The Grandview school board received plenty of criticism over the secretive way they ran the Facility Task Force, a group made up of community members who were supposed to be selected for knowledge of public facilities (yet few had any experience). Now the board has carefully selected a Finance committee, and as a very public middle finger gesture to the Grandview parents who criticized them in the past, the board is making the Finance committee closed, no visitors allowed, no meeting notes will be provided for those who question what is happening behind closed doors.
(edit) The first comment below this post is the most important one. Someone who was at the final community meeting remembered what Culp had to say about how the Finance committee meetings were going to be held. Go to the video the board made of that meeting, then jump forward to 51:20. Spoiler – Culp completely contradicts himself.
See the video clipped from that meeting below.
Some history of the Task Force
The Facilities Task force was first proposed at a May 2015 board meeting. A list of attributes that were wanted was posted, “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. Although the board said in later news releases that the Task Force members would be experts in school facilities, in reality none of them had any experience in design or construction of school buildings. Being a spouse or friend of a board members was the best ticket to a seat on that group.
When I first requested to attend a Task Force meeting back in September of 2015, board president Brannon at first assumed the meetings were open to the public, like other school policy meetings. She was quickly corrected by the people that really run the board that the meetings were closed, and no meeting notes would be allowed out of the room. The Task Force met dozens of times over the next two years, and although their main task of being the hidden controllers of the public facility meetings has finished, they may still be lucking in the shadows.
The board and Culp have received constant criticism for the hypocrisy of the “we are so transparent” PR pushed in meeting after meeting, while approving a task force that worked in the shadows. The Good for Grandview group pointed out in their website that the Task Force has met in secret dozens of times, with no visitors allowed, and no meeting minutes allowed to leave the room. The only fig leaf the board has created to pretend there is accountability is to post meeting agendas for the Task force – bare skeletons of proposed meeting tasks, most less than 5 single sentence bullet points. There is no public record of how the members worked to shape the public meetings – how the choices were made to limit the options to only 9 building choices at the May 2017 meeting, then cut down to three by the June meeting. By controlling the information presented, and the options that were allowed on surveys, the Task Force (and board) manipulated the process to insure the results they wanted.
You would think the board would have learned that they can’t be quite so blatantly obvious in manipulating the facility process from the shadows, by using the closed off Task Force. You would be wrong.
Why is a Finance committee needed?
The Facility Task Force was supposed to be a group of people who were experienced in the design and project planning of public school buildings. As it turned out, none of the group really had specific skilled in those tasks (board member Douglass works in construction management.) It was understandable for the board to ask for help in specialties in which only one member had any experience.
The question that was immediately provoked by the creation of a Finance Committee for the school facility projects was, why would the board needed an outside group? Evaluating the costs of projects, selecting the best contractors who can do supervision and construction, and presenting a good reason to the community for voting new taxes is the job of a board member. It is what the board members said they could do when they asked for our votes.
Superintendent Culp announced the formation of the Finance Committee in an email that was sent out to the community in December 2017. It presented a 7 point task list for the group, but some of the tasks were repeats. The work of the Finance committee was to review the cost of the facility plan (and nothing in the task list implies that any plan except the “tear down the middle school will be examined). The group is to review schedule options, and to look at funding sources.
A completely unneeded additional task is listed for the group, “Review district operating needs” (money for normal operation of the schools, outside of construction.) Why would an outside group be looking at operational funding? *(see below)
Good for Grandview changed everything
The formation of the Good for Grandview facility group was a shock to the board that was used to complacently issuing edicts and expecting nothing more challenging than a few grumbles (and online criticism from a blogger). With the GfG website presenting intelligent and compelling reasons for the community to ask the board to re-visit the planning process, and an online petition that currently lists more than 365 signatures, the group is a game changing challenge, and requires new thinking from the board.
Although I don’t have any connection to the group, I understand some of the members asked to be seated on the Finance committee, and also asked to receive meeting notes as the committee worked.
The creation of this group should have caused a complete re-thinking of the process used by the board. Even if the board rejects the criticism raised by GfG, they must acknowledge that a group this large will cause a massive failure of any levy attempting to build the $50 million plan.
The school board rejected all members of the GfG from the Finance committee. The board has refused to comment on the group – they will not even allow the name of the group to be used in school communications. And the board has decreed that the Finance committee will operate behind closed doors, with no visitors, and with no meeting notes allowed to leave the room.
The board voted Jesse Truett to return to the presidency position, a sure sign that they will be charging full speed ahead with the $50 million building plan, and completely ignore all requests to stop.
A Potemkin committee
The Facilities Task force at least had something to do – I’m sure they were quite busy acting as the behind the scenes controllers of the public facility meetings.
The Finance committee really has nothing to do, beside read the documents that the board provides, then pretend to ponder deeply, then pronounce that the board should go forward with the $50 million building plans. There might be a surprise step to the side, with a recommendation to ask voters to approve an income tax for the schools.
There is a meeting planned for the public to comment before the committee, but how are they supposed to evaluate the whole community’s attitude from a few parents speaking?
If there is a rogue member of the committee, they might stand up and say “hey, keeping the committee closed and notes private is going to make the community even more suspicious of our motives, and makes it more likely that any levy will fail”. Those kind of truth tellers were probably weeded out of the group.
(Edit June 2018) What can be worse than a Potempkin finance committee? We found out. The final report from the group recommended ADDING money to the already outrageous $50 million request. They cut $6 million from Stevenson’s renovation – was that money really needed, or is this a deliberate underfunding to accelerate the need to replace the building?
And the recommendation to add operational millage to the levy is just sad. That is a political question, that should only have been considered by the school board. Now when the board is accused of holding the parents hostage with the levy, they can use the lame excuse “we only did what someone else recommended”. So dumb.
What Culp said about the Finance Committee at meeting 7
A community member asks superintendent Culp about the Finance committee, asks if there will be notice of meetings, public participation, minutes online.
Culp says he “fully commits to that, I don’t think you can do it any other way.
( *More on the Finance committee and operational funding. The reason the committee is looking at operational funding, is to give the board a thumbs up on combining a levy for money to run the school with a levy to pay for the construction bond at the school. That way people who oppose the construction will be forced to oppose a combined issue. And the board supporters will say about opponents “those people hate the kids, because they were against the operational funding. Yes, the board will be that bad.)