Outside Grandview

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Upper Arlington City Council recall election

Published July 21, 2016 by justicewg

Yes for UAThe recall election going on in Upper Arlington is off topic for this blog, but it is instructive to learn how a city council can get in big trouble with the voters when it doesn’t communicate well, and engage the citizens in the process of decision making.

Recall election are rare

In a UA News article, Jeff Mackey, manager of the operations section of the Franklin County Board of Elections, is quoted saying that recall elections require signatures totaling 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the last municipal election, a tough figure to reach. “The election has to happen within 30 to 40 days of the petition being found valid,” he said. “That would be quite a feat. We haven’t had one of those around here for some time.”

Northam Park controversy

I don’t know anyone involved, so I am reading the net to learn about the dispute. The best summary I can give is that U.A. residents are upset over the use of tax money to renovate a city park, they are accusing council members of acting in bad faith, and have convinced three thousand voters to sign a petition to recall the election of four council members. The council members claim they did signal they were going to spend money on Northam Park when a tax passed in 2014, raising the city income tax to 2.5 percent and generating an extra $3 million. The opponents of this spending say the council did not specify the park in pre-election statements, and that the process that resulted in the park renovation was opaque to the taxpayers.

Read the story from the recall website

The people who are asking for the recall have a website, called UA for Accountability. It has a long list of complaints about the city council, and backs them up with documentation. For instance, the city said before the tax vote:

“By law, 100 percent of the revenue generated – approximately $3.5 million annually – will be dedicated to improving our roads, curbs and gutters, bridges and underground water and sewer lines.”

That was in the City of UA flyer, and the website links to a copy (one suggestion to the pro-recall people running the website, links to JPGs would be better that PDF files). Understandable why the anti- council group feels deceived. Lots more complaints and links to backup documents at the website.

The city council empaneled the standard “Task force to look at city infrastructure”, who were “independent” but somehow gave the council the results that were just what it wanted – a tax increase. Something for the Grandview school board to think about, Potemkin task forces don’t always impress people.

She is tired

One of the council members, President Deborah Johnson , is quoted saying that “she is tired of suggestions that council is hiding something”. Quick PR tip for Ms Johnson – when you say you are tired of listening to the voters, the voters are quite justified in saying they are tired of hearing you speak from the position on council, and are doing you a favor by allowing you to step down and rest your ears.

Results of voting, Aug. 23, 2016

(8PM) Absentee Voting is extremely close! (9:30 PM) Those voting no on the recall are up anywhere from 62% to 57% in favor of keeping the council (each member had a separate vote).

Top Watching Grandview stories of 2015

Published December 30, 2015 by justicewg

It’s that time of year. Turn on the Wayback machine, click those mice, time to re-cap the best stories posted on the blog.

Policy Governance in Grandview Schools

data_czar

Although I have long written about the way the Grandview Heights school board pushes parents out of policy decisions and gives the Superintendent a free hand in running the school, I didn’t have enough experience in education to know the official name to that style of running a school. It’s called Policy Governance, and it was the root cause of the disaster in the Columbus city schools, which hit the headlines in the Dispatch this year. My post on this issue was one of the top read stories in 2015.

After the Data Rigging scandal was fully exposed in the Columbus school, there were inquests to find out how things could have gone so wrong. Policy Governance was at the top of the list. The Columbus school board had official policy statements which proudly defined how Policy Governance would work in that school system. From the policy manual:

“ … focus on strategic leadership rather than administrative detail; observe clear distinction between Board and CEO roles; make collective rather than individual decisions; …”

This is exactly how the Grandview Heights board acts. Good luck trying to go before the school board with any request for change – they don’t want to listen, they don’t want to answer your emails, and if they do it will be a condescending explanation of why they can’t help you.

In any other school which watched the slow motion destruction of a major school system a few miles away from them, you might expect some some self-examination and thoughts about “could this happen here?”. There were no worries expressed by Grandview Heights board members.

Although there has been one new board member (Palmisciano) elected this fall who will take her seat in January, I don’t expect any change from the board. President Brannan was re-elected, and she will take her votes as a mandate to continue Policy Governance at the school.

