In early October, Advocates FHSD ran a short survey to better understand our audience and sentiments towards the potential consolidation and redistricting of the schools, among other issues.
Over 33% of our community responded and 682 people shared their thoughts about potential consolidation and redistricting. (Based our group size, this gives us a 3% margin of error - in other words, a lot of confidence in these figures).
Let’s dig into the data and see where the community stands.
Anderson resident and former FHSD Board Member Rich Neuman has decades of experience in deal-making. As President of Baseball Development for Mandalay Baseball Properties and then as a VP of Major Accounts for Brailsford & Dunlavey, he pitched communities on new/renovated sports facilities and negotiated millions of dollars in sponsorships, naming rights, etc . He also was/is an expert in relationship development and innovative proposals that use a mixture of public and private funds (and optimistic revenue projections) to secure financing.
Now, as a consultant for Elevar Design Group (formerly SFA Architects), Neumann has proposed the sale of Anderson High School for private, mixed-use development. High school students would move to the “Bartels campus,” and elementary students would be reshuffled as part of a consolidation. Innovative, indeed.
To succeed in deal-making one must be persistent, and Neumann is nothing if not persistent. In fact, he attempted to consolidate the two FHSD high schools in 2010 when he was on the school board, and was involved in an earlier more detailed study in 2005.
During that scheme, he and others were sued for closed door meetings that were subject to sunshine law. Once the Cincinnati Enquirer’s lawsuit brought the issue to light, public meetings were held and the community responded that no—they did not want to consolidate high schools.
In 2015, he brought forward another plan to sell Anderson High School: “The Plan that Makes Too Much Sense". Many of the players involved in 2015 are the same players involved now: Neuman, Tom Fernandez of Elevar/SFA, Andrew Brossart of Bradley Payne Advisors (formerly with 5/3 Securities), etc. As part of the 2015 plan, Anderson High School would have sold for a dollar as part of a multi-part land swap placing a new high school on Beech Acres property. Ultimately, all parties agreed that deal was not feasible. Notably, the plan would use the $25 million earmarked for Anderson renovations toward the new school.
The Anatomy of a Rich Neumann Development Proposal:
We reviewed hundreds of news articles and dozens of public records about Neumann’s prior deals with municipalities across the US (and even Ottawa, CA). We discovered a few themes with notable similarities to “Project Intrepid.”
October 19th the Board of Education (BOE) and Administration shared some financials that may seem dramatic to many, and we thought we'd offer a few important facts to help our community better understand the issues at hand, and, the reason understanding this is so important.
State funding is insufficient, and places constraints on the ability of Ohio school districts to generate revenue
In 1976 Ohio passed a law referred to as HB920 that prevents the millage paid from property taxes to rise as property values rise, forcing all districts in Ohio to pass levies every 3-5 years on average. Levies passed for 4+ years are often very high and it is difficult to plan for unpredictable cost increases within the life of an operating levy.
In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court declared the State's school funding system unconstitutional, specifically citing four major flaws in the system, including insufficient state funding for school facilities and a flawed school funding formula.
In the 2021 financial summary, the Administration showed 28% of FHSD funding comes from the state, and that has been declining for years.
The failure to act has caused a self-imposed crisis …
The board was advised early this year that the Forest Hills School District (FHSD), like all others in Ohio, needed to pass a levy and the levy millage would increase the longer they waited due to projected gaps/shortfalls.
For reference, the term "millage" is derived from a Latin word millesimum, meaning thousandth, with 1 mill being equal to 1/1000th of a currency unit. As used in relation to property tax, 1 mill is equal to $1 in property tax, which is levied per $1,000 of a property's determined taxable value. Going forward, we will reference any millage as “mill”.
If the board had put a levy on the ballot this November 2022, they would have been able to ask for only 4.2 mill which translates to about $515 annually for a home valued at $350K (about $1.41 per day).
If the board decided to wait, FHSD Treasurer Alana Cropper advised the levy would likely be 6.7 mill, or about $820 annually for a home valued at $350K (about $2.25 per day).
See a simple table for mills per house value here
Two of the current school board members, Bob Bibb and Katie Stewart, led the campaign against the 2019 levy. They were joined by Sara Jonas and Linda Hausfeld to campaign AGAINST any future levies during their race in 2021.
