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Culp’s G4G video response, and why it is unimportant

Published March 9, 2018 by justicewg
culp-leads-laughter

Andy Culp promotes laughing at community comments at the first public facility meeting.

There is an email circulating in Granview that is supposed to be a response from superintendent Culp to the G4G video. I’ll get back to the email, but first some straight talk about the way things work in the Grandview Heights school board, why they don’t respond to any criticism – and why they should be the ones responding to G4G.

A long history of Policy Governance

I have written often in this blog about the way the school board believes in Policy Governance. If you want a the long form story on that theory of governance, you can read the Wiki article. Here is the short version:

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

That quote was from the Columbus school board website, back when they were firmly entrenched in Policy Governance. It is as good a summary as any I have found for how the Grandview board operates.

The board treats the superintendent like a CEO of a private company. They don’t want to be bothered with hearing complaints about the daily operation of the school, they are only “big picture” focused. So you get board meetings where the super lists his recommendations, and the board complies, five votes yes. You never read challenges to the ideas the super promotes in any school board meeting.

The board is big on using ideas from business, like using a committee composed of people from private companies. This is part of the “run the government like a business” that is a mantra of the republicans.

The board almost always votes unanimously. Years pass between split votes. The theory from Policy Governance is that the board should be letting the CEO run the school, so there should be no opposition from the board. In a practical, real world application, the people who want to change school policy go to board members in private, then the board communicates with each other outside of meetings to form policy.

Another big reason the board is always unanimous – members who stake out positions in public that are not immediately accepted and become unanimous policy would be venerable to challenge in the next election. You can’t pick out individuals when the board is always a faceless collective.

The present board has another favorite method of forming school policy outside of meetings, the facility Task force and Finance committee are run by board members, and greatly control school policy, but they are closed to public attendance and meeting notes are not allowed out of the room. Culp tries to claim these meetings are not being run by the board, therefore are not part of the Open Meeting laws. He is wrong.

The board should be responding to G4G

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Plenty of work ahead for “Good for Grandview” group

Published December 19, 2017 by justicewg
Culp and Douglass

Andy Culp and the man who pulls his strings

Reading the cryptic messages from the politburo at the Grandview school board has never been easy, they are normally stuffed with jargon and deflection of direct questions. I have a new email from Culp that contained more of the same, but if I’m reading it right, it doesn’t bode well for the G4G.

Three weeks have passed since the “Good for Grandview” facility review group made a public plea for the school administration to rethink plans for a $50 million new build at the middle school, along with renovations to the other buildings. A short article in the TVN contained some quotes from superintendent Culp in reaction to the group, but didn’t address any of the issues the GfG brought up on their website. Culp stuck to boilerplate phrases like “we are transparent” and “community-driven”, and said nothing about the issues of faults in the facility process, or answers to the questions of how this small community could support an unprecedented new tax burden for the new schools.

This was similar to the reaction from the board when they were asked about the break with consultant Harrison Planning Group, the board refused to answer questions from the press, and relied on meaningless jargon – as though they were too stunned to process or comment on what had happened.

Three weeks have now passed, I’m sure many phone calls between board members and administration staff have occurred, possibly even work done by outside consultants to formulate strategy for dealing with the G4G group. I have been sending multiple emails to all of the board members, asking them to respond with their own reaction to the statements that G4G made about the facility process, and the opposition the group has to the $50 million plan.

This is the reply I received: Read the rest of this entry →

The School Facility surveys, and a message for parent groups

Published August 2, 2017 by justicewg

Clout surveyThere have been a number of surveys that sampled Grandview resident’s opinions on the school facilities. Not all were done by the school. This is what I know about the surveys, and some advice for some parents who ran their own survey. I added a new section at the end to show how easy the school survey could have been hacked.

Surveys should always be viewed skeptically, both because of the small sample size, and the information they might be pushing (Push polls are a well understood way to inject opinions into the public mind). They are useful when they show an overwhelming percentage – like the 75% that said the school board should not be moving kids out of Stevenson, or replacing the high school.

I will end this post with some discussion on the integrity of online polls. Short version – don’t believe that polls on the internet are worth much, no matter what the company selling them tells you.

