Friday, May 11, 2007

Thank You!

First, a sincere thanks from both Don and myself to all who helped with our campaign. Your outpouring of support has been tremendous and is deeply appreciated.

As we begin to consider "what's next", we realize that this is really up to our school district's administration. Where do they intend to lead?

Don and I ran as agents of change, and 42% of Tuesday's voters supported our efforts. That was not enough to win, but should send a clear message that our current course needs correction.

Whether the district chooses to address or ignore the concerns we've raised is beyond our control. It is our sincere hope that district officials will acknowledge the need to rethink some current practices.

Perhaps the most important change to consider is how our school district should deal with dissenting points of view. The current tactic of dividing the community and attacking dissidents offers limited success, and comes at great cost to our community. Compromise would be a much better approach, and eliminate the need to have these drawn-out battles. Trying to ram things through might work at times, but even a successful effort using that method is not healthy.

Look at the bond issue as a case-in-point. Given the current tension in this community, would the district have been satisfied if the bond had passed 51% to 49%? Would they really want 49% of Bloomfield's residents unhappy with our schools?

I sure hope not!

Including input from all members of the community - particularly those who are not in complete agreement with district administration - will produce a better plan. This will require compromise, but more importantly, will also create stronger, more broad-based community support for Bloomfield Hills schools.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Issues to Remember on Tuesday

At times it seems as though entire county has weighed-in on the Campaign Flyer. Whatever Jenny and I say, in this politically-charged environment, we are learning that the detractors will be increasingly vocal in their opposition. As novices to this arena, we are also witnessing true support of the thick-or-thin variety. It is sometimes overwhelming and gives us hope far beyond this election - hope that decent citizens will offer their talents to this community and step forward without fear of personal or professional retribution.

We will continue to speak out in what we believe in - the real improvement of our Bloomfield Hills School District.

Academic Achievement

Our District has had a reputation for excellence. Somehow in the last few years, it has slipped and our bar has been set too low. Recently, the MEAP results for the 3rd-8th grades (NOT the high schools) show some improvement as compared to the schools in Oakland County. The District will not discuss or compare us to the rest of the State. The last year for published MEAP scores for all grades (3rd through High School), according to Standard & Poors (, we rank 13th in the State in Reading & Math Proficiency. Our funding remains tops in the State (thank you taxpayers!), but our return is not. In fact we are soundly beat in proficiency by other districts that receive half the funding of Bloomfield Hills School District. Further, the percentage of our High School graduates that fail the standardize tests is eye-opening. This challenge has absolutely nothing to do with the grandeur of the buildings!

Jenny and I bring up these stats, not as a indication of some one's failure, but as a starting point for improvement. My business approach has always been to identify areas of improvement, put in place a plan, and measure the results. Our oversight of a plan includes an emphasis on the basics, and an intense focus on Science & Technology. See our previous blog entries regarding these subjects.

Why a Reasonable Facility Plan, including our High Schools, is essential.

The proponents of the Bond for New High Schools claim they are providing the facts. I would like to offer that with my credentials as a Professional Engineer in the design/construction industry on individual projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars for over 30 years, I know the facts.

It is a fact that our District, with a budget of over $110 million annually, does not have an accepted overall Strategic Plan. Distilling from the framework of a Strategic Plan, a Master Facility Plan should also be developed. We have invested millions of dollars, without a plan, in football fields that are in the wrong location, axillary gyms that will be torn down before we are finished paying for them, and a Nature Center Classroom (now Conference Center) that had its birth from a partial grant.

It is a fact that published school journal data indicates our proposed high school buildings far exceed accepted metrics in virtually every category. Our program costs are almost double the top 10% in the entire nation!

It is a fact, since we are not "average", and further, that BHSD found six hand-picked high schools that were allegedly favorable to the program. The apparent purpose was to show that the distribution of space - academics, fine arts, and sports - is "well within the averages". Sifting through their own data and setting aside their arithmetic errors, the average cost per student to build the comps is $49,344 ($40,000 is the top 10% in nation benchmark) compared to our $72,500 – an amazing admission that our schools are $46 million too much!

It is fact that our Board had an opportunity to select a $61 million total renovation, including technology upgrades, or a renovation plan plus new construction for $100 million. A loaded up plan was also invented to “put together a renovation plan that shows that a renovation won’t work” (Board Minutes 7/13/06). The proposed $145 million scorched earth approach on the table - big, new and bulldoze – is $84 million more than total renovation!

