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Watching Grandview Heights in 2019

Published January 5, 2020 by justicewg

The top stories in Grandview Heights in the year 2019 were mostly about the school board. You might expect that, given all the action taken since the approval of the levy for a new middle school, passed in Nov. 2018. Unfortunately the school board managed to make news with some shameful votes on other issues.

The city council news in 2019 was dominated by an election, as DeGraw stepped away from a 16 year career as mayor, and two council members fought for the position.

The Grandview board brings on the shame

This story is really a two part issue, starting with the failure of the board to support a Pride month resolution (in front of some devastated kids), then in part two the board attempts to rescue some honor, and falls flat on its face.

Board resolution to support pride month fails with no second

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2019/06/23/board-resolution-to-support-pride-month-fails-with-no-second/

The audio from the board meeting in May 2019 showed us a new low point for the board. Ms Wassmuth brought a resolution before the board at the May meeting, which would have expressed support for Pride Month. This was not a policy change – the board already has policies in place that would protect students and staff with minority orientations.

Mealy-mouthed, timid support was expressed by two board members, but when a second to the motion was asked, there was an excruciating silence. Imagine if you were one of the students who attended and spoke before the board, and then listened as the board sat in silence for a standard resolution of support. Those student got nothing, no even a simple raised hand.

It was a truly pathetic performance, one that will be carried as a black mark on these board members for the rest of their lives.

Board votes new Anti-Discrimination policy – doing the right thing the wrong way

https://watchinggrandview.wordpress.com/2019/11/24/board-votes-new-anti-discrimination-policy-doing-the-right-thing-the-wrong-way/

The board members who failed to vote on the Pride resolution (every one except Wassmuth) must have been hearing some leaks through the wall the board wraps around themselves, and decided they would amend the anti-discrimination policy at the school. Even when they try to do the right thing, the board manages to do it the wrong way.

There was no public notice that the board would change the policy, even thought they knew from the kerfuffle over gender neutral bathrooms at the new high school that it was controversial. This was a subject that would have sparked debate in the community, and no matter which side of the gender expression controversy you stand on, the correct way to change board policy is to allow the debate to happen.

Not only were no public meetings held, it was obvious from the first reading of the resolution at the previous meeting that there was private debate going on between board members outside the meetings, which is against Ohio open meeting laws.

But debate isn’t wanted by Grandview’s school board. They just want you to be good constituents, and keep your mouths closed, because they already know what is good for the community.

Race for the Mayor seat Read the rest of this entry →

Board votes new Anti-Discrimination policy – doing the right thing the wrong way

Published November 24, 2019 by justicewg

(Watch at 59:30 in the Nov 2019 board meeting video)

The Grandview Heights school board changed the non-discrimination policy of the school at the November 2019 board meeting. Although adding protection for gender and sexual expression was the right thing to do, they did nothing to ask the parents of the school how they felt about these changes – no questionnaires sent out, no meetings held. This was a subject that would have sparked debate in the community, and no matter which side of the gender expression controversy you stand on, the correct way to change board policy is to allow the debate to happen.

Now that the board has passed the levy for new school construction, the board’s concern for listening to parents has disappeared. In the past (many years ago now), a new policy that was controversial – like changes to the alcohol rules, or new valedictorian policy – was accompanied by special meetings. After the board heard hours of arguments and explanation on how the new rules might cause issues in the community, then the members read through stacks of email, the board could take action knowing they had a good handle on the outcome of changed policy. All the discussion might not have changed any minds on the board – they have always kept their personal views closed off, unless they are supporting the outcome that they know will receive the standard unanimous vote. But at least the parents of the community knew that they had a meeting to attend at which their voice could be heard. We are back to the status quo – and your voice is unimportant.

No notice given to parents

Like all new policy the board considers, there was no notice that changes will be up for a vote. There was no “action item for the board” listed on the school website. There was no notices in emails to the community. This is, unfortunately, standard for the board.

Did you watch all the way though the last posted video of the board monthly meeting in October? If you did, and listened carefully all the way to the 2:14:24 mark, there was a submission in the “other items for discussion” section of the meeting. Ms Palmisciano asked the board to consider the changes in non-discrimination policy that would add protection for gender and sexual expression. She said this was a “first reading”.

