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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?

 

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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

Read the rest of this entry →

New school facility FAQ vs the G4G video

Published March 2, 2018 by justicewg

The school administration has updated the facility FAQ on the school website with new information about the facility numbers and process. Although the board and the administration still refuse to acknowledge the Good for Grandview group, they obviously are responding to some of the points the G4G has made on their website. The G4G group meanwhile has produced a new video that summarized the facts about the facilities in a short, easy to watch video. Lets look at what each of them are saying.

New FAQ on the school website

Faq is a scamThe new FAQ on the school website has the current spin from the school board on the facility process. By the way, that link in the preceding sentence goes directly to the web page on the school website. If you got a email from the superintendent this week that listed a link to the FAQ, you probably got a warning from your email service that said “The link might be a scam”. The problem is that the link in Culp’s email doesn’t link directly to the school website, it first sends you to a tracking service used by the school’s messenger newsletter software. So the school will know which IP addresses clicked on the link (not unusual, but I had to note that the school’s links are listed as scams by some email clients).

Leading with $44.5 million dollars in deferred maintenance

The school board is not going to back off the deceptive $44.5 million number, they jump right on it in the first paragraph, and defend it with a full section of the FAQ. Even though the G4G did a good take down that showed why that is an inappropriate number, the board is refusing to budge an inch.

Quick review of the debate – HPG came up with this number as a full cost to make all of the schools meet current building codes. The problem is that only new construction is required to meet these codes, there is nothing unsafe about the old codes. If you had to make your 90 year old Grandview home meet all of the current new construction codes, you might also figure it is cheaper to build new. But almost nobody does that, because it isn’t needed, and it destroys a historic building for no good reason (unless you like new construction, in which case you can buy a new house in Hilliard).

The board also fails to answer questions about how they parted on bad terms with HPG, and the unanswered questions throw a shadow over the HPG report. In fact, Harrison himself said that the $44 million number was not an appropriate number for this debate.

In the FAQ the board insists that “it would take $44.5 million to simply address our building maintenance needs.” , then they discount the K-12 Consulting report that gave the board a much lower number. The board disparages the K-12 consultants as being unqualified to give an accurate number (but then that raises the question, why did the board hire a consultant that isn’t qualified?).

They then list the replacement of a boiler and a roof as “unplanned expenditures”, in an attempt to show that the K-12 report didn’t have the full, accurate numbers. However, a careful reading of that report shows that boiler and roof replacement was accounted for as a part of the needed maintenance over the next ten years. The board blatantly lied about the contents of the K-12 report.

The FAQ continues to use the effective tax rate, and doesn’t mention the real, total voted millage (where Grandview has the highest number in all the school districts). They also try to insist that residents received “only 5.6 increase in property tax” after the 2017 revaluation. I wouldn’t call that number “ONLY 5.6%”, as though it requires a simple effortless budget shift to find that extra money. And that number was an average – many people now pay even more.

(Edit –  Apparently that 5.6% was more accurately the increase attributed to the  revaluation, when you add the increases cause by other taxes it adds up to 9.3%, and the board is still calling it ONLY 9.3%. Funny, when the board was dealing with cuts from the state, it wasn’t a “ONLY 5%”. When the school gets cut, it becomes “a pretty significant dropoff”.)

The FAQ ends with asking how much the school spends per student , and how that compares to other districts – and fails to answer its own question.

One big change in the school 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 they admitted to was at least $200 thousand. I have heard that the number is now well over $250K, and that number will spike well above that if the board hires more public relations people to push a doomed levy in the fall.

Good for Grandview video

Go watch the video produced by G4G. It’s only 4 minutes long, and is a lot more fun to watch than this sucky blog.

High points – the property tax vs median household income is the chart that is most important. Taxes have gone up, but the average income has not matched that increase. The 2008 great recession hit hard, and while the economy is back, incomes have not recovered much. More importantly, household wealth – the total assets (land, property, money saved, etc.) took a big hit in the recession and many have not recovered. Retirement money was used, and many of those scraping by have not put the money back. People are still hurting. They simply don’t have the income to vote for new taxes.

