After the school levy, money is not the issue – but construction zone issues will cause conflict

Published December 7, 2018 by justicewg

The board passed the levy on Nov 6, 2018, they have the $55 million bond they wanted to update the facilities in the schools. The issue that is important now is completing the work on the schools with the minimum possible disruption of the education of the kids who are going to be in schools just a few feet away from major construction zones, and may be required to waste time on long walks to the HS for the cafeteria and gym. That means getting the parents to agree with the construction plans, when they know their children will be negatively impacted.

I’m not seeing a lot of effort put out by the board to work with these parents. If the board takes the position that “disruption is something your will just have to deal with” and doesn’t work with parents to make the best plans for the minimum disruption, there will be some very angry parents – for good reasons.

No consensus

If the board had overwhelmingly passed the levy, they would have (poor) backing for saying “we have a mandate, now stop complaining and let us figure construction out by ourselves”. That mandate is missing.

The vote was 48% no, 52% yes. Compare that to Worthington, which passed a bond, on the same day, with a 70% yes vote. If we give Worthington’s school board a letter “A”, Grandview’s board deserves a “D”. Not only is there no consensus, the formation of three separate groups that opposed the $55 million bond were a first in Grandview, and indicate the board did a poor job in the facility planning process. Many parents felt the facility process was not fair or open enough.

Not enough board acknowledgment of community divide

No matter which side you were on, you probably had strong feelings about the issue #6 vote. The results of the election settled the question of how much money the board will have to improve the schools, what it didn’t do was heal the rift in the community.

I sent an email to all the board members, and the administration, asking them what actions the board will be taking to help mend a divided community. Except for one board member, the answer was silence.

I asked the board and administration if they understood the objections the anti-levy groups had to the facility process, because the first step in healing is understanding what the problem is. I got this answer from Mr Culp:

“You would need to reach out to the opposition groups to garner their perspectives …” – Andy Culp

This from the person who repeats the “3600 varying touchpoints” line over and over. If you have no idea what the opposition to #6 groups thought, then maybe the problem is that all those touchpoints were just you expressing your opinion Mr Culp, and you were ignoring the replies.

What happens now

We are now a month after the vote, and I’m not finding much info from the board or administration on what happens now. I read a number of “patting ourselves on the back” stories in the news, and on the school website, but the specifics are lacking. I see nothing about groups or meetings being planed to present specific actions in working on the schools, and gain feedback from the parents who will have their kid’s education disrupted by the construction. The board had months to make plans after the FAC recommendations were presented to the board, but they seemed to be focused only on the vote, not on anything they needed to do afterward.

I copied this from the school website:

Here is the general timeline for the overall project:
Phase I – The Edison Commons will be demolished, and the new 4-8 school will be built between GHHS and EI/LMS. (18-24 months)
Phase II – High School students will be moved into the newly built 4-8 and GHHS will be comprehensively renovated. (15-18 months)
Phase III – High School students will be moved back into the renovated high school. EI/LMS students will be moved into the new 4-8 building.

The annex and the existing EI/LMS will be demolished at the conclusion of Phase III.
RLS improvements (safety/security and ADA accessibility) will be completed during the summer of 2021 and 2022.

Missing from any school plans on the website – listening to parents, and working with them to build a plan that minimizes educational disruption.

The Commons destruction was not presented in any public facility meeting

There was a lot of objection to the plan to demolish the middle school commons and gym expressed by the no on #6 groups. That part on the school was the last major build, completed in 1996, and the bond is just now being paid off. If there was any part of the school facilities that deserved to be kept and integrated into the new building, that section deserved being saved. There will be millions of dollars wasted by tearing it down.

Even worse is the plans the board has presented to replace the facilities in the commons – the middle school children will be required to walk past a dangerous construction site, and use the HS facilities. This back and forth might need to happen multiple times per day – for two or more years.

When the new middle school is completed, the HS students move in to the new building while construction is happening at the HS. So the new cafeteria and gym will still be shared with the middle school for another two years.

This plan to demolish the commons was never presented in any of the plans that were presented to the facility meetings that were open to the public. It is entirely an idea that was brought up by the hand picked, closed Finance committee. And yet everything I read on the school website makes this seem like it was a result of open meetings.

