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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 meet 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 →

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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.

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.

The board has remained absolutely silent about the GfG 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.

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Plenty of work ahead for “Good for Grandview” group

Published December 19, 2017 by justicewg
Culp and Douglass

Andy Culp and the man who pulls his strings

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

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 GfG 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 GfG 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 GfG (I guess that will be their acronym) 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 →

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. I added a new section at the end to show how easy the school survey could have been hacked.

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

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

The school polls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.