Grandview Schools

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Asking for documents from the school Treasurer, Ms Collier

Published April 16, 2019 by justicewg

collier-cut-headThe school treasurer, Ms Collier, is the designated person who responds to any requests from the public for open documents, including anything produced by the school board. Don’t ask why the school board can’t do this themselves, it is just the way things are done in Grandview.

My recent experience in asking for some documents was instructive for learning what the school thinks about their responsibilities as custodians of public documents, and their willingness to do the job that the state set out clearly in the Open Meeting Laws. The documents they finally posted bring up more questions then they answered. Jump down for the TL; DR, but first some establishing info.

Some points to begin

When I ask the school for documents, it isn’t for fun. I looked back in my emails, I have made one request for copies of facility contracts with consultants back in 2017, I asked for an expense spreadsheet in 2014. Those were vital documents for understanding the reasoning the board used to pass resolutions. I don’t ask often, and I don’t ask for much. My requests are important.

The school board is in the middle of the largest project it has taken on in decades, building a new middle school, and renovating the other schools. Millions of dollars in contracts are being signed by the board in a very short time. The way we keep public bodies safe from the corruption that can result from so much money changing hands is for the public to increase the level of auditing of all actions taken by the board. The files I asked for were the audio recordings of the school board meetings, necessary for understand the full story on the board’s actions. Read my post on the problems the board has had in the past in the severely short meeting minutes the board produces.

I asked for the audio files from 2018 meetings, and the 2019 meeting audio files as they become available. I made it clear in my request that I would be posting those files on my blog, so anyone in Grandview (or the world) could listen to the recordings. My hope was to lead them to realize the best policy for the board would be to post all the files on the school website

I’m not a lawyer

I don’t have professional knowledge of the Ohio Open meeting laws, but the laws don’t really need expertise to understand. The Sunshine Laws manual makes it clear that almost all documents produced by governmental bodies in Ohio are open – some exceptions are clearly explained, but most are open. Board meeting notes, and audio recordings of meetings, are open documents. Once given to the public, community members can redistribute them in any way they want, including posting them on the internet in Blogs.

I’ve been posting local government documents here on my blog (and a previous version) for more than 15 years. If there were any way the board could have legally stopped me, they would have done it long ago. A big part of the reason I started to post the minutes from board and council meetings, back in 2003, was to shame them into posting their own minutes on their own websites. They didn’t like seeing me posting school meeting minutes on a personal blog, but they had no legal way to stop it. I was successful in pushing both the council, and much later the school, into creating pages on their websites so the meeting minutes could be downloaded.

My request for school documents

On 3/15/19, I made my first request for some audio files of the school board meetings. I asked specifically for all of the audio recordings made during the 2018 school year (which would be about 17 files). I also asked for the audio files made during 2019 meetings, and to be sent any more the board made during the rest of the year. This was sent to school treasurer Collier, and one of the board members.

The response was – silence. Read the rest of this entry →

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Brief comments on video of City Council Meetings in February 2019, and some suggestions

Published March 1, 2019 by justicewg

 

Video of City Council Meeting 2.4.19

50:40 Vote on the tax deal for the school and the NRI – South of Goodale ordinance.

56:00 Councilman Reynolds explains why he opposed the ord. He supports the schools and wants to see the tax burden lowered, but objects to the emergency status of the ord. The issue has been under review for a year, there is no emergency. That emergency just takes away the ability of the public to bring the issue up for a referendum. Reynolds also spoke against the development, saying that the school could have gotten a deal for new TIF money without a 450 unit apartment development that is not a good long term use of the land.

Discussion and other ordinances on the same SOG issue continues until 1:15:20.

1:20:45 Ord on City replacement and repair of sidewalks. More on the cost and logistics. Tabled until April 1. Note that Panzara voted no on the table of the ord. (he has spoken against the issue in the past).

Council Meeting 2.19.19

Molly (something, couldn’t hear her last name) spoke for more than 17 minutes about the issues she and her neighbors had with the new paid parking in Grandview Yard.

One more example for the difference between Grandview city council and the school board – I have never seen a parent speak before the board at this length, and never seen them answer questions like the council (my experience was that the board refused to answer questions).

Suggestions for improving video during council meetings

I’ll be sending this list to the council members, but maybe these suggestions could help you if you are trying to video a meeting and post it on YT.

Things dropped on the table create a loud “thunk” on the sound recording, sometimes making it hard to hear what is being said in the meetings. Some sort of sound isolation for the mics could be installed, but for now, just being aware and attempting to set your things down quietly could go a long way to improving the sound of video recording.

I know that the council chamber is small, and the city desperately needs a better, larger room. For now, lifting the camera up higher so all the council members can be seen, and people walking out don’t block the view, can improve the video.

Members of the public who have signed up to speak should be seated in the front row, so they don’t waste 20 seconds walking from the back of the room to the mic.

YouTube specific suggestion – there should be a listing of the topics and ordinances placed in the description box below the video title, along with the time stamp of the place in the YT video. Simply typing the numbers (such as 12:38) will create a hot link to the time in the YT video. This will allow members of the public to immediately jump to the section of the video that interests them, instead of being forced to scroll through a long meeting video looking for the content they need.

I understand there may be technical reasons to cut portions of the council meeting video out of the final posted video. Cutting section of a meeting out should only be done if it is really important, and a reason for the cut should be added to the description of the video. Cuts in the video record can seem as though there was attempts to censor content of the video, or remove words said by the council members or the public. Censorship in this case is a correct use of the word, because it was a governmental body that is altering a recording of a public meeting.

The board might not tear down the middle school commons?

This link is to the Grandview City Council Meeting of 3.4.19 so it belongs to a March summary, but one issue discussed is important news.