We didn’t vote to destroy the commons

I checked carefully through the wording of the levy we voted for – nothing in there about tearing down the middle school commons. I looked in the material the “Yes on #6” committee sent to every home in Grandview – nothing in there about plans for work on the schools. In fact, the pamphlet that was sent out said this:

“NOTHING IS FINALIZED. There are still many steps to the process, but we do know is that the members of the FAC and the Grandview Heiths schools are working to explore every opportunity to reduce costs while while providing the needed updates …” – from the Yes on #6 committee

Given the history of the board and school administration, I think we are about to hear the words “the plan to tear down the middle school commons is a done deal, because we voted for it” – even though there is not a word about the commons in the voting language or pre-vote publicity.

This is what Culp said at facility meeting #7

We have to go back to community facility meeting #7 to hear what Mr Culp though should be done after the levy passes.

 

 

“Even after the bond is passed, there needs to be iterative collaborative community engagement that is transparent about the process, and community members will need a voice in and say in what ‘s being done, even then, it needs to be exceedingly transparent.” – Andy Culp, from the school video, community meeting #7.

As we know, the first part of the video, where Culp promised that the Finance committee would be open, with meeting notes, he was either lying, or was overruled by the school board. He has never explained why the FAC was closed, even when the public asked 8 times during the FAC results meeting.

We have no reason to believe the second part of this video, where Culp promised open meetings after the levy passed. When a person’s integrity has been shown to have failed, you don’t easily believe them again.

We are waiting for the board to offer the community engagement that was promised.

 
A request for your experiences after the school vote

Have you experienced negative comments from school administrators or staff because you were vocal in your opposition to the school levy? Were there actions taken that you feel were retaliatory because you had a no on #6 sign on your lawn? Please send me your experiences, there is a comment form in the “About” section (tab at the top of the home page header).

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City council on the Grandview Crossing development, NRI deal, sidewalks

Published December 5, 2018 by justicewg

Video of the December 3, 2018 council meeting.

Grandview Crossing development

Starts at 16:10 on the YT video. Current plans are for 50K sq ft of office space, 250 senior housing units, 50K sq ft retail, and a hotel with up to 200 rooms.

Of interest – discussion on the “emergency” designation of the legislation. The effect of the emergency label is to make the legislation go into effect faster, cutting out the possibility of residents who object to the legislation making a public referendum on the law before it goes into effect. It was explained that the developer wants the fast passage because of timing issues with funding, Reynolds explained how emergency legislation can cause problems that resulted in the Goodale Green Space issue.

NRI development

At 31:30, legislation on the NRI development south of Goodale. Council noted that SOG is not a good name but it is all they have at this point. Later they discuss the NRI plans for a hotel with up to 120 rooms, 460 apartments (an increase), and 40K commercial space.

35:05 The amendment to the NRI deal that give the school more money. This is a new 30 year TIF, it is explained that the 2009 TIF is 10 years old and NRI wants a full 30 years.

Council member Reynolds again questions why the NRI deal with the schools has to be tied to the SOG development. NRI is a major company that has no profitability issues, they can give the school a better deal without ties to SOG if they wanted. As both Reynolds and Panzera warned in previous meetings, the attitude of “the school board wants this deal, so we let them call the shots” is stove-piping the legislation for the advantage of NRI, not allowing time for full examination and comments from the community.

Sidewalks repair

At 56:40 on the video. Evaluation of the cost to the city taking over the repair and replacement of all sidewalks is discussed. Panzera is opposed, but proposes a grant program to give incentive to residents to replace their sidewalks. Discussion on the liability for the city. Reynolds says incentives still forces residents to deal with negotiation and supervision of concrete repair companies.

Council president Kearns later moved the discussion of the sidewalk legislation to the Facility committee, where the chair is in opposition, so if you want to see the city take over sidewalks, contact the council members.

 

Elections results for November 6, 2018

Published November 7, 2018 by justicewg

Screenshot 2018-11-07 at 11.24.43 AM

The City Charter

There was nothing controversial about the revisions to the city charter that I could find. Was the 15% no vote because of something we didn’t know, or are there people who just vote no for everything?