The G4G video makes a point of this, Grandview is not composed of just doctors and lawyers, we still have some people with lower incomes, and retired folks with fixed income. New taxes will drive these people out. You will never hear the school board say a word about the impact new taxes will have on the people who can least afford them.

That reminds me of a story I heard about back when the board was pushing the 2002 tax increase, when voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy. Board members were calling up residents, and told them that “people who can’t pay for new taxes should shut up and move out”. I’m guessing some variant of that message will be used for the next levy campaign.

No comparison

So who wins in the school FAQ vs the G4G video? Let’s see – the school board stubbornly repeats useless numbers and refuses to concede that they made any errors in the HPG scandal, or the anti-democratic hiding of school policy creation in the closed task force and finance committees. Their tactic seems to be “fingers in ears, yell the same lies louder”.

The G4G has created a video that has a perfect balance of good information about the past, and points to the way we can get to a better outcome for the schools and the community without tearing the school into warring factions. Is there any question about who wins?

Finance committee failing to make their schedule

Just today we learned from Culp that the closed to the community Finance committee, scheduled to make a report before the community on March 12, will not be ready by that date. No new date has been set. Culp is claiming that they are “still in the process of doing research”.

Given the history of deception from the board, you have to wonder – is this some rebellion that has to be quashed? Maybe – but I have been burned in the past hoping that some group will stand up to the board and tell them that they are a bunch of idiots. We will see. Finance committee members – anyone want to be a good guy and let the community know what is really happening? Use my “about” section to send an anonymous message.

Board says “Join the conversation”, then slams the door on the Finance committee

Published January 17, 2018 by justicewg

The Grandview school board received plenty of criticism over the secretive way they ran the Facility Task Force, a group made up of community members who were supposed to be selected for knowledge of public facilities (yet few had any experience). Now the board has carefully selected a Finance committee, and as a very public middle finger gesture to the Grandview parents who criticized them in the past, the board is making the Finance committee closed, no visitors allowed, no meeting notes will be provided for those who question what is happening behind closed doors.

(edit) The first comment below this post is the most important one. Someone who was at the final community meeting remembered what Culp had to say about how the Finance committee meetings were going to be held. Go to the video the board made of that meeting, then jump forward to 51:20. Spoiler – Culp completely contradicts himself.

See the video clipped from that meeting below.

Some history of the Task Force

The Facilities Task force was first proposed at a May 2015 board meeting. A list of attributes that were wanted was posted, “Professional and smart” were good things. “Consensus minded” was also a pre-selection criteria. They wanted people who would not dig too deep, that would not voice concerns, that would reflect the over-optimistic ideas that the board wanted to propose. Although the board said in later news releases that the Task Force members would be experts in school facilities, in reality none of them had any experience in design or construction of school buildings. Being a spouse or friend of a board members was the best ticket to a seat on that group.

When I first requested to attend a Task Force meeting back in September of 2015, board president Brannon at first assumed the meetings were open to the public, like other school policy meetings. She was quickly corrected by the people that really run the board that the meetings were closed, and no meeting notes would be allowed out of the room. The Task Force met dozens of times over the next two years, and although their main task of being the hidden controllers of the public facility meetings has finished, they may still be lucking in the shadows.

The board and Culp have received constant criticism for the hypocrisy of the “we are so transparent” PR pushed in meeting after meeting, while approving a task force that worked in the shadows. The Good for Grandview group pointed out in their website that the Task Force has met in secret dozens of times, with no visitors allowed, and no meeting minutes allowed to leave the room. The only fig leaf the board has created to pretend there is accountability is to post meeting agendas for the Task force – bare skeletons of proposed meeting tasks, most less than 5 single sentence bullet points. There is no public record of how the members worked to shape the public meetings – how the choices were made to limit the options to only 9 building choices at the May 2017 meeting, then cut down to three by the June meeting. By controlling the information presented, and the options that were allowed on surveys, the Task Force (and board) manipulated the process to insure the results they wanted.

You would think the board would have learned that they can’t be quite so blatantly obvious in manipulating the facility process from the shadows, by using the closed off Task Force. You would be wrong.

