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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 →

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 →

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 →

Reasons to vote no on the levy – The Grandview Heights school board is not trustworthy

Published September 28, 2018 by justicewg

culp in facility meeting 7There are many reasons for voters to give a thumb down on the school’s issue #6, but the one I have heard the most is “I don’t trust the school board”. Let’s look at all the ways the board has failed the community, and lost the trust that is needed for a functional school board.

The big lie about the Finance committee

The school board used deception and back-room dealing throughout the entire facility review process, but one lie topped them all – the claim that everything about the process would be open and transparent. This video (recorded by the school) captured the moment that superintendent Culp told the community that the Finance committee would be open, that minutes would be taken.

A community member asked superintendent Culp about the Finance committee, asked if there will be notice of meetings, public participation, minutes online. Culp said “I fully commit to that, I don’t think you can do it any other way.” The board later made the committee closed, with hand picked supporters, no meeting notes were allowed out of the room.

Andy Culp knew that the Facility Task Force had already been created as a closed, no visitor, no meeting notes allowed committee by the school board. He should have known that the board would do the same thing with the Finance committee. I think it’s likely he knew he was lying to the parents at this meetings. But if we take him at his word, and accept that he was “fully committed” to an open Finance committee, what does that say about the relationship with the school board? They knew that he had staked his integrity on the stand he took for an open Finance committee – and they destroyed it.

Should we trust a school board that can so casually (and for so little gain) trash the integrity of the superintendent?

The secrecy of the Finance committee was a big deal

Was the promise by Culp really that important? Watch the video of the report to the community from the Finance committee. On eight separate occasions, community members ask why the Finance meetings were closed, why there are no meeting notes available. The G4G group complained about the secrecy of the closed committees on their website (website is under revision currently) and attracted 368 community members to sign their petition to the school board.

For the people who spent hours going to the open facility meetings, attending 7 of them, the major revisions to the school facility plans, made by a closed committee, was a big deal. The fact that the board has refused to answer questions about why the Finance committee was closed is a big deal. It’s a major reason to vote no on the levy.

Do you trust Jessie Truett with $55 million?

Read the rest of this entry →