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

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Look at the "Comps" Supplied by the District!

Utilizing the data supplied by the Bloomfield Hills School District (see it is readily apparent that our buildings are larger and more expensive than any "peer" group. Even an attempt to "cherry-pick" new schools. built over the last 8 years, our Leadership fails miserably to make a case for our monster buildings. The data also has been modified by the District to account for construction inflation, a function that I was unaware they had the expertise to perform. Even with the opportunities to skew the analysis, our District is unable to make a case for this size of a building program.

Size of the District "Comps" - Size Matters!

The chart below from the same District data (see shows that our new school program does not fall "well within the averages" as the Board asserts! And remember, this is a hand-selected list of 6 schools, built over the last 8 years, all over the State of Michigan. There are a hundred more that the district chose not to bring forth during that time period and geography. Remember, the Midwest average is 170 sf/student, but we all know that BHSD is not average. The top 10% in the entire nation only comes in at 219 sf/student - we are 275 sf/student!

District admits we are spending $47 million too much!

The chart below, again using the data supplied by Bloomfield Hills School District, shows that on a per student basis our total program is far in excess of the "comps". Remember, $23,500 per student equates to an incredible $47,000,000.00 ! A cup of coffee? I have begged the Administration for 9 months to get this under control and reasonable. That is exactly what Jenny & I will do!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Expand Community Service Requirement

Students who graduate from our high schools are required to perform and document a minimum of 40 Hours of Community Service.

I would like to suggest that members of the BHS Board of Education get out into our community and do the same.

Sure, our board members "punch their timecard" every few weeks at board meetings, but it's not the same.

The difference is that we expect our students to participate in service that will provide a meaningful learning experience. Our board, on the other hand, doesn't spend much time learning or listening.

Recently, for the first time in three election campaigns, I was contacted by the local clerk to see if it was OK to give out my home phone number. Of course, I gave my approval. (248-338-3205). My email address is

In contrast, try to find a way to contact your current board members. I'm serious; there is no contact information on the district's website!

Elderly voters had been coming to the clerk's office to turn in absentee ballots, and were so concerned about the prospect of additional property tax burden that they asked to speak with Don and me personnally.

I am happy to speak with any taxpayer who would like to discuss education issues.

Many of our retired citizens are truly struggling with health care, home maintenance, and other costly issues. The market for real estate is "soft," at best, and higher taxes will not raise residential property values.

Our board of education needs to listen to our community.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Be Honest and Fair!

Let's keep the election honest and fair.

This morning, on my way to work, I saw a woman pulling up our campaign signs. She put them in her trunk, and drove away.

As frustrating as it was to watch without commenting to the women on her immature actions, I knew the right thing to do was report the indicent, which I did.

Please know that Don and I would like our campaign signs placed on private property ONLY. Always ask permission before you place a sign on any property.

Please do not touch our opponents signs. If their signs are placed illegally (on public property, without permission, or in the way of traffic) please report it to the township or to the police.

Let the police or township employees deal with it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "Schools of Choice, Part 1"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

I will address the last point first. Mr. Greenwell, with absolutely no foundation, claims, "Under this proposal, we will need to double or triple our out-of-district students, which we subsidize, in order to fill up our 'empty airline seats.'"
This is utterly false, and seems aimed at pandering to a supposed threat posed by "out-of district" students. First, these schools are designed for our current enrollment size, 900-1,000 students. We would be imprudent, however, in not allowing for accommodate a minor amount of potential growth, but Mr. Greenwell's numbers have never been considered, and are without any basis in reality.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The Facts:

The architect last fall stated the proposed buildings would accommodate 15% growth. Recently, our Superintendent observed that the design does not anticipate enrollment growth, but rather, is modeled for 85% occupancy. As a final comment the Superintendent added that if there was growth, it could be absorbed without additional capital expenses.

First we have to come to grips with the fact that these proposed buildings can accommodate more students for education than we anticipate enrolling. It is impossible to understand the double-speak from the district. Is it 115% or 85%? Is it a "minor amount of growth" or "our current enrollment" as noted above? Even within the numbers cited by Mr. Weiss, 900-1,000 per school, there is a 10% variance! Suffice to say, the district's own experts say it will be a challenge to maintain our current enrollment, and the most likely scenario would be a 10 year decline.