Read the rest of this entry →

Watching Grandview Heights in 2017

Published December 31, 2017 by justicewg

This year contained some end points, like the opening of the new Grandview swimming pool, but it was more about the continuation of projects that had been in the works for years. Next year might be the time for a final decision on the school facilities, or the plans for a new city office building. Here are the news stories that had people visiting this website.

Bomb threat at PNC Bank

pnc-bank-bomb

A bank robber at the PNC bank on First Ave caused the first major story of January 2017. The street was closed and lockdowns in place at all the schools until bomb squad members determined that the bag left outside didn’t contain explosives. By February the Grandview Heights police announced they had a suspect in custody. Karl Schlenker, 60, of Cranford, New Jersey, was arrested at his home without incident.

I can find nothing online about a trial, so I guess it is possible Schlenker might still be walking the streets of Columbus after he posted bond and was released.

A reader found the info on the case, Schlenker plead guilty and was sentenced to 4 years, 9 months in jail. He is still appealing the sentence (from jail), if I am reading the casework correctly. Also, prior convictions were mentioned in the sentencing, so this was not a guy who just broke bad at 60 years old.

School facilities recommendation, and Good for Grandview group formed

culp-leads-laughter

The school board ramped up the public meetings to study the facilities at the schools this year, options for possible building plans were first presented at a May meeting. The school quickly narrowed choices down to three by June, and after an open to all (and hackable) online survey, superintendent Culp determined that the outcome of the process supported the “Tear down the middle school” option.

Some of the parents and community members who attended the facilities meetings got together, and decided they couldn’t agree with Culp’s recommendation. The Good for Grandview group posted a website with their complaints with the process the school used to chose a facility plan, and a warning that the cost of the new construction was just too expensive for this small community. As of December 31, 2017, they have 276 signatures on an online petition to the school board (March 2018, 325 sigs).

The board has remained absolutely silent about the G4G group. Culp had some jargon filled responses, but he rejected all direct questions. Two new board members will join the board in 2018, but past experience indicates there is little chance they will deflect the board from its current path.

Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

New school group critical of Facility process named “Good for Grandview”

Published December 1, 2017 by justicewg
GfG website

Home page of the Good for Grandview group (at http://www.goodforgrandview.org)

A group that calls themselves “Good for Grandview” has announced they will oppose the current school plan to spend $50 million on a new middle school, as well as extensive remodeling of the other buildings. Via a new website, they list a number of complaints with the facility review process, and state that they believe there is no way that voters will pass an unprecedentedly large levy. They say they are not just a “No” group, they are in favor of a right sized facility upgrade.

The founders of this group are an impressive list of parents and former school board members. This is not a bunch of anti-tax zealots or a sore losers club, they are the people who were sitting in the front rows during the many meetings of the facility review and educational process.

The group speaks well for themselves on their website – go read it! The reasons for their creating the group can be summarized as the following:

If the school board tries to pass an unprecedentedly high levy to pay for $50 million in construction at the schools, the group feels that there is no way it can pass. There is simply not that much money that can be raised in this small town. There has not been formal organized opposition to levies in the past, and almost all were approved by the voters. Tension between the pro-levy boosters, and opponents, will tear apart the community. The schools will remain in the current condition. They call it a lose-lose-lose proposition.

The group points out that the “$44 million in deferred maintenance” that has been repeated at every opportunity by the administration is a figure that is not applicable to the reality of the buildings – that number assumes that complete tear out and replacement of all systems in order to meet current codes and standards as though they were built today. An older report by a company called “K-12 Consulting” concluded that around $500K per year would be needed to keep the schools running for the next ten years (that included major new systems like boiler replacement).

The G4G saw a number of problems with the way the facility review process was run by the school board. They mentioned the closed to the public Task Force meetings, and the way the surveys and exit tickets were designed to minimize open-ended discussion and steer the process toward a narrow range of possible outcomes. Although the word “transparency” was a favorite of the administration and the board, the reality was that they failed to act in any way that would earn that name.

My suggestions

This is a big deal, there has never been organized opposition to the school board like this before. The board was probably going to go with the full $50 million plan, that option is now dead as a doornail.

The question is, what now? I sure don’t have any pull on the board, but if I thought they might listen, I would tell them this. Read the rest of this entry →