BHS School Farm serves entire region at our expense

Our school farm benefits many who do not contribute to its tax funding. We may need to broaden its base.

The BHSD operates an 88-acre farm at the northeast corner of the district.  It's OUR farm.

The farm operates at taxpayer expense, and runs at a significant financial deficit.

Based on documents received from a FOIA request earlier this year, we know that the farm operates at a deficit of more than $350,000 annually.  That figure does not include any expense for veterinary care.  Our farm has many horses and other large animals. 

Farm Manager, Holly Glomski, is young, talented and enthusiastic.  She has developed many programs and features that may help bring in funds to support the farm's operation.  (Corn maze, summer farm/camp programs, "leasing" of farm animals, etc.)

But the farm belongs to BHSD taxpayers, who are obligated, by way of property tax requirements, to pay for its operating expenses.

(Don't get me wrong:  I like the farm.  I live near it, and enjoy seeing the pretty horses, sweet sheep, llamas, rolling acreage.  It's charming.  I also "like" expensive shoes and luxury vacations.  Doesn't mean I always get what I want, and I certainly don't ask other people to pay for them.)

Can our small, local, school district afford to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to operate a farm?  Is there a better way to operate the farm, without asking our students to sacrifice education tax funding to support it?

I watched a portion of a presentation by Ms. Glomski last evening (had to leave early, and I was very sorry to do so) and was struck by the fact that special programs at the farm are openly marketed to non-taxpayers and that resident taxpayers are NOT afforded any advantage in opportunity to participate.  This is wrong, and is a disservice to those of us who are obligated to support the farm.

According to the report, the BHSD farm had 50,000 visitors last year.  Where did they come from?  Do they pay taxes to support it?  Perhaps if the farm was operated as a county-wide or regional asset, more and better use of the acreage would be attained and its expense would not fall to BHSD taxpayers alone.

The farm operates at taxpayer expense.  Farm employees are paid by way of BHSD taxpayers.  They work for US.  The BHSD school farm should serve the BHSD.  If this taxpayer-base is not adequate to provide funding, then control of that acreage should be transferred to a regional operating authority.

The school farm is "unique."  Not many small school districts, like ours, can afford to operate an 88-acre farm using tax dollars intended for education.  I wonder if ANY school districts actually can afford this kind of expense.

Please don't try to convince me that there is anything "educational" about a Corn Maze.  Please don't try to convince me that the "farm pays for itself."  It isn't, and it doesn't.

I would like to suggest that BHSD leaders begin a conversation with the Oakland County Intermediate School district and Oakland County officials to see if regional funding might be made available to support the farm.  If elected, I will make this a priorty.  We BHSD taxpayers should not be required support an operation that is open to non-resident, non-taxpayers, with local education tax dollars, that runs in a deficit.

If our local school farm is being used by non-residents of the BHSD, and advertising funds are being used to attract non-taxpayers to enjoy it, who do not contribute to its tax funding, perhaps the farm should be operated by a regional organization or government entity, and not by our small, local school district.