City Council bans young adult smoking

ashtrayThe city council passed a new ordinance this year that not only banned selling tobacco to young adults 18 to 21, the law as passed banned possession and smoking of cigarettes by this age group.

Mayor DeGraw sent the law back to the council with a veto, he said that after consultation with the police chief he couldn’t support the rule. The law would require police on the street to know the difference between resident and non-resident, 21 year old and 22. It set the police up for charges of discrimination. The practicality issues with the law would mean it would rarely be enforced.

The law inspired an editorial in the Dispatch, in which they said “It would be better public policy not to pass laws government doesn’t mean to enforce.”

The council later amended the law to keep the ban on selling, but doesn’t criminalize use by 18 year olds.

Jennifer Cook murder still unsolved

Jennifer CookeThe 2013 murder of Jennifer Cook is still unsolved, and it still a raw issue for a lot of Grandview residents. I re-caped the story in 2015, and tried to find any evidence there is progress in the case. Nothing new has been brought forward by the police.

If this were a detective novel, somebody would notice a small bit of evidence that had been overlooked. By using determination and a quirky sense of intuition the detective would sniff out the killer, who would admit his (or her) guilt in public and curse as they were being handcuffed.

Unfortunately we are not living in a detective novel.

Superintendent O’Reilly lawsuit is dismissed

oreilly_smallOne of the top stories that was read in 2015 was first posted in 2013 and occurred back in 2012, with the filing of a lawsuit by a parent who alleged First Amendment retaliation against them by O’Reilly and Director of Pupil Services Schott.

Keeping track of what was occurring during this lengthy lawsuit was always difficult because the official records are kept inside a database called Pacer, and I believe you are required to be a lawyer to access the records. However there are other web based companies who put legal filings up on the net where they can be found with a little Google-fu. These records are not complete postings of the case files, and the information is often posted long after the case has been acted on by the judge.

My record of website hits on the O’Reilly post showed a steady increase in 2014 and a spike in 2015. This is what I found in a filing that was written in 2015:

On June 9, 2014, this Court dismissed O’Reilly with prejudice as a defendant after the parties advised the Court that “the claims against him have been resolved.” (Order Dismissing Def., Doc. 142).

Why was O’Reilly allowed to leave the lawsuit? It is possible the plaintiff had no further legal reason to continue, but quite often there is a financial settlement made by the defendant. I can’t find anything online that mentioned how the case against O’Reilly was resolved. If the school paid money to end the lawsuit it should be recorded somewhere. I can’t work up the interest to care how this ended, O’Reilly has been gone from the school since 2014. According to his Linkin Profile, O’Reilly got a job as the Executive Director of High Schools, for the Columbus City schools, back in August 2015.

(Later) There are now more stories about the lawsuit on the web. Still not sure how it all ended, but the school is not looking good when is is mentioned in a story titled A petty tyrant and a parent’s nightmare.

Virtual golf came to virtual Grandview

Virtual Golf

Virtual Golf

The largest number of hits this year were on a story that wasn’t even about a Grandview business, it was about the Virtual golf place on Third, which is in 5XNW. I’m guessing there was some sort of glitch in the Google rank that caused anyone searching for the name of the place to find my blog.

Maybe I’ll take some virtual money over to the place and play some virtual golf in 2016. Probably not.

Not quite in the top five but worth reading –

School board continues to ignore Ohio Open Meeting laws

Grandview Crossing development news

When the news crews show up in Grandview

Previously – Top Watching Grandview stories of 2014

GetGo near Grandview has fuel mix-up

Published July 17, 2015 by justicewg

If you bought regular or plus gasoline at the 5th Ave. Get-Go station between 9:30 a.m. Monday, July 12, and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, you might have a problem. Somebody made a mistake and put unblended ethanol into the station’s fuel tank. You probably already got a call from the company if you used a credit card, which would have been the great majority. A few cash customers may have an expensive fix as the ethanol does damage to their cars.

What will it do?

We can assume there will be a high percentage of alcohol in the gas that was bad, but the exact number depends on the volume of fuel that was already in the underground tank. It was also diluted by the gas left in your car, so those who fill up at the 1/2 tank mark would see less effect than the “running on fumes” drivers.

