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.