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All posts for the month March, 2014

Internet safety program at HS

Published March 19, 2014 by justicewg

hacker (cc) There was an internet safety program at the HS this week, I wondered what the school is telling kids these days, so I sat in for the hour long program.

There were lots of warnings about security issues for devices (computers and phones), app security, password strength, dangers of downloaded attachments and untrusted programs, virus protection, etc. I’m not sure if they stressed it enough – if your smartphone is stolen or you just leave it on a table, without a strong password locking the device you have left yourself open to a complete hack of all your emails, banking websites (if you keep passwords on the device), all your social media. A standard four character password is not hard to hack.

I would have talked about how even the best 15 character alphanumeric passwords are hackable now with enough processor capacity, and that two factor authentication is the way to go. Maybe too geeky.

There were the warnings about taking nude photos and how that would probably be shared in the locker rooms. The kids were told how that can end with charges of child pornography. When questioned by a student about how that works when both persons involved are minors, it was explained that consent by a minor is never as clear cut as consent by an adult, and that serious charges and convictions have happened even when both sides testify to consent.

I liked that the warnings about bullying on the net were backed up by specific examples and court cases, and they explained the difference between having an opinion and causing an environment that impinges on the ability of other kids to get an education.

They talked about the Steubenville Rape Case, and how the sharing of photos and videos on social media ended in two kids going to jail. There is another story that came out of Steubenville that needs to be told, how the superintendent covered up the evidence because he was pushed by a strong social clique among the school’s parents, and how he is now facing up to five years in prison for falsifying that evidence.

Altogether it was a lot of warnings that everything you do on the internet can be traced, recorded for later use, hacked by eastern Europeans, and end up with you sent to jail and you will live your life as a broken person.

Brrring! Bell rings, Have fun kids!

Not discussed – how a lot of that capability to trace every move you make and create a database with all that data has been developed and is being done by the NSA without oversight or any particular concern for constitutional rights. But the government is doing it, so it must be OK!?

Brrring! Have fun, adults!

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And now the treasurer is gone.

Published March 19, 2014 by justicewg

Sometimes people get linked in synchronicity, by some unknown factor. Sometimes they sense the fun is gone. And sometimes they get fed up and walk.

Grandview treasurer Tammy Rizzo turned in her resignation during the board meeting on March 17, to be effective April 18. Along with the resignation of super O’Reilly back on Jan. 14th, this makes it the most complete shift to a new top administration at the school within my memory.

According to the Tri-V story, she will become the director of fiscal services for the Shared Services Center Council of Governments. From their website:

 Many ESCs have historically provided districts with background checks and training for substitute teachers. Today, the ESC of Central Ohio provides this service, but also offers substitute staffing services at different levels including options to hire, process and schedule all substitute teachers for several districts. By consolidating these services, the ESC is saving area districts thousands of dollars and giving school leaders more time to concentrate on other pressing issues.

In a neat bit of eating its own tail, the services center will be assisting in finding the replacement for Rizzo for the school.

Checking the council and the board member’s email responses

Published March 14, 2014 by justicewg
guess the email client

guess the email client

A long standing issue with some members of the Grandview city council and school board is not answering the official email box. This used to be explained away by technical incompetence, but email is now the standard way that members of the community communicate with their officeholders. If you don’t answer your email, you are a poor representative of the people and you should think seriously about why you wanted to take a seat on the board or the council.

Not answering Gotchas

I have spoken in front of the school board in the past, and asked them why some members didn’t answer their email. The answer they gave me, and I swear I’m not making this up, was “I’m not answering Gotcha email”.

Gotcha questions from reporters are generally defined as the questions that are sometimes used in interviews and press conferences to spring new issues that the politician has not had time to research. If a politician has no idea that his staff member has been arrested, asking him to comment is a gotcha. The same goes for question about policy for Outer Mongolia, it is not possible for a politician to be current with every question that might be asked. Any Pol with two brain cell to rub together knows how to deal with these sort of questions, they just say “that’s an interesting question, I need to do some research, I’ll get back to you”.

Email is not the same as verbal questioning. Nobody can be surprised by an email, and be forced to answer without preparation. A gotcha email is a made up thing, anybody who uses it as an excuse is just a crappy politician.

