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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.

 

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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.

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!

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.

Kasich budget hits Grandview hard, treasurer Collier tries to dance around bad news

Published February 24, 2017 by justicewg
collier-cut-head

Collier had her head cut off in the TVN photo

It has to be tough working for the mostly republican school board in Grandview, you have to deal with constant cuts from the republican controlled Ohio government, while whistling a happy tune and pretending everything will be OK.

School Treasurer Collier had an article in the TVN about the cuts in state funding on the way for the district, she explained how Grandview lost the most annual funding on a per-pupil basis – $684 – among all Franklin County districts. She tried to explain the cuts as a result of funding formulas that she said were hard to understand, or as she says, “Complex, isn’t it?”

No, it isn’t complex. Kasich and his republicans want to force small schools to merge with larger schools, that’s why Grandview was hit the hardest. If you want to keep Grandview from being forced to merge with another district (probably U.A.), you should be speaking up, denouncing the Kasich plans, speaking the truth about what republican plans will do to our school in the long term. But since the board members don’t want to hear that, we will be listening to the whistling past the graveyard.

Deception on taxes

Collier tries to pull a fast on on us by specifying the school tax rate, and claiming it is “one of the lowest”. First, our school millage is second only to Bexley. Second, our total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) is the highest in the county. If you are going by the effective rate, Grandview is not at the top, so that is what the school wants us to look at, and ignore the other parts of the tables. Effective rates are important, but the total rate is where we know how we stand as far as taxing ourselves. We have passed the most tax millage in the county – we have no reason to expect voters to push taxes even higher.

City Total prop. Tax rate Effective rate, 2016
Grandview Heights 143.37 77.89
Bexley 141.65 73.76
Upper Arlington 133.06 75.03
Reynoldsburg 121.42 92.91
Westerville 123.92 95.41
Columbus 106.29 74.71

(Addendum) You might ask, why not link to the school website, shouldn’t they have the above data posted somewhere? And yes, under past Treasurers, there were charts showing mills voted and effective rates for the major school districts in the county. Treasurer Collier wiped this info from the website, then refused my request to replace and update the information. Then she changed her mind, and sometime around Dec 2015 she re-posted some of  the data. But as you see from looking at the data now on the school website, that fiscal information has been sitting unchanged since 2015, left to rot.

More loony plans from the Gov.

There is a second article in the TVN that covers much of the same news about the budget proposed by Kasich, and in this one Collier is not so pollyannaish. She is quoted saying about the state funding “That will be a pretty significant dropoff”. Funny, the other article made it sound like it was no big deal.

Kasich is pushing for a program of requiring teachers to take“externship with a local business”. The article makes it sound like a mystery plan with no clear reason for starting, but all republican plans can be understood if you listen to their constant bleating to “run government like a business”. They think that forcing teachers to spend time in local businesses is going to imbue them in the entrepreneurial spirit. Even when it makes no sense to push teachers with no students who could be in those businesses (any teacher under HS level), the R’s want to waste teacher time with social engineering.

Even superintendent Culp is quoted saying “It’s the local school board who knows what’s best for the teachers in their home schools and community.” I expect him to be hearing strong criticism from his bosses on the board over that weak opposition to republican plans.

More on Kasich and budget cuts from 2015.

(Addendum) I’ve had some people saying “so what, a cut of  $684  per pupil is not much for a year.” The problem is that as the 2015 post linked above shows, this isn’t a short term problem. The state might make another cut next year, and the year after that, then change the rules,  until Grandview Heights has no choice but to merge with another school system. And our school board might not be able to do much about it, but at least they should stand up and say “This is wrong”.

(April update) The Ohio House is planning to make some changes to the school budget, but Grandview is still singled out for the same cuts that Kasich wanted. The Senate is unlikely to help us. At least the wacky “externship” plan from Kasich has been dumped. Still no public announcement from the Grandview school board that criticizes the GOP or asks for parent groups to protest the cuts.

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.