Second, the district is evasive on the number of out-of-district high school students. Based on the numbers available, our out-of-district enrollment is in the range of 4% or 5%. Further, the district is on record of their desire to "fill the empty airline seats". Carrying 15% excess capacity in the proposed facilities, the district would need to double or triple the out-of-district students.

That is the reality.

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "Schools of Choice, Part 2"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

Second, we do not subsidize the relatively small number of nonresident students attending our schools. Rather, they pay tuition. We neither have open enrollment, nor plan to employ it.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The taxpayers of this district certainly subsidize the out-of-district students. In BHSD, the taxpayers provide funding of approximately $16,000 per student, and yet out-of-district students are on a different scale. One segment of the out-of-district students bring only their state grant money, approximately $8,800. Another segment of out-of-district students pay $10,800 per year. In both cases, the BHSD taxpayers cover the shortfall.

Please note that the district has gone out of their way to proclaim success as a result of $14 million in out-of-district revenue over the life of the program. What is unsaid is that the cost to educate those students, as noted above, exceeds the revenue. We are actually losing money. Further, the tuition, so highly coveted by the district, has increased only 1% over the last 8 years! The Administration proudly proclaims that our tuition rate is 1/2 that of private schools. This is a clear indication that our District is embarking on a market-driven attempt to attract out-of-district students.

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "Size of School Too Large"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

So let's factually address the question, is this proposal reasonable in size and cost? The district has gone to extraordinary lengths to provide meaningful analysis. Rather than rely on superficial statistics such as "Midwest averages," we have provided detailed comparisons pertinent to Bloomfield Hills Schools.
Importantly, we selected districts in our state with enrollments similar to our district. The key factor in these comparisons is enrollment. Obviously, one cannot fairly compare the cost per square footage, or the square footage per student of a 2,000-student school with that of a 1,000-student school, since certain large space allocations are necessary for both, such as media centers, computer centers, auditoriums, gyms, locker rooms, cafeterias, etc.
Our community has told us loud and clear that it values and desires to maintain two small, safe schools. The plan to rebuild Andover and Lahser on their current sites is within the average range for schools of our size. That is fact.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

Let us look at fact that is supported by real data. In any benchmarking, it is imperative to see how the proposal stands up to a variety of statistics. According to the 11th Annual School Planning & Management Report, on average in the Midwest, our proposed high schools are well above these values, utilizing a median schools size of 1,025 students. In the contested article, it is acknowledged that Bloomfield Hills is not average. However, our proposed high schools exceed even the top 10% in the entire nation, in fact 28% larger. In addition, on a cost per student basis, we are almost double the top 10% in the nation (not average!).

But the district has hand-selected projects with enrollments “similar” to our district. A review of these similar districts shows that they identified only 6 high schools to make their case, up to 9 years old, and stretching all the way to Grand Rapids. Allowing the district license to “cherry-pick” favorable schools, and to escalate construction costs over that time frame (an expertise not usually associated with school districts) a close review shows that the average cost per student is $49,000 for a new high school. Our proposed high schools will cost $72,000 per student to build, yet not one of the identified schools, which purportedly support the district’s case, is as expensive as the Bloomfield Hills proposal!

Somehow Mr. Weiss is able to proclaim that the $72,000 per student that Bloomfield Hills taxpayers will fund is “within the average range for schools of our size”. It is readily apparent that it is not a fact - this time using his term "average" - $72,000 is not within the average range of $49,000!

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "Overpriced"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

Overpriced? A firm with expertise in school construction was purposely chosen to audit the pricing, and compared our cost estimates with those of like schools adjusted for location, inflation and instructional elements. The audit revealed that the estimate we received is within 1 percent. Furthermore, we compared our cost to similar-sized high school built in Michigan, and again we fell within the average range.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The firm with “expertise in school construction” is not a Contractor, but rather the largest Program Manager in the country in the field of transportation, subways, bridges and infrastructure. Contractors that competitively bid construction projects are knowledgeable in costs - their future depends on it! But Program Managers are experts in managment. In this case, schools are a minor portion of their line of work, and those precious few are very controversial and troubled projects. The administration went all the way to Coral Gables Florida branch of this firm, in spite of the fact that they have a Detroit office.

Even if we are to assume the expertise exists, validating that these buildings are designed to be very expensive is of absolutely no value. Cost comparisons of other Michigan high schools versus our proposed schools were shown to be unfavorable to the District in the previous comments on hand-selected projects.