The school polls

The school board has run two public polls so far (August 2017), and one focus group meeting for “empty nest parents”. There was a third separate poll done for High school students (although there was nothing stopping those students from posting in the other online surveys). These were administered by a company called Triad Research.

As of June the school has paid Triad at least $17,000 for the online surveys and the focus groups. Triad’s summary of the surveys and the focus group is on the school website (the Pdf at the bottom).

The online surveys were poorly designed, identifying the owner of the poll is only done with one line at the start. The body of the survey contains nothing but a series of questions, with no tracking of the progress. You can know that you are on a school owned survey by looking at the domain name up in the address bar, they used “sawtoothsoftware.com”, subcontracting the online polling service.

The First sawtoothsoftware survey was posted online in the first week of May, it was located at (this now closed URL).

There were 597 responses, the questions were mostly about the original 7 options for school facilities, as presented in the April 26, 2017 meeting. The survey only asked about those seven original plans, there was no “fill in your own idea” for the school facilities. The $35 million renovation plan was the least expensive option given.

The board implied with a question in this survey that there may be a deal in the works to turn Stevenson into a “community center”, but no council member had knowledge of any plans for the use of the building by the city. The plan to vacate Stevenson is not part of any current school plans, but the school board still has the option to ignore the recommendations.

Second survey was located at this address (now closed).

Once again, the survey used push polling to try to force parents into choosing from the three facility options the school, and pushed the idea that $44 million was a base number for renovations, implying that the $35 million renovation option was inadequate.

The results of the second school survey are going to be posted on the school website after the Aug. 3 meeting. (Update Aug 10 the second survey results have still not been posted on the web page where they said it would be, instead you need to go to the community planning homepage, and find it at the bottom of a long page).

An important fact – the data from the surveys was only summarized in the posted PDF files, there has been no release of the raw data. Because the company that conduced the survey is a private business, they have no reason to release that data. FOIA requests don’t work on private businesses. Maybe this is why the school chose to farm out work that could have been done internally?

The Focus group – and are 90 year old buildings obsolete?

The school paid 11 older “empty nest” community members to attend a focus group in May of 2017. This was done because they know that older people are least likely to respond to the online surveys. The small size of the group made it unreliable for any true view of the general group of voters in Grandview.The group had the expected confidence in the quality of the school, and fear of raising taxes. Maybe the most surprising finding was that none of the group ever went to the school website, so all of the school’s attempts to push for building new schools online will do nothing for this group. (I also assume this group will not be reading my blog).

One item from the focus group jumped out at me. The school has been pushing hard on the the idea that 1. most people don’t know the age of the schools, and 2. they would be willing to replace them if they know the age of the buildings.

I think this quote from a member of the focus group, composed of older community members who have no children in the school, is the answer the average Grandview resident will give about the age of the schools.

“90-years-old — you’ve got to tear it down? Well, is somebody going to buy my house that’s almost 100-years-old and tear it down? No. They’re going to fix it, they’re going to renovate it, and they’re going to make it look beautiful.”

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Board to host open, ask anything meetings (A.F.)

Published March 31, 2017 by justicewg

truett-at-visioningThe announcement by school superintendent Culp about meetings to be held in the homes of Grandview residents has provoked a change of direction in the school board. Culp’s “ask me anything” home meetups is going to be done one better by the board.

“We remembered that the school board held meetings in the past for the community to ask questions about special topics, like the removal for the A+ grade, or the change in student drinking policy. We looked at our record and noticed it has been years since we have done anything like that.”

Board president Truett posted new policy for the board on the school website this week. “We will be hosting bi-monthly meetings at the school for the foreseeable future. There will be no limit in topic – anything goes. Do you wonder what the real deal was with the mysterious end of the contract with facilities consultant HPG? Come ask. Did we leave unanswered info about the sudden end to former super O’Reilly’s tenure? Ask us to come clean. There were questions about why the school pushed out band director Hennig, Lots of things happened there that we kept under wraps, it will be good to get them out. How about the lawsuit against the school, and the large payouts the school made to end those legal challenges to our treatment of a parent? We will be fully transparent.”