A smart move 30+ years ago is no longer supporting the need …
The Permanent Improvement fund (PI fund) is slowly depleting and will soon need to be supported with a millage increase via a levy as well. In the 1980’s, the FHSD set aside some $$ and used only the interest earned to pay for capital projects (the only thing PI fund is allowed to be spent on, per Ohio law). Interest on that fund was earning around $1M per year, until the early 2010’s, when it was only averaging $20K per year.
In short, decisions made by the board in place 30 years ago saved the community money by avoiding a PI fund for decades, however, this decision avoided the community's familiarity with precedent and additional millage now needs to be explained for community education.
In 2019, a 1/2 mill value was included in the levy, to help support the PIF, but it has not been enough to both support the repairs of the district AND help pay off the bond from 2014. One year ago, the Permanent Improvement Fund was $4.4M, and is now $1.8M. Remember, money in this bucket can only be used for capital improvements (roof replacement, asphalt, painting, etc.)
Why do we need to know all of this?
In the October meeting, the board may show a significant gap in our revenue vs our projected costs, and it could be viewed as a tactic to create urgency where the public feels compelled to make rash, poorly-researched decisions, like consolidation. We want to make sure the community has a chance to hear the information with an existing baseline of understanding.
As a result of this board's decision to delay a levy past 2022, this board has decided to accept the need to ask the community for a higher mill for operating costs, and, pass that emergency on to the community they committed to serve as elected leaders.
The discussion during October's board meeting confirmed Alana's statement earlier in the year, when she stated that the assessment is still largely unchanged, the total millage likely needed from the community if a levy were to be proposed in 2023 is around 6.5-7.0. (See impact of that millage per home market value here)
Consolidation isn't the only way we can address this stress ... one near-term way we as individuals can take action is by voting for state legislative candidates that support funding public schools (Vote early now, election is Nov 8) and have committed to take action to address the state issues. We hope the board quickly considers & presents other options as well, or, moves quickly to get a levy on the ballot for May 2023.
What should I do with this information?
Continue sharing this information and this website with friends, neighbors, and family in the district. Knowledge is power, and the increased awareness serves as wide-spread oversight and the protection from misleading information. We need to remain vigilant and aware of the opportunities and risks our district faces so we can work together with the board and administration to outline possible solutions to the issues that are mutually agreeable to the leadership and this community.
The current school board has stated on multiple occasions that financial problems have been inherited from the previous school board. Alana Cropper is the District Treasurer and has worked under many boards, including the present one. She has done a great job attempting to educate this school board about the district financials. Alana has even presented multiple options for an operating levy in either 2022 or 2023 to avoid large cuts and last resorts like consolidation. Her explanation can be found in a video from the April 6, 2022 Work Session. We would now like to present the 2021 Financial Report to you for your consideration:
Dear Superintendent Hook and Forest Hills Board Members,
Our community is one that deeply cares for district excellence.
Two weeks ago, the community was made broadly aware of the intent of the board to re-shape the face of this beloved district and that conversations, both in person and virtual, have been happening between the board and Elevar representative Rich Neumann since March.
Following the community feedback during and after the public board meeting September 21, Superintendent Larry Hook issued a letter with this commitment claiming “You can be sure that factual, reliable information on this topic will come from myself and the district. We will share more details as they become available.”
To date, no new facts, details, or clarity to the decision-making process or proposal have been provided to the community, despite a plan being presented for 2 hours to the board members in executive session following the public meeting September 21. Communication from Elevar CEO also re-directs community inquiries to the district for the details of the plan.
This community deserves more than an email asking us to trust them with such an important decision, when to date, all activity has been secretive, and requested records have not been shared.
To prevent a further loss of trust in the district leadership at a time when the need for transparency is paramount, we respectfully request that the district issue a fact sheet or share the plan as it was outlined to them by Elevar in executive session.
Thank you for advocating for district excellence with us,
Advocate FHSD Board Chairs
Kimberly Olthoff, Sara Sudkamp, Sean Martin, Kristen Kalonick, Katie Quehl
After prom is an important way to give the students something fun and safe to do after the big dance. The party can continue long after the music stops with a little help from the community! This fundraiser is competition style. So wear your school colors and donate to your favorite High School. There will be two competing outdoor bars, themed cocktails and themed food items. So come and join the fun at Dead Low Brewing! Check out the flyer and download it as a reminder below. As always, you can find this event and more on our event calendar.
Welcome to AdvocateFHSD! We’re so happy to have you here. Strong public schools = strong communities. Here, we strive to engage and inform the FHSD community, and empower residents to be the best advocates for our students, teachers, administrators, and district.