Forest Hills Makes Energy Partnership

Lest anyone think we're only interested in what's wrong with the Forest Hills School District, I'll take this opportunity to share something rightInitiatives like the energy partnership described in this week's Forest Hills Journal are exactly the kind of efficient, forward-thinking efforts we hope to see more.


May Pioneers, Settlers Unite

By Elizabeth Barber

God bless the pioneers.

The kind of people willing to forsake the old in search of something better, pioneers are true visionaries. They see potential and possibility in people, places, and things; they create the tangible where others see empty space.

But God also bless the settlers, for every pioneer needs dozens to follow behind. Also willing to risk the comforts of old, settlers engineer pioneers’ dreams into reality. They build infrastructure, plan for sustainability, create systems, and establish communities.

When pioneers and settlers work in harmony, organizations thrive. One envisions, the other builds. One leads, the other follows. One dreams up the story, the other pens the words.

But when the roles of pioneer and settler become confused, conflict threatens progress. Pioneers’ forward-thinking plans are suppressed or ignored, creating stagnancy and bitterness. Settlers refuse to adapt and evolve. They take leadership roles resolving to protect the status quo and deterioration begins.

When cooperative and united, communities stand progressive and strong. When divided, weakened by pride and infighting, they fall. We must stand guard against this kind of division, especially with local elections coming soon.

Let’s elect leaders with vision, not those fighting to stay the same. Be on guard against those seeking public office because it’s “time to give back.” Duty has its place, but not in a leadership role. To move forward, Anderson Township and the Forest Hills School District need passion and insight, ideas and inspiration. We need pioneers focused on mapping out our future, not settlers dwelling in past the land of accomplishments.

Let’s elect leaders with knowledge. Vision built upon fact is strong enough to carry the weight of a new generation. But vision built upon emotion crumbles under the weight of reality. Be on guard against those who appeal through sentimental attachment and opinion, especially when plans lack the backbone of data.

Let’s elect leaders who listen. True pioneers collaborate – they consider ideas from fellow pioneers as well as settlers, then set forth plans that best serve all. Be on guard against those who say, “the community has spoken.” Ask yourself: How long ago did it speak? How did it speak? Was I a part of that conversation? Do I agree with what the community supposedly spoke?

Let’s elect leaders committed to long-term betterment of the community as a whole. Whose strategies will attract new homebuyers to Anderson Township? Who has realistic ideas to improve and renew properties, facilities, and land? Who will efficiently use money, time, and resources of those who live, work, and learn here?

It’s said there’s no such thing as staying the same; we either strive to become better or allow ourselves to become worse. As a lifetime Anderson resident with a young, growing family, I’ll cast my votes for leaders who challenge the community to become better. Staying the same, becoming worse, is not an option.

Let’s elect pioneers, not settlers, in 2013. And let’s move Anderson Township toward the thriving, evolving community our visionaries seek and pursue.


Staying The Same Isn't An Option

It's hard to say exactly why it's happening, but something is happening within our local schools.

Last May, when we requested historical National Merit scholar numbers from the Forest Hills School District, we were stunned to see the dramatic decline in recent years. Since 2006, the number of commended students at Anderson and Turpin has dropped significantly - from 33 scholars in 1999 to 24 in 2006 to just 8 in 2013.

Every picture tells a story. Numbers tell stories. If we allow this picture and these numbers to speak for themselves, what story to they tell? 

*All data provided by the Forest Hills School District

The point isn't to degrade our district, it's to let people know the truth. And to motivate people to do something.

Reality ignored is no less reality.

It’s said there’s no such thing as staying the same; we either strive to become better or we allow ourselves to become worse.

In our district's case, all resources and all efforts are moving toward staying the same, but what we're doing isn't working. If staying the same leads to becoming worse, then it's time we all strive to do better.

Let's work together to turn this trend around, returning our school district once again to its proper seat of prominence in our city and beyond.


Community Spoke, Board Didn't Listen

With the impending Board of Education election, there's a lot of talk about the 2010 community survey. Current leaders (and candidate Tony Hemmelgarn) say its results prove the "community has spoken" in favor of the current nine-building configuration.

But when you read complete survey results for yourself, you'll see responses are anything but conclusive.

Even though the survey was conducted before most of the township knew the district's declining physical and financial state, several responses show a willingness to consider alternative facilities options. Most of those willing to consider alternatives are people ages 18-44, those whose children are directly affected by current decision-making.

But these results, conveniently buried at the end of the report, are ignored by all Forest Hills board members except Julie Bissinger.

With any survey, it's important for leadership to look beyond the obvious results. Anyone can read numbers and hear what's said, but leaders are charged with listening. They must hear what people aren't saying and think on their behalf to meet future needs and wants.

In this case, I believe people are saying they're willing to change, as long as they're given reason to change. Whether the reason is cost savings or better education opportunities, the community must be convinced before it offers wholehearted support.

Let's do all we can to expose the lie that the "the community spoke." And speak confidently for ourselves today.


Township Can't Afford Two High Schools

By Kathleen Oetgen

This is in response to the piece entitled: “Forest Hills Nixes Tax-Hike Idea.”

In my opinion the Forest Hills School District faces three major issues:

1. Crumbling school buildings.
2. A disjointed community.
3. An inability to adequately inform and communicate with the community.

Our schools are literally falling down. It’s not an overstatement. It’s a crisis and it must be addressed.

We have too many buildings, and most of them are too old. The most recent proposal from the school board addressed rebuilding one of those buildings – that’s not enough.

If you look at the votes for and against the last bond issue they are pretty clearly divided by area, based on who would benefit from it and who would not.