The school will be making video recordings of each questions and answer, and a detailed transcription of the questions and answers will be posted to the school website.

Truett commented, ”That thing I said during a meeting about how criticism and questioning the board is bad decorum? Yea, that was kind of a dumb thing to say. Any questions or comments are now going to be quickly and completely answered by the board.”

“Heck, I might even be answering questions about the real reason that I resigned from the principal position at the school, and turned in my teaching license. You can only hold that stuff in so long, before it makes a fellow a bit uncomfortable. It will be a good thing to tell the whole truth” said Jessie Truett.

(Later) Sorry, some times you need to be a little early on the April Fools to get “ahead” of the pack.

Culp is holding a “coffee”, and you are not invited

All of the preceding story about the board holding open, ask anything meetings is a joke, an April fools gag that was so far fetched that nobody could have thought it was true, like spaghetti growing on a tree. All of the questions that I listed are real questions that the board has never answered – click the links to read the stories behind the unanswered questions.

I had to go back in the archives of my old blog to find examples of the school board holding open meetings that were scheduled so that any community member could ask questions. There really was a meeting held so the board could answer questions about changes to the student drinking policy back in 2008, and another was held in 2006 to get parent comments on the removal of the A+ grade. I don’t think any public meetings to ask the board questions have been held since then. There was about a hundred parents that attended the school board meeting at which the band director was given the boot, but that was a regular board meeting, and the board did not answer any questions from the public. I think the board was so frightened by that meeting they are now refusing to ever get out of the bunker.

The announcement by school superintendent Culp about meetings to be held in the homes of Grandview residents – that is real, the link above to the TVN story explains it (there is also a Dispatch story). I asked Mr Culp for more detail about the format of these meetings – how would the homes be chosen, who is invited, is the meeting recorded? He responded that he would be the one making the choice, the homeowner would pick the attendees, and nothing would be recorded. I sent the following to him in response to that.

Since you are leaving the details of who will be invited to these meetings to the homeowner, and they will set the tone of acceptable questioning, I don’t foresee anything will occur at these home coffee meetings other than polite chatting that never asks the important, difficult questions. Why would a homeowner invite a superintendent into his home in order for him to be made uncomfortable?

Since you don’t intend to record these meetings, there will be no record of what was asked, or answered. Ephemeral meetings with no important content, and no trace left after. Possibly useful for someone who wanted to burnish a social standing in the community by bragging “I had the superintendent at my house”. (Maybe also parents who are looking to bank some influence with the school if their child were to get into trouble in the future.)

Do you really think there will be anything produced that would be of value for the people who have hard questions in this community? – JW

Big surprise – Culp didn’t answer my question! I guess he didn’t have enough coffee.

(Later) After reading the Dispatch story about the “Coffee Chat” meetings, I think I understand now what the real deal is. Jessie Truett, who will be running for re-election to the board in the fall, will be attending these meetings also. This allows him a way to get into people’s homes and do some early campaigning for his fall run. I think Grandview residents have woken up to the mistake they made in electing him, and the shame it brings to the school to have the guy as board president. I think Truett really needs the paycheck for the board gig, and is desperate to hold the job.

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!

School board breaks with Harrison Planning Group

Published October 18, 2016 by justicewg
board-meeting-10-18-16-special-morning

Board members Douglass, Palmisciano, Super Culp, Evans, Tres. Collier, Truett, Pres. Brannan did not attend.

The school board set up a short notice special meeting at 8:15 in the morning on October 18th, and announced the immediate end of the relationship with Harrison Planning Group, citing “unprofessional behavior and attacks on board and task force members” (according to member Truett), and claiming that HPG did not want to continue working with the board.

The board picked Harrison Planning Group in January of this year, signing a $67K contract to do facility assessment (with an option for $27K more for further service), produce documentation of facility replacement costs, facilitate meetings with the public to explain those documents, and recommendations for directions the school could take in upgrading the schools. HPG attended the first facility meeting with the public on Aug. 24, and presented the findings on the school facilities.

The board’s explanation for the break with HPG

Board member Jessie Truett, on the facility committee, spend most of the 8:15 AM meeting explaining why the board is ending its relationship with HPG.