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "No Bid Contracts"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

In another flawed complaint, Mr. Greenwell claims the district awarded the consulting work for this proposal on no bid contracts. Incorrect. The district's consultants were selected through a competitive RFP process in 2003. And, we are engaged in a similar competitive process to select the firms that will design and build the new schools, should voters approve.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The 2003 “competitive RFP process” is a non-starter. For one, a request for proposal (RFP) requires quantities and prices, neither of which was solicited. Secondly, it is an aged 4 year old exercise, when the market has changed considerably over this time span.

In reality what was tendered, in both 2003 and the current engagement, was a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Simply put, it is merely a marketing effort to identify the qualification of the offering firm. There is virtually no attempt to compare prices in either the responses or the awarding criteria.

Finally, the concept that these firms are consultants is a real stretch – the Board affectionately refers to them as their “in-house design-construction company”. This team has been the administration’s choice in previous districts and now Bloomfield Hills. Throughout the industry, these services are competitively bid on a project-by-project basis all day, every day.

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "Board Agenda / Opinion Polls"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

Mr. Greenwell also wrongfully asserts a "board agenda," involving input from 211 citizens. Yet, the truth is the board had no notion of our ultimate recommendation when we began this investigation approximately 18 months ago. We conducted an open inquiry designed to heal the prior rift in the community, and urged public participation, including sending invitations to each district household.
We held nine community meetings and conducted three public opinion polls. The input we received consisted of easily 1,000 residents, and we welcomed even more. Our board members live in all corners of our district, and after listening and working diligently, we all reached the conclusion that this is the right plan.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The reality is that in the six input sessions, only 211 district residents participated (not including district employees), and only a fraction of those wanted new schools! The follow up “information sessions” were not a forum for input, but rather to outline the district’s intentions. Finally, the polls would not be a favorable point for the district – less than a majority of those specifically selected to poll were in support of this plan.

The concept that the district invited each district household and “welcomed even more” shows they may have tried to some degree and failed. Remember, only a portion of the 211 people fashioned this plan to their needs, and the leadership of this district failed to put cost or size restraints on the wish list.

Finally, by Mr. Weiss' own admission in the next excerpt under "Remodeling", he wrote that other plans "failed to meet our instructional and space needs". "Our" needs? Obviously the Board and the Administration had an agenda that they are bound and determined to implement.

Greenwell Responds to School Board - "Remodeling Would Be Less"

The following is another excerpt from an editorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr. Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr’s position.

Without providing any details, Mr. Greenwell has suggested that we can complete this project for $40 million less. Notably, the board did look at a plan for the price Mr. Greenwell suggests. It failed to meet our instructional and space needs, and only saved the average homeowner roughly $40 dollars per year. Can one in good faith argue that for that price differential we should eliminate key aspects of the new schools?

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The details are in the values in the previous post. It appears $40 million is a minimal savings utilizing the hand-selected high schools as a model. To be well within the average range, we could save $23,000 per student or easily $46 million. Remember that a total upgrade renovation would cost $61 million, representing an $84 million savings! Please don’t marginalize these astronomical savings with a mere $40 or cup of coffee a homeowner.

The Board rejected several cost saving plans since, as Mr. Weiss asserts, they “failed to meet our instructional and space needs”. “Our” needs? Or the previously mentioned community input sessions?

Greenwell. Responds to School Board - "End of the Lifecycle"

The following is another excerpt from an editiorial in the Birmingham Eccentric, April 1, 2007, from School Board President, Steve Weiss, in response to Don Greenwell, Jr Editorial published March 25, 2007. Below each excerpt is Mr. Greenwell, Jr's position.

It is beyond dispute that our high school infrastructures are at the end of their natural lifecycles. Furthermore, we simply cannot meet the changing delivery of education through key elements such as technology, laboratories and distance learning in these buildings. We want to keep our students ahead of the pack, not allow them to fall behind. Most importantly, we want to prepare them to thrive in our changing world.
As this newspaper recently pointed out, the public discussion of this proposal must be based on fact, not political fiction. I am not running for a new term, and have no political stake. What is at stake is our need to provide for our current and future generations of children -- just as generations past did for ours. Vote yes to support our community on May 8.

Mr. Greenwell, Jr. Responds:

The fact that our buildings need work is an unfortunate characterization of the Board and Administration asleep at the switch. If the buildings were not upgraded, why would the taxpayers over the life of those buildings provide immense amounts of funds for operations and, most notably, the Sinking Fund? And now, Mr. Weiss, the leader of this Board and initiative, is abandoning the school district!