It is a fact that with community input of only 211 citizens, and consistently poor poll results, the Board was advised to “create the need”. Our Board has squandered a $500,000 Madison Avenue PR blitz as verified in person and in public by the Board Treasurer. The marginalized per household values that the District now proclaims for literature does not included the PR consultants, staff time taken away from education, and the like. $500,000 of your education taxes!

It is a fact that the latest blitz from the proponents is pure speculation - that it’s “only” an eight year tax increase. Amazingly our incumbent opponent at a televised forum stated that it was only an eight year tax! Not true, but just a "mistake"? This bond would be a 25 year tax obligation of every homeowner in the District. In eight years the existing gyms will be paid off (bulldozed under this plan), an unknown Board could propose a renewal Sinking Fund tax at half current millage, and they assume they then assume there will be absolutely no new Bonds, Sinking Funds, or Hold Harmless measures. Read my lips – no new taxes? A very irresponsible approach that panders on the hope of a short public memory.

It is an absolute fact that there is no plan! The District wants the money and then will reveal which plan they will give us. After sitting through over 12 hours of Architectural presentations, not one firm advocated the plan that the District has posted on their website or in their expensive "road show". The firm that originally designed the plan has now abandoned it. Has anyone reviewed elevations or renderings of the buildings? Site concepts have one or more football fields out of use for up to three years, requiring a new temporary football field! Another concept has sport fields replacing Central Administration – so we will need a new Central Administration Office Complex too!

It is a fact that our District buildings were built to educate a student enrollment of 9,500 students compared to current 5,700. That's 70% more students than we have today. Yet the proposed high school buildings are 30% larger than our current schools, built for growth in a declining to stable enrollment, and is somehow justified by attracting out of district students. Why build a Field of Dreams with our tax dollars that we will never recoup in below market tuition? A Trustee stated in last month’s “Press Talk” cable show that if the new buildings are not full, we could convert them to a K-8 school! Where is the plan?

Our economy is struggling and is projected to take years to turnaround. Housing sales are pathetic and adding unnecessary tax burden will not help. We were attracted to this area by the greatness of the schools, not the grandeur of the buildings. Did you tour the buildings before you bought your home? Did it really matter what the buildings looked like, or was the reputation and results of our school system more important?

Jenny & I want a reasonable facility plan similar to those previously proposed to the Board, quickly implemented, and get back to work on what makes this District great – outstanding academic achievement.

On Tuesday we ask that you vote NO on this plan, and vote for the Greenwells.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Campaign Mailer Controversy

The controversy over the use of a symbol used in our ad mailer was unintentional and we apologize if we have offended anyone. We are moving forward and will continue our campaign on behalf of all students in the Bloomfield Hills School District .

We have said repeatedly - and for the record well before this controversy - that religion has no place in our public schools.

We are running for school board because of our passion and dedication to this school district and its students. We will fight for higher student achievement and a responsible and reasonable facility plan.

We appreciate the expressions of support over the last few days. Both of us have the interests of students and parents of our Bloomfield Hills community at heart.

Don & Jenny Greenwell

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Oakland Press Opinion - Its a "Bargain"?

Today the Oakland Press weighed in on the two New High School Bond Proposal. Amazingly, the OP admitted that their opinion was ".....based on information from school officials"! And further that the OP has " reason to doubt the accuracy of the figures and data they present"!

Our District has been on a marketing campaign to "create the need" (our Administrations stated objective) like never before in our community's history. $500,000 or your money, earmarked for our students, has gone to further their agenda. $500,000 as reported in the newspapers and personally revealed by the Treasurer of the School Board. $500,000! Why should the Administration invest in this type of Marketing? The reason is simple, the plan does not measure up to any standards in the industry. If it passes, this will undoubtedly be one for the record books, featured in Architectural Digest, with our Superintendent as the leader.

I am surprised the OP is taking this stance, since I find the paper to be a good read. However, I do realize they were mislead, like many of us, by a slick, Madison Avenue campaign that only Bloomfield Hills could launch.

It is time for our community to see this "creating the need" for what it is - fancy package without justification.

Call us at 248.338.3205 for yard signs, volunteer opportunities, or to contribute. The alternative is not acceptable for our taxpayers or our students.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Foolish Tale - Tax Increase for ONLY 8 years - Remember "Read my Lips - No new Taxes"?