I found a number of websites that explain how alcohol affects cars, some of them seem to be biased against the mix. I think there is an undercurrent of opposition from the petroleum industry, mainly because of “government rules are always wrong” kind of thinking. This story seemed to be a bit more fact based.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/hybrid-electric/a6244/e15-gasoline-damage-engine/

The most immediate change a driver would see from a high alcohol gasoline would be a drop in performance and gas millage. Depending on how your car computer interpreted the change in the gas, you might see warning lights.

The older your car, the more damage will happen, as the alcohol begins to dissolve rubber in the hoses and carburetor parts. However, new cars are built with alcohol mix fuels in mind, so the damage might be minor.

The worst effect will happen after the car sits overnight, and the fuel separates. A layer of alcohol on the bottom of your tank will sit, slowly absorbing water from the air. The water will crud up the fuel system if it gets sucked up the next time you run low, probably leaving you dead on the side of the road.

People who fill gas cans at the Get-Go,in order to use a gas discount, will leave the cans sitting somewhere, slowly sucking up water from small leaks in the gas can vent. The longer it sits the worse it gets.

I don’t think the mistake will be a car-killer, but getting your gas system flushed (and contacting the Get-Go company if you think it might have happened to you), will be priority for the drivers of the “drunk” cars. And stop using those gas cans to save a few pennies, you are exposing yourself to the chance of a huge flaming fireball if something goes wrong while filling or on the drive home.

Virtual golf comes to virtual Grandview

Published March 13, 2015 by justicewg
Virtual Golf

Virtual Golf

The businesses on Third Avenue like to say they are in the “Grandview area” (like Byrnes and the Woodland Tavern). It’s a pet peeve for me, they have a neighborhood name, Fifth by Northwest . That’s a perfectly fine and descriptive name that anyone who is located north of Third can use. No need to hijack the Grandview name. Third Ave. is virtually Grandview, but not really.

I was walking down Third and found a new businesses being built up inside the brick building at the corner of Virginia Ave. They are not open, but the manager allowed me to look inside.

Caddy’s Delight Virtual Golf Lounge

The front of the building has three 20 feet wide golf bays, backed with mammoth video screens (maybe 15 feet square). I have seen virtual driving ranges in the past, this is supposed to be a large step up the technology ladder, allowing full plays from Tee to hole, using your own clubs and balls. The sensor system detects your ball speed and direction with enough accuracy to give a feel for the real courses that are projected (a selection of golf courses from around the world have been digitized).

A little searching showed me that there are already virtual golfing places in Columbus, but the manager assured me that this new business would have the latest and best golfing simulation.

Miner 49er Black Light Mini Golf

The back of the building has a large indoor put-putt course. The area used takes up the space behind the Veterinary office next door, so it is larger than it looks from the outside. I didn’t see what it looks like with all the black lighting and stuff, but at this point it looks similar to this video (no connection between the place in the vid and this company).

The manager said the focus of the mini golf will be kids birthday parties and gatherings. When I suggested that nearby OSU students would probably like to take mind altering substances and play late at night, he said that they are planning evening hours and beer taps (not the substances I had in mind).

The manager said they still have a month of construction to complete, but Virtual Golf would be here soon. I plan on taking some virtual money and giving the place a try soon. After all, if they are selling a photo of golf course, why can’t I give them a photo of some money?

Now Open as of May 18, 2015

From the comments – North Face wearing corporate sheep

Policy Governance in Grandview Schools

Published January 14, 2015 by justicewg
Data Czar Steve Tankovich, recently sentenced to jail time for his role in the Columbus data-rigging scandal

Data Czar Steve Tankovich, recently sentenced to jail time for his role in the Columbus data-rigging scandal

I have long criticized the Grandview school board for operating in a way that excluded input from parents, stifled discussion between board members, and allowed the superintendent (and the board president) to run the school with little oversight. I called it “Strong Superintendent” policy, in my featured article about the Grandview schools. While I still think that is a good description of the way the board works, it isn’t the correct technical term used by the professional education community. They call it Policy Governance.

Columbus schools failed because of Policy Governance

While Grandview Heights schools have used Policy Governance for a long time, (it’s difficult to pin a date on it because the board has always denied the policy), the Columbus city schools have a shorter history.

