consulting

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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?

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School Finance Committee report May 29

Published May 30, 2018 by justicewg

Finance report may29The school’s Finance committee, the closed group that refused to share meeting notes, finally gave its report to the community last night. As expected, they followed closely to the plans the school administration has been pushing, with small changes.

The big question before the report was presented was, what they were doing in the closed meetings? They were more than two months late in presenting the findings. I’m still processing all the documents and the video of the meeting, but I think they answered my question – they were not taking so long because they were evaluating the faults in the plans pointed out by the Good for Grandview group, and others. If the performance of the committee last night was representative of the general tone of the meetings, the delay was caused by self-important bloviation by some committee members.

Only the middle school replacement was on the table

The school administration repeated often that the finance committee was going to be an independent group that would have all options on the table. That was a lie – the group members themselves said that their work was only an “audit” of the 50 million dollar “tear down the middle school” choice. No time was spent on evaluating cheaper options that could have renovated the middle school. The only real changes the group made to the administration plans was to add an additional $5 million for things like a connector between the new middle school and the high school.

Why was the committee looking at an operating levy?

Part of the recommendation of the finance group was to suggest that the board add a one mill operating levy onto the request for 7.5 mills to build and renovate the schools. Why was this group considering an operations fund? That was a purely political question that should only  have been considered by the school board. The answer they gave was that adding operations funding was a “holistic approach”. I think by holistic, they mean that it gives the board leverage to hold the students hostage – pass our levy, or your kid gets services taken away, we close down class options, we add fees back for activities.

Scare tactics will be in full effect

The finance report spent a page of the report on “safety and security”, and told us all about how we needed to be adding “basic security measures” that are lacking in the old schools. Never miss a chance to freak parents out about school shootings, if it will pass the levy. You can be sure that these security options will also be used as levers to pass the operations part of the levy – vote for the tax, or we will not have the money to protect your kids from anyone with a gun who wants to walk into the school.

For a little history of the school using scare tactics to push for more money, read the history of the SRO in the school. They used the threat of Al-Qaeda terrorism to push for a police officer in the school. Not kidding!

Culp “fully committed” to open Finance committee meetings, until he wasn’t

The video of the finance comm. report has been posted on the school website. One of the questions you might have about the meeting is the insistent questioning by parents – where are the finance comm. meeting notes we were promised? Why were the meetings closed to the public? Watch this short video to understand why that was so important to many parents.

A community member asks superintendent Culp about the Finance committee, asks if there will be notice of meetings, public participation, minutes online. Culp says “I fully commit to that, I don’t think you can do it any other way.”

If you are pedantic, you might say he didn’t use the words “promise” when he said those words. But “Fully committing” is good enough to call it a promise. Culp didn’t say a word last week when questions were being asked about his commitment. He doesn’t answer questions via email. The board refuses to even acknowledge that Culp made a promise at meeting seven.

Standing by your word is what gives a person integrity. Failing to answer questions shows a lack of honor. Culp has a big problem, and if he is too cowardly to answer questions, the board should step up and tell us – why was the Facilities Task force closed to the public, and meeting notes kept secret? Why, even after Culp promised to have an open fiance committee, was the door slammed shut?

Those are important questions, and the split in the community cause by the failure to address these questions might cause the failure of the levy.

Even if you don’t care about those questions, and just want to see the board fix up the schools, you should be asking the board why they are not answering those questions. Because you are going to see a long protracted fight, because the school board can’t fess up and answer questions they don’t want to answer.

Part two on the finance committee report, a detailed look at the meeting video, is now posted on my blog.

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Financial Advisory Committee lost in research and analysis? Or Chaos?

Published April 24, 2018 by justicewg

The school’s Financial Advisory Committee was supposed to be finished by mid March with an “independent” review of the facility planning process at the schools. An early March email from superintendent Culp said that there would be a delay as the Financial Advisory Committee worked on more “research and analysis”, but gave no hint on a completion date. A second email sent from Culp on April 6, 2018, and again the committee was “continuing their research and analysis”. No date was given for a report, or a meeting with the community.