There was no announcement that the policy would be up for a vote in the November meeting, just that is was “presented for discussion”. There was no discussion at the October meeting, other than a question from Mr Bode on the wording of the policy. Present Truett said “this change can be discussed at the November meeting”, and gave no hint that the policy would be voted at the next meeting.

There was no discussion at the November meeting – the new policy was read, then immediately voted, five yes. If there was discussion going on, it was happening outside board meetings, in private conversations between board members. These private discussions are not supposed to happen, according to the open meting laws of the state of Ohio.

The answer for “why did Palmisciano ask for changes in the board non-discrimination policy?” can only be guessed, she didn’t answer my email sent after I saw the video of the October board meeting. I bet it had to do with the embarrassing failure of the board during the May 2019 meeting, during which not a single member had the courage to second a motion of support for Pride Month. Since Palmisciano will be leaving the board at the end of the year, she had one last chance to show she was not a bigot.

I guess you are not a bigot, Ms Palmisciano. Is being an anti-democratic Technocrat any better?

Unanimous vote in favor of a nondiscrimination policy

At 59:30 in the Nov 2019 board meeting video, Ms Palmisciano read out the new policy the board will be required to follow. She said the rules will now include protection for “race, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, age, disability, military status”.

The addition to the policy is three categories – sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Given the controversy sparked in the community by the addition of gender neutral restrooms in the new construction at the schools, the addition of new gender protections was sure to be a move from the board that would have created some intense debate.

But debate isn’t wanted by Grandview’s school board. They just want you to be good constituents, and keep your mouths closed, because they already know what is good for the community.

Maybe it can happen here in Grandview?

Published November 15, 2019 by justicewg

Essig speaking at drug programI went to a Heroin addiction awareness program at the high school back in 2012, and was not very impressed with the content, or the number of parents who showed up (maybe 15). The general impression I left with was “not my kid” expressed the attitude of most parents in Grandview. I attended a drug addiction program last night that was very different.

The program was titled “Not Our Kids, Not In Grandview!”. This program acknowledged right from the start that shifting the attitude of “not my kid” was needed, and they laid out the facts for why this is true. The parents of Grandview Heights were more responsive to this version of drug awareness programs, more than 75 parents attended a standing room filled presentation on November 14. The facts that were presented, and the heartfelt speech given by a Grandview grad who had become a heroin addict while living here, felt more real and helpful for confronting the issue of drugs in the community.

How not to do drug programs

Please read the older post on the 2012 drug program for a more detailed take. The least helpful part was the police presentation, which stuck to the Dare program lines like “smoking pot will lead to heroin addiction”. That correlation might be true, but the fact that the majority of people don’t make that progression rendered the argument as a false statement. Correlation is not causation.

The featured speaker at the 2012 program was a parent who’s kid had died of a heroin overdose just weeks before. I don’t doubt the sincerity of a grieving parent, but the message of “you need to test your kid for drugs all the time” felt unhelpful to me. Last night’s program with the Grandview grad who spoke of how he became a heroin addict was better at piercing the attitude of “not my kid”.

I ended my post in 2012 with the guess that deaths from heroin use inside Grandview would be needed to bring parents to conclude that heroin use is an issue here. The deaths have happened, and the turnout showed that parents are ready to listen.

Speaking to the youth of Grandview Heights

I’m not sure where the group that presented the speakers – Start talking Grandview – will go from here. They have a speaker who felt honest and relatable for young people in the community. My suggestion would be for the group to drop all the old people and cops from the program, and just feature speakers like Essig. His story of party drug use, then Oxy, leading to heroin, then jail and homelessness, felt like it would engage young people who are armored with the bravado of “not me”.

I would also suggest that the group tone down the fixation on anti-vaping messages on its Facebook page. Vaping may be hazardous, but it doesn’t approach the level of danger of heroin use. The group is flirting with the mistake of previous “reefer madness” attitudes from the Dare programs.

Channel 6 news story on the program.

School Board video – reviewing August, 2019 meeting (FIRST robotic ending mentors)

Published September 22, 2019 by justicewg

Aug board 1The Grandview Heights school board has started making video recordings of their monthly main meetings (there are still special meetings that are not recorded, with either video or audio). Although I personally have been pressuring the board to be more open with the public and share recordings of the meetings, the responsibility for taking the issue to the board and pressing for votes was completed by board member Molly Wassmuth.