The Dispensaries issue

Issue #32 was a referendum on whether the city’s ban on dispensaries should be overturned, in a twist of expectations, the wording of the issue required an understanding that Yes vote means No to dispensaries. Was the final 60% No vote a popular choice to allow dispensaries, so that local taxes would benefit from the addition of the marijuana dispensaries? Or was it just confusion caused by those who think “no” means “just say no”? If you were confused, please comment.

The Green Space ordinance

Citizen referendums have a big hurdle to cross from the beginning, they need a lot of signatures, and organizational momentum that can be hard to sustain. The Grandview city administration did a number on that momentum for the Green Space via legal challenges that went all the way to the Ohio Secretary of State. Even though the group was victorious in keeping the ordinance on the ballot, the strident opposition from the Mayor and City Attorney probably gave an insurmountable hit to the question about the actions of going through this method of bringing change to the city.

I also though the “taking our rights” push by the anti-#31 group was overblown, your rights were never in jeopardy unless you own a very specific, narrow strip of land. I don’t think the “right to do a lot split” was worth getting upset about. If the “rights” issue was so important, why isn’t the rights of a group of neighbors to organize and decide how they want development to look like on their own street worth standing up for?

The school levy

A close vote, I don’t think the pro-#6 group can call the result a mandate, nor can it be seen as a blank check for the board to go into warp speed on the wrecking ball for the middle school. It will be interesting to hear how the board and administration plan to heal the rift in the community over the facility process. More later.

All levies passed in FC

Dublin – 58% yes, $195 million bond issue with 7.9 mills additional money.

South-Western – 61% passed a $93.4 million bond issue.

Whitehall – 61% yes on a bond and millage.

Worthington – Separate bond and millage levies passed with 70% and 62% support.

Grandview Heights – 52% passed a combined bond and operational millage.

The voters in Franklin County were all confident in the economy, at least enough to pass school levies. Other schools had large bonds, but managed to pass them with much higher percentages. An obvious question – why was Worthington willing to pass their bond with 70% yes, while Grandview had the lowest approval number in the county?

No on issue 6, part 3 – The Income tax option for Grandview Heights schools has been neglected

Published October 26, 2018 by justicewg

Three signs #6I have read a number of opponents of issue #6 who dislike the unfairness of the property tax the board wants to use for the facilities, and the loss of older and lower income segments of the community, as the taxes drive these people away*. Property taxes are inherently regressive, costing a larger percentage of the income for lower income people.

An income tax would still hurt those who have low incomes, but it would probably be a smaller hit, and impact all segments of the community the same. Why has the possibility of an income tax been almost totally dismissed throughout the facility review process?

Unanswered questions about income taxes

I checked back in past documents and found almost nothing about evaluating an income tax for the school facility improvements. During Community Engagement Meeting #6, held June 8, 2017, Treasurer Collier did say that there was a possibility of using an income tax.

https://www.ghcsd.org/apps/video/watch.jsp?v=150462

Skip ahead in the video by dragging the progress bar, at 1:26:10 an income tax is discussed. No projections were made by Collier for how much income tax would be needed to address the school needs. All questions about the possibility of an income tax were being left for the Finance committee.**

Treasurer Collier said that the Finance committee would be looking at the income tax possibility, but with no statement of support for an income tax from the school board, the committee was left to take all the heat generated from proposing an income tax. Without a specific mandate from the board to explore income taxes ( and come up with a plan, instead of a quick dismissal) , why would any committee place themselves in the position of proposing a new kind of tax?

Why would something as important as exploring the possibility of a new income tax for the school be left in the hands of a closed, no meeting notes, no accountability committee? This is the same question we asked about the recommendation from the Finance committee to add a one mill operation levy to the bond levy – why is a closed group, in violation of Ohio Open meeting laws, making decisions that should be made by the school board?

Why open meetings are important

We have no way to find out what happened in the Finance committee meetings. Was the option of an income tax even discussed? There was no recording of the meetings, there was no meeting notes. Emails to participants are not answered.

