new schools is the current puzzle for the board.

A funny things that happened on the way to office – someone told Houston she looked better than her campaign literature. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this was a guy who was on the make, or at least well trained in responding to “do I look good in this photo” questions. Still looking for the candidate who can bring the funny.

Full answers after the jump, more Q and A’s will be posted here if the last two guys respond.

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Quick answers from council candidates – fall 2017

Published October 29, 2017 by justicewg

The five candidates for four council seats have been out knocking on doors and attending meetings to answer questions from the public. They are still open to questions from emails, here are a few that I thought had not been done in the past. Responses from the candidates are posted in the order they gave me their replies.

Come back to this post for updates, I will add new commentary to the front page as I read through the responses, and the full text of the answers from the politicians will be added after the jump.

Greta Kearns, current council member

Question about policy that has not been given enough thought – she mentioned a comprehensive community planning project, which has been talked about by other council members. I’m not sure that it is a missing topic for the average voter in the community, these planning sessions are generally boring and don’t really engage the attendees.

The issue is the same one that made the school facility planning session a dud, they asked the parents to attend days of sessions, get deep into the weeds on policy, but there was no payout for that work. The final vote on facility options was open to anyone, and easily hackable. And the board was clear that they can dump the recommendations and go their own way. I don’t have a solution for this problem, but I would like there to be an admission that a problem exists.

Medical Marijuana is a no for Kerns. She sites reasons that are similar to the Tobacco 21 and minor bike helmet legislation, if a drug is bad for kids (or a lack of a helmet), we should not allow it in Grandview.

Relationship with the School board. Kearns says there is no problem ( but since she is the the School Liaison, she would say that). The competition for property tax can be solved, according to her, if city can add all needed improvements without a tax increase. That will be quite a trick to build a new fire and police station (which she supports) without new taxes. She doesn’t see any way to share facilities with the school.

A funny things that happened on the way to office – I guess the resident who answered his door wearing only a toga and a cowboy hat was sort of funny. I guess you had to be there.

Chris Smith, council V.P.

Neglected issues – I like the discussion on public transport, as a metro area Columbus has neglected transportation for so long it gives us a negative image for any business looking to relocate to the area. Why would someone want to develop in a city that had no public transportation other than old buses and roads that are fast becoming constant traffic snarls? Unfortunately it is a regional problem that can’t be solved by Grandview city council.

Smith said that Medical Marijuana businesses would “probably not the wisest use for commercial property in the city.” And given that the city of Columbus will probably have no issues with the dispensaries, and the taxes they pay, there will not be a problem finding a near by dispensary. But if we have full access to Medical Marijuana, but chose to let someone else get all the tax money, does that really make sense?

Smith agrees that there are issues in communication between the city and the school board. He doesn’t have a solution other than “we need to work hard”. He did mention the re-negotiation with NRI at the Yard will allow the bonds to be paid quicker, allowing the schools to boost tax income sooner.

Smith did have a good story about a long rant from a resident during a door knock session. I would call it more poignant than funny. I guess nothing really funny can be expected from politicians.

More full answers from candidates will be added after the jump.

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Complaints lodged over First Ave condo proposal

Published September 26, 2017 by justicewg
Deyo and Office

The yellow brick office building and the brown roof Deyo-Davis buildings would be torn down for the development.

The meeting room for the planning commission was overflowing September 20th with Grandview residents who wanted to comment on the proposed condo to be built on First Ave. The majority of those who spoke were opposed to the plans that were presented by the developer. The site is now the Deyo-Davis Funeral Home and an adjacent office building.

According to a TVN story, most were in favor of the use of the property for residential use, which would require a change from the current commercial zoning. But speakers at the meeting were critical of the number of units and the increased traffic that would be flowing in and out of the area. The developer, Scott Owens, presented a plan for the constructing of two four-story buildings, each with 16 condominiums.

Many spoke about the nearby Edison school building, and worried that morning traffic leaving the condos would cross paths with children entering the school. There were also concerns about parking, although the developer had parking garages in the back, there would only be two spaces per unit. Residents who lived in the area said the on street parking is already tight, and worried that visitors to the new development would create parking issues for blocks around the area.

Some commission members expressed problems with the size and number of units in the new buildings. They said the new buildings would not fit into the present character of the neighborhood. But commission member Robert Wandel said he likes the “boldness” of Owens’ concept, and suggested that traffic issues could be ameliorated with a second entrance.

The only possible second entrance I could see would be a back exit onto Broadview Ave, but that still allows turning right and entering First. I don’t see how shifting traffic sightly improves anything.

The Powell development cautionary tale

Council member Steve Reynolds posted links on his “Grandview Heights USA” facebook page to a story that happened in Powell. Ohio. The city council in that town approved a large new housing development, but a group of residents created a city charter amendment banning high-density housing that was approved by voters. The city then withdrew the developer’s approval, and the developer sued. The city had to pay $1.8 million to settle the suit.