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Joe Judge October 28, 2012 at 12:11 PM
None of our school facilities makes money. I'm not sure making money is the right measure for a public school facility, although I will grant you that this property is unique and certainly not used entirely for the education of our students. The inquiry I would start with (and this would just be one way to start looking at this) is whether the facility takes up a disproportionate amount of our operating budget based on the number of students that are taught there. Have you done that analysis? $350,000 sounds like a small number relative to the overall $80m operating budget. What exactly is in that number? Did you include the items that you acknowledge "may bring in funds"?
Judy Weiner October 28, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Rhetoric is so much more marketable than fact. I assume Mrs. Greenwell learned that while pursuing her advertising degree; the very degree she claims will right all that she perceives is wrong with our school district and its Board of Education. Mrs. Greenwell, please answer the questions Mr. Judge put forth. Then, and only then, can your statements be credible.
Mac October 28, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Non-residents pay to use the farm. Non-resident use, by surrounding school districts, 4H clubs, and, yes, corn maze tickets, help support the farm. These money making ventures are creative and effective efforts by farm management to defray farm costs for the district. I suggest you attend an educational program at the farm before declaring there are none. Farm field trips are programmed to meet curriculum goals, and are always very well done. They fill the barn building daily with students from throughout the district, as well as bus loads of paying field trips from other districts. And, as always, no FOIA request is required to find farm financial numbers. They are published.
Mac October 28, 2012 at 02:27 PM
I was looking at it the opposite way. We have real challenges coming, with Oxford foundation changes, changes to union laws, and a new high school underway. Meanwhile, Ms. Greenwell and her supporters are hauling out the tired "issues" of the farm and six year Board terms. My vote will certainly go to the competent and hardworking incumbents.
M. Belden October 28, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I would just like to remind everyone of Ms. Greenwell's last suggestion regarding the farm: "The farm property is on the extreme northeast corner of the district, and can easily be accessed from I-75 at the Adams Road interchange. What a fantastic spot for a gas station and a Subway. Perhaps some savvy local developer will offer the BHSD a few million dollars for just part of it! Has anyone considered the value of developing the portion of the property that is adjacent to I-75? A Tim Horton's would be a virtual gold-mine. Bloomfield Township would benefit from commercial property taxes. A win-win!" Jenny Greenwell, Jan. 13, 2012 on The Patch. This is not the voice of an advocate for public education.
Martha Raphelson October 28, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Indeed. When I first saw Jenny's latest post, it struck a nerve. The farm is my neighbor and my children have taken advantage of classes, field trips and volunteer opportunities there. I believe the farm is one of the assets that makes our district special and, in fact, contributes to our property values. I'm wondering if Jenny even believes what she has written in this latest post or if it is just another attempt (like her Tim Horton's suggestion from earlier in the year) to throw some issues out there to see what will stick. I think today's blog is less about the farm and its budget than it is about the "non residents" who seem to bother her so much. If the activities and programs at the farm attract people from the surrounding communities (and their admission fees,) I'm all for it.
Mac October 28, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Do you know that it hasn't been considered, and dismissed? Yes, zoning is an issue, and I suspect for good reason. Unlike Ms. Greenwell, I do not live nearby, but I would guess people who bought real estate near a farm aren't particularly anxious to replace it with Tim Horton's and a gas station. Having those businesses on the adjoining property would reduce the value of the open space of the farm, and reduce its usefulness as a natural educational environment. Real estate has not been at a premium, and any profit would be a one-time infusion, not an on-going asset. The current approach, of protecting this valuable asset while pursuing business opportunities to defray the costs, seems to be working. If indeed the annual cost of the property is $350,000, and for that we have several planned field trips a day and an alternative high school, it strikes me as a good asset. And green space is preserved. If the purpose of the Greenwell/Moigis run is to issue demands, they are patently unqualified for Board service.
Jenny Greenwell October 28, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I think "making sense" is more important than "making money." Does it make sense to operate a farm at a loss while trying to educate 5,000 students? Since farm programs attract people who do not pay taxes to support it, does it make sense to broaden the base of financial support? (Of course it does!) The documents that I received as a result of a FOIA request show that the farm operates at a deficit of over $350,000, and there are many areas of expense that are not included. My request was general. Surplus or deficit? The answer was "deficit." If you want more detail, you can certainly FOIA more specific documents.