The Bloomfield Hills School Board and Administration are on their publicity horse again.

It has been reported that the District, at taxpayers expense, is spending $500,000.00 to promote the $121 million Bond Proposal. Most likely the work of highly paid consultants, the District is attempting to "soften" the tax blow by stating that if approved, it is ONLY an 8 year tax increase.

Here is the rest of the story. In eight years the high school gymnasium bond will be paid off (indeed, the same facilities that will be bulldozed under this New Bond Proposal - before we are finished paying for them!). Also, the Sinking Fund will expire. Further, the Board is guessing that they will go to the voters in 8 years and ask for 1/2 the current Sinking Fund amount. Therefore, with the expiration of gym bond plus 1/2 the Sinking Fund it will roughly equal the increase in taxation from the New High School Mega-Plan. Voila, no net tax increase!

Now, the major assumptions of our Bloomfield Hills School Board and Administration.

First, in 8 years the Board and Administration, all of unknown identity, will opt to place on the ballot a Sinking Fund measure that is 1/2 the current amount. This assumption by our current Board and Administration is pure crystal ball mind-games - there is absolutely no way to make this incredible leap of faith.

Second, the Board and Administration is making a commitment that there will be no new Bonds, Sinking Funds, Hold Harmless measures, and the like, for the next 8 years. Remember what happens to politicians that state "READ MY LIPS - No New Taxes" ? This assumption which underlies the proclamation that this is ONLY an 8 year increase is a totally irresponsible campaign.

To add to the outlandish assertions, at the League of Women Voters Forum on April 23rd, our incumbent opponent stated that the New High School Bond is only an 8 year tax! Not so! It is 25 years of taxation for our community that is not justified and outlandishly large.

What the District is saying to us is that there is a pre-established entitlement tax rate - either determined by comparison to other Districts or our current tax rate - and that your money is theirs for whatever they deem necessary. This approach is wrong in every way.

We need a better return for our community's investment. Team Greenwell will focus on Academic Improvement not how much money we can squeeze out of our community.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Timing Couldn't be Worse for High Schools Bond Proposal!

The following Guest Piece was written by a former Circuit Court Judge, the Honorable William Hampton. It was published in the Oakland Press.

I write to encourage voters in the Bloomfield Hills School District to either attend the polls on May 8 or vote by absentee ballot to defeat the $121 million bond proposal. As a former Oakland County Circuit Court judge and state representative for the Birmingham/Bloomfield District, I have been taught to consider both sides before making a decision and/or voting on a particular proposal. I have read the various articles and letters put forth by the school board president and observed the school board deliberations on the public cable channel, and remain unconvinced that we need two new high schools at this time, especially since enrollment projections at the high schools are down. In addition, considering the current state of Michigan’s economy and the millages approved for the library and Bloomfield Township campus improvements recently, the timing couldn’t be worse. The school board spent about $20,000 to have an EPIC/MRA survey conduced that indicated a majority of those polled were against the plan. I was one of those polled by telephone and felt that the questions posed were slanted to obtain a favorable vote. For example, when given the reasons why one would oppose the plan, there were a number of good reasons to oppose it, such as the selection of the May 8 election date, which were not even asked in the telephone poll. However, the fact is results of the poll were against the construction of two new high schools and the board decided to place this measure on the May 8 ballot, apparently recognizing that there has historically been a low turnout in May as opposed to November elections. In May 2006, for example, there was an 11-percent turnout versus a 70-percent turnout in November 2006. This will be the last May school board election because Bloomfield Schools has to move its elections to November next year, but they did not do so earlier this year because they wanted to place the bond issue on the May 8 ballot, recognizing many residents will probably not bother to vote. Thus, placing the issue on a ballot with a historically low turnout improves the possibility of success. I hope everyone reading this article who agrees with my opinion will vote May 8 or contact their city or township clerk to obtain an absentee ballot to vote “no” on the two high schools. Adding insult to injury of setting this huge tax increase for the May 8 election is the erroneous information provided by the district’s Community Connections newsletter, which set forth premature deadlines for applying for an absentee ballot as well as the deadline to vote by absentee ballot. The correct information is that the voter has until May 5 (not May 1) to apply for an absentee ballot in person at the city or township clerk’s office. Applications for absentee ballots are available online on the district’s Web site. I understand the state election officials have ordered the district to correct the erroneous information by first class mail, which is yet another unnecessary expense incurred by the district.

William Hampton is an attorney who lives in Bloomfield Hills.