The present development under consideration is not yet approved by the council, and will require re-zoning for the new use of the land. Grandview doesn’t face the danger of a lawsuit. However, City Council members do have the power to approve development deals that are not wanted by the majority of the voters, and passing amendments after approval can cost the city (and voters) big bucks.

The issued of housing density in Grandview should be a top concern for the council members up for election this fall. Make sure you know what the position of each candidate is, and let the candidates know how you feel about housing in Grandview.

Fall 2017 election candidates have filed

Published August 11, 2017 by justicewg

The Franklin Co. Board of Elections has posted the candidates that have filed to run. These are not certified, mistakes in the paperwork could disqualify some of them.

City Council

Four open seats on the council have six candidates attempting to take office. Anthony Panzera, Kearns, and Smith will try for re-election. Stephen Papineau will be retiring from the council.

Dan Headapohl, a past council president, will try to return to the council. Nicholas Pavlik, and Melanie Houston will also run for a seat.

(later –  Nicholas Pavlik dropped out of the race).

School board

Current member Truett has filed. Douglass and Evans are stepping away. Only two other candidates have filed, Eric Bode and Molly Wassmuth, so at this point they will get to take office with no opposition. You have to wonder how much the planned major building at the schools have turned off candidates for this office, instead of the usual running the schools and passing normal levies, the board will be tasked with trying to pass new construction levies that will hit record heights.

Remember, this is only the first filing list, the candidate must still have all the paperwork in order to be certified. We could still have a shocker election, like 2013, when Clifford made a rookie mistake in her paperwork.

(Aug 23) All candidates for council and the board have been BoE certified.

Culp will recommend a tear down and new build of the middle school

Published August 4, 2017 by justicewg
Culp and Douglass

Andy Culp and the man who pulls his strings

The school administration had the last scheduled Facility Community meeting on August 3, 2017. The outcome of the meeting was not a surprise. – Culp will recommend the most drastic of the three option still being offered – that the school board tear down the middle school and build a completely new school. He will recommend extensive renovation of Stevenson and the High School.

This option was given a price tag of $50 million at the June meeting. No doubt changes in the plans and inflation over the years needed to pass a levy and begin construction will drive the cost higher.

In an email sent to the staff Friday, Culp claimed that “This plan was widely embraced by community, staff, and student surveys”. The last survey results have not been posted on the school website as of Friday Aug 4. (it is now up, placed inconveniently on the bottom of the Facility home page).

Culp claimed that the third, “middle school tear down” option, was embraced in the “coffee with the superintendent” meetings held in parent homes. According to a person who hosted one of those meetings, they consisted of Culp dominating the conversation for hours, and few questions were taken. I’m still not understanding why those meetings were needed – what parent would invite the super into their home, and then disagree with him? What parent would want their child to be marked as the “child who has a trouble maker parent”?

The story on the facilities in the TVN

An Aug 8 story on Culp’s planned recommendation to the board included some more info. There was quotes from both Culp and board Pres. Truett in the article.

Truett mentioned his re-election (and two other board members) in the fall as a reason the board will wait until fall 2018 to ask for more mills from the community. I’m surprised Truett wants to mention the board elections, he faces blow-back for his support of expensive new taxes for the school (as well as his actions in sabotaging the deal with HPG). I though he would be a stealth candidate, hoping to sneak back into office. I’m sure the board will go silent on the possible tax increases needed for option C.

The board is also still planning to form a new committee to look at funding issues for the facility renovations. The job of making decisions on funding is the prime job of the board, passing it off to a committee (probably a closed group, like the Task force) is further proof that the board wants to hide their own preferences (which could be politically dangerous), and let someone else take the heat. It’s cowardly and lazy.

Some issues with the second school survey

I posted about the problems with online surveys in my last post. Please read the last two paragraphs for some discussion on the security, and the simple methods that could have been used to skew the survey.

There are also questions about the results of the survey – do they seem to be the logical results of opinions about the school facilities? Or are they pointing to something going wrong with the poll?

The were three option presented by the school. Option A was moderately renovation of all three buildings for $35 million. Option B was extensively renovate the schools for $55 million. Option C was to renovate Stevenson school and the high school and build a new Middle school on the current Edison/Larson site for $50 million.

According to the summary of the second survey results prepared by Triad, 15% of respondents thought option A was “best for the community”, option B was supported by 17% of the community, and option three was liked by 54%. A fourth, “something other than the above” option was chosen by 14%.

When presented with these options, I think the main choice that was made was made by respondents was “do I want to see the middle school school torn down and replaced?” If the answer was yes, they chose option C.