Maybe there was a significant number of FC members who thought that an income tax would be the best way to fund the school improvements? And if the community were allowed to attend those meetings, we could have noted who argued in favor, and the reasons they gave. We could take that information to the board, and ask them to revisit the possibility. We could have promoted the option of an income tax in community groups like G4G, and organized a groundswell of support for that option.

All those possibilities are gone, because the Finance committee was closed, because all of the process and deliberations of the group – which those members told us they did in depth and for many hours – are lost forever. Any new finance committee which may be needed to revisit the facility questions after a failed levy will have to start from zero.

The board should be the only group discussing tax options

Tax levies are the most important issues the board is legally empowered to decide for the schools. It is the basic floor that all the rest of the school system is built on. Unless the money from the taxpayers can be acquired by a board that is trusted, and earns the votes of the community, all of the planing and policy of the board means nothing.

School boards are supposed to be open, conducting all discussion on tax levies so the community can evaluate the arguments. We can listen, be persuaded — or be opposed. Most importantly, we can know which board members made what arguments. When elections for seats on the board come around, we can remember who we liked, and give them our vote. We can campaign against the members who don’t do a good job.

The foundation of democracy is listening to the public office holders, and making them accountable in the polling place.

When the Grandview Heights school board delegates vital issues to closed committees, they are breaking the laws of Ohio on open meetings. They are actively degrading the democratic basis of our community. We should never accept that as “the way we do things here”. We should be telling the board, over and over, “you are wrong, stop taking away out democratic rights”. We should keep doing that until they understand they are wrong – or until they are voted out of office.

Dayton Task force cancels meetings

Tip of the hat to Stephanie Wolfe. A Dayton school system tried to hold facility task force meetings in private, similar to the Grandview Task force and Finance committees. After complaints from news media that Ohio open meting laws required the meetings to allow everyone to attend, the meetings were canceled.

Previously – Vote no on issue #6, part 1

Vote no on issue #6, part 2

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Vote no on issue #6, part 2 – the NRI deal

Published October 19, 2018 by justicewg

Three signs #6The school is trying to complete a negotiation with NRI that could accelerate the tax payments from the Yard, to the point where the boost in tax money may becomes as much as 50% of the cost of the bond the board needs to build a new middle school. Why should voters pass the present levy, when we could have a significantly smaller one via waiting until the negotiations are finished?

The deal

Early in 2018, the school board started negotiation with NRI over increasing the rate of tax money coming from the Grandview Yard development. The board had almost completed the facility meetings, and had set themselves a goal of building a new middle school – the only uncompleted work was the finance committee recommendation to increase the already high $50 million plan from Culp up to a $55 million plan with the extra connector between the schools.

The board was also fully aware of the objections to the new school plan by the G4G group. That unprecedented group spelled levy doom for board members who were not living in a fantasy world. Normal, uncontroversial levies have only passed with 60% yes votes in the past, an opposition group insured failure of the levy (and the two additional NO on #6 groups are the nails in the levy coffin).

I’m of two minds over the board’s attempt to cut a new deal with NRI. Was it just an amateurish mistake to attempt to renegotiate taxes with NRI. and pass the bond at the same time? Even the slowest members on the board must have known they were shooting themselves in the feet with the uncertainty added by the NRI deal. I also think it might have been a desperation move by the board, they knew they would fail in the levy attempt, so they wanted to have some way to win – even if it was by completing a deal that would be bad for both the the school and the city. As long as they got some money, they could claim victory, as long as THEY were the ones who got some money out of NRI..

Whatever the motivation, we now have a deal in progress that might bring substantial money from Grandview Yard, well ahead of past deals. Lets look at what the Mayor said about the deal.

The Mayor and the council

Before the quotes from the Mayor, to be clear – he supports the school levy, So do all the council members who have been asked. They support it because:

It is a normal thing for the board and the council to support each other when they have a levy on the ballot. This is standard mutual support – it is what good politicians do *.

And the council will be asking for new tax money for a new city hall next May. They want the school levy issue completed so they are not both asking for new taxes at the same time.