The other answer I got from the school board about email was, “Email is something that is not a requirement to use, so if we don’t use it it is OK”. Technically this is true, board members can live their lives in a cabin in the woods with no electricity, and only take questions during the 30 minute “Hearing from the public” part of the board meetings. And nothing requires them to answer questions, “no comment” is a legal answer.

That excuse had some flimsy backing in the 90’s when email was sort of a geeky thing. Email is how everyone communicates for most written media now. A representative who doesn’t answer email because they “don’t get computers” doesn’t belong in office.

Who answers their email?

I tried to email every council and board member, some of them multiple times. After the jump, the replies I got, with some comment on how well they do.

Both council and board members have servers set up by the city and school to host their own email. This means that the address you send the email to city council will be (member name) @grandviewheights.org, the school has the format (member name)@ghcsd.org. A self-hosted email service has the advantage of not depending on someone else to keep the server running. It also has the disadvantage of depending of the skills of somebody who might not be up with the latest security measures, so the whole server could be hacked. I guess I should warn anyone stupid enough to send email threatening physical violence to a council or board member, owning the servers makes it super simple to trace the headers and track you down.

Everyone who answered my email had it set to forward to a personal email box. That means that the email you send will be replied to with an different address in the “from” field. Email clients that try to group conversation threads can be confused by this.

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All Schools on lockdown

Published March 5, 2014 by justicewg

An armed robbery on Third caused all of the schools to be placed on lockdown at 10:24, updates to follow.

The email from the H.S. is after the jump.

“there was an armed robbery in the 1500 block of West Third Avenue. According to law enforcement officials, two armed suspects in red sweatshirts robbed at gunpoint a business in the outlined area mentioned above.”

I’m having a hard time understanding what business is in the 1500 block, maybe the offices in the basement of the old three story apartments on Third – Windsor Arms?

(Update) The TV said the robbery was in the office building at the corner of Broadview and Third, the three story tan and grey striped office building. The one that has the lady who sits by the street with balloons, trying to get people to come in for a haircut. The office that was hit was a check cashing business, didn’t even know there was one here.

The street numbering is very odd in this area, the first building with a larger than 1500 number on the opposite side is a hundred yards west.

Point of clarification for reporters who don’t have a good sense of direction, this is NOT a Grandview address. Even if the robbery was on the south side of the street, it would be a Columbus address. Grandview doesn’t start until the alley behind these buildings.

(12:25) All lockdowns have been lifted.

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Who are they “retreating” from?

Published March 4, 2014 by justicewg
Generic Cabin - from Flickr jack (cc)

Generic Cabin – from Flickr jack (cc)

The Grandview Heights school board just finished their annual “retreat” and again this year they took that word in the full literal meaning – they went 20 miles out of the city to a cabin in the woods. They did the same thing last year, and the way they did it has me wondering, what is going on at these meetings? They did a sketchy change at the last minute to add an “executive session for an extended period of time”, just after I asked if a member of the public could attend. What do the Open Meeting Laws of Ohio say about this kind of obfuscation of the agenda, and taking the meetings away from the city?

Why retreats?

Retreat meetings have a long history for private businesses, it takes the participants out of the everyday office environment and out into a vacation spot, often a resort or hotel. The idea is that a change of location might break some of the inhibitions that prevent good brainstorming. The alcoholic content of the refreshments at these meetings are par for the course (and golf courses are usually in the mix). There is one important factor for these retreats for private businesses – all of the stakeholders are present at the meetings. Public bodies have a big difference – they are supposed to be open to the public, in the case of school boards the parents and other community members are supposed to be participants in any decision making process. A retreat that leaves the community – more than 20 miles – make it highly improbable for the public or press to attend.

The Open Meeting Laws

I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t pretend to know all of the fine points of the Open Meeting laws. I did spend some time reading the Sunshine Law handbook, available on the web for download. The relevant section starts on page 80 with definitions of “public bodies” and meetings (the Grandview board fits this category of governmental body). On page 88 the places where public meetings should be held are listed:

The meetings should be held in a public building.

The meetings should be held inside the jurisdiction of the body.

The meetings should be held in an ADA compliant building.

