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

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

The answer is... often and often!

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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!

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We will use this forum to share our thoughts.

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~ Jenny