Wassmuth was the member who asked the administration and board president for their view on the possibility of making video recordings back in 2018, and the result was a shotgun blast of illogical and petty reasons to object from Culp and Truett. Read the post from January 2019 for the full story, but the short version – they had objections to the possibility of ADA, confidentiality, copyright, and privacy issues for those attending board meetings.

Normally this list of objections would have been the end of any attempt to continue with the proposal from a board member, opposition from the superintendent is sure death for normal board suggestions. I don’t know how Ms Wassmuth was able to press the other board members into voting in favor of the video recording, but I suspect it might be the reasons I listed at the end of my post on video recording the board. The board knew it was inevitable that video would be required by the state at some point, so doing it by themselves allowed them to set their own policy on what would be on camera, and how they could edit the final video.

Another possible reason for the passage of the video resolution – in May 2019, the board failed to allow a vote of support for Pride month in a resolution that was brought up by Wassmuth. The excruciating silence from the board as a second was requested, a failure that shamed the community, might have moved the board to have some sympathy for Wassmuth, and allow her video resolution to pass.

Video of the August meeting – The Board doesn’t answer questions from the public.
At 8:25 of the video, Truett gives the rules for the public comment portion of the meeting. He says the board policy is “the board will not answer questions or engage in discussion at this time”.

I knew the board was refusing to answer questions from some members of the public because of my own experience, I was denied an answer to a question I asked at the October 2014 meeting. As I recorded in a post at that time, this was a new policy from the board, in the past I, and many other community members, had gone before the board and had questions answered at many meetings.

“We don’t answer questions” was just an ad hoc decision from then president Douglass. At some point, it became policy, and president Truett states at the beginning of each public comment section of the monthly meetings “we will not answer questions”. Strangely, this policy is not printed in the sheet of rules the board has created for the public comment section. The board limits comments to five minutes, they require names and addresses, they reserve the right to end any comments from parents, and order them to leave the room (this “we can throw parents out of meetings” is a made up rule that is not supported by Ohio open meeting rules. The board can tell parents to shut up, but removing them from meetings is a decision that is reserved for police officers). But “the board doesn’t answer questions” is not a written policy, it is just the policy Truett has made for his meetings.

As I wrote in my post back in 2014, the Grandview school board used to have a small meeting, with a few parents attending, and they had the time to answer questions – that was part of what made the small community of GH different from the large impersonal cities that surrounds it. That attention to the parents, and their questions, is now gone from board meetings. That is a policy decision by the current board, and could be changed if parents demand it from the board.

FIRST Robotics mentors given the boot

At 9:12 in the August meeting, Jenny Johnson addressed the board about the FIRST robotic team and the Lego league. The FIRST Robotics Competition is an international organization that has been a high point in the educational program at Grandview for more than 23 years. This was a team with a dedicated group of supporters, headed by a couple of mentors who had deep experience in the skills needed for the creation of robots. Many other parents were involved, and the reputation of Granview’s team was always high in the competition.

According to Ms Johnson, the two mentors for the team were recently told they were no longer needed, and that teachers would now be running the team. These teachers had little experience, one of them was even unsure that he had been selected to take over the team.

The former mentors made the needs of the robotics team a priority during the 6-7 weeks of the build time, spending up to 80 hours per week mentoring the team members. Their experience was vital in leading the kids into many high honors in the competition. With an unannounced decision, the board and school administration ended all of that. The board left it up to the mentors to explain to the kids why they would be ending their time with the team.

The replacement teachers will be working full time at their normal positions in the school during the busy build time for the competition. Even with three teachers, the loss of experience and dedication to the event has been devastating for the kids who were looking forward to this year’s team event. According to Johnson, up to half of the team members have pledged to end their involvement in the team. There was no discussion with mentors about the change prior to the boot out the door. There was no discussion with team members. This was just a decision handed down from above – if you don’t like it, too bad.

The teachers who are taking over the team had no experience with the robotics events – they never attended practice sessions, never went to competitions. There was another parent who spoke about the decision who thought the motivation for the change was vendetta from the teachers against the mentors, and the $3500 extra each teacher would be paid was a main motivator for the change.

