Our district’s core defining feature is that Forest Hills School District structure provides small neighborhood school opportunities and connections to students and residents while enjoying the benefits of a large community’s resources. This unique equation delivers high-quality student outcomes at a lower cost to taxpayers, and is ultimately what differentiates Forest Hills schools from other similarly rated districts in southwest Ohio.
For three decades, community leaders have explored the costs, risks, opportunities and benefits of the neighborhood-centric school structure in Forest Hills. The district reviewed the situation in 2010, 2014, and again through the passing of a supportive operating levy in 2019 - the community bet that the benefits of our unique structure were not superceded by the alternative.
The residents’ bet on the schools’ current structure continues to pay off … Forest Hills school district quality ranks a top priority for nearly all new home buyers. A home in Forest Hills stays on the market fewer days than nearby competing schools showing demand for our area remains high, and buyers have seen a growing return on their investments in property in FHSD.
Why focus on how we can be more like other neighboring districts when what attracts families to the Forest Hills is the way in which we are different? It’s time to celebrate our unique characteristics and protect the primary reason so many choose to live here. Let’s recognize our neighborhood school structure for the jewel that it is.
Our school district is the number one reason people choose to move in to the community
FHSD neighborhood schools attract families looking for an affordable, top-quality education for their children. According to the Anderson Township housing study, 95% selected this district primarily for the schools, which increased after the 2014 bond issue & $103M investment that many perceived put the consolidation argument to rest.
The choice may also be made easier because home prices here are more affordable than in other nearby areas, and buyers appreciate the opportunity that the neighborhood structure provides them; schools closer to home offer the opportunity for working adults to volunteer and engage more easily. Studies have shown that parent & guardian involvement in their children’s education has been proven to yield higher grades and test scores, and better social skills among many other benefits.
Students and their families develop life-long relationships over the years here in Forest Hills; residents of all ages attend affordable entertainment in school sports and performing arts events, creating a culture that many return after graduation to raise their families here. We also have the added benefit of enticing many of our district’s teachers to benefit from this community as well, nearly 60% of our teachers live, play and earn here in Anderson Township.
Investing in FHSD is a sound decision, and money has historically been well managed
Consolidation activity would impact every resident in Anderson Township and Newtown in several ways, and understanding the details behind the impact may help residents better evaluate the risks and challenges.
(1) No opportunity for lower levies as no net reduction in building maintenance costs likely
Since the last school board meeting, members of the AdvocateFHSD.org leadership team were able to meet with Rich Neumann of the Architectural firm Elevar to see the details of consolidation, and discuss the financial details of the consolidation plan with Andy Brossart, of the firm Bradley Payne, a registered Municipal Advisory firm with the SEC and the MSRB.
Following the meeting, the leadership team worked to collect questions from the community to pass along to the board, with the understanding that the board would review & work to facilitate a community forum, either virtual or in person, that they have not scheduled nor indicated they might schedule before the November board meeting planned for 11/16.
The plan, which proposes to save the district money, reduce future levy millages and reduce the frequency of levies, indicates no reason to believe any of these claims are without significant risk if not completely unproven. The proposal also impacts every single student in the FHSD system through redistricting, reshuffling of grades to different sites, and transportation changes. In tonight's blog, we'll review the financial details.
The plan as proposed will impact financial aspects of our district as well as students & staff and the community widely, tonight - because the content is so voluminous we will only address the financial impact as we analyzed it.
The information provided below is based off of information shared mid-October, and, we recognize is likely to change with the final proposal expected this week or next. We also understand this is extremely complex, and to offer additional support to the community we will host a live Facebook Chat on Sunday, November 6th at 7:15pm to answer questions.
FINANCIAL SUMMARY IS JUST ANOTHER LOAN WITH NEW DEBT TO SERVICE
The plan is complex, using the creation of a pseudo-municipal entity (New Community Authority) called an NCA allowed under Ohio Revised Code 349 to issue bonds, levy an income tax and potentially a sales tax inside the boundary of the current Anderson High School site.
The NCA potentially enables the plan to avoid an auction, which would potentially invite other buyers or developers to engage, and in our opinion gives Elevar a distinct advantage over other potential competitors. Under ORC 349, the NCA is empowered to issue 37-yr bonds at current interest rates, which are the highest in 30 years.