The mayor speaks

How much additional money will (the NRI deal) mean to the school?
There are some initial estimates using various assumptions, but I do not want to speculate until we have an agreement. I believe we are close. It should be recognized that until recently the City and School have estimated only the dollars coming to the school of what is actually built. We both are fiscally conservative. Those figures indicated that the school would receive about $60 million over the next 20 years. For a long time, this was the figured used. We now have more information on what is being proposed in the current project, which would bring an estimated additional $18 million, or $78 million total to the school. Add to this the development to the south of Goodale and modified school compensation agreement and that figure could almost double. – Mayor DeGraw

Re-read that last sentence for the most important news. The school might be getting $78 million, through modifying the TIF agreement. But the additional taxes that might come from the construction of new buildings south of Goodale could be another boost, up to $156 million total.

This is the most important question – why are we being asked to pass a high levy by the board, when they are on the verge of receiving news that could completely change the financial position of the school?

Committee for Grandview Heights Schools pamphlet

The Pro-levy committee sent a brochure out to every home in the city, answering questions about the levy. What do they say about the NRI deal, in a bullet point section?

The need is now, and at this point no agreement has been reached with NRI.

OK, most taxpayers want to know what they are getting into, and can wait a year for a deal to be completed. What is the rush? Are their bulldozers sitting near the middle school, ready to start the demolition?

The NRI deal could reduced costs to residents by 50% , but could never cover the entire costs

So what? If my income might go up by 50%, I sure would want to wait until I know for sure, before I buy a house. Who cares what percentage the NRI deal covers? If it is significant, we should wait.

Delaying the project would result in added costs.

The committee doesn’t have a crystal ball that allows them foolproof projections on cost, but they do have this thing called “history”. The cost of construction went down in 2008, due to recession. “Costs always rise” is not true. Also, income to the school will be rising, because of the additional tax money from the Yard (tax money that was negotiated in the past, not the current deal). Everyone with any financial skills at all should be shouting “STOP, do not sign contracts for construction when your income is in flux”.

Waiting until the NRI deal is reached would not change the ballot millage, however, it would reduce the taxes the school could collect from residents.

I think the brain power of this committee just completely gave out at this point in the brochure. That talking point is one that belongs to the anti-levy groups, the important issue is the tax rates we are going to pay. If the need for operation millage is going down, we should wait until the financial position of the school is clear.

Implied in the statement “no change in the ballot millage” (I think they mean to say bond millage) is a threat – pass this levy, or we will come back, over and over, asking for the same amount. We will never listen to critics and cut the size of the school facility plan. That threat supports the need to vote the current board out of office.

Part three of my “reasons to vote no on issue #6” will be covering the effects of high taxes on the community, and how the board has failed to make obvious moves that could have protected fixed income and lower income residents.

The YT information session

In past years, the school used to hold public meetings before levies, and would answer questions from the community. I just read the following from the school:

Superintendent Culp and Treasurer Collier are holding an online Community Conversation on Monday, October 22 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. They will be at the YouTube feed at  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvM52He47uyzfX0bnjSsz-w.

The superintendent is so deep in the bunker, he can only answer pre-screened questions on YT? For one hour?

(Later) The YT session had “technical issues” and started late, and probably lost all the viewers. They only answered questions that were the softest of the softballs – for 26 minutes. There was one answer that was important, to a question about what the board will do when the levy fails. Will the board do some self examination, and rethink the $55 million plan? Or ignore all the critics, and start plans to cut programs at the schools? Spoiler – Culp only talks about the latter. More on this later.

Previously – Reasons to vote no on the levy, part 1 – The Grandview Heights school board is not trustworthy

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Short and hot council meeting

Published October 15, 2018 by justicewg

https://youtu.be/OLn9jf13emE?t=56s

A very unusual council meeting happened tonight, most are long and boring, this one was the opposite.

Two observations:

Changing the meeting notes of a BZA meeting – or any meeting – so that they support the illusion that a politician (or city official) wants to project, and not the objective facts as they happened at the meeting, is a very serious thing. I don’t have access to the documents that were presented at this council meeting, so I can’t comment on the validity of Ms Oster’s complaint. I do know what it feels like to see meeting notes falsified, and I don’t like it. I will support any investigation the council makes into the matter.

