treasurer

All posts tagged treasurer

Asking for documents from the school Treasurer, Ms Collier

Published April 16, 2019 by justicewg

collier-cut-headThe school treasurer, Ms Collier, is the designated person who responds to any requests from the public for open documents, including anything produced by the school board. Don’t ask why the school board can’t do this themselves, it is just the way things are done in Grandview.

My recent experience in asking for some documents was instructive for learning what the school thinks about their responsibilities as custodians of public documents, and their willingness to do the job that the state set out clearly in the Open Meeting Laws. The documents they finally posted bring up more questions then they answered. Jump down for the TL; DR, but first some establishing info.

Some points to begin

When I ask the school for documents, it isn’t for fun. I looked back in my emails, I have made one request for copies of facility contracts with consultants back in 2017, I asked for an expense spreadsheet in 2014. Those were vital documents for understanding the reasoning the board used to pass resolutions. I don’t ask often, and I don’t ask for much. My requests are important.

The school board is in the middle of the largest project it has taken on in decades, building a new middle school, and renovating the other schools. Millions of dollars in contracts are being signed by the board in a very short time. The way we keep public bodies safe from the corruption that can result from so much money changing hands is for the public to increase the level of auditing of all actions taken by the board. The files I asked for were the audio recordings of the school board meetings, necessary for understand the full story on the board’s actions. Read my post on the problems the board has had in the past in the severely short meeting minutes the board produces.

I asked for the audio files from 2018 meetings, and the 2019 meeting audio files as they become available. I made it clear in my request that I would be posting those files on my blog, so anyone in Grandview (or the world) could listen to the recordings. My hope was to lead them to realize the best policy for the board would be to post all the files on the school website

I’m not a lawyer

I don’t have professional knowledge of the Ohio Open meeting laws, but the laws don’t really need expertise to understand. The Sunshine Laws manual makes it clear that almost all documents produced by governmental bodies in Ohio are open – some exceptions are clearly explained, but most are open. Board meeting notes, and audio recordings of meetings, are open documents. Once given to the public, community members can redistribute them in any way they want, including posting them on the internet in Blogs.

I’ve been posting local government documents here on my blog (and a previous version) for more than 15 years. If there were any way the board could have legally stopped me, they would have done it long ago. A big part of the reason I started to post the minutes from board and council meetings, back in 2003, was to shame them into posting their own minutes on their own websites. They didn’t like seeing me posting school meeting minutes on a personal blog, but they had no legal way to stop it. I was successful in pushing both the council, and much later the school, into creating pages on their websites so the meeting minutes could be downloaded.

My request for school documents

On 3/15/19, I made my first request for some audio files of the school board meetings. I asked specifically for all of the audio recordings made during the 2018 school year (which would be about 17 files). I also asked for the audio files made during 2019 meetings, and to be sent any more the board made during the rest of the year. This was sent to school treasurer Collier, and one of the board members.

The response was – silence. Read the rest of this entry →

Advertisements

Sunshine week in Grandview Heights

Published March 23, 2019 by justicewg

This is Sunshine Week — an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It’s a sunny day here in Grandview too. Let’s hear what Ohio Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost says about public records requests during National Sunshine Week.

“The public records of the government belong to the people, not the office holders who created those documents.”

You don’t need a special form, or say magic words. Just get a message to the public office holder, explaining as best you can the documents you need to receive a copy of. You don’t have to identify yourself, or explain why you need the record.

Read all about the public record laws in the new updated Yellow book on the Ohio Attorney General website.

https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Legal/Sunshine-Laws

No on issue 6, part 3 – The Income tax option for Grandview Heights schools has been neglected

Published October 26, 2018 by justicewg

Three signs #6I have read a number of opponents of issue #6 who dislike the unfairness of the property tax the board wants to use for the facilities, and the loss of older and lower income segments of the community, as the taxes drive these people away*. Property taxes are inherently regressive, costing a larger percentage of the income for lower income people.

An income tax would still hurt those who have low incomes, but it would probably be a smaller hit, and impact all segments of the community the same. Why has the possibility of an income tax been almost totally dismissed throughout the facility review process?