What this survey wants us to believe is that after rejecting the tear down, the most popular second choice was “renovate the middle school, but do it at a higher cost than building new”. Does it make sense that a lot of people want the middle school to be fixed, but in a more expensive way that tearing it down? The previous polling showed that there was 75% support for keeping Stevenson and the HS buildings, but there was little support for preserving the middle school.

Possibly there were a lot of people who took the claim that “44 million in deferred maintenance is needed” was a real number, and thought that option A was underfunding. But that doesn’t explain why option B was the most popular second choice. If you are not supporting option A, why not go for option C?

My guess is that over-voting explains the results. There could have been a lot of respondents who were sure that option A was wrong, and wanted to be sure it lost. So they took the poll twice, and the second time they picked option B, in the hopes it would be second place, higher than option A.

It all depends on the voters

We will now get to be exposed to more than a year of promotion for a vote at the polls projected to be made on fall 2018. I’m sure the results of the second survey will be spun with the slogan – “An overwhelming number want option C!”

And it will also be true that only 54% want option C, 46% want something else. If the survey was a true snapshot of the general public option, then the school board should be planning a vote as soon as possible. I don’t think even the board thinks the survey was for real.

 

The School Facility surveys, and a message for parent groups

Published August 2, 2017 by justicewg

Clout surveyThere have been a number of surveys that sampled Grandview resident’s opinions on the school facilities. Not all were done by the school. This is what I know about the surveys, and some advice for some parents who ran their own survey.

Surveys should always be viewed skeptically, both because of the small sample size, and the information they might be pushing (Push polls are a well understood way to inject opinions into the public mind). They are useful when they show an overwhelming percentage – like the 75% that said the school board should not be moving kids out of Stevenson, or replacing the high school.

I will end this post with some discussion on the integrity of online polls. Short version – don’t believe that polls on the internet are worth much, no matter what the company selling them tells you.

The school polls

The school board has run two public polls so far (August 2017), and one focus group meeting for “empty nest parents”. There was a third separate poll done for High school students (although there was nothing stopping those students from posting in the other online surveys). These were administered by a company called Triad Research.

As of June the school has paid Triad at least $17,000 for the online surveys and the focus groups. Triad’s summary of the surveys and the focus group is on the school website (the Pdf at the bottom).

The online surveys were poorly designed, identifying the owner of the poll is only done with one line at the start. The body of the survey contains nothing but a series of questions, with no tracking of the progress. You can know that you are on a school owned survey by looking at the domain name up in the address bar, they used “sawtoothsoftware.com”, subcontracting the online polling service.

The First sawtoothsoftware survey was posted online in the first week of May, it was located at (this now closed URL).

There were 597 responses, the questions were mostly about the original 7 options for school facilities, as presented in the April 26, 2017 meeting. The survey only asked about those seven original plans, there was no “fill in your own idea” for the school facilities. The $35 million renovation plan was the least expensive option given.

The board implied with a question in this survey 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 plan to vacate Stevenson is not part of any current school plans, but the school board still has the option to ignore the recommendations.

Second survey was located at this address (now closed).

Once again, the survey used push polling to try to force parents into choosing from the three facility options the school, and pushed the idea that $44 million was a base number for renovations, implying that the $35 million renovation option was inadequate.

The results of the second school survey are going to be posted on the school website after the Aug. 3 meeting. (Update Aug 10 the second survey results have still not been posted on the web page where they said it would be, instead you need to go to the community planning homepage, and find it at the bottom of a long page).

An important fact – the data from the surveys was only summarized in the posted PDF files, there has been no release of the raw data. Because the company that conduced the survey is a private business, they have no reason to release that data. FOIA requests don’t work on private businesses. Maybe this is why the school chose to farm out work that could have been done internally?

The Focus group – and are 90 year old buildings obsolete?

The school paid 11 older “empty nest” community members to attend a focus group in May of 2017. This was done because they know that older people are least likely to respond to the online surveys. The small size of the group made it unreliable for any true view of the general group of voters in Grandview.The group had the expected confidence in the quality of the school, and fear of raising taxes. Maybe the most surprising finding was that none of the group ever went to the school website, so all of the school’s attempts to push for building new schools online will do nothing for this group. (I also assume this group will not be reading my blog).

One item from the focus group jumped out at me. The school has been pushing hard on the the idea that 1. most people don’t know the age of the schools, and 2. they would be willing to replace them if they know the age of the buildings.

I think this quote from a member of the focus group, composed of older community members who have no children in the school, is the answer the average Grandview resident will give about the age of the schools.

“90-years-old — you’ve got to tear it down? Well, is somebody going to buy my house that’s almost 100-years-old and tear it down? No. They’re going to fix it, they’re going to renovate it, and they’re going to make it look beautiful.”

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