Previous bond issues have failed for many different reasons. Several years ago I think the community didn’t understand the problems, and so were reluctant to embrace the proposed changes. Most of the planning and discussion at that time happened behind closed doors and the community did not trust the information once it was forced into the open. If the district wants to move forward with any kind of plan to consolidate schools, they need to inform and communicate with the taxpayers throughout the process.

This most recent bond issue did very little to address the problems and concerns that most of the residents of this community have about the facilities.

We live in a wonderful community. Anderson Township enjoys wonderful parks, strong real estate values, and exceptional community service … all at a relatively low property tax level.

At the foundation of the community are the schools. If we allow our schools to fail, the community can’t be far behind.

I think it is time for real change in the facilities that make up the Forest Hills school district. As a community it is time we make an investment in the future of Anderson Township. We need to put our personal interests aside and do what is right for the community as a whole.

Let start at the bottom and work our way up.

Step One: Elementary Schools. Do we really need 6 outdated elementary schools? Could we reshuffle the student population into 4 buildings? Either new construction, or remodeling and adding on to four of our existing buildings?

Step Two: Nagel Middle School. Frankly – your guess is as good as mine on this one. Perhaps we should make it larger and include sixth grade here. Then the four elementary schools only need to house K-5.

Step Three: A new high school. I know it is a hugely unpopular idea for some in the community, but looking at the facts realistically, I believe it is the most reasonable answer. This “Mega High School” would still be smaller than other schools in our area such as Mason, Oak Hills, Lakota West and Lakota East. I like the idea of two smaller high schools too, but we just can’t afford it.

I think this configuration would allow our community to continue to offer an excellent education to our children for generations to come.


School Board Considers New Evaluation

In the weeks leading up to the May 7th bond levy defeat, you heard a lot about the 2004 state evaluations that rated several Forest Hills' schools sub-par.

When the Ohio School Facilities Commission took a close look at Forest Hills nearly nine years ago, it noted deteriorating facilities and less-than-ideal learning environments. (Read complete findings in links under "Just the Facts" to the right of this blog.)

Many of those results were ignored when the Forest Hills Board of Education made its most recent bond levy request.

Anderson High School was given a total of 65% out of 100% in the categories of school site (71%), structural and mechanical features (68%), plant maintainability (65%), building safety and security (72%), educational adequacy (54%), and environment for education (64%). Very few, if any, plans proposed in the bond levy improved areas of educational adequacy and environment for education, two of the school's lowest ratings. Turpin didn't score much better, with an overall ranting of 68%.

The reports rated several other facilities nearly as low as Wilson Elementary School (56%), yet the plan overwhelmingly favored Wilson by offering it a complete renovation.

Nagel Middle School, the newest addition to Forest Hills, received a score of 92%. Nagel was built in 1999 to serve all 1,200 7th and 8th graders in the district. It has the most current technology and safety features of any Forest Hills facility.

Facts reveal a need for overall renewal that serves all Forest Hills students. Deterioration won't slow while we wait for a perfect plan; steady, progressive action is necessary.

In the June Board meeting, Forest Hills School District board members discussed the possibility of a new state survey, which would provide an up-to-date facilities evaluation.

We commend the Board for this step in the right direction. We're hopeful this assessment is a precursor to a comprehensive facilities plan considering all students' needs.

Let's hope the progress continues and we walk closer to a financially responsible facilities plan.


Forest Hills Needs New Leadership

Larry Wood is an Anderson Township resident
who served on the school district's
Business Advisory Committee from 2010-2012.
By Larry Wood
Published in the Forest Hills Journal, June 26, 2013

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III saved 155 lives in 2011 by heroically piloting his powerless jetliner onto the Hudson River.

Yet, he writes in “Highest Duty” that from 9/11/2001 to 2009 he “lost 40 percent of my salary” and “lost two-thirds of my pension.” His difficult economic story is similar to that of workers across America and right here in Anderson Township.

There’s been no such problem at Forest Hills schools. From 2001 to 2009 “salaries and benefits” payments surged 56 percent. Generous pensions weren’t endangered. Enrollment remained flat.

Since 2009 Forest Hills’ yearly “salary & benefits” payments of around $60 million have flattened.

But, that’s misleading. Per employee costs are up despite much noise about salary freezes and the layoffs of about 80 mostly lower-level, lower-salary workers. 2009’s average employee “salary & benefits” totaled $73,639. Today it’s $77,730.

Yes, fewer employees now. But each, on average, represents $4,100 more in spending!

That’s not all. Forest Hills misled voters during the successful spring 2012 levy campaign. It took credit for spending cuts never made.

Some administrators, board members, and campaigners, plus widely distributed election materials, boasted “since the 2009 levy failed, we reduced expenses $6.64 million annually.” That was not true! Not even close!

According to the school treasurer’s publicly available financial reports filed with the Ohio Department of Education, only in 2012 did spending drop by even half the amount claimed.

Outlays in 2010 and 2011 dropped less than $1.42 million from 2009’s total of $74.38 million.

It doesn’t stop there. The 2012 campaign stated further expense cuts would be made even if that levy passed. Instead, Forest Hills upped 2013 spending by nearly $3 million.

And as if all this isn’t enough, Forest Hills wanted yet more money in yet another levy this spring. Voters said “no.”

Plain facts and arithmetic prove just how untruthful have been the many claims by Forest Hills of “salary freezes,” “reduced expenses,” and “tough choices made.”

Captain Sully and many of us have experienced large pay cuts or furloughs or job losses plus lost or reduced pensions. We have no choice but to accomplish more with less.

Forest Hills’ misrepresentations have become too big to ignore.

The school needs new leadership that will focus on much more cost-effective spending in ways that actually improve our kids learning experiences.