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The push polling for building new schools has begun

Published May 7, 2017 by justicewg

I mentioned in the last post that I was told a PR firm was doing paid focus groups and polling on the schools here in Grandview, at which they are probably doing Push Polling, a standard method for political groups to influence public opinion. I don’t have proof this is happening with that PR firm.

I do have access to the online poll the school has created, and was a little surprised at the blatant push polling in that survey.

Out of all the options the board wants to build, the moving of the K to 3rd grade out of Stevenson and into a building on the present Middle school location seems to be mentioned the most. It is in the 3A, 3B, and 3C options. The master plan doesn’t say what will happen to the building. “Evaluate  future  use  of  Stevenson  Elementary” is what they say on the option list.

The online Poll that the school wants us to fill out has a very different thing to say about Stevenson school:

 “If Stevenson Elementary was converted to a community center for the city, would you favor or oppose moving the kindergarten through 3rd grade students into a new building on the high school/middle school campus?” – from the online poll.

Nobody from the city has said a word about using Stevenson as a “community center”. This is completely from the school board, used as a method of confusing the options on closing down Stevenson, a move that will be stridently opposed by all the parents on the east end of the city.

What kind of “community center” could even be built in that building? No way a Rec Center is going to fit into the many small classrooms. The auditorium is way too small for any adult ball courts or community swimming pool.

I’d like to hear one of the city council members comment on this – they have never said a word about it that I know, and I don’t think they would support closing down Stevenson (unless they are looking to get booted off the council by the voters).

(Edit – I confirmed with Council President Kearns, no one from the board has ever talked to them about a “community center” at Stevenson, no plans have been discussed by the council about any alternate use of the building.)

After some thought, I’m not sure if push polling is the correct label for what the board did. There was not even the slightest establishment of the possibility of the school building being turned into a community center. That makes it more a flat out lie from the school board, intentionally done to deceive the voters of Grandview

Keep an eye out for the push polling, I’m sure we will be exposed to all sorts of assertions in the polls that are just fantasy created by the board to manipulate public opinion on their plans. Read the rest of this entry →

School facilities options – first impressions

Published May 5, 2017 by justicewg

May Facility meeting with options3The school board has presented three major options for the school facilities (with seven sub-options). There is a lot of information to digest in the Master Plan Options but here are some quick first impressions.

Board doesn’t care about state borrowing limits

Six of the seven options are asking for more bonds that the state will allow by law.

How is it possible to borrow more than the state of Ohio allows? Some net research shows that it is possible to ask the state for a waiver of the rules, and if a general funds levy is set high enough (and passed by voters) to cover the difference in cost between the state bond limit and the construction cost, it is allowed.

Just like a homeowner might dig themselves into a deep hole by finagling a mortgage that he can’t really afford, and risks defaulting on the loan if the person is hit with a financial crisis, a district can dig itself into a hole that could cause catastrophic problems if a recession hits the economy. And what is the chances of that happening – who even remembers 2008?

Will the state allow Grandview to go over the legal bond limit? Remember, the state republican party, lead by Kasich, has singled out Grandview for the largest cuts in state funding. They want small schools to merge with larger ones, in order to be more efficient. What is stopping the state from saying “no, Grandview, you may not exceed the state limit”?

No mention of mills in report

The millions of dollars needed to build new schools (up to $70 million in the most expensive plan) has to be paid by the voters with increases in the property tax millage. There was no mention of mills – because the board knows that they would be calling the squad and wheeling homeowners out of the Glenn suffering from heart attacks.

The board didn’t make it easy to find information on mills needed to fund the facility plans, but there is some clues posted on the schools Facility FAQ page. According to this page, “a 5.52 mill levy today would generate enough to finance a project of approximately $33 million.” So if the board wants the $70 million to build a new “campus”, they would be asking for over 12 mills. Remember, the state is cutting their funding, and the number of administrators and their salaries continues to grow, so operating levies will be needed too. We might be looking at a 15+ mill request from the school board.