Unanswered questions about income taxes

I checked back in past documents and found almost nothing about evaluating an income tax for the school facility improvements. During Community Engagement Meeting #6, held June 8, 2017, Treasurer Collier did say that there was a possibility of using an income tax.

https://www.ghcsd.org/apps/video/watch.jsp?v=150462

Skip ahead in the video by dragging the progress bar, at 1:26:10 an income tax is discussed. No projections were made by Collier for how much income tax would be needed to address the school needs. All questions about the possibility of an income tax were being left for the Finance committee.**

Treasurer Collier said that the Finance committee would be looking at the income tax possibility, but with no statement of support for an income tax from the school board, the committee was left to take all the heat generated from proposing an income tax. Without a specific mandate from the board to explore income taxes ( and come up with a plan, instead of a quick dismissal) , why would any committee place themselves in the position of proposing a new kind of tax?

Why would something as important as exploring the possibility of a new income tax for the school be left in the hands of a closed, no meeting notes, no accountability committee? This is the same question we asked about the recommendation from the Finance committee to add a one mill operation levy to the bond levy – why is a closed group, in violation of Ohio Open meeting laws, making decisions that should be made by the school board?

Why open meetings are important

We have no way to find out what happened in the Finance committee meetings. Was the option of an income tax even discussed? There was no recording of the meetings, there was no meeting notes. Emails to participants are not answered.

Maybe there was a significant number of FC members who thought that an income tax would be the best way to fund the school improvements? And if the community were allowed to attend those meetings, we could have noted who argued in favor, and the reasons they gave. We could take that information to the board, and ask them to revisit the possibility. We could have promoted the option of an income tax in community groups like G4G, and organized a groundswell of support for that option.

All those possibilities are gone, because the Finance committee was closed, because all of the process and deliberations of the group – which those members told us they did in depth and for many hours – are lost forever. Any new finance committee which may be needed to revisit the facility questions after a failed levy will have to start from zero.

The board should be the only group discussing tax options

Tax levies are the most important issues the board is legally empowered to decide for the schools. It is the basic floor that all the rest of the school system is built on. Unless the money from the taxpayers can be acquired by a board that is trusted, and earns the votes of the community, all of the planing and policy of the board means nothing.

School boards are supposed to be open, conducting all discussion on tax levies so the community can evaluate the arguments. We can listen, be persuaded — or be opposed. Most importantly, we can know which board members made what arguments. When elections for seats on the board come around, we can remember who we liked, and give them our vote. We can campaign against the members who don’t do a good job.

The foundation of democracy is listening to the public office holders, and making them accountable in the polling place.

When the Grandview Heights school board delegates vital issues to closed committees, they are breaking the laws of Ohio on open meetings. They are actively degrading the democratic basis of our community. We should never accept that as “the way we do things here”. We should be telling the board, over and over, “you are wrong, stop taking away out democratic rights”. We should keep doing that until they understand they are wrong – or until they are voted out of office.

Dayton Task force cancels meetings

Tip of the hat to Stephanie Wolfe. A Dayton school system tried to hold facility task force meetings in private, similar to the Grandview Task force and Finance committees. After complaints from news media that Ohio open meting laws required the meetings to allow everyone to attend, the meetings were canceled.

Previously – Vote no on issue #6, part 1

Vote no on issue #6, part 2

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 →

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.

G.Y. is no financial boon to school district

Published May 18, 2016 by justicewg

bethcollier2010School treasurer Beth Collier had a story in the TVN about the financial issues we will see as the Yard gets built up. I missed noting the story when it first was published in April 2016, but it was an important document that should be linked and read.

TL,DR – Because the school board negotiated TIF agreements with NRI that mostly sent additional property tax money back into the infrastructure costs of the Yard, the school will see no windfall (until 2040, when the agreement expires.) “New funding generated by Grandview Yard has totaled $1,061,000 since 2010, which was less than 1% per year.”