What’s going on? If this was a well planning series of meetings for the committee, they would be finishing their work long ago. Nobody working in a committee has ever said “good, we are taking more than a month after we are scheduled to finish our work, that means things are going well”.

If this were a normal city, with a school board that took it’s pledge of open meetings seriously, we would have no question about what was going on – we could have attended meetings as observers and had a ring side seat to the committee process. Instead, we are locked out, being fed inadequate delaying messages from Culp, and are left to speculate.

The committee is in Chaos

My best guess is the committee is being thrown in so many directions it has been lost in chaos. Unable to form a set of recommendations that make sense, given the constant statements from the school board and treasurer that claim the taxes in Grandview are low, while also listening to G4G’s facts that show the taxes in Grandview have outstripped income, and the fact of the G4G organizing ( currently 355 signatures, and campaigning for more) means that a high levy for school construction has no chance of passing.

Given the past organizational skills show by the board , when they ended a contract with facility planning group HPG in a bitter dispute that required the company to walk away in the middle of the work, you have to wonder if the same failures are sending committee members walking away in disgust?

Reading the info on the school website

Culp claims in his emails that the school has plenty of updates on the facility process on the school website. There is a section that is supposed to be filled with current information on the Financial Advisory Committee. However, read the document download section at the bottom of the page – nothing has been posted since a PP document (created by the administration) that was shown to the committee back in early March.

Nothing on this page in the school website has any documents created by the committee. We are left with no way to even get a hint as to the direction the group is heading, more than a month after they were supposed to be finished. THIS IS NOT NORMAL. This is not open, or transparent, or responsive to the community.

FAQ page has been scrubbed of info on facility contract costs.

In my post about the new Facility FAQ on the school website, I noted that the administration had removed a section that listed the outside consultants who have done work on the facilities process, and an accounting of the money spent on these companies. I sent some emails to find out why the school made these deletions.

Mr Culp;

One big change in the new school facility FAQ is the deletion of a section that listed the outside consultants who have done work on the facilities process, and an accounting of the money spent on these companies. Last year the total was at least $200 thousand. I have heard that the number is now well over $250K.

Why was that section deleted from the FAQ?

Mr Wagner;

Thanks for your email.  I have copied Beth Collier on this email who can give you the total dollars spent thus far in our facility planning process.  

We removed the entire FAQ as much of the information as no longer accurate or relevant.

Thanks,     Andy

Mr Culp;

Are you saying that you can no longer provide accurate information to Grandview residents on the costs associated with the consultants?

Or are you saying that the costs for consultants are not relevant to the questions Grandview residents have about the costs of the facility process?

No Reply from Mr. Culp – maybe he needed some more coffee?

(Later) On Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at 6:30 PM, the Finance Committee will finally present results of their work at the high school auditorium. More than two months overdue – and not a word of explanation from the group to the community about what was causing the delay. Because keeping the community a part of the process is just a show, a fake front that is dropped when it isn’t needed. There will be comments allowed after the findings, and you can go and stand up and talk, and your words will disappear, never to be acknowledged by the board.

City has no problem making videos and posting them.

The Steering Committee is the sub-group of the planning process for the City of Grandview Heights, they will manage the public meetings, they had a May 17 meeting and posted it on YT. Why does the city have no problem inviting anyone to attend sub-committee meetings, and making and posting videos, but the school board can’t do these simple things for it’s committees?

 

Why the board and the school administration can’t be trusted with “transparency” on consultants

Published July 10, 2017 by justicewg

Facility ass web shot3The school board (via the Superintendent, no board members ever talk to the public) kicked off the Facilities Planning process back in August of 2016, and claimed that the entire process would be “Transparent”. They were going to have a website with full disclosure of all documents related to the process.

Let’s take a look at that website.

One of the most important questions that any Grandview resident can ask about the process is “Who are the people who are being hired to do the consulting work? What does their contract say for the scope of the work, and how much are they being paid?