What is the history in Grandview for passing high millage levies? In May 2002, voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy (the additional mills would be added in later years). It wasn’t even close, the voters rejected the high levy request with a 70% no vote.

Grandview Heights currently has the highest Total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) in the county.

May 12 update – from a TVN story:

If the district were to pursue a project costing its current bond-borrowing capacity of $45.3 million, an 8.2-mill bond levy would be needed, Collier said.

There is no backup plan

Any serious, professional planner has an option ready for any contingency. The school board will be expected to push for one of the expensive, “no contact with reality” plans for massive new schools. It will fail to get the votes. They will then attempt one of the cheaper options (if you call $35 million cheap). Depending on the general economy, and the mood of the voters, that plan might also fail. What happens then?

I asked Culp if the board has a contingency plan ready if it can’t get the votes for the least expensive plan. I asked what the board would do about facility repair during the 2 or more years the school might ask for levies to pay for the expensive option. He replied with the usual bureaucratic non-answer.

The options in the master plan – ranging from a no contact with reality $70 million, to a near the limit allowed by law $35 million, are all of the plans the board has made. They are so sure they will charm us, and if needed threaten us, that they have no alternate to their expensive plans.

The board will “manifest” the money

I wrote a posts called What’s wrong with the School Board’s optimism?, I think it is the best explanation for what is happening on the board. Please read that post, and watch the Barbara Ehrenreich video.

The board has been in a self-reinforcing, protected from outside comments bunker mode for a long time. The carefully selected facility task force, segregated by board rules that prevented any visitor from attend their meetings, has reinforced the wall the board put up to keep reality out.

I think the board thinks that there is no reason that the expensive new campus options can’t be built. They are probably telling each other, “we can do it, we just need to say the right words, and we will manifest the money to build new buildings. It is just a matter of how much will power we have”.

We will have to endure multiple public meetings, at which the board will drone on endlessly about the numbers, then they will plead, then they will threaten. They will say that new building are the only moral choice, and those who oppose their plans are bad people who want to hurt children.

You didn’t vote for this

We haven’t gotten to the finger pointing section of the debate yet, so let me direct the first arrow.

Grandview didn’t vote to have buildings that need expensive maintenance. The only levy that has been rejected in the last 30 years was in 2002. All of the fault for the condition of the school buildings are on the school board. The priorities of the school board are clear in the spending they have done on a overloaded, high salary administration.

I’m sure that the present school board will claim they are heroic visionaries for proposing new school buildings. I think they are like the car dealer that notices a small patch of rust on your old car, and tries to convince you that the only solution that makes sense is to buy a $100K luxury car – because your kids deserve the best!

We do have an opportunity to vote for board members in the fall. Let’s send a clear message by rejecting all of the current members.

(Later) I should have added “spend a lot of money on experts in public relations” on my list of things the board is telling each other they need to do to get their new buildings. I have heard there is a PR firm that is paying Grandview residents to attend focus groups at which they are “asked about their opinions”. Push polling is a standard practice for PR firms, they slant the questions in ways that make doing what they want to be signaled as a virtuous act, and resistance is subtly associated with ignorance, close mindedness, and anti-social acts.

A message to the PR firm – Hi! I’m sure you are reading my blog, I have a offer for you. Want to get a look into the mind of a person who is going to be a vocal opponent of the construction of new schools? Pay me! Use the links in the About section to send me a message.  Lets make a deal!

City addresses long term plans for Goodale Blvd.

Published April 28, 2017 by justicewg

Brexton BldgConstruction of a five-story building on the former reTAGit site on Goodale, as well as street work and the nearing completion of the pool, has focused attention on the area. A TVN story gives the latest news on the city’s long term plans.

I think the parking and flooding issues are the main challenges the city must confront in developing the street. Although past work on the floodwalls has improved the classification of some of the area, there are still lots that might end up under water.