At 17:48 Council Pres. Kearns gives a report as the liason with the school board, and says that the board is looking at plans to keep the middle school commons and gym, at least during the rest of the middle school construction. The next community meeting will be March 27 at 7PM.

Once again, the school board has nothing on the school website that indicates this change to the construction plans (the Finance committee recommendation, approved by the board, was to tear down the commons at the start of construction and force middle school kids to walk to the HS for lunch).

 

Six reasons the Grandview school board refuses to make videos of their meetings

Published January 19, 2019 by justicewg

culp-leads-laughterSorry for the clickbait title, but it seems appropriate for the subject. The Grandview Heights school board has a tradition of obstructing inquiries into their actions and deliberations. You can read my featured article for more on why they do this. Most of the time they also claim they don’t have the policy of hindering transparency, and will simply refuse to answer when asked why they don’t do simple things like make video recording of their meetings.

I was able to access this list of reasons that board president Truett and Super Culp came up with that bullet points their lame excuses for not recording meetings. They added “and this isn’t all, we might have more” to the description of this list. If these are the best reasons they could come up with, they need to get more creative – every one of these can be easily dismissed via reading current board policy, or knowledge of video tech.

The six reasons Grandview’s board will never video record meetings

  • ADA compliance, especially with closed captioning
  • Delays in editing due to confidentiality of student names, rights, who may be presenting etc.
  • Platform usage, especially platform that may contain ads
  • copy right issues, considering student groups, theater productions, etc.
  • privacy concerns for private citizens
  • Costs associated with video taping these sessions and ensuring we have met all facets of legal requirements of the law in advance of releasing.

– List of reason for never video recording board meetings created by Truett and Culp

Why the board video opposition list is lame

There will be many block quotes inserted into this point by point take-down of the board, linking to schools that are making videos of board meetings right now. I could find thousands of examples, but I’ll just be focusing on near by locations. Like this FC school system –

Westerville City Schools Board YouTube channel – 114 videos.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLO7Mqfvx9dEJU5zoFIglhQvs7HyimlMfn

ADA compliance

If access to the board meetings was really important, they would already be videoing and captioning the board meetings. At this point there is no access for hearing impaired, there is no sign language interpreter. The meeting are held deep in the building on the second floor, requiring mobility impaired visitors to use an elevator that Culp was claiming has issues, back when he was holding meetings to show off the conditions of the schools.

Was the point of this bullet to complain that captioning is too hard? YouTube can auto-caption at the click of a button, and even if the captions need editing to correct mistakes, the cost would be a fraction of that needed to hire a sign language interpreter. I’m surprised the school chose to talk about ADA compliance, because it highlights the poor job the school is doing right now.

Bexley City Schools YouTube channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3Bq8Y1Lmkqpc1ufSoacQ7Q

Read the rest of this entry →

Watching Grandview Heights in 2018

Published January 1, 2019 by justicewg

Time to re-cap the best stories posted on the blog. In no particular order:

Board highballs the facility bid, admits finance committee is running the school

The school board’s push to build a new middle school was the top issue for the school system, and the tactics used by the board were the topic of many posts. This July story documented the highball bid used by the board to push for more money for construction. It also points out the board board had no defense from the charge that the finance committee was a policy deciding group that should have been open under the Ohio Open Meeting laws.

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/board-highballs-the-facility-bid-admits-finance-committee-is-running-the-school/

The Goodale Green Space Ballot Initiative

A group created a petition to change the Green Space rules on Goodale, after a disagreement over the city decision to allow a large new home on Goodale Ave. Ms Oster provided me with a long list of reasons the group had come together to make this initiative, as well as the petition that was signed by almost 400 Grandview residents. The citizen initiative placed on the ballot by the group failed to stop the house from being allowed to proceed.

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/the-goodale-green-space-ballot-initiative/

Video of the May 29, 2018 finance committee report

A listing of highlights from a video taken at the school. School administrators shouted down questioners. The superintendent danced around questions about the meeting notes and closed door policy for the committee, but failed to answer questions, showing a lack of integrity. Committee members shrugged their shoulders when asked what the effect of the levy might have on lower income residents.

The most interesting part was when Kukuria talked about the only disagreement the group had between each other, over renovations for the Stevenson building. Apparently some wanted to do the $6 million in renovations that were recommended, while the final report suggested the school be given minor repairs. The conclusion from this report suggest the committee wants Stevenson to be allowed to deteriorate, so that it can be next up on the demolition list.

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/video-of-the-may-29-2018-finance-committee/

City might take responsibility for repairing sidewalks

Councilman Reynolds proposed the city might take over the repair of sidewalks, and answered some questions. As far as I know this issue is still up in the air in committee.

(Edit) A TVN story covered the sidewalk repair proposal, still in committee and under study to find an accurate cost to the city.

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/city-might-take-responsibility-for-repairing-sidewalks/

City of Grandview Heights – Comprehensive Community Planning process

The city of Grandview Heights started a comprehensive community planning process, much wider in scope than previous planning groups. Commercial development, residential development, neighborhoods, pedestrian safety and walk-ability, city finance – the whole gamut of issues the city council must plan for are up for public discussion. The process will continue into 2019.

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2018/02/02/city-of-grandview-heights-community-planning-process/

Winner of the tallest snowman in the city competition

8 ft tall snowman

If the city holds another snowman competition, and if it ever snows again in Grandview, I defy anyone to beat my championship level snowman building.

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/winner-of-the-tallest-snowman-in-the-city-snowman-competition/

Top Watching Grandview stories of 2017

Top Watching Grandview stories of 2016

Top Watching Grandview stories of 2015

Top Watching Grandview stories of 2014

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

Read the rest of this entry →

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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