What’s wrong with the School Board’s optimism?

Published August 16, 2016 by justicewg
Happy faces

CC Lynn Friedman Flickr

The Grandview Heights school board is about to start a big PR campaign to build new school buildings. August 24, 2016 will be the kickoff of a sustained effort to convince voters to pass high levies in order to replace some or all of our present school buildings. The board will probably be pushing this line – “We are optimistic about the future of the city, and think the children deserve modern buildings” Knowing the way the board works, I think that anyone who brings up complaints about the costs and loss of historic buildings are going to be labeled gloomy downers who should not be listened to.

What’s wrong with optimistic thinking? The problem is that sometimes positive thoughts are used to reject pragmatic thoughts. There should be careful consideration of all negative points that might bring a future Grandview resident to say, “We made a mistake, the school board had a bad idea, they left us with high taxes and we lost the buildings that made us unique, now we have another education factory”. Going on the experience in the past with the board, I think those pragmatic thought which might have prevented the bad decisions will be stripped from the record, and ignored.

Please, if you have ten minutes, please watch this YouTube video that gives Barbara Ehrenreich ‘s take on the down side of optimistic thinking.


The video is too important to allow a “Too Long; Didn’t watch” summary. Please watch it!

When happy think pushed out realistic thoughts

The Grandview School board has been operating as a group-think, no complaints allowed board for a long time. The professional education community calls this “Policy Governance” it is an intentional policy of “let the experts run the schools”, and ignoring the wishes and complaints from the anyone who has different perceptions. In order to reinforce the message that complaints will not be heard, the board “acts as a collective rather than making individual decisions”. The Columbus school board became a Policy Governance board, and suffered disastrous results.

There was no sudden change in Grandview’s board becoming a PG board, but I have to point out the meeting of October 2014 as a major turning point. In the past, parents would come before the board during the “Hearing of the Public“ part of the meeting and voice concerns, and ask for answers from the board. At this meeting, for the first time, the board president said “we don’t answer questions during this part of the meeting.” The board refused to answer then, and later refused via email follow up. This is exactly how the Columbus school board operates.

A long history of working on facilities policy without parents attending meetings.

How can a school board become an over-optimistic body, and start out on a path that attempts to bring the community on a disastrously expensive mistake? A major error is for the board to hold too many meetings with no parents in attendance. Closing their ears to criticism makes a board insular and over-optimistic.

The present board has a long history of special board meetings, at odd hours of the morning and evening. Almost no parents attend these meetings, and they are often held in inconvenient locations. The one that bears the closest scrutiny is the special meeting of May 13, 2015. The record shows that no parents or reporters attended the 8:40 AM meeting.

It’s Our Turn Now

An over-optimistic board will grab actions that past boards have taken in order to support the present wishes of the board, even when those past actions have little to do with the present.

The board began this meeting with a statement “80-­‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.”

The big difference between now and 90 years ago? The school district was exploding with new residential housing construction in the 1920’s, most of the present housing in Grandview was built during those years. The new students required new buildings.

There is new housing being built in Grandview, but the great majority of the new residents are apartment dwellers with no kids. There are some single family housing on the way, but past experience has shown that retired couples and DINKs will be the new residents.

(Edit – The board ran a study that found there will be little increase in student numbers.)

A MORAL IMPERATIVE to do something

If you are convinced that you are doing the right thing, might as well assert that you are taking the only moral action. That makes those who oppose you immoral. Groupthink and over-optimistic thinking makes this a good idea (the MORAL IMPERATIVE line, in all caps, was taken verbatim from the meeting notes).

Consensus minded” task force

The Facilities Task force that the board created at this May 2015 meeting was given a list of attributes that were wanted. “Professional and smart” were good things. “Consensus minded” was also a pre-selection criteria. They wanted people who would not dig too deep, that would not voice concerns, that would reflect the over-optimistic ideas that the board wanted to propose. Pretty much exactly what Ehrenreich warned about in the video.

The school board insured the isolation of the task force, they declared it a private group, and denied my request to sit in as an observer. Working in secret, unaccountable – no chance this group would do anything except praise and re-enforce the board’s unrealistic ideas.

(One important observation about that May 13, 2015 board meeting, note that there is no record of who said what. It is obvious from reading the minutes that there are people with very different ideas about how the process of facilities upgrade should be done, but it is all recorded in the “we” voice, in keeping with the consensus  rule. It also allows each member to shuck off responsibility onto the “we”, so nothing they say can be pined on them at the next election.)

Why complain about the over-optimistic board?

Some might think, “well, the board will try their best to build new buildings, and probably fail. So what? Isn’t that what boards do?”

School boards are supposed to be acting at the request of the community. The record of this push to build at the schools shows that it all comes from the board members themselves, not any community group.

The board has already wasted many hours in meetings and site visits in anticipation of building new schools. The board empaneled a task force, which might have spent large amounts of money on preparation for the new buildings (we don’t know, so far the task force actions are being kept secret). We do know the school hired an expensive planning firm to give the board a report on the school facilities.

(Update – the board couldn’t work with the first planning firm (HPG), and hired a second firm for the same job, doubling the cost)

We are still waiting to see what the board pulls out at the meeting August 24th, 2016. I’m guessing at the minimum fat stacks of paper, and possibly a slick video presentation. There will be a website created by the school to promote the building of new facilities. All this stuff is expensive and we taxpayers are footing the bill.