Truett said HPG was keeping some documents confidential, and didn’t live up to the “transparency” requested by the board (the word transparency is a favorite of Truett, he used it at least 15 times in the meeting).

This is an odd complaint from the board, were they saying that HPG was keeping some documents secretly, and not releasing them to the board? Because the only group that can release documents is the board, HPG was not expected to release them to the public (consultants release documents to the people who pay them).

Truett said HPG was making specific options for the facility process, and labeling them with dollar numbers. Apparently the board wanted something less specific, and was afraid the cost estimates would be used as hard figures.

The way you get exactly what you want from a consultant is to specify expected documents and the scope of the work to be done. If this doesn’t work as expected, is it a fault of the contractor? Or the board which was supposed to give good project scope instructions, and supervise the work output?

Finally, HPG was hired with the condition that they would not be eligible for any facility or architectural work done in the future at the school, in order to prevent any possibility that HPG might be self-dealing future contracts. This was acceptable to HPG. However, HPG was using sub-contractors who might be eligible for work at the school in the future.

According to Truett, when the board asked Kevin Harrison to not use any contractor who might bid on future work, “he took our request personally, responding in an unprofessional manner, verbally attacked members of the task force and the board of education, and responded that he didn’t want to work with us any more.”

Again, this points to a deficiency in the contract and scope of planning with HPG, if the board didn’t want sub-contracters with eligibility for future work, they should have said so. I’ve been told that the pool of firms which might do this sub-contracting is small, and finding any who would do the work with the stipulation of no future contracts would be nearly impossible.

Truett said that HPG had been paid for the work they had done, and was in possession of all documents that were created by HPG up to this point, and that the board would end the relationship with no financial entanglements.

This is questionable – as the creator of the facility documents that are the basis of the process, HPG was uniquely able to answer questions about how those assessments and projections were created. Any successor that will be facilitating the process from now on will be struggling to catch up. Is HPG expected to pass off the work product for free, and not be paid for any consultation with the new company?

What is HPG’s side of the story?

I don’t expect Kevin Harrison of HPG will do any responding for requests for his side of the story. It doesn’t help to re-litigate a bad ending.

We can guess how this might have gone down from his perspective. He might say he was given poor instructions, and he was simply doing what he has done in all the past work with schools.

Harrison Planning group list 33 years of experience in consulting and facilities construction, and a few of the local schools who have used the company are Miami-Trace Local Schools, Washington Courthouse, New Albany – Plain Local School District, New Albany, Dayton Regional Stem School , and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC).

If he was a difficult person to work with, I don’t think his resume would be this large. I’m guessing the problem was the board members who pushed for an outcome that was obviously what they wanted from the beginning – a recommendation to tear down and build new schools. A consultant who had integrity would resist this meddling with the process, and when pushed, tell them to shove it.

The facilities process continues

The Facility Task force will be meeting next week, and will be working to find a new firm to continue the Facility process with the community. Too bad you can’t attend and ask them what they think of the HPG mess – Superintendent Culp again said that the Task force is a closed group, and you can’t attend meetings.

So much for transparency

There were 13 community members that attended the morning meeting, much to the shock of the board (most morning meetings have no one but the board). Two of the attendees pointed out the poor action of the board in sneaking this bad news into a special morning session, when the board had a regular meeting at 7PM in the same day. They said the board is hiding its failure with HPG by making the announcement at a meeting that would have no attendees (message to clueless board members, word always gets out in a small town). The board tried to give a lame excuse that the facilities business was not on the regular meeting agenda, but plenty of regular meetings have revised agendas. And they did have time to announce a special morning meeting – they could have tacked it on to the evening, no issues at all.

(Later) Now that I have reviewed the video (posted below), I’m getting more ticked off at the way Truett handled this meeting. His response to the appropriate and not at all insulting questions about the morning meetings was for Truett to start talking about decorum at the board meeting, and how he doesn’t want to get in a discussion questioning if the board is making appropriate choices.

Superintendent Culp, sprouting a week’s worth of beard from a vacation that ended Monday, claimed he was responsible for the morning meeting. How lame can you get.

After the break, the video of the Board meeting.

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