“Because the property sits in the flood plain, federal, state and city regulations limit the cost of renovation to being no more than 50 percent of the property value … The high cost of flood insurance also required the first floor (of the five story building) be used for covered parking rather than the retail or office use desired, Galvin said. “

Patrik Bowman, the city’s director of administration, recounted past efforts to work with the city of Columbus to build flood flap gates across the train tracks that would hold back flooding, but that never worked out. He mentioned a possibility of a re-calculation because of a lowering of the Olentangy River , but didn’t put much hope in that occurring.

The small size of the lots on Goodale makes any future tall buildings difficult to plan because of a lack of parking. The use of the first floor for parking is a serious strike on the profitability of any future construction, the utility of the first floor for retail businesses is a key to the income for most developers.

Bowman predicted that future re-development on Goodale would be limited to renovation of existing structures, rather than tall new buildings.

The newspaper article ended with a odd quote:

Galvin said he is concerned that property values on Goodale could lead some developers to seek approval of higher density, residential development along Goodale. He said he would rather see smaller development involving office or retail use.

The Galvin who is quoted in this part of the article is the CEO of Brexton, the developer of the five story building. I’m not sure why his wishes for the future are of importance for a story about the long term plans from the city of Grandview. (Edit) I was reminded that Galvin was a city council member from June 2014 – January 2016, but was not re-elected. His opinion on development for Goodale might be well informed, but he is no longer a office holder, so his wishes for the future of the city are not as important as the current council and city director of administration. The story would have been improved with their comments.

More Bozos on the bus

Grandview doesn’t need to look far to find examples of small towns that were overwhelmed by new housing. Powell, Ohio shows what can happen when too many residents turn the streets into gridlock and government services stretched too thin leads to unhappiness.

New residential housing on Goodale would cause the least disruption on inner street traffic for rush hours, out of any other location in Grandview. However, choke points like the intersection of Goodale and Grandview Ave. will become worse.

Allowing more development without careful city planning is a sure fire way to turn Grandview into Powell. Careful watch of the city council members is needed to prevent pro-development boosters taking the city the wrong direction.

Study projects little growth in schools

Published February 16, 2017 by justicewg

We all pretty much knew what the results of the study would be. A consultant group for the school delivered expected results – the only growth area in Grandview is the Yard, and the kind on people living in that area tend to be DINKs and young people with no kids.

Still, it needs to be noted for the future, the school board has gone public with the results, and they are not going to be able to use an increase in student numbers to push for new school buildings.

Culp is quoted in the TVN story saying that enrollment in Grandview has declined by 4 percent, or about 46 students, over the last decade. In truth, enrollment has been dropping since the 1960’s. The current student-teacher ratio, 16 to 1, is one of the better ratios in this county. The school expects to be able to absorb any increase in students without hiring new staff.

School board spends another $67K on consultant to provide “Educational Visioning”

Published December 22, 2016 by justicewg
Stevenson dedication plaque

Maybe this consultant will get the board member’s names on a  plaque at a new school.

When the Grandview school board split with HPG (the major consultant for the facility process), it was looking bad for the board. They ended the relationship with strident claims of Harrison acting “unprofessionally” and required the immediate end to all work on the facility process*. Never fear, when a big paycheck is waved, the board was assured of finding a replacement. The same fee that was spent on Harrison Planning Group has been offered to Frank Locker Educational Planning, for a total of at least $134K on consultants so far. Remember, the fee that was spent on HPG was supposed to cover most of the process, so now the school has manged to double the cost of the facility process (so far – we don’t know all the costs to come).

Two Saturdays in a row scheduled for one meeting

I like it when local government schedules meetings to get community feedback. The city council has done a great job during the process of street improvements for the Yard, and before the remodeling of the city pool. I have been writing on this blog and the previous incarnation of the blog about how useful those meetings have been (here is a review of a meeting for recreation facilities back in 2007).

The city holds those meetings often, and they know how to run the meetings – they don’t have to hire special meeting facilitators. They do spend money on consultants, but the documents consultants create are used to help inform the meetings and give options to the council.