Jenny Greenwell October 28, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Well, I guess this public education advocate would prefer to see the cost of operating the farm shared by ALL those who use it; and I would prefer to see an award-winning Math and Science curriculum than a spectacular Corn Maze, if I was given the choice. Anyone care to FOIA the vet bills for the Farm? What is the cost of maintaining the house on the property? (The farm has two houses. One is occupied.)
Ann October 28, 2012 at 09:11 PM
For $350,000, every elementary age child in the district has educational programming twice a year. An entire alternative high school is housed. 4H programs, recreational programs, summer camps, and community meetings take place. I agree with Joe that I do not consider money spent to educate kids "a loss". The people who do not pay taxes to support the farm pay admissions fees, rec fees and field trip fees. They ARE a broadened source of financial support. So my answer is: yes, it makes sense to broaden the base of financial support, as the district is already doing.
Neal Charness October 28, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Reading Ms. Greenwells blogs makes one realize she really is about cutting school expenditures regardless of who is impacted. I couldn't imagine putting her in any fiduciary capacity.
-Elizabeth- October 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Jenny, Is there anything positive you can say about our district? Other than generous taxpayers? You and I were at the same meeting last week, yet we have very different views about the farm. The choice isn't between a math or science program and a corn maze. It is that the farm offers valuable education including agri-science, which is a science. It is about teaching students about food, about soil, about the natural sciences. Because of Michigan's unique situation being surrounded by water, agriculture is going to be one of the most important industries in Michigan in the next 50 years. As a Michigan State grad, I would assume that you understand the importance of agriculture. I am sorry that you reduce your opinion of the farm to the corn maze and vet bills. I hope in the future you are able to grasp the long term importance of agriculture as a profession and a curriculum.
Linda October 28, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Most of Jenmy's critics miss her point and her point is valuable. I am not interesting in funding farm school operations for southeastern Michigan. If you like the farm so much, let it function entirely on the fees of users...whatever that may be. Maybe we should also open a zoo and aquarium. Bottom line is its pretty easy to have an ending list of things you want as long as you expect others to pay for it.
Joe Judge October 29, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Linda: With so much in-district education going on at the farm (Alternative High School, K-8 programs, agri-science, etc.), and considering what a small percentage $350k is relative to our overall $80m budget for the school district, what would your position be (and what would Mrs. Greenwell's position be) if the District could reduce the $350k number (although I still don't know what goes into this figure) to something like $100,000 through programs like the Corn Maze, etc.? ... or to Zero? At what amount of "deficit" would you say it's worth owning this property? Keep in mind again that no school properties make money.
L Luttinen October 29, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Thank you Jenny for raising the level of fiscal sanity within BHSD. Not only does BHSD own a farm (over $3MM of tax dollars was spent on renovating it!), but a nature center and plenty of valuable land. These are not "core assets" of a school district. Especially one going deeply into debt and facing upcoming million dollar deficits! Even if they needed to be used by the few BHSD students that use them, they could be sold and leased back and run by someone else. No one on the current BHSD Board gets this. They all want to continue to spend everyone else's money and continue to increase our future taxes. November 6 is time to get some new ideas on the Board!
Joe Judge October 29, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Same question for L Luttinen (and again for Mrs. Greenwell and Linda). At was cost would you say it makes sense for the District to own the Farm (which houses our alternative High School and hosts so much education programming for other in-district students)? We know that NO functioning school property makes money and that some fraction of our $80m budget is used to operated each of them (w/r/t the farm, apparently too much in your eyes). Our schools properties aren't markets, their purpose isn't to sell valuable items, although we make some very valuable things on these properties. So from a cost perspective, what is it worth to own it? If it's 88 acres (thought it was 96, but I may be wrong), how about $88,000 a year?
Ken Jackson October 29, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Ms. Greenwell suggested a few weeks ago this property would be necessary to hold on to in case the state went bankrupt. I never completely understood what she was imagining here.
Neal Charness October 29, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Linda is very representative of the group support Jenny. Is that who you are? If so, follow her. If not Ms. Greenwell and Mr. Moigis should get a resounding no, cast by voting for Mr. Baron, Ms. Day and either Rob or Joan . The Chris/Greenwell group was soundly repudiated in May. Doing so again will take away their spurrious argument of "stealth" election. These folks essentially hijacked the district for quite some time. They are still shocked that the community found its voice and pushed (and pushes) back.