As to older buildings, no one would consider the students in Cranbrook, or the International Academy housed in a 1959 middle school, as being allowed to “fall behind”. It is absurd and insulting that the Bloomfield Hills School District would endorse a campaign that promotes "Building Schools - Building Leaders". We need the best tools for our teachers and students, but erecting shiny and enormous monuments have nothing to do with a quality education or student achievement - as evidenced by the Cranbrooks or the Harvards of the world.

Voting NO on May 8th, is the right thing to do. TEAM GREENWELL will deliver a reasonable high school plan that will redirect the emphasis on student achievement.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bond Proposal is Flawed

This opinion piece ran in the March 25 edition of the Birmingham Eccentric, authored by Don Greenwell, Jr.


High school bond proposal is flawed in many aspects

The Bloomfield Hills school district needs a reasonable plan for fixing our schools. We generously support public education and we want to be proud of our schools and students. But I'm troubled with many aspects of the current proposal to build new high schools and the sheer magnitude of the endeavor.

The plan should be reasonable in size and cost, and reasonable in terms of meeting the academic needs of our students. The plan should follow the direction set forth in a well-publicized and accepted Master Plan, not simply a high-level strategic vision, but one that addresses all school district vacant properties and buildings, including the district's desired Administration Office Complex. This Master Plan must include a committed timeline with logic-driven events for the facilities.

Several published metrics are employed by the design/construction industry to evaluate the right-sizing of a facility. One element is the size broken down on a per student basis. Our board proposes 275 square feet per student based on the assumption that we will grow to 1,000 students at each high school. The Midwest average is 170 square feet per student. But we all know Bloomfield Hills is not average. The top 10 percent of all schools built in the nation are 216 square feet per student. Is it reasonable to be 62 percent larger than the average size and 28 percent larger than the top 10th percentile in the country?

Another widely accepted barometer is cost per student. We come in at $72,500 for each student. The Midwest average is $29,000 and the top 10 percent from around the country is $40,000 for each student. How can it be reconciled that we need to pay 2 1/2 times the average and almost double the top 10 percent in the country?

The district has tried to rationalize such excess with cherry-picking certain parts of other schools to make a case for size, and a Florida firm to validate that the building is designed to be this expensive. This selective approach does not address the overall cost or size, but rather becomes public relations sound bites.

How did this happen? Well, renovation was initially estimated to be $31 million per school, but that did not meet the board's agenda. Community input consisted of 211 people not associated with the district, and the design/construction team was awarded the effort on a no-bid basis. Unfortunately there was no incentive or leadership to provide a reasonable solution -- it is known we are a generous community, it's for the kids, it's only a cup of coffee, and the taxpayer won't notice in May elections.

BHSD residents want high-achieving students. The district cannot show any empirical evidence that spending more money on buildings results in higher student achievement. Ironically, most of the money goes to non-academic space -- even a sportsplex for sports where we are unable to field an entire team. And if we are competing, our neighboring districts have over-built and now accept out-of-district students. Under this proposal, we will need to double or triple our out-of-district students, which we subsidize, in order to fill up our "empty airline seats."

The district Web site purports to provide the facts but it is general and qualitative. Based on evaluation of industry accepted metrics, the plan is not reasonable on any count. This is one reason Jenny and I are running for the board -- to bring fiscal responsibility to spending your education tax dollars that truly benefit our students.

Donald Greenwell Jr., P.E., is senior vice president for Walbridge Aldinger, Detroit. He and wife Jenny are candidates for trustees of the Bloomfield Hills school district Board of Education.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Signup for email

Some have asked me how often we intend to post, and how often they should check back.

The answer is... often and often!

We will post as often as we can, and intend to keep the posts short, informative, and to the point!

We've added a feature where you can choose to signup for an email notification by entering your email address in the box on the right side of the main screen. You'll be sent a confirmation to make sure the address is correct, and that's it!

You'll then receive an email whenever Don or I make a new post. The email will contain everything made in the post.

Of course, you won't see any of the comments entered by other people, so you may want to check back from time-to-time.

But the email list should make things easier for you!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Preparing for Increased High School Graduation Requirements

At the March 8 meeting, I asked several questions. Here is one that I'm most anxious to hear back on:

I know that the new state mandated graduation requirements will require some changes, and we'll see more kids taking tougher classes.

