facilities

All posts tagged facilities

Culp will recommend a tear down and new build of the middle school

Published August 4, 2017 by justicewg
Culp and Douglass

Andy Culp and the man who pulls his strings

The school administration had the last scheduled Facility Community meeting on August 3, 2017. The outcome of the meeting was not a surprise. – Culp will recommend the most drastic of the three option still being offered – that the school board tear down the middle school and build a completely new school. He will recommend extensive renovation of Stevenson and the High School.

This option was given a price tag of $50 million at the June meeting. No doubt changes in the plans and inflation over the years needed to pass a levy and begin construction will drive the cost higher.

In an email sent to the staff Friday, Culp claimed that “This plan was widely embraced by community, staff, and student surveys”. The last survey results have not been posted on the school website as of Friday Aug 4. (it is now up, placed inconveniently on the bottom of the Facility home page).

Culp claimed that the third, “middle school tear down” option, was embraced in the “coffee with the superintendent” meetings held in parent homes. According to a person who hosted one of those meetings, they consisted of Culp dominating the conversation for hours, and few questions were taken. I’m still not understanding why those meetings were needed – what parent would invite the super into their home, and then disagree with him? What parent would want their child to be marked as the “child who has a trouble maker parent”?

The story on the facilities in the TVN

An Aug 8 story on Culp’s planned recommendation to the board included some more info. There was quotes from both Culp and board Pres. Truett in the article.

Truett mentioned his re-election (and two other board members) in the fall as a reason the board will wait until fall 2018 to ask for more mills from the community. I’m surprised Truett wants to mention the board elections, he faces blow-back for his support of expensive new taxes for the school (as well as his actions in sabotaging the deal with HPG). I though he would be a stealth candidate, hoping to sneak back into office. I’m sure the board will go silent on the possible tax increases needed for option C.

The board is also still planning to form a new committee to look at funding issues for the facility renovations. The job of making decisions on funding is the prime job of the board, passing it off to a committee (probably a closed group, like the Task force) is further proof that the board wants to hide their own preferences (which could be politically dangerous), and let someone else take the heat. It’s cowardly and lazy.

Some issues with the second school survey

I posted about the problems with online surveys in my last post. Please read the last two paragraphs for some discussion on the security, and the simple methods that could have been used to skew the survey.

There are also questions about the results of the survey – do they seem to be the logical results of opinions about the school facilities? Or are they pointing to something going wrong with the poll?

The were three option presented by the school. Option A was moderately renovation of all three buildings for $35 million. Option B was extensively renovate the schools for $55 million. Option C was to renovate Stevenson school and the high school and build a new Middle school on the current Edison/Larson site for $50 million.

According to the summary of the second survey results prepared by Triad, 15% of respondents thought option A was “best for the community”, option B was supported by 17% of the community, and option three was liked by 54%. A fourth, “something other than the above” option was chosen by 14%.

When presented with these options, I think the main choice that was made was made by respondents was “do I want to see the middle school school torn down and replaced?” If the answer was yes, they chose option C.

What this survey wants us to believe is that after rejecting the tear down, the most popular second choice was “renovate the middle school, but do it at a higher cost than building new”. Does it make sense that a lot of people want the middle school to be fixed, but in a more expensive way that tearing it down? The previous polling showed that there was 75% support for keeping Stevenson and the HS buildings, but there was little support for preserving the middle school.

Possibly there were a lot of people who took the claim that “44 million in deferred maintenance is needed” was a real number, and thought that option A was underfunding. But that doesn’t explain why option B was the most popular second choice. If you are not supporting option A, why not go for option C?

My guess is that over-voting explains the results. There could have been a lot of respondents who were sure that option A was wrong, and wanted to be sure it lost. So they took the poll twice, and the second time they picked option B, in the hopes it would be second place, higher than option A.

It all depends on the voters

We will now get to be exposed to more than a year of promotion for a vote at the polls projected to be made on fall 2018. I’m sure the results of the second survey will be spun with the slogan – “An overwhelming number want option C!”

And it will also be true that only 54% want option C, 46% want something else. If the survey was a true snapshot of the general public option, then the school board should be planning a vote as soon as possible. I don’t think even the board thinks the survey was for real.

 

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.

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.”

Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Revision in plans for school facilities – June 2017

Published June 14, 2017 by justicewg
May Facility meeting with options3

June 8 meeting looked a lot like this May meeting

Superintendent Culp presented a shorter list of facility options at a June 8 community meeting, The three choices now being presented by the board are:

Moderately renovation of all three buildings – $35 million.

Extensively renovate the schools – $55 million.

Renovate Stevenson school and the high school and build a new Middle school on the current Edison/Larson site – $50 million.

Stevenson should be saved

A top choice in the first facility meeting was to move all of the Stevenson classes to a renovated or new campus at the middle school location. The board implied with a survey question 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 reason for moving schools into a smaller number of buildings is efficiency, a single large building is cheaper to heat and cool than many scattered buildings. This is of course making the efficiency into the prime factor, and ignores the historical considerations about the old buildings.

Stevenson is no longer on the chopping block in the latest plans. This probably means the board will not chose to close the school, but they don’t have to follow the will of the 75% who wanted it saved, they can do whatever they want.

Millions for sports renovation

The board also announced a 2 million plan for new locker rooms, renovations to the home bleachers and resurfacing for the track. If the board follows the same tactic it used to complete the renovation of the artificial football field last year, there will be no public meetings to discuss the options, the board will simply do what they want.

Financial advisory committee to be formed

A financial advisory committee is scheduled to begin work at the start of 2018. The group will be reviewing project funding, whether the project should be completed in phases, and what the cost of a bond issue or levy would be for taxpayers. They might shoot for a fall 2018 levy.

One obvious choice for new school funds has never been mention by the school board, placing an income tax for the school system on the ballot. I can’t quite understand if this is because the school board doesn’t like income taxes, has never discussed the matter, or has been told by residents that they didn’t want a new income tax.

Treasurer Collier said that the Financial committee will be looking at the income tax possibility (during the June8 meeting), but with no statement of support or public disparagement of an income tax from the school board, the committee will be left to take all the heat generated from proposing a new tax. This seems like a cowardly way for the board to deal with tax issues.

I’m also waiting to hear if the board will chose to make the new finance committee closed to all visitors, keeping the proceedings secret like the Facility Task Force. That was a dumb move by the board that gave them no advantage, but served to reinforce the idea that the board works in secret and refuses to let the community know what they are doing in closed meetings.

New survey is super duper push polling

I noted in another story that the school board was using push polling in the last survey, using the questions more as a way to influence public opinion, rather than to learn about those opinions.

The new survey is even worse – pushing the statement that $44 million are needed as a baseline, and implying that the least costly option – $35 million – is a bad choice.

One of the questions asks you to give your own idea for an option for the schools. I don’t want to “push” anyone. But you can leave a message for the board about what you think of their performance in running the facility process in the “fill in what you want” box.

A third community facility meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3.

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!

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.