Go the the school Facility website, a part of the entire school site. It isn’t clear from the options on the home page of the Facilities section where you might find the contracts that have been signed by HPG or Frank Locker Educational Planning, or TRIAD Research Group, or FutureThink, or any of the other companies that has been hired.

You can guess that the “Facility Assessments” link on the right of the page might have something, besides just Facility Assessments. But opening that page gives a couple of paragraphs that have no mention of the contracts that have been negotiated with the contractors. But there is a cryptic file called “Facility Planner Hiring Documents.zip”. You can’t open that file with your browser, you have to download it and unpack the Zip file.

And after all that work, you will find – a supplementary contract with HPG (who quit in disgust back in fall 2016), and some old checklists used to hire HPG. Nothing about any of the other contractors. Not even the first contract with HPG.

If the school board is wondering why there is a parent group who has been doing their own surveys, not trusting the school to be open with the information about the facility process, this is a prime reason.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this page to see if the school improves the information they chose to share. I’m not expecting much.

Share your experience with document requests

Have you asked the school administration for documents? What kind of response did you get?

I found out that Super Culp is on vacation, so I sent a request for some documents to his assistant, Hayley Head. After receiving nothing in reply for 8 days, I sent a reminder email. Ms Head finally got around to doing something – she forwarded the request on to the school treasurer. So either it took her 8 days to get around to reading my email, or she was sitting on it for all that time.

I know that there are many school employees on vacation right now, but they are supposed to keep the office running and answering emails. This was significantly worse time lag than than any other request for documents I have made from the school.

How much time has it taken you to get a reply for your document requests from the school? If my experience is not common, I’m suspecting it may be a simple incompetence issue, but if the superintendent has no problems with throwing document requests into a file to be answered “whenever we feel like it”, this is just another symptom of the failure to be responsive to the public. That failure comes from the top – the board and the superintendent.

K-12 facilities report used by the school board to deceive

Published September 18, 2015 by justicewg

Facilities report - coverEarly in 2015 the school board asked a company called “K-12 Consulting” to produce a report that had the title “Permanent Improvement Cost Assessment”. After a special morning board meeting, the board used the report as the primary document to warn the community about high facility costs, and the need for new buildings. The board notes recorded them saying about new construction “It’s our turn now”, and how they had a “MORAL IMPERATIVE” to build, based on the facilities report.

I read carefully through that report. Not only does it not support the conclusion of the school board, It explicitly says it is not to be used to estimate costs for replacement or renovation of current school buildings. By quoting (incorrectly) some of the costs the school will face in the next 10 years, without specifying the second biggest cost category (Sports facilities) , in my opinion the board has fraudulently used this report to deceive the community.

The K-12 Consulting Report

K-12 Consulting is a Dublin based company that works with schools to produce reports and training. I don’t want to imply that the company did anything wrong, they appear to have used the data they were given, and costs estimates projections from industry groups, to make accurate guesses about the future cost of facilities at the school. However, the way the school board gave the scope requirements for this report failed to address the most important questions we need to know to make informed opinions about the future of renovation or new construction at the schools.

First, this report was limited to the years 2016 to 2024. This ignores the past costs that the school has paid in real dollars for facility maintenance. By looking at past costs, and projections of future costs (adjusted for inflation), the board could have substantiated their claims that we will be paying more in the future because of the age of the infrastructure. It’s an incomplete picture that could have been resolved with data existing in the school finance department.

Second, the report very clearly says that the data presented is only for current facilities costs. The second paragraph of the report says:

“This assessment was not intended to provide costs to renovate or replace the existing facilities. The goal was to capture the costs of yearly maintenance, equipment replacement, and capital repairs that include an allocation to start updating the student learning environment over the next ten year period. This process would be an incremental effort to move through a block of classrooms annually while performing yearly maintenance on the infrastructure of the district.”

I question this statement that the report is not about costs to renovate, while at the same time it contains costs for “updating the student environment”. Isn’t that renovation?