The three primary changes will require more kids to take more English, more science (including either Physics or Chemistry), and more math (specifically up to Algebra II).

Has the board looked at how many graduates from the class of 2006 would've passed these requirements? I'm curious because it might give some indication of what the district needs to do to prepare for these increased requirements. For example, if only 65% - 70% of the 2006 graduates would've taken Algebra II, then that would mean we will probably need more math teachers, and will probably need some intervention strategies on how to deal with those kids that are likely to struggle with math at that level.

I'm sure there is some committee working on it somewhere, and I'm sure you would've pulled those numbers together at this stage of the game. Will you please share with the public the numbers of students, broken down by high school, of those 2006 graduates that took math through Algebra II, and took either Physics and/or Chemistry?

The board is not responsible for identifying shortfalls in the district curriculum, nor should it be responsible for devising intervention strategies. But the board does have an oversight responsibility, and should have a clear picture of what issues are facing the district. The board should have a sense of confidence that the administration is looking at these issues, and that confidence should stem from data, not just "blind faith".

Trust, but verify.

Bloomfield Hills offering teaser rate for bond issue

This ran in the the Oakland Press on Sunday, March 18. Everything I've seen suggests it is 100% accurate. Has anyone seen anything that would suggest that it is wrong? Is anyone as bothered by it as I am?

Bloomfield Hills offering teaser rate for bond issue

Explaining the change in the bond issue supporting the $140 million, twin-high school building project, the Bloomfield Hills Assistant Superintendent for Business Services states, “We have factored a reasonable increase in property values (4 percent) and have calculated that after the first-year millage at 1.29, the average rate is 1.41.”

The problem is, the district has promoted the 1.29 rate. They stated in their internal February 2007 “State of the Staff” bulletin, “The Board of Education agreed to ask the voters for 1.29 mills.” It has also appeared in local newspapers.

What do we have here? The district is quoting 1.29 mills knowing it will average 1.41 mills after the first year. Subprime mortgage lenders use “teaser” rates. I thought Bloomfield was better than that.

The “reasonable increase in property values (4 percent)” compares with the average of 2.5% in the last 13 years reflected on our property tax statements. If this thinking reflects the quality of the proposal, it should be voted down.

Pat Guidone
Bloomfield Hills

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wing Lake Concerns

Some thoughts on the Wing Lake School “Situation” It was covered by the Oakland Press in an article found here.

This spring, the structure at the corner of Wing Lake Rd. and Maple, which houses the Oakland county center program for severely, multiply- impaired students, will be demolished to make way for a new building. Funds from the Oakland county intermediate school district will pay for the construction, after the BHSD pays sinking fund dollars to demolish the building.

The historic, stone, Wing Lake school, dating to 1859, will be spared; but an adjacent addition, built in 1949, which includes restroom facilities, and which was awarded architectural-society recognition, will be destroyed.

The site includes just 3 acres of land, and has some frontage on Wing Lake. (Check out the Google Satellite View Here.)

The Bloomfield Historical society would like to make sure that both the historic stone school AND its addition are protected. State and local agencies agree that the structures are worthy of preservation.

I don’t see why both sides of this debate can’t be satisfied: The Bloomfield Hills school district owns vast tracts of undeveloped land, adjacent to school buildings currently in use, where the NEW Oakland County Developmental Center could be built. Much of this acreage would be a better place to build this new school, as it does not abut a busy road like Maple.

Why doesn’t the Bloomfield Hills Board of Education re-visit this issue, before the wrecking ball comes to Wing Lake? They should consider building the new school on the grounds of Fox Hills School, Lone Pine School, or West Hills Middle School. Even the acreage at the present site of the former Booth School, (now “Doyle Center) would work better than the tight site at the present location.

Further, the Wing Lake population could stay right where they are during the period of construction, rather than being forced to move to temporary quarters in a leased building in Farmington.

This problem could be easily solved, so why aren’t we solving it?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hello and Welcome!

Don and I are pleased to welcome you to our blog.

We will use this forum to share our thoughts.

This is really a great way for you to learn more about us, and make an informed decision in the May 8, 2007 Bloomfield Schools Election.

We hope, by the way, that this is the last May election you'll have to endure!

Please bookmark us, and check back for updates. Be sure to share the address with your friends and neighbors.


~ Jenny