(Edit – As of January 2018, the best guess is that the school has spent more than $225 thousand on facility consultants, survey work, etc.)

What can we expect from Grandview Voters?

I have reason to believe Grandview voters can make some bad decisions. I try to remain hopeful that they will make better decisions in the future.

Those who are like me and see the school board as over-optimistic and out of touch have some history to back up our hope the voters will reject the grandiose plans for new school buildings. During the end of the 90’s and into the 2000’s, the city council wanted to tear down the historic city administration building, and put up a shiny new office. The voters twice told the council, on two separate votes, “no way”.

The school board will be throwing everything they have into an effort to get you to vote some high taxes for building unnecessary new buildings. I’m cautiously optimistic that Grandview voters will recognize over-optimistic folly and vote the construction levies down.

While we are at it, can we bring some realism to the board, and vote these board members out of office too?

5 comments on “What’s wrong with the School Board’s optimism?

  • Our school board sees themselves as a collection of the best people in Grandview, all with super friends who support them and validate their high opinions of themselves.

    There will be several public input meetings where “friends of the board” will endorse everything the board wants to do. Anybody else in attendance who dares to speak against the board’s ideas will be regarded as inappropriate whiners who really don’t belong in Grandview.

    A likely format for the public input meetings: The meeting opens with the decision that we have to tear down and rebuild all the buildings. This matter is not up for discussion. The only question is: Do we need to spend $150, $200 or $250 million on the new buildings. Of the three choices, the people will reluctantly choose $150 million. The board will enthusiastically report that they listened to the will of the people.

    Grant Douglass is a construction guy. In all honesty, this is probably the first issue before the board where Grant has any expertise at all. However, keep in mind that as a construction guy, Grant’s only plan will be to build, build, build. Grant has no skills in education.

    There’s a great deal of ego in Grandview, and most (all?) of the board members have quite a bit of it. Most residents love the old buildings, but the high-rollers of Grandview consider them to be an embarrassment. Grant probably sees the high school as a collection of problems that wouldn’t make it through a county building inspection.

    Sadly, the voters of Grandview will probably pass any levy the board endorses. They think we’ve got the greatest schools in the world, and they therefore support what the board asks them to support. Not to stereotype, but the people who live in apartments will vote for any levy. They know they’ll be long gone but the time the property tax increase impacts their rent.

    One more comment about all the “friends of the board” who will attend the public input meetings: Don’t be surprised if they suggest naming the new high school “Grant Douglass High School.” Grant will sheepishly respond, “Aw shucks, you guys shouldn’t do that! But if what’s you really want…….”

  • Forwarding a comment from an Anonymous person:

    ” I think that there are several notable points regarding the push for new buildings that may have been overlooked by the public, and even those with some interest in the outcome.

    Former Board President Grant Douglass is leading this charge, with a focus on new buildings or massive renovation. He is the Chairman of Hanlin Rainaldi construction, which recently completed a major and costly renovation project at Worthington High School.

    Douglass’ second term ends in 2018, at the same point in time that bids could be collected for the project he is pushing.

    Because of the nature of small space available in Grandview, the building project (complete rebuild or major renovation) would have to happen on the current school sites. This would be a very big disruption for students and displace them. Luckily for Douglass, his youngest child graduates this year, before the disruption would take place.

    Our community just finished major planning for a huge chunk of land in Grandview Yard. Why wasn’t that land considered for use in a rebuilding project that could have been completed before moving students in, providing a snooth, non-disruptive transition to a new building? No mention of the “desperate need” for new facilities was made until now… because Douglass could not have bid the project as a sitting Board member. Even though placement in the Yard could have made for a seamless transition for students, no word of the so-called sad state of our schools came forward until late in Douglass’ second Board term, when he is on the cusp of eligibility for the project, and when planning for every square inch of space in Grandview Yard is allotted for some other purpose.

    Mr. Douglas’s is the only Board Member who lacks a biography on the Board web site, so as to shield his background and line of work…and how he stands to benefit from this project.

    While our buildings may benefit from updated HVAC or windows, they are in great shape and more than adequate for the number of students using them. The average class size is very small and not at all crowded. The classrooms boast many modern features like Smart Boards, a 3-D printer and a Chromebook provided free of charge for use by each student. We don’t need new buildings. It’s just that there’s no money to be made by keeping them. “

  • I understand approximately 200 people showed up for the first “community input” meeting. While Superintendent Culp said this was great, I suspect Grant Douglass was not too happy. That many people showing up – including folks with no kids in the schools – demonstrates opposition to a tax increase.

  • So Grandview school board can blows 10s of thousands on consultants so they can justify spending 100s of millions on buildings they don’t need only to fire them without any approval from anyone? Meanwhile my son’s non-profit charter school that has ranked higher than Grandview for years may have to close it’s high school next year. The high school is being restored room by room and they need a mere 150 thousand to give next year’s juniors a classroom to sit in. Unlike Grandview which can go to the voters with their hand out, Columbus Preparatory Academy has to rely on donations and fundraisers when they need something. Charter schools are vilinized for taking money from traditional schools but a school board pissing it all away is a-okay? Who is wasting tax payer money exactly? School funding in this state is disgusting and the Grandview School Board should be ashamed of itself. I hope they are taken to task at the voting booth.

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