The agenda* for the school board’s Special Board Meeting on Sunday, February 9, 2014, said that the meeting was to be held at 2670 Little Darby Creek Road, London, Ohio. There is no image of this address on Street View. Satellite view shows some woods. After some asking around, I was told that this place is a privately owned cabin in the woods. There is no public listing of this address on the net for any meeting hall, rental facility, or even cabin for rent. This is not a public building. Unless Grandview has done some big annexation we all didn’t know about, this place is not inside the jurisdiction of the school board. I don’t know if the building has ADA compliance, but nobody who I talked to said anything about seeing wheelchair ramps or ADA compliant rest rooms. It’s a cabin in the woods (The ADA requirement is a federal law, but that means it should be followed the same as state laws).

What does the City Council do for a retreat?

The city had it’s 2014 retreat at the Dawson building, 1114 Dublin Road. The year before at an office on Grandview avenue. The city has the same multi-hour meetings to do long range planning, but they always have the door open to members of the community, quite often there is a reporter present from the newspapers, and they don’t leave the city. The buildings they hold the meetings in are ADA compliant. I asked a former city council member why they never held meetings in a vacation destination like a cabin somewhere. He said that the Mayor has made it very clear – the laws say to stay inside the city, in a public building, and the city council must follow the laws.

What is going on in the woods?

I have always wondered what happened at these meetings – being in the room when the board members are talking about long term plans for the school seems like it would give anyone interested in school policy a heads up on actions that might occur far in the future. Very interesting stuff. When the agenda for the retreat meeting as sent out, I noticed the address of the meeting was for far out of town near London. I emailed board president Douglass, asking if it would be OK to attend this meeting. I knew the answer already – all official meetings of the board are open to the public. I got the following answer from Douglass:

Mr. Wagner

This is a open meeting and the public is welcome to attend. I anticipate going into executive session for an extended period of time and that portion of the meeting is not open to the public.

Grant Douglass

First, note that the agenda* of the meeting, submitted to the public and the newspapers, made no mention of going into executive session. In all other meeting agendas that I have found there is specific mention of the executive session, and the topic of business that will be discussed inside is made public, as required by the laws of Ohio. Also, the board had the same type of meeting last year. The meeting notes show that the board never went into executive session. Quite obviously what was happening was that Douglas was changing the agenda of the meeting.

The Open Meeting laws are very clear that this is not to be done. If he could change the agenda of the meeting without notice, there was nothing to prevent Douglas from calling the meeting to order, immediately going into executive session, removing everyone except board members from the room, then hold the meeting for the next 4 hours. At the end of the meeting he could call the meeting back to regular session, and adjourn. I emailed Douglass, and asked him to explain how he could change the agenda of the meeting and add an executive session without formal announcement. His complete reply was this –

Mr. Wagner, The simple answer is “b. other matters that may come before the Board.” Grant Douglass

The Open Meeting laws are very clear on this matter – how the board can set an executive session in the agenda. A very short list of possible topics can be discussed in executive session. The specific topic that will be discussed in the executive session must be announced – printing out a laundry list of all the topics is not allowed. By using the line “other matters before the board” as an excuse to do anything he wants, Douglass makes a mockery of the Open Meeting laws.

Following the rules isn’t hard

I’m not asking for much from the school board. Send out an agenda that is detailed and complete. Stick to that agenda in the meetings, don’t hold surprise executive sessions. Hold the board meetings inside the city of Grandview, in a public building that is ADA compliant. Apparently this current board has trouble following these simple rules. In the past, the board has not had any issues following the Open Meeting laws. I don’t know why this group thinks they are special flowers who need to run off to the woods.

Strategic Compensation on the agenda of the board

I was reading the minutes from the Feb. 9 meeting, and found this:

Short Term and Long Term Goals for the School District: Each member of the Board discussed his/her short term and long term goals moving forward. Goals discussed included expanding teachers reading certification to K-4, understanding staff roles, defining and implementing world class curriculum and instruction, developing a process for strategic compensation, researching competitive administrative pay, researching more opportunities for shared services and focusing on socialization and acceptance of all students

Strategic compensation is the name given to teacher pay schemes that use some sort of evaluation, including evaluation based on student test results. It is a very controversial subject (as Reynoldsburg found out). More on this later. *Full Agenda as sent out by the school on Feb. 6th, 2014.

The Grandview Heights City School District Board of Education will meet in a Special Board Meeting on Sunday, February 9, 2014, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., at 2670 Little Darby Creek Road, London, Ohio 43140, for the following purposes:

a. General discussion, but not limited to possible goals for the Board of Education and the District for 2014 and beyond

b. Other matters that may come before the Board

Hayley Head Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Grandview Heights City School District