The responsibility for payment of the bonds would be shared between the future developers and the district. Andy Brossart of Bradley Payne advised the estimate (based on the plan we saw mid-October) for the annual service debt payment would be $9.6M, of which the district is responsible for $4.3M. The district's portion of the payment would be generated through a Permanent Improvement fund of 1.87 mills (not yet approved by voters) and re-allocation of any savings the district might see from efficiencies, claimed to be between $1.5 and $3M.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE FINANCIAL DETAILS
The NCA would issue bonds for $120M for building & renovations, and $24 to $42M of "other"
$60M is planned for new building which would house the additional 9-12 graders, positioned in the current parking lot between THS and Mercer, eliminating parking in that area.
$25M was noted as the funding required for the addition at Nagel, to house all 6th graders; this is the equivalent of adding an elementary school (Summit has 600 kids, for example)
$15M was earmarked for updates to the stadium to hold up to 8,000 fans, including "club" type seats for paying Boosters.
$10M was estimated for updates to the theater and natatorium
$8M additional classrooms at various elementary schools (may be eliminated from plan)
The "other" category is where we see the most financial risk for the district
$16.2M is incorporated to pay off the remaining value of AHS in our 2014-approved bond
$16.1M is incorporated to cover the cost of capital interest (referenced in the plan as CAPI)
WHAT IS THIS "TIF" WE HEAR ABOUT, AND DOESN'T THAT FUND THE CONSOLIDATION?
TIF stands for Tax Increment Financing, and the World Bank website does a great job of explaining how a TIF works in detail. For our purposes, one needs to know that the bonds issued need to have the debt service paid annually, and a portion of that debt service is to be paid by the revenue generated in the land designated inside the TIF boundary. Slightly more than half of the debt service payment is intended to come from the TIF, the remainder must be paid for by the district.
The TIF boundaries will be set by the township, following a vote by the school board. We were told the TIF boundaries would likely house a hotel, a potential medical facility, "high-end" one-bedroom and studio apartments or condominiums as well as retail all surrounding a common green-space or park as well where Anderson High School currently exists on just under 50 acres.
As shared, the TIF intended to fund the $5.3 million debt service payment doesn’t have a lot of details.
Below, we outline the sources that represents the funding for the payment of the debt service by the developer.
CAN WE TRUST THESE ASSUMPTIONS?
We can’t subject any scrutiny to the $400,000 “other tax” or to the $1.5 million “yet to be determined” because there isn’t anything to analyze yet, but we evaluated the numbers - and they simply don't stand up to reasonable scrutiny. The two we'll get into detail on below are the TIF Funding on a 1% income tax within the NCA and a 3% hotel occupancy tax do not appear to produce the amount of money the plan says they will. Both merit further inspection.
Challenging the hotel assumptions is where we will begin.
A hotel has long been discussed, but to date, no commitments from any chains have been made, and, the trustees have reiterated over and over their desire is to see a hotel be positioned on or near the Kellogg avenue sites, for many appealing reasons to hotel chains and consumers alike. Proximity to a highway for one, and proximity to attractions like the racetrack and Coney Island and Riverbend make for a more appealing location.
In order to achieve the stated $144K for the hotel tax, the site would need to generate $4.8M in annual room revenue. Assuming a 100 room hotel operating at 65% capacity, the hotel would need to charge $202/night to reach that target. $202/night for a hotel in Anderson when comparable nearby hotels in Milford and Eastgate charge around $120/night is unlikely, and if the Anderson hotel needed to be competitively priced to sell anything it would only generate $2.85 million in room rental revenue per year, yielding only $85,500 in tax, $60,000 short of its target. For perspective, even if the hotel was 100% occupied from day one it would still be almost $13,000 short of its target.
What's the math on a payroll tax of 1%?
The other known component of the TIF is $1.1 million per year from the 1% payroll tax on employees and residents. The plan shows 5 sources for this revenue: the hotel, the restaurants, bars and retail shops in the complex, the medical facility and the residents. in order to generate the estimated $1.1M in TIF from income, we need nearly $110M in income - and the estimates we believe are unsupported by real data and fall short by 52%.
THE ASSUMPTIONS IN THE PLAN DO NOT SEEM TO HOLD UP TO DEEPER EVALUATION
Generously, those sources only sum to $518,000, less than half of the $1.1 million shown by the architects of the plan. Combined with the estimated gap in the hotel tax, the known portions of the TIF look to be some $640,000 or 52% short, and since we don’t even know the planned sources of the almost $4 million of TIF funding, at a minimum we need to call to question the ability of the TIF to routinely deliver it’s part of the annual debt payment without other plans.