In 2006 the Columbus school board determined that they wanted to change the way the board operated. They set strict rules for how they would run the board meetings, conduct discussions, and interact with the Superintendent. The board passed a new set of rules that sharply restricted any public conflict between members, or conflict with the school administration. This text from the board policy manual sets the root qualities for governance:

“ … focus on strategic leadership rather than administrative detail; observe clear distinction between Board and CEO roles; make collective rather than individual decisions; …”

The practical result of this policy was to take any operational decisions at the school away from the board and allow the Superintendent to run the schools with near total freedom. The written policy still was supposed to be followed, but the gap between what the rules say and the practical decisions made on a daily basis allowed the Superintendent a wide latitude.

The board policy on “making collective decisions” could only succeed by limiting the input of parents to the process. If one board member listened to requests for change, but was unable to use back channel discussion with other board members to sway opinions, there was no way to publicly announce support for policy change. The best way to be a board member under Policy Governance is to shut down communications, not respond to emails and letters, and sit in silence.

Things went wrong

The system under Policy Governance at the Columbus schools seemed to be working. The superintendent was required to produce annual reports on the ways the school administration was following the policies the school board created, and – surprise! – the reports gave high marks every year to the administration. The school board thought that was sufficient.

Unfortunately, with the board taking a hands off approach, the school administrators found it easy to fudge some numbers. When that didn’t set off alarms, the incentive system that rewarded results but didn’t check those results went wrong on a massive scale. A district wide data-rigging scandal was allowed to fester for years. The report by state auditor Yost found a “culture of deceit” in the school administration. After the state stepped in to the investigation, they considered action against the educator licenses of 61 current and former employees, including superintendent Harris. The school data czar was sentenced to jail time for tampering with government records. State Auditor Yost specifically blamed policy governance for creating the data-rigging scandal.

The Columbus school board is now in the process of ditching the Policy Governance mode, going back to a traditional board system that listens to whistle blowers and parents with concerns, and investigates the operation of the school on a lower level. Hands off will become hands on. Board members will be able to voice concerns in public meetings.

A history of policy governance at Grandview

The Grandview Heights school board has a long history of unanimous votes. A normal board meetings has no conflict or even questioning of policy at the school. The board members sit and listen, then vote five yes votes. Years go by between votes that are divided.

The school board, if it responds to questions about the way they produce all of these unanimous votes, claims that there is discussion between board members, but they always resolve their questions and opinions into an unanimous vote. However, the school board meeting notes show no record of these “vigorous discussions”.

In the past community members could ask questions about school policy and get some responses from the board at the “Recognition of Guests and Hearing of the Public” part of the board meeting. Under Grant Douglass this part of the meeting is now just a hearing, not a responding session. Say what you want – the board has no response. Because the board doesn’t want to have any conflict between themselves, they actively try to keep parents out of the decision making process.

A history of bad policy is not a good reason to continue

I’m going to use an analogy that is a good match to the policy position at Grandview.

Drivers who don’t use seat belts can list a dozen reasons why it is a better way to drive. It makes entering and leaving faster, solves the problems with pulling your wallet out at fast food, is more comfortable, etc. Unbelted drivers can’t list the advantages to wearing a seat belt – until they drive past a wreck on the road, and see the result of seatbeltless drivers who are ejected from the car.

Policy Governance seems to work well for school boards that follow that policy. It streamlines the work of the board, taking away time intensive oversight processes, listening to complaints from parents and staff, checking on data. The high level planning process that is engaged by the Policy Governance board is just a lot more fun that the dirty work of supervising the schools at the level where carefully crafted policy meets everyday reality of working with humans who inevitably fail those good policies.

Right now the Grandview Heights schools are driving past the wreck of the Columbus schools. It should be a wakeup call, a reason for deep examination of the assumption that drive the school board.

Could there be the same sort of data-rigging that occurred in the Columbus school going on in the Grandview schools? Without a board that has a hands on review of the numbers, who knows? The Grandview schools have avoided the newspaper headlines level of scandal in the past, mostly because of superintendents who followed the laws. The incentives under a Policy Governance system are to fudge the numbers. How long will we stay lucky?