A lack of respect from the board will kill the robotics team

Each of the parents and students who took time to explain the loss to the school caused by this decision, stressed that it was the lack of information and lack of input from team members before the decision that killed the trust the parents and students had with the board. If half the robotics team is gone, the associated Lego league will die too. The grants of up to $25,000 needed to fund the team will end. The students may chose to move the team outside the school, and end the program in Grandview schools.

At the end of the comment period, the board refused to answer any questions. The board and the administration has made no public explanation for how the change in the robotics team came about. The questions from those angry parents and students are not worth addressing, according to this board.

(edit) Read the comments below, some important new info was posted about the issue.

Board tears up contracts, gives Superintendent and Treasurer big new compensation

Published August 12, 2019 by justicewg

truett-at-visioningThe August board meeting is the usual time to sneak administration raises onto the agenda. Parents are busy with last minute vacations, and preparations for school. Tracking the board is low on the to do list. This year, if you don’t follow the board agenda you are missing a huge boost to the compensation for Culp and Collier. What makes it stand out is the tearing up of their old contracts in the middle of the five year terms, so the board can sneak in a pay raise. The change in a tax free annuity in the small print give the administration a hidden increase. This is a blatant payoff for the passage of the levies to build a new middle school – which passed by the slimmest margin.

A review – 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 a letter “A”, Grandview’s administration performance deserves a “D”. Not only was there no consensus, the formation of three separate groups that opposed the $55 million bond were a first in Grandview, and indicated the administration did a poor job in the facility planning process. Many parents felt the facility process was not fair or open enough.

If you didn’t feel the administration did a good job through the facility process, and voted no on the levy, you might be a little upset about the lavish new payoff for the school administration. If you voted no because you didn’t think the board should have pushed a big increase in taxes for facilities, you should be contacting the board and let them know what you think of the new raises for Culp and Collier.

Torn up contracts for new pay boosts

Read the agenda of the August 14 board meeting for the story on the administration raises.

The administrators had contracts that gave them generous pay boosts each year, regardless of any action taken by the board. They were not up for re-negotiation until 2021. The board has placed on the agenda an offer to tear up the old contracts, and give new five years contracts with significant new money. There was no reason to end the old contracts – I never read any dissatisfaction in the public statements from Culp. This is a payoff from the board for passing a construction levy, pure and simple.

Culp was hired in 2014 as a new superintendent, with no experience in the job. This was supposed to lead to savings for the school district.

“Culp’s three-year contract, effective Aug. 1, has a starting base salary of $146,000 — about $12,050 less than O’Reilly’s 2013 base salary … Culp’s salary will increase on the first day of each contract year by the inflationary rate as determined from the Consumer Price Index. – TVN, 2014“

So much for cost saving, the new contract starts Culp at $170,517 effective August 1, 2019. That CPI indexed annual raise was not good enough, Culp now gets a 3% boost every year, regardless of the economic conditions the taxpayers will face.

Read the small print

The contract is generous in the new base salary, but read on to the smaller print in the new contract.

“… the Board shall pay for a tax-sheltered annuity policy, after-tax retirement policy and/or qualified tuition plan for the benefit of the Superintendent in an amount equal to twelve percent (12%) of the Superintendent’s salary. The Board shall purchase the annuity policy, after-tax retirement policy and/or qualified tuition plan designated by the Superintendent, with a preference, to the extent practicable, for selecting a vendor from the Board’s present list of approved vendors. The policy(ies) and/or plan shall be the property of the Superintendent, both before, during, and after her separation from employment.”

That tax free annuity was included in the first contract with the superintendent, but only 2.5 percent of Culp’s salary. A jump up to 12% allows the board to hide the big boost in pay in fringe benefits the board hopes you will not bother to read.

The administrators also get the full standard retirement – and more. The contract says “The Board shall also pay the employee’s share of the School Employees Retirement System as a “pick-up on the pick-up.”

The Board votes Aug14

The board appears to be fully committed to supporting Culp, will our objections make any change in their payoff for the administration? If you were part of the 48% who voted no on the levy, this payoff deserves an email to say no to excessive spending by the board.