The main reason that the previous effort to sell Anderson High School to a developer and rebuild it on Beech Acres property using a similar TIF was that the TIF could not produce nearly enough revenue to offset the borrowing costs of the new high school. This proposed project, and the debt it proposes to take on, is much larger.
The TIF is intended to cover 55% of the debt service, how does the district cover the rest?
The district is responsible for around 45% of the debt service, or $4.3M. Andy Brossart, the financial advisor working the numbers, advised the TIF will definitely not cover everything. The plan relies on a Permanent Improvement fund from the district being passed, and, projected operational and facilities savings that would be re-directed to pay the district's portion of the service debt annually.
What are permanent improvement funds?
Permanent Improvement (PI) funds are levied the same way operating levies are for school districts, but these funds are dedicated to general school maintenance as outlined by Superintendent Hook in the October 19th board meeting.
Today, the district would need to pass a levy to generate the 1.87 mills (generates around $3M in revenue) needed to pay the service debt. Taxpayer money sent to this PI would not be available to serve the needs of the district but instead would be dedicated to paying off a portion of the new debt.
Additional PI funding would still need to be levied to maintain the district's buildings, and, the district still needs to generate $1.3-$1.5M to close the gap on it's portion of the debt service.
What about the savings we should realize from fewer buildings & administrators?
Plan creators suggested that efficiencies created by consolidating two high schools and reducing the district by one elementary school would generate around $1.5M in savings. This though, would not be felt in district finances, as those savings would be redirected to pay debt service.
The premise itself is also unproven, as there is no reason to believe fewer administrators would be needed for the same number of students if we are to sustain reasonable workloads for administrators and safe practices for student to administrator ratios.
In addition, we don't significantly reduce the square footage of buildings when to execute the plan, we add on the equivalent of an elementary school building at Nagel to house 600+ 6th grade students and, an additional building plus a proposed skywalk at Turpin.
The assumptions of savings simply do not align with reasonable educational practices, and, taking steps to execute the proposal in this way could put students at significant risk as well as make working environments unsustainable for staff.
For these reasons, we do not believe the estimated savings are real nor reasonable to assume that they are practical to implement nor based on a safety-focused construct.
WHAT ELSE IS LIKELY TO IMPACT DISTRICT FINANCIALS WITH THIS PLAN?
The proposed plan showed a construction site at both Nagel and THS, which impacts the community significantly, and, likely would require additional busing for all middle-school and high school students. Gas prices are up, the cost of bus maintenance and replacement is also a significant source of cost for the district, and requiring fewer individual drivers and more buses hits the district hard.
WHAT IS NEXT THEN?
As we offer in our next blog post a summary of the construction plan, we can explain in more detail, but we hope you'll all reach out to the board first, to share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org, and our trustees to let them know what your thoughts are on this plan, as they too will be involved if the school board plans to proceed.
We hope you'll stay connected and share this information with other residents, who may not even yet be aware that this is nearing a deadline for a decision to be made, in November or mid-December at the latest.
As always thank you for Advocating with us for district excellence!
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.
Advocate FHSD’s Statement in Response to Katie Stewart’s 9/21/2022 Motion
At the 9/21/2022 regular meeting of the Forest Hills School District (FHSD) Board of Education, Katie Stewart motioned to vote on limiting the use of school restrooms to the gender listed on a student’s birth certificate. This goes against Advocate FHSD’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) commitment defined below.
Celebrating the Whole Person:
Advocate FHSD is passionate about supporting a school district that celebrates every student and faculty member's uniqueness as a human being. Creating a supportive and accepting environment for students and faculty who are diverse in age, gender, identity, race, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, ethnicity, belief, etc. is important and the right thing to do. We expect this from the Forest Hills School District and will continue to advocate for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility at all times.
The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different ages, genders, identities, races, sexual orientations, physical or mental abilities, ethnicities, beliefs, etc.
The fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals while recognizing that each person has unique circumstances and needs that require different resources to reach their full potential.
Recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating a person's diverse perspective and the unique point-of-view that they bring to the overall group or community.
Design, construction, development, and maintenance of facilities, information and communication technology, programs, and services so that all people can fully and independently use them.
This motion does not align with our definition of equity and fails to create a supportive and accepting environment within the FHSD schools.
According to GLSEN research, 60 percent of transgender students report being prohibited from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. Over three-quarters (76 percent) of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender; and transgender people (specifically trans girls and women) are at very high risk of experiencing violence throughout their lives, starting even before adolescence.