Our first view of the new FLEP consultant will be at two meetings scheduled for January 14 and 21, 2017, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The meeting are being promoted with the title “Educational Visioning”, in case you didn’t have your allotment of meaningless buzz words. You are being strongly asked (required?) to attend both meetings. Oh sorry, did you have something scheduled for those dates? Didn’t find anything on the school website that hinted that you might need to keep those days free? Well, if you don’t have two Saturdays free for this “Educational Visioning” meeting, I guess you don’t care about the schools, and your voice in the process should be marked as “didn’t attend meetings, uninformed slacker.”

The differences are stark

Again, I have to contrast the difference between the school board and the city council – everything the council does is expected to be up for public comment, and any slightly expensive spending will trigger a community meeting. The council doesn’t hire a facilitator for meetings.

Because the school board almost never holds public meetings before launching expensive projects, they have no clue how to do it. The school board has stumbled throughout the facility upgrade process, holding special morning meetings in which they declared “The board built buildings 90 years ago, It is our turn now”. Going on field trips, creating a special task force that meets in secret and doesn’t allow the public to attend. Coming to what sounded like near blows with the consultant they hired, and doubling the costs of the process. Now the board is spending a ridiculous amount of money on a consultant who will lead long and technical meetings – apparently it takes 12 hours to go through his process.

I don’t know who Frank Locker is,or what his experience is with incompetent school boards. I think he may regret taking this job.

* The school sent out an email announcing the hire of FLEP this week, and it was funny to read how desperate they are to somehow push the hype that HPG had both totally rock solid good facilities numbers, and was so incompetent that he needed to leave immediately, in the middle of a contract. This is what they said:

“District leaders also acknowledge that the facilities assessment previously conducted by HPG has been informative, thorough, and accurate and will assist in the facilities planning work moving forward.

LOL. Right. That sentence smells like something a lawyer wrote to keep the school board from being sued by HPG. District leaders don’t want to admit they screwed up, and are now sending the story about the debacle with HPG  down the memory hole.

Also – that email was sent out by Culp, but is written from the viewpoint of the third person, as if by a reporter. Does Culp now have a writer to do his email for him? Here is a slightly different version of the email posted on the school website, but again, who wrote this post?

(Later) I read some of the stuff on the school website that was posted so we can get an idea where Frank Locker is coming from. I suggest you try to read the document titled CEFPI_ST&DM_Locker.pdf . I challenge anyone to read that first page without developing a headache. Quite often specialists in esoteric fields retreat into jargon that is difficult to understand, this guy is so lost in the weeds he might never come home. A perfect match for our self-absorbed school board!

Tour of the Haunted High School fails to scare

Published October 26, 2016 by justicewg
scary-pipes-hs

Terrifying pipes

The school administration made an appropriate choice to run their tours of the facilities in the Halloween season of haunting and creepy buildings. Too bad the scare tactics were so ineffective.

A group of about 25 community members were taken on the tour October 25th, and were shown various shortcomings of the high school. This was part of the Facilities evaluation process, which until last week was being run by Harrison Planning Group.

They showed off a room on the second floor that had suffered a large water damage issue, and was under repair. These roof issues were presented as a big problem, and I don’t know why they seemed to be so challenging. Roof repair is an established business, for the last few hundred years or so. You would think the school could contract with a company that would fix them, then guarantee the results. But the administration seemed to find the whole roof issues to be unsolvable.

nice-furnature

Why is this room so nice? New furniture, fresh walls and floor?

Most of the complaints were about issues with the rooms being too cold or too hot. They mentioned a zone system for fixing this issue, but it didn’t seem to be high on the planning lists of the administration.

A lot of the facilities issues seemed to be inconveniences, which the school had worked around for years. Maybe the school has been putting off repairs in the hope of major reconstruction or new buildings being built, it doesn’t make sense to pour money into rooms which may be gone in the future.

nice-coffee-nook

A coffee nook in a classroom?

Maybe the school board didn’t want to fix things which will be replaced – but what if the lack of upkeep on the school was intentionally done to help add to the scare factor of the tour? That would seem like a deceptive trick to me. How can we evaluate the difference?

Much ado was made about the elevator, which broke and needed a new part fabricated. The school was without second floor wheelchair access for weeks.

staff-lounge

Oops, wandered into the wrong room.