L Luttinen October 29, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Joe: In response to your question about at what cost does it make sense to own the farm. You cannot get the operating cost down low enough for it to make sense. The $350K operating defict is reason enough not to own a farm! Core education programs may be sacrificed for the few students that use the farm and to keep Amy Cardin employed? More importantly, the cash flow from the sale of the farm property would be very useful in paying operating & maintenance costs and defraying enormous deficts that are predicted. Likewise for the nature center. The other possible option is to sell it to a like minded user and still lease the farm or nature center. That way you can better match expenses with any potential revenues derived from it. How many school districts have farms and nature centers as their assets? These are very valuable pieces of property that should be considered in getting BHSD out of the pending fiscal cliff that is rapidly approaching. My hope is that new school board members with better fiscal responsibility (and business experience) will understand how to better approporiate resources than just asking for bonds and future tax increases. The current crew clearly doesn't.
Joe Judge October 29, 2012 at 02:19 PM
So sell the Farm no matter how inexpensive it is to operate. Appreciate the honesty. But if you do that, you have to ship the Alternative High School students somewhere else, presumably not to the new school. That "somewhere else" will cost money to operate ... let's say it's $350,000 ... so now you have no real savings and you lost a tremendous amount of educational value for the rest of the district kids that are educated there. I also don't think selling the farm is realistic. There's no Tim Horton's in the future for this property. Sorry, not legally permissible under zoning and less than a zero chance the Township or the community would allow it. (cont.)
Joe Judge October 29, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The allegation that the District is on the brink of a fiscal cliff is wildly inaccurate based on the District's AAA credit rating, rare for a school district and, of course, there is strong demand for the new bonds. PFM, our independent bond consultants, could not heap more praise on the District for having its fiscal house in order. Does that mean that all budget projections are rosy? No, but projections push us to operate more efficiently. You don't relinquish the future by selling your core assets to solve today's structural budgetary issues unless you're really in trouble. We're not. That's avoiding making responsible decisions about costs now. Sure, you might plug a gap for a year or 2 ... or if you sell the farm, maybe 3 or 4 ... but then comes years 5 through ....oh, say... as long as their is a BHSD (50 years...300 years?) and, once it's gone, you can't sell the farm again to fix such budget issues in the future. I'm not saying we shouldn't look at our excess property. I just think given the unique character of the farm, it's history as an asset of this community, it's current use as the Alternative High School, it's use for education of all ages and, importantly, taking a longer view of the issue, it would not be high on my list of properties to sell. It's an interesting issue. I don't support short-sighted efforts to sell it and I CERTAINLY do not support efforts to transfer control of it out of the District. Local control. It's our property, after all.
M. Belden October 29, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I would also point out that perhaps one of the reasons our school district owns such properties as the farm and the nature center is because, unlike everywhere else I have ever lived, Bloomfield has no parks, and the parks and recreation function is included in the responsibilities of the school district. I suspect this is because it saves local taxpayers money?
Ann October 29, 2012 at 07:20 PM
M. Belden is right. Add to that that Bloomfield is landlocked, so once open spaces are given up they can never be restored. In most municipalities, the township would own the Nature Center and farm, or a private non-profit would run them. If the township, county, or a non-profit is ready to take on these responsibilities, the BHSD could reasonably consider turning those properties over to them. As it stands, the BHSD is doing an admirable job of managing these properties in a way that benefits the community, provides educational opportunities, and maximizes opportunities to defray costs.
S Sera October 30, 2012 at 04:22 AM
"Charles L. Bowers School Farm was purchased in the mid-1960’s by the Bloomfield Hills School District to be used as a land laboratory. We are housed on 96 acres within Bloomfield Hills." http://www.bloomfield.org/departments/charles-l-bowers-school-farm/index.aspx "The E. L. Johnson Nature Center offers a variety of instructional programs that support classroom learning. All programs are based on specific science and social studies content expectations(GLCE's) as outlined by the Michigan Department of Education." information regarding the history of the Nature Center can be found at http://www.bloomfield.org/departments/el-johnson-nature-center/our-history/index.aspx That our school district has found ways to offset the costs of these two "living laboratories/learning spaces" while retaining possession of them for all residents to enjoy should be commended. As Ann says below, if these should be lost they will never be able to be restored.


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