Illusion of Good Education Won't Do!

The following was published in the Birmingham Eccentric in an Opinion/Editorial piece by Jenny Greenwell

I enjoy a good Magic Act as much as anybody, but, as a taxpayer and parent, I don’t enjoy “shell games” and “smoke and mirrors” when it comes to running the top-funded school district in the state of Michigan.

Bloomfield Hills school district taxpayers approved a 10-year, $50-million “sinking fund” in 2004 thinking that the money would be carefully spent to extend the useful life of our school buildings. The promotional materials for the Sinking Fund stated that roofs would be a priority, and that students would be kept “safe, warm and dry.”

So what happened? We got two new artificial turf football fields and a conference center at the Nature Center. We got a lot of new pavement, concession stands, stadia, and low-durability, high-maintenance vinyl tile flooring. The roofs are still leaking, according to literature distributed at taxpayer expense by the district. No significant upgrades have been made to our high schools.

POOF! That’s how easy it is to make $15-million disappear!

Now, the board of education has pulled two great big rabbits out of its hat: A proposal to build two large new high schools on the current sites of Lahser and Andover. This proposal, which requires passage of a $121-million tax increase for 25 years, will appear on the school election ballot of May 8, 2007. The new high schools will be 33% larger than our current buildings, and each will cost an astronomical $72.5-million to build. Of the $145-million price tag, only 18.78% is dedicated to instructional areas and technology.

Who will attend these large schools? With BHSD population on the decline, enrollment stable at best, we’d better get a hold of David Copperfield. The BHSD might very well be forced to recruit more out-of-district students to begin to cover the massive operating costs of two colossal buildings. Non-resident, tuition-paying students do not bring in revenue equal to the per-pupil funding provided by our local taxpayers for resident students, so the reality is: We lose money on every non-resident student enrolled in our schools.

My husband Don and I moved to Bloomfield Hills with toddlers in tow in 1987. We bought here because we heard the schools were “the best.” We could not have cared less if the buildings were “shiny and new.” We could not have cared less how many sports teams, or fancy dressing rooms, grand entrances or three-story atria they had. We wanted great teachers, great programs, and lots of innovation and motivation for our girls. To our disappointment, we realized that the formerly “elite” academic status of the BHSD has done a “disappearing act,” and our district suffers from a significant achievement gap between high schools, which extends to our lower schools.

The “illusion” of good education is stated in the districts slogan: “comprehensive education at its finest.” Comprehensive does not mean high-quality, it indicates a lack of priorities. As taxpayers, we need to demand quality education and top-ranked student outcomes. Top-ranked public schools don’t need slick advertising, PR and slogans.
The BHSD is #1 in funding, but not in performance.

We need to fix our schools. We need to focus on education. We need to stop wasting money on “wants” when we have not addressed our “needs.”

Obsessed with facilities and new construction, our board of education seems more focused on educating taxpayers than on educating students. To market the campaign for the May 8 bond, over $500,000 has been spent on advertising. We could have given each and every 2007 graduate of both Lahser and Andover a $1000 scholarship with the education tax dollars that have been wasted, but…..

POOF! The money is gone.

As if by magic, our school board seems to have missed the frequent reminders that our state’s economy is in shambles. This is not a good time to ask taxpayers to shoulder excessive long-term debt. No “magic wand” can fix our troubles, only a smart, well-educated, hard-working population can do that.

Parents and taxpayers need to demand that our school board provide adequate stewardship of our massive investment in education tax dollars. We want our students to achieve their fullest potential, and we’re willing to pay for it. We will not stand by quietly while education dollars, and the futures of our students, are squandered on non-essentials and “wish lists.”

The district has worked hard to create the “illusion” that these two elaborate new schools are “needed.” In fact, they have endeavored, through a massive PR, advertising and sales campaign, to “create” a need.

Education is not a “wish,” it is essential. We need to gather as a community and make sure our board of education understands that. Quality education and big new buildings are not the same thing. Building Schools does not build leaders: Good leaders beget good leaders. The BHSD is short on good leaders. Good leaders would not allow a devisive “wedge” to be lobbed into our community.

The Bloomfield Hills School District needs a better board. Please come to the polls on May 8. Let’s stop the cycle of wasted education tax dollars, and let’s start working together to ensure bright futures for all of our students.

Jenny Greenwell
Candidate, BHSD Board of Education
577 Tally Ho Court
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304