If you are licking your chops over all that tax money to come after 2040, just remember that the City Center Mall was also a development that was supposed to provide taxes for Columbus after the TIF agreements ended. That didn’t work as planned. Money that arrives in 25 years goes into the Chicken and Hatch folder.

Something that wasn’t mentioned in the story – there have been very few children added to the school system so far from the apartments in the Yard. The single family homes that are under construction will add a few, but the total student additions are expected to be small. The school board would probably like you to think that there are more students on the way, so they can push for new school buildings. It just isn’t going to happen.

Also, the story in the TVN is about property tax. That is where all the money for the schools in Grandview comes from (well, a few other sources like the state, but that has been decreasing). There are other school districts in Franklin County, like Bexley, who have an income tax for the school. I’m surprised there was no mention of the possibility of an income tax for the school. I’m sure the board will be pushing that idea when they fail the first levy for building new schools.

Tangential to this story but worth noting – the TVN story has a Grandview Heights school logo as the illustration to this story, apparently it was one of the older designs that was still in use. Notice how it has the two initials of the school connected, but not overlapping, so the sequence and lettering is clear. Too bad that was one item in the historical past of the school that the board didn’t want preserved.

If you are wondering “why is the school Treasurer going public with a story about the G.Y. money, it has been a known issue for years?”, like everything else the board does now, it’s about managing perception of school funding in preparation for building new school buildings. If there are people who think the school is like the city and has significant new money on the way from the Yard, it impairs the ability to ask for new levies.

Previously – Read the post on the city blog by then President Panzera about the city’s tax income from the Yard. Although the story is a little dated (2014), it is a good overview.

(Update May 2017 ) Collier wrote a story for the TVN that is an almost identical to last year’s reminder that the Yard will not be a big source of funds for the schools. I guess that it is a message that needs to be repeated, low information voters can look at all the new buildings going up in the Yard and think that it must be creating a wave of new funding for the schools.

I think Collier will be putting this story on constant repeat, there is little chance the board can pass big new levies for building new schools as long as some percentage of voters still think the Yard will solve our school funding issues.

Treasurer deletes web data, Brannan doesn’t care

Published October 14, 2015 by justicewg

No TalkingThe Grandview school board has one of the worst websites of any school district in the county. Want an agenda for a Grandview board meeting? Good luck finding it in the board section of the website.

The one part of the school website that was a real goldmine was the data that was collected and posted in the Fiscal section. Starting 15 years ago by Treasurer Knisley, and continued by Treasurer Rizzo, the Fiscal section was a “treasure trove” of information about the school. It had records of voted and effective school millage for all school systems in the county, various listings of school costs and income, even records of past votes on school levies. There must have been 20 different categories of data that was tracked and updated by past Treasurers.

A few weeks ago I looking at the school website, and I saw all of this data has been removed from the fiscal section. There is still a left over section in the Treasurers section called “Finance Data” but the page has suffered a complete deletion, nothing is left (see addition below).

Get your own data

I sent an email to Treasurer Collier, asking her what happened to all the good info on the school website.

J.W. – In the past I was always a fan of the Fiscal section of the Grandview school website. Starting 15 years ago  by Treasurer Knisley, and continued by Treasurer Rizzo, the Fiscal section was filled with good information. I was just looking at the school website, and I see all of this data has been removed from the fiscal section. Did you take this data off the school website? If so, why?

B.C. – The County Auditor has in the past provided information related to levies, tax rates, valuation to school districts each year and that is what the former treasurers used to compile this information.  That same information is no longer being provided to us, but you could still request that by contacting the Franklin County Auditor’s Office.

J.W. – The information provided by past Treasurers included spreadsheets that were highly specific to Grandview Heights, including the history of votes on Levies, past salaries for School Administration members, average level of teachers salary for Grandview across time, and in comparison to teacher salaries in other Franklin Co. school districts.

Franklin County Auditor is under no obligation to provide information on teacher and Administration salaries in our school district.

Why can’t you provide this information to Grandview Heights residents any more?

B.C. – Refused to continue communicating by email.