Second, once again we get to see city attorney Khouzam rend her garments, and weep about how she is so offended that someone would have the impertinence to “question her integrity”. When someone has to give us sermons about their integrity over and over, you begin to wonder why. Something about a lady doth protest? The exit is right in front of you Ms Khouzam, if it is too hot in that chamber.

Grandview has Issues

Published October 14, 2018 by justicewg

Three signs #6The ballot is loaded with Issues this election, so many it is hard to keep them all straight. Here is a listing of the Issues Grandview residents can chose to vote up or down, and the groups who have Political Action Committees to support or oppose them.

Issue #6 – the school levy, the No groups

No on issue #6, Grandview Heights schools – Tracy Kessler, Tres. Their website is:

https://www.votenoonissue6.com/

Quote – “We are a Pro Community ~ Pro Schools group of residents who believe that Grandview Heights’ Issue 6 proposal is simply the wrong plan at the wrong time.” At least 100 of their signs are on lawns in the area.

Citizens for a Responsible Levy – Craig Berlin, Tres. I don’t think this group has a website. Over 100 signs on lawns.

Issue #6 – the “Info” group

Good for Grandview is a group that formed last year when it became clear the school board would try to build a $50 million new school and other facility improvements. Their website at the time pointed to problems with the numbers the school was projecting for maintaining present facilities, and they objected to the process in the facility meetings. They warned that the board’s plan was too expensive and would bring unnecessary conflict to the community. They had a petition to the school board that had 360 or so names, asking the board to re-think going forward with the $50 million plan (which has increase to a $55 million plan). That part of the website has been removed, now they are just an “info” group, with facts on Issue #6. Over 100 signs are up in Grandview.

https://www.goodforgrandview.org/

Issue #6 – the Pro group

for issue #6Committee for Grandview Heights Schools, Susan Jagers ,Tres. The BOE report shows this group had $29,100 in their bank account as of 7-01-18. Big contributors include “Tri-W group”, at $10K, and another $10K from “810 Grandview LLC”. Nationwide also contributed $5K.

https://forgrandviewheightsschools.org/

https://www.dispatch.com/news/20180827/grandview-heights-schools-ballot-issue-campaign-launched

Issue #31 – the Goodale Greenspace

yes on #31Residents for a Greener Grandview – AKA – Join Grandview – Jody Oster, Tres.

https://joingrandview.com/

The website suggests this group is more than a single issue organization, but at present they are all about promoting Issue #31, the Goodale Greenspace initiative. The group created a citizen initiative to increase the size of the Green Space on Goodale. The required number of signatures were obtained, and the petition was sent to the city, which forwarded it to the BOE. After a couple of legal challenges by the city over process issues, the Ohio Secretary of State ruled that that all legal steps had been followed and the initiative would be presented to the voters.

No on #31

no on #31Citizens to protect Goodale Greenspace, James Oberla, Tres. First registered 10-01-18. I can’t find a website for this group.

I have to make a complaint about the name of this group because of the choice of words, the name suggest they are a group that is somehow protecting the greenspace, but there is no chance that the greenspace will go away with either vote result. The pro-issue #31 group will protect the Greenspace, by increasing the width of the protected zone. Preventing a house being built is more protective than keeping the rules as they currently exist. If this group picked that name just to confuse voters, they don’t deserve a public seat at the discussion table.

(edit)   www.protectgrandview.com is the website. I don’t think “the right to do a lot split” was one of the fundamental rights our founding fathers fought a war to give us.

Issue #32 – The medical-marijuana dispensaries vote

Keep off grassIssue 32 is a referendum on whether the city’s ban on dispensaries should be overturned. The city intentionally made the vote to ban dispensaries a non-emergency measure, so the voters could decide the issue.

This issue is a little confusing – a “Yes” vote means No to dispensaries. A “No” vote means we will allow dispensaries inside the city limits (at present there is a planned dispensary just outside).

I can’t find any yard signs or PACs for either side of the issue.

http://www.thisweeknews.com/news/20181008/medical-marijuana-voters-will-cast-die-on-grandviews-dispensary-ban

Issue #30 – City of Grandview Heights – Proposed Charter Amendment Read the rest of this entry →