Board resolution to support pride month fails with no second

Published June 23, 2019 by justicewg

I’ve seen embarrassing failures from the Grandview Heights school board in the past, this time they have hit a new low.

Ms Wassmuth brought a resolution before the board at the May 2019 meeting, which would have expressed support for Pride Month. This was not a policy change – in fact, the board already has policies in place that would protect students and staff with minority orientations.

Mealy-mouthed, timid support was expressed by two board members, but when a second to the motion was asked, there was an excruciating silence from the board.

More important to the board members was keeping the board from opening itself up to groups who might have the temerity to ask the board to support other good causes. Unspoken opposition to any student with LGBTQ orientation can be inferred by the silence expressed by most of the board.

Go to the recording

The link above goes to a clip from the May 8, 2019 board meeting. Near the end of the full meeting the board has an “other discussion” section, which is very rarely used by members. Wassmuth had good reason to bring the resolution before the board, she was asked by students in the Grandview HS to make the attempt. Four students attended the meeting, one spoke before the board with a passionate defense of students who have suffered bullying because of their orientation.

The recording begins with fumbling by President Truett, who failed to pass out copies of the resolution to the board. You have to wonder, was that failure intentional as a passive aggressive hit to Wassmuth?

Wassmuth read the full contents of the resolution. It contained nothing radical, just standard support for LGBTQ students, as the school policy manual already mostly agreed. The board was asked for no change other that a resolution of support for Pride Month (the Grandview city council has passed this same vote in the past).

A student spoke in support of the resolution. Remember how hard it was to speak in front of adults when you were a HS student? Now imagine speaking as a representative for a group that has faced discrimination and violence. This student deserved a “good for you for having the courage to stand and speak” from the board, instead she was given a curt “thank you for your comment”.

One of the board members (I’m assuming it was Mr Bode ) did speak in favor of the resolution, he even spoke about his own daughter’s involvement in the forming of an anti-discrimination group in the school, but when the time came to show the same courage that his daughter used to stand up and speak, Bode chose to sit in silence during the vote.

There was an unspoken sub-text to the meeting, there were probably board members who would have voted no on the resolution. In order to enforce the unanimous voting – which is the highest unwritten rule for the board – the members protected each other with a refusal to allow a vote.

At 18:00 in the recording, Ms Wassmuth asked for the motion to go to vote. What followed was the most pathetic 25 seconds in the history of the school board. I imagine Wassmuth was looking at the faces of her fellow board members, with a look of pleading. The were probably looking down, avoiding her gaze. And they sat, and allowed the resolution to fail with no second.

Imagine if you were one of the students who attended and spoke before the board, and then listened to the board sit in silence for a simple resolution of support? Does the Grandview board need to make it more clear – those student got nothing, no even a simple raised hand. An unspoken “we don’t really care about LGBTQ students” is the inference from this non-vote of four members.

Ms Wassmuth should get the support of the community for her attempt to make a resolution on Pride month. The board didn’t want to have votes on “months of support”, like most other public bodies do. However, this was special, and a group of kids speaking before the board made it important to act on. I’m hoping other board members will learn from Ms Wassmuth to stand up for what is right.

And if they don’t get anything out of re-listening to that pathetic performance, the rest of the board should just resign. It was a humiliation for the entire community of Grandview Heights. The best way they can serve the city now is to step down, and let a new board member with a functioning sense of right and wrong to serve in their place.

(edit) I sent an email to the board members who couldn’t second the Pride resolution, asking them about the reasoning they were using to fail to allow a vote on the issue. I know it will not come as a surprise, but they are refusing to answer questions about that vote. If you have any contact with a board member and can get a comment from them, please post below, or send me a message on the “about” page.

Surpressing votes is anti-democratic

Voting is how we know the minds of our representatives. They might bluster and give long speeches, but when the votes are called and a yes or no is required, that tells us the real opinion of our elected officials.

When the Grandview Heights school board suppresses a vote on Pride month, they hide the true opinion of the individual members. We need those opinions so we can decide our opinions of the members. We should walk into the voting booth informed by real votes, and not fantasy stories about how they would have voted if the issues were seconded and a vote called.

The always unanimous voting from the school board, and the suppression of voting needed to enforce it, is anti-democratic. This issue should be the top question for all candidates for a board seat.

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 →