Board members Bibb, Hausfeld, and Jonas campaigned on the importance of transparency; their actions to date regarding the challenging financial situation this district faces have been veiled, obfuscated, and in some cases, intentionally clandestine to avoid the public scrutiny of their under-supported efforts to reduce the operating budget through consolidation of schools.
Their secretive efforts to meet beyond the eyes of the public were first observed at the beginning of 2022, when they were captured on camera spending hours inside the home of a supporter, avoiding the large-group meeting structure and convincing only themselves that they were flying below the radar.
At the April board meeting, Board president Hausfeld and member Bibb made statements during that hinted at an effort to bring the discussion into the sunshine as part of a committee during Agenda item 16.0, board comments. As of the date of this writing September 21, and the update October 7th, no committee has been formed.
In June, a FOIA request unearthed an email from Board Member Jonas to then Superintendent Scot Prebles, admonishing him for supporting the PTO/PTA activities by several schools to build outdoor classrooms, where Jonas wrote on June 2, 2022, “how can you approve this plan when the board is discussing consolidation?”
Community members have pointed out that Facilities Manager John Eckert, along with one other staff member in the FHSD administration have attended at least one meeting with employees of downtown-Cincinnati-based Elevar, a design firm that has worked with Cincinnati Public Schools and St. Bernard-Elmwood. According to their website, Former FHSD Board Member and real estate developer Rich Neumann is employed by Elevar as a consultant.
According to these community members, the conversations with Elevar outline the intent–which was not openly communicated to the public– to sell Anderson High School and move its 1200 students to a single-high school at the site of Turpin High School and Mercer Elementary.
Along with Mercer, all district students would be redistricted, affecting everyone in our district.
The former Anderson High School property would likely be re-zoned to mixed-use, and developers may plan to build commercial property, some residential spaces, and office spaces in order to generate additional funding through a financial vehicle called a TIF, or Tax Increment Financing.
Consultant, community member and development investor Rich Neumann (self-written bio here) has been heavily involved in the process, serving as a go-between for the board members Bibb, Hausfeld and Jonas to avoid oversight & scrutiny of their discussions. Mr. Neumann has been communicating via text to personal phones, and through administrative members of the district.
This may be a violation of the open meetings act and sunshine laws, something Mr. Neumann was fined for during his term on the school board in 2010, where there was a passionate community debate at that time over proposed consolidation options as well. See the article by the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2010 here.
Neumann served two non-consecutive terms on the FHSD board. He lost a bid for a seat following his campaign in 2013. His interest in the One High School vision appears to be a passion project, regardless of the community’s broader views. He was quoted in the Forest Hills Journal (a now defunct publication) in October of 2013 saying, “I have always believed a one high school configuration would be in the long-term best interest of the district”. He further stated, “Reducing the number of buildings and improving the quality of those that remain will decrease. The district voters disagreed, and Neumann lost his bid for a seat on the FHSD school board in November 2013.
On a past P3 development stadium project for Neumann’s former company Mandalay Baseball, the organization was accused of “veiled secrecy” on the project (see article, by the Star News Online). In this article in the Star News Online, he stated, "we’ve been transparent when it has been legally necessary, but there’s no reason to be transparent when it could negatively impact negotiations for the deal.”
The effort to sell any Real Property is governed by Ohio Law 3313.41, and requires an arduous process and strict adherence to the detailed process before property over $2,500 may be sold. We understand it is possible that the board has already met with attorneys, architects and possibly with developers to discuss the sale outside of the governing process guidelines.
The sale process, which requires 2 weeks of public notice, allows charter schools first right of refusal for the property under Ohio guidelines. A private sale is only possible after an auction has occurred.
Currently, land surrounding Anderson High School is zoned as residential; changing the zoning requires approval by the county after they’ve compared the plan to the community initiative. The process to approve a zoning change involves the Hamilton County Commissioners office, the Township Trustees (all of whom have met with Elevar prior to the September 21 board meeting), and ultimately the buyer who would request the change.