We are responsible for our student’s achievement levels as well as their mental health. We are tasked with caring for the whole child as parents and educators. Research shows no correlation between these types of restrictive bathroom policies and safety for non-transgender individuals. Policies like the one proposed by Katie Stewart harm transgender students in both the areas of academics and mental health. This kind of policy will undoubtedly cause severe anxiety and depression due to the increased verbal and physical abuse transgender students will experience from peers. The fear of being singled out by other students every time a trans child is forced to use a “special restroom” or a restroom that prioritizes the gender assigned at birth is insurmountable.
Therefore, Advocate FHSD denounces this motion and any future policy that violates human rights and po2266 in the Forest Hills School District policy manual. We will also continue to advocate for trans students according to our DEIA commitment with the full weight of the community behind us.
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.
Thank you to the Ayer PTA for putting on this event. It was a beautiful day to clean up the Ayer Elementary playground! Pulling weeds is not a favorite activity, but the look of a fresh playground space will do wonders in welcoming the Ayer students on their first day of school. And, there is nothing like a little fresh air, hard work, and good conversations! The Forest Hills School District will take care of the mulching, but there must have been 4-5 trash cans full of weeds that were removed! The recent rain made it easy to pull them out roots and all. So the large group of volunteers made quick work of it.
If there is ever an opportunity to volunteer throughout the district, we will post it to our Event Calendar on AdvocateFHSD.org. It feels good to do good ... especially for the kids. So come out and be a part of the volunteer community that makes this school district great! Once again, thank you to the Ayer PTA. You are all rockstars!
Advocate Sarah Crable recently had a beautifully written opinion published by The Cincinnati Enquirer. To support her self-initiated efforts to achieve our shared goals, Advocate FHSD would like to highlight this op-ed titled "Forest Hills School Board members who support racist resolution must resign."
Sarah was born and raised in the Cincinnati area and spent 13 years of her schooling in the Forest Hills School District (FHSD). Sarah is currently an undergraduate student studying international relations at Stanford University.
FHSD is lucky to have Sarah Crable in its corner, and we are lucky to have this advocate in our group! Thank you Sarah!
If we are to have any hope of fostering a safe and constructive environment for all students in Forest Hills, Bibb, Hausfeld, and Jonas cannot remain in their positions. They have demonstrated a commitment to creating a culture of discrimination and hostility, of flagrant racism and ignorance. They cannot sit in positions that purport to act in the interest of student welfare while championing policies that will do such great harm to students of color and LGBTQ+ students. It is time for them to resign so the school district can get serious about prioritizing student needs — including the need for anti-racist education.
The Forest Hills Foundation for Education (FHFE) has supported the Forest Hills School District for over 14 years and provides funding for much needed critical initiatives that lead to the success of FHSD students. In a recent statement, the organization reassures the community that they will continue to provide their crucial services, while distancing themselves from the overall message of the "Culture of Kindness" resolution passed on June 22, 2022. As a community, we thank FHFE for their continued support of students and teachers in the district. Read their statement:
Forest Hills Foundation for Education Response to the FHSD Board of Education June 22, 2022 Resolution
As Board members and staff of the Foundation, we are inspired and guided by our Vision, Mission, and Values.
As a group of parents, community members, corporate and nonprofit leaders, we believe we need to understand others’ differences and backgrounds to be successful. We must be able to have civil conversations and debates. The classroom creates a safe environment for students to make mistakes, learn and grow. We continue to believe in and support research based best practices in education such as fostering effective learning environments, including activities which ensure the ability for students to be heard and have a sense of belonging.
In the coming school year, we will continue to consider grant requests from the Forest Hills School District, increase our grant allocation to our front-line educators through Teacher Grants, and add a new category of School Group Community Grants - working through our PTAs and PTOs to hear directly from parents and students. We believe this approach will lead to even better outcomes for every student to have the resources to reach their full potential. We will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that our grants support our Vision, Mission, and Values.
For over 14 years, the Foundation has supported the Forest Hills School District by funding critical initiatives for the success of our students - Nagel After School tutoring and student clubs; a Child Focus Therapist; STEM programs such as Destination Imagination, Esports and Robotics; and Teacher Grants. We continue to believe the most effective and efficient way to impact the largest number of students is by partnering with the Forest Hills School District.
Thank you for your trust in us to achieve the Foundation’s important and rewarding Mission to serve our students.
The views and opinions expressed by individuals and entities on this blog are their own and do not reflect the views or positions of AdvocateFHSD.org.
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.