Is the always unanimous school board the best way to create policy on the school board? The emphasis on collective decisions and suppressing all conflict in meetings has a result in incentives to stop listening to parents, failing to encourage more voices in the decision making process, shutting down those who speak up.

When the board started holding meetings to listen to parents who had children who had been bullied at the schools, they were shocked at the stories they heard. The message they got from those parents was “we couldn’t make a public fuss about the bullying, because that isn’t the way things are done here in Grandview Heights”. How many other simmering problems are suppressed, because painting over problems is easier than addressing them?

The Superintendent is not the problem

Gene Harris, former Columbus school Superintendent, plead guilty to charges in the scandal,

Gene Harris, former Columbus school Superintendent, plead guilty to charges in the scandal.

Because Policy Governance is focused so much on the Superintendent, critics are accused of having issues with the person who holds that job. It is important to state this – while a superintendent who does a good job is vital, it is the system of incentives that are created by Policy Governance that can mislead a school system, even with a competent leader.

I don’t think Gene Harris sat down one day and said “lets make a culture of deceit here in the Columbus schools”. The system went wrong because instead of being focused on education, it was all about making Gene Harris look good. All of her subordinates knew that they worked for her, not the school board or the people of Columbus. Fudging numbers so that the boss looks better is justifiable under that system.

Policy Governance, and the mindset that supports it, inevitably leads to corruption in the system. When questions are repressed, and checks and balances removed, the incentives lead to cheating. Parents are turned away from board meetings if they are trying to make any change in the school policy, because “we don’t do that here”. It’s a discriminatory system that favors small groups who have political power to do the behind the scenes lobbying of board members.

My experience with Policy Governance criticism

The usual reaction I get from the school board boosters here in Grandview to posts like this one is “that guy hates everything in Grandview, don’t listen to him”. Lately the responses have been more “if you don’t like it here in Grandview, get out. We can turn up the heat to help you move”. The people who send these messages have no internal insight into why it is wrong for complaints to be responded to with threats. Maybe because “that’s the way we do things here in Grandview Heights?”.

Strategic compensation for teachers in Ohio

Published November 3, 2014 by justicewg

Performance based compensation. Merit pay. Strategic compensation. These are all names for a method of teacher compensation that uses teacher ratings, informed by standardized testing of students, and sets in place a system that gives more money to high rated teachers. Some think this is needed in order to “run schools like a business”. Others promote it because it weakens the options teacher unions have to ask for raises, and they see any method of weakening unions as a good thing. What none of the proponents can show is a correlation between these plans and increased performance in the classroom by students.

I looked back at the history of this idea in Ohio, identified some of the people pushing it, and how well they succeeded in putting it into practice. I also looked at the Reynoldsburg school district, to figure out how the school board members decided to try it in their schools, and what they told the parents about their plans before they caused a three week long strike, disrupting all learning and costing the school more than a million dollars.

What the experts say

I highly recommend reading this post by Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D.. He did an exhaustive compilation of the research on the issue of teacher evaluation based on student test scores. There isn’t any “maybe it works” to be found in the research, every single study done by a non-ideological researcher or organization finds that the “noise” in normal student test variation drowns out any useful teacher evaluation data.

School system that try to use these teacher rating systems regularly show how wrong they can be. A Teacher of Year rated “unsatisfactory” in Florida. One of nation’s top high schools rated as ‘needs improvement’ under the state’s teacher evaluation system. Contrary the what the Bill Gates style reformers think, the best schools come from areas with strong teacher unions.

Bill Gates should stick to computers

Bill Gates retired from running his software mega-giant, and decided to use his vast wealth to make changes in the way schools are run. The problem is that using methods and thinking that made him a billionaire turns out to have little value in improving schools.

Around 2000 he decided that big schools were the problem with education, and he began a program to offer schools money to break up the size of large schools. Not a totally wrong idea, but after he found that it it resulted in small improvements after spending a lot of money, he dropped the plan. His current idea that will revolutionize the school system in this country is to “run schools like a business”, and offer more money to teachers who have students that do well in standardized tests.

That’s not a new idea at all, it has been tried (and failed) a number of times in the past. The difference is that Gates’s foundation has the money to really promote the idea, and the political power to push it in the halls of government. The federal “Race to the Top” program encourages these ideas. The school system that have implemented these teacher rating systems have again shown that the plan is a failure.