Certainly not a good situation, but new elevators are installed inside the shafts of old elevators all the time. I understand the school board wants us to think the school building is like an elevator that gets old and needs replaced, but the analogy just doesn’t hold for buildings. Roofs repairs are not special parts that need custom built by workers who will be gone and take the skills with them when they retire.

Understanding Grandview Yard tax revenue

Published August 30, 2016 by justicewg

The city has big plans in store for the future, and unless we are thinking about going to war with Upper Arlington, we will not be funding those plans with more taxable land area. We have some new businesses on Goodale, but that area has about maxed out on value (unless business owners can be convinced to build tall offices). That leaves Grandview Yard as the key to the future increases in finances. The City recently published an overall summary of the financial data available on the Grandview Yard development, let’s dig into the numbers.

Property tax income and TIFs and Pilots

Property value GY

The first chart shows the property market value of the Yard. The TIF value is the additional value that was created by construction, and by agreement with NRI, will mostly be used for infrastructure bonds. The abatements are cuts in taxes given as a lure to build (or what some might say as a give-away to businesses that always have a hand out for corporate welfare).

What you learn from this table – between the TIF and the abatements, the city has not increased tax revenue into the general fund from property tax. If anything, it went down. If the city would have the same reliance on property tax as the school, you would be reading stories in the TVN similar to the “No boon from G.Y.” story that was published this year.

Pilot is the brain of the TIF

We are getting into the complex part of the story when we try to understand PILOTs. I quote from the doc:

Properties in the Grandview Yard TIF pay amounts equal to the property taxes, known as “payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS)”, as though the TIF had not been established. To the taxpayer in the TIF it is the same amount of money, but behind the scenes it is put into two different “pools”. The entire amount of PILOTs is sent to the City for distribution to the School, Library and Infrastructure Bond Trustee.

While the TIF was being set up, it was an agreed fact that the school and the library could suffer while the old buildings were torn down, and the TIF shuttled money to construction bonds. The PILOT is the brain of the TIF, and sets aside money to help the school and the library. There is complexity in the “Waterfall” of tax money that is diverted in stages to the school first, but I’m not sure if that’s important information. What you learn – the school tax income from G.Y. will be mostly flat.

Employment

According to the doc, there are over 2,000 new employees working at the Yard as of July 31, 2016. That’s not counting construction employees who are building the Yard. We are starting to get into the income tax part of the finances, and it is important to understand who pays income taxes to the city.

(Edit) I had some incorrect info about municipal income taxes, Ohio has some very complex rules. Some cities give 100% credit for income taxes collected outside the city, some 50%, some no credit. So it is possible for some Yard workers to pay taxes both to Grandview and an outside city. There is no breakout of the kind of tax income (personnel or business) in the data shown in this Grandview Finance document.

Business who are located in Grandview do pay income tax here. The 30 new businesses in the Yard will pay significant new income taxes to the city.

Summary of Revenue Created

Summary of Revenue Created

This chart shows a listing of the types of new money at G.Y. Note how much is being sent to the City of Columbus. Also note the size of the hotel tax, which only comes from one hotel, and will soon come from two. The largest non-TIF part of the pie is city income taxes.

Hotel Taxes

I’m working on a new story about how the Hotel taxes are generated and distributed. The only surprise I have at this tax is how well the Grandview Parks and Rec department did with a specific tax slice worth $136,439 last year. It will be something to watch as that number increases.

School Income

School district income from Yard

The school district depends on property taxes for most of their income. As you see in that section of the pie chart, the TIF agreements have held the taxes flat. The only section of the chart that is increasing is the “New Money PILOT”, and that’s only $302K last year, and is not supposed to gain much in the future.

The school can push for even higher property tax, but that will be coming from the rest of the city, not the Yard, which is protected by TIF agreements. The present millage puts us near the top of the chart in property tax rates in F.C., how much more can they expect Grandview residents to pay? Pretty obvious where the school will be going for new taxes in the future.