Brannan doesn’t care

This was a huge disappointment, and a big loss for openness and responsiveness by the school. I asked President Brannan why this information was no longer on the school website. After some content free buzzwords from Mrs. Brannan, with no answer to my questions, I asked again.

J.W. – Did the board ask Ms. Collier to remove the fiscal information from the school website?
Do you endorse the removal of the data from the school website that had been provided by past Treasurers (for more than 15 years).

D.Brannan. –

1. No. We don’t micromanage the treasurer. We entrust the job to her which includes reports.

2. see #1.

Was she slacking off, or doing what she was told?

The failure to keep updating the vital info that used to be on the Fiscal section of the school website was a big deal, it had been faithfully done for 15 years through two Treasurers. Could Ms Collier have been too lazy to keep this up to date, or was this done on the instruction of the board?

Ms Collier is fairly new to the school, she started in May of last year. Would a new to the position school employee make a major change in the Fiscal section on her own? If she was uninterested in doing the work on the school data, she could have left the info up on the website and stopped updating it. Instead, it was completely wiped.

I’ll post some screen shots of some of the Fiscal data that I saved to my computer. I think you will understand why the school board didn’t want this info available with a click for any community member.

This is what has been disappeared

Full voted FC Tax rates

Full voted FC Tax rates

Are Grandview tax rates high in comparison to other school districts? It used to be data that could be found with a quick scan of the Treasurer section of the school website. Now it’s gone, and Ms Collier will tell you “get your own data” if you asked for this info.

Effective prop tax rates FC

Effective prop tax rates FC

The effective rates are the calculated rates after changes in funding formulas are done. Grandview doesn’t look bad in this year, but has this changed? You will no longer know from Grandview’s website.

Teacher saleries

Teacher salaries

How does Grandview teacher compensation compare to other schools? Good luck finding this out from any Franklin County database.

Admin Saleries

Admin Salaries

Do we have a history of over-paying the administrators at Grandview Heights? We could find out when this data was tracked, but it is gone down the tubes.

Election History

Election History

How many mills did the school ask for in the last election? Did it pass? Is there a trend of higher taxes? When was the last time a levy failed? All this data gone. Like tears in the rain.

Using Occam’s razor

This was not a full listing of the deleted data, but you can get a good idea what was taken away from these examples. As to why it was done – no special investigation needed. Occam’s razor tells us the simple answer is usually the right one. If these data sheets are not confirming a story the board wants the community to believe – that taxes are low in Grandview, that more are needed to build a large new school building – then the data needs to disappear.

Anyone want to ask the school board candidates about this deletion at the candidate night Thursday? (I will be out of town during the meeting).

(Later) It seems like somebody might be listening, and still have some intact integrity, and understand the service they are supposed to be providing for the community (can’t tell if this is Treasurer Collier or Brannan). Somebody has returned the file folders to the Fiscal section of the school website, I’m assuming in preparation for returning the missing files.

(Even later) Maybe not, as of mid-November the folders are back, but the files are still missing. Strange.

(January 2016) Some of the school financial data has been returned to the school website. There was no explanation from Treasurer Collier about why this data first was deleted, or why it was returned.

I noticed that some of the returned data used the ODE Report Card data from the state, basically this info was just copied and pasted into a PFD file.  Collier had all of the raw data that was used by the state to create the report, why would she not make her own report?

I also notice that the spending on school administrators spreadsheet has NOT been returned to the school website. Hmm – I wonder why the school doesn’t want us to know how much they are spending on administrators?

Data allowed to rot

(Feb 2017) The data in the fiscal section of the school website was only current up to 2015. Since then, it has been allowed to sit with no updated info – nothing was touched in 2016. Apparently Treasurer Collier could be shamed into returning some of  the data that had been posted by past treasurers, but keeping it up to date (as past treasurers did yearly) was too hard for Collier.

March 2018) Same old school finance data is still rotting away in the finance section of the school website. This is pathetic, even more so because school finances are the hottest topic due to the facility process. This is beyond churlish behavior from the treasure, and indicates incompetence.