SB 5 in Ohio

While Gates says he doesn’t have a problem with teacher unions, and is not shy about trying to buy their willingness to try out his ideas, the Republicans in Ohio are open with their contempt for unions. This resulted in the passing of Senate Bill 5 in 2011.

Under the supervision of Governor John Kasich, the Republican controlled senate passed a bill called SB 5 that was a direct attack on all public employee unions. It sharply limited the ability of police, teachers, firefighters and all other public union members to negotiate for higher wages and better working conditions. It would have stripped step pay increases from teachers and required student test based compensation plans.

The unions went full out in opposition. In the Nov. 2011 general election the law was repealed 62 percent to 38 percent. It was hoped that this was the end of these sort of dumb ideas in Ohio, but instead it just shifted the plans to implement them on a local level, one school board at a time.

Reynoldsburg board drives off a cliff

There were clues that indicated the Reynoldsburg school board was trying to remove step pay and implement teacher compensation based on student scores. The vice-president was a hard line right winger, featured in a film that showed the anger and contempt she held for those outside her Value Voter Coalition. Yet there was no conversation between the board and the community about the possibility of the board taking this radical action, the newspaper report of the candidate night recorded that the questions and answers were focused on class size. Board president Swope and VP Tornero were re-elected in 2013, and took this as an approval for them to take the school system off the cliff on a foolish and expensive attack on the teacher union. They hired a new superintendent who was an insider with the Kasich team.

The only way the public found out about the removal of step pay from teachers was as the negotiations broke down in the summer. Large crowds attended Reynoldsburg board meetings in August and September, pleading with the board to stop. The board ignored the large crowds and hired a strike-breaking company, insuring that the fight would be long and dirty.

Three weeks after they started the fight with the teachers, the board capitulated on all points. The school had not been able to hire enough strike-breaking teachers or control the fighting going on inside the schools with private security patrolling the halls. Teaching was reduced to giving the kids chromebooks and telling them to look at online instruction.

The school system now faces a bill of more than a million dollars for the failed attempt at running a school without union teachers. The students now need to re-start the year, with weeks of wasted learning to try to catch up on. The October board meeting was filled with angry parents who booed the board into silence when they tried to fend off criticism. A petition signed by more than 1K community members asked for the resignation of the superintendent and the president and VP of the board.

(Dec 16) Reynoldsburg Board of Education President Andrew Swope resigned, and said he was moving his family out of the area.

Who is next?

This will not be the end of the attempts by the true believers in pushing the teachers of Ohio into giving up step pay and using performance compensation. The only question is, which school district will be next?

The Kasich question

A complication to the question of strategic teacher compensation is the re-election of Kasich to the Governor’s office. Will he take his re-election, and the even more republican statehouse, as an opportunity to pass “Son of SB5”, as a way to solidify his support with the tea party on the way to a presidential run?

I have read a lot of stories that try to plot out the path Kasich could take on the way to a run for the white house. Most of them fail to see a man who wants to go through the wringer of a national campaign after his failed attempt in 1999. But he has a window that is open – the current field is filled with tea party, hard right candidates, unpopular with women and working class voters. Kasich won in the 2014 Ohio election with 60 percent of the women’s vote. He had support from workers. He even had 40% of the black vote. There is no other national republican candidate who seems to have a broad a support base as Kasich, even if he is unpopular with the tea party for accepting Medicaid money to bring Obamacare to the poor in Ohio.

If Kasich is thinking about running for national office, he has no reason to bring back a fight he lost the last time SB 5 was tried in Ohio. His brand will be “the moderate republican who can get a broad base of support”. And if he doesn’t run – what does he gain by doing something he said he wouldn’t try in his election campaign?

The above is speculation about Kasich’s plan for the future. His party in Ohio, and the true believers who want strategic compensation, will continue to push it on a local level. As soon as the memory of Reynoldsburg has faded (and Kasich showed that memories are short), a new school district will be the pushing the idea, bringing in strike-breaking management, filling the school with private security. You can be sure that Reynoldsburg was the laboratory for learning how to break unions.