Because the report doesn’t contain anything about costs for new construction, it was inappropriate to use of it in the May 2015 special meeting as the prime document that lead them to the statement “80-­‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.” That statement was unsupported by any projection of the costs of new buildings, as opposed to renovation of current facilities.

Digging into the Facilities report

I highly suggest you download and read the Grandview Final Facilities report Here is a quick overview of the content.

Facilities report - buildings

Click for the embiggening

The spreadsheet with the title “Buildings – mechanical equipment and repairs” is the most important one in this assessment. If the school board is correct in their claims that the school buildings are deteriorating because of age, this spreadsheet should show increasing annual costs over the next ten years. But look at the bottom line totals – they show costs that average around $350K, with small increases and decreases over time. There is nothing here to support a claim that the buildings are deteriorating and costing increasing amounts.

Facilities report - custodial and vehicles

This spreadsheet shows the cost of snow removal equipment, vans, and maintenance supplies – fixed costs. It has nothing to do with building costs. Why does this belong in a report that was used to support the board conclusion that new buildings are needed?

There are more spreadsheets that cover costs for flooring, roofing, asphalt and furniture. All are fixed costs that are expected, no surprises or spikes in the future.

Facilities report - athletics

Click to see me

The Athletics spreadsheet is the most important one to read for a full understanding the facilities costs at the school. Here you see the Recoating of the home stadium seating for $110K, the visitor bleacher replacement at $27K, fencing for $60K, the track surface replacement for $110K, and the big one, the artificial turf will need replacement in 2017 at $357K. I totaled up the costs for all athletic  facility spending for the next ten years, it is over $700K. As a percentage of the total costs for the future at the school, these expensive athletics projects are the second highest cost center on the pie chart in the report.

You would think with these kind of costs in the near term, the school board would be mentioning that Athletics are a major cost factor. Yet I can’t find any mention of this in the published information from the board. The boosters website is devoid of mention of these costs, or any plans for fundraisers specific to the projects.

How did the board come to its conclusions?

After you download and read the Facilities report, download the school MINUTES 2015 05 13 The board is recorded reading the report, and suggests that there are other costs not included (why didn’t they include those costs in the scope?) The board then makes statements like “80-­‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.”, and “Feeling of MORAL IMPERATIVE to do something” (that capitalization is directly from the meeting notes). How does this report support the urgency to replace buildings?

If the board was honest, they would have said “We feel a MORAL IMPERATIVE to inform Grandview residents that the athletic departments facilities are very expensive to maintain, and the private donations are not expected to cover any more than a small percentage of costs.” Honesty from the Grandview school board is in short supply. Also, why was the board recorded giving reports on visits to other school systems – isn’t it way too early in the process to be doing visits? I get the feeling that the board was measuring the curtains for new offices they will include in plans for new construction.

The TVN article about the facilities report

The TVN did a story about the facilities report, given as a presentation by the facilities committee (made up of board members). This statement in the story stuck out:

“The audit was “a very reasonable, conservative” look at the district’s facility needs, Truett said. The cost of maintaining the buildings is projected to be between $800,000 and $1.2 million a year for at least the next five or six years, he said.”

First, no, the K-12 facilities report didn’t say $800K to $1.2 million. It said $750K to $1,070K for the most expensive years. Not much different, but why lie about the numbers that are printed right on the report?

Second, there is no support for the “between $800,000 and $1.2 million a year for at least the next five or six years”. The report said those extreme costs are limited to the next three years, after 2017 the totals drop down to an average well below $500K.

Finally, the reason for that high number of $1,070K is plainly printed in the report. The artificial turf will cost $357K, and it will be a budget buster for the school. The failure to include an explicit mention of the cost of the turf is deceptive, and it completely fails to inform the parents of our school system about the true reasons for high facilities costs.

As an aside – If you are wondering why the board has not set some money aside in preparation for the turf replacement, the answer is that they were still paying off the old loan for the installation as late as 2014.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Failure to honestly communicate important information is the fundamental mission of the present “Policy Governance” board. They need us to pass high levies for their new school buildings however, so expect to see lots more BS flowing from the board.