A per-student acreage minimum is outlined by the Ohio School Design Manual to establish a single high school, as outlined in the research performed by committees in 2014. To support the existing ~2200 high school students, it is advised that35 acres plus 1 acre for every 100 students is the recommended baseline. To meet this, the District would need roughly 60-65 acres of land, an acreage confirmed in the 2015 plan documents. Requiring an additional 12-17 acres to the existing 48+ acres at the current Turpin / Mercer location. Has the board or the developers approached owners of adjacent land, such as the Knights of Columbus (16.7 acres), private property behind Mercer (~6.0 acres)? Are those acres even ‘usable’ for development to meet the requirements?
In addition, what is the environmental impact of further development? The Hillside Trust has already stepped in to preserve the hillside adjacent to Turpin toward Clough and prevent damage to the hill and to Clough Creek (and the history of the Miller-Leuser house). How would further development of the land by Turpin affect the stability of the hillside? Has this been studied?
How would the additional traffic on Clough Pike or any modifications to existing roadways impact Clough Creek? Has the board or the consultants considered the environmental impact by reviewing the environmental impact study from 2020? Have any additional studies taken place?
Traffic Implications & Township Investment
Would there be an additional investment be required of the township or Hamilton County to shore up Clough Creek to support additional traffic?
The most recent study of Clough Pike demonstrates that the road already faces many issues with vehicle accidents and traffic backups, which are busiest during commuting to work and school in the mornings. How would they solve this issue by adding twice as many students arriving before 8 a.m.?
Would officials need to revisit the 5-mile connector, to reduce traffic through the Clough Creek bottle-neck? Would that eliminate the 5-mile trail, which is widely used by many in the community and part of the overall trails network in the Township’s strategic plan?
Impact on Finances and School Resources
Our district already holds a debt on a bond approved in 2014, that still has a balance of over $90M. Buildings are typically held as collateral, with liens being held on the property, often requiring any monies earned from the sale of the asset to be fully applied to the remaining bond amount, which would prevent any use of funds to support any new buildings, development of existing buildings or, the purchase or lease of trailer classrooms. Has the board considered the impact of adding another bond to their plan to earn perceived lower operating costs?
Mercer currently holds roughly 700 students, including those with the most challenging needs. Often, students from other district schools on a 504/IEP are served at Mercer, where our most specialized support is provided. Will those resources be built at another school? Where would that money come from, if not another bond requiring community approval?
Additionally, AHS is a population of roughly 1100-1200, which exceeds the population of Mercer. The current building and square footage requirements for students K-6 are less than that for high-school-age students. Is there a plan to develop Mercer further? If so, how? Would we add to the building or expand the footprint with additional buildings? Where will funding for that come from, if not another bond levy, adding to our existing burden?
There are active construction sites in Anderson and planned for Newtown, which would bring additional families into the community, needing more schools and classrooms, not fewer. With schools already at 85-90% capacity, closing Mercer and re-districting those students completely ignores the growth this community is expected to see. Has the board, the administration, or the developer considered the need to serve those new students in their plan?
The stadium at Turpin, the gym at Turpin, and the fields at Turpin are not large enough to host a combined audience of spectators should the schools merge. In addition, fewer students would be able to participate in sports with a combined high school. What is the emotional and academic impact to the students with fewer in-school sports and activities they can participate in?
History Repeats Itself
The Forest Hills School District has been here before, and soundly rejected the ideas proposed for consolidation. Historical articles are available, and archived for your reference
Last night at the 8/17/2022 regular meeting of the Forest Hills School District Board of Education, Dr. Leslie Rasmussen proposed a motion to repeal the "Resolution to Create a Culture of Kindness and Equal Opportunity for All Students and Staff." The motion came after the board was presented with a change.org petition signed by just over 3,000 residents of the Forest Hills School District. In a surprise move, board member Katie Stewart — who originally voted AGAINST the resolution — refused to second the motion to repeal it. This has led to speculation that she is actually for the resolution that censors students and teachers from talking about diversity of all kinds in the classroom, essentially erasing the ability for students to get to know each other and create understanding and empathy.
Honesty for Ohio Education put out a statement early this morning condemning the lack of action at the board meeting. Advocate FHSD supports and highlights this statement. The resolution is no good for the students and the overall reputation of our beloved school dstrict.
It is clear that the Forest Hills community does not want the toxic ‘Culture of Kindness’ resolution poisoning their schools. This brazen act of disrespect for the students, families and educators by refusing to hold a vote against the resolution is yet another attempt by extremist elected officials to hold honest education hostage and weaponize race and identity,” says Cynthia Peeples, founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education.
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