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Superintendent: Residents' Lack of Trust of School Board Troubling

Heated debate over consolidating Lahser and Andover high schools still dominates public discussion at Thursday's Bloomfield Hills School Board meeting.

Bloomfield Hills Schools Superintendent Rob Glass came away from Thursday’s school board meeting bemoaning a lack of trust between the board and many residents still divided over the approved of and .

"When trust is low everything is difficult. Everything is questioned," Glass said. "They are seeing everything in a critical light."

For example, one item approved on Thursday’s agenda proposed a consolidation of the school district’s administration. The plan, in its early stages, is to move school administrators from four different buildings to the Doyle Center.

Glass said it will save money and ease communication among district administrators. However, Jenny Greenwell, a former board member, claimed the move was at the expense of students. She said the school board cannot use the district's sinking fund for the project, which at the time of the public vote to approve the allocation it was explained as funding to keep students "safe, dry and warm."

"The motion as written in tonight’s agenda is wrong," Greenwell said. "If you approve this you are approving any number of things to make adults comfortable."

Board Treasurer Cynthia von Oeyen affirmed the sinking fund was presented the way Greenwell characterized, but noted that a specific portion of the fund is allocated for general building maintenance, which would include renovations to the Doyle Center. Glass said he knows administrative officials do not necessarily want their workplace moved.

Beyond that disagreement, Glass noted that when residents rejected three bond proposals to fund different plans for a consolidated high school, some believe voters were saying no to all consolidation plans.

Chris Fellin, a member of the Bloomfield 20/20 group seeking to recall the entire board, said each of the members "earned" the right to be because they denied voters their wishes on school consolidation. He called the plan to have one school on two campuses "disastrous" and demanded the board stop any progress made toward that goal in the last month.

"Your teamwork continues to end in desicions that just don't make sense," he said. "Why? I don't know, maybe it is an old boy's club going on here."

In addition to the public forum and the consolidation of administrative buildings, the school board also re-elected its officers and announced that Chris Delgado, principal of East Hills Middle School, will be leaving before school begins.

Glass said the strong opinions and sharp disagreements mean that those on polar opposite sides of the debate aren’t likely to get what they want. Most likely, he said, there will have to be a compromise that gives the school district and the students "the essentials," while keeping in mind the taxpayers don’t want to spend a lot of money.

Building trust continues to be a work in progress. Glass said he and the board have tried hard this year to make more contact with the community through formal and informal community meetings, which will continue. But considering the debate over consolidation has waged for nearly a decade, Glass said he doesn’t see it ending soon.

"If it has been going on for eight years or more — what can you expect?" he said.

Correction: Jenny Greenwell has previously run for the school board and has not declared her candidacy again.

Brandon Kaufman July 15, 2011 at 12:50 PM
It's great that Ms. Greenwell has announced her candidacy for school board. Maybe the patch can interview her and find out what she would approve in terms of implementing: A. Administrative consolidation B. Right sizing school district buildings C. Consolidating sports and co-curricular These three items all come from Mr. Fellins (2020) budget list Please also ask, what her long term plans are for dealing with declining enrolment, declining state funds, and rebuilding trust. As 2020 asserts we do not want puppets on the board we want members that have their own thoughts and ideas and I am curious to hear hers.
Jenny Greenwell July 15, 2011 at 01:40 PM
I'm surprised to hear that my "candidacy" for school board has been announced! It is likely that Bloomfield 20/20 will endorse candidates to replace any Trustees that are successfully recalled, but I have not even thought about running! It is important to tell the truth. Brandon Kaufman (founder of One Bloomfield United) seems to be DESPERATE for this unwanted, "consolidated" NEW high school....why? Last Nov., 12,000 voters said "NO." Bloomfield Hills residents do not want a "factory" school, they want small schools where our own resident students receive top-notch instruction and opportunities for growth and development in many areas, including academics, sports, music, drama and art. Our Trustees should challenge the administration to develop a reasonable plan for maintenance and upgrades to our existing facilities, using the Sinking fund and limited bonds for specific projects, (e.g. $2.3-million for a new pool at Lahser.)
Joan G. Berndt July 15, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Why is it that the residents who DO want a new, consolidated high school are dismissed out of hand? We are not all of the same mind, and therein lies the problem. And to once more try to make this point: two small high schools will not allow for "top notch instruction and opportunities for growth and development in many areas, including academics, sports, music, drama and art" because to do that, we have to continue to bus kids between buildings, wasting money and time, in order to have classes or groups large enough to be viable. WHY can't people understand this?????
Art Aisner (Editor) July 15, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Thank you, Jenny. I appreciate you pointing out the error and we will correct the story.
Linda July 15, 2011 at 03:42 PM
The voters have spoken at the polls that is the only court of opinion that counts.....and they have said a resounding "NO" 3 times. Voters (taxpayers) have not bought the line that consolidating schools will save money and improve instruction......other districts operate two smaller high schools- never found it necessary to spend millions on mega schools and now rank higher than Bloomfield Hills schools. Perhaps we ought to take a page out of their handbook.
Linda July 15, 2011 at 04:00 PM
I like a high school population of 800 its the ideal size...even FNI says so in their historical findings!! This school board was elected to do the will of the voters if they won't they will be gone...soon I hope!
Brandon Kaufman July 15, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Linda: Can we work together to find ways to impliment solutions that, enhance learing oportunitites for all students, balance the budget, and increase our property values? I am searious about coordinating a comunity forum, with a moderator, a think tank. if you will. Almost all great ideas are born out of colaberation and refinement. Maybe we can start with a small group of people to establish some common goals, objectives and and theire implications on our children, and comunity.
Joan G. Berndt July 15, 2011 at 05:48 PM
#1--I would like to ask Linda to name just one "other district' that has two comprehensive, successful small high schools and has the enrollment we have with the enrollment projections we have. #2--I really think Brandon is on to something, if only people are willing to quit complaining separately and start working together to form some sort of consensus that would accomplish his three stated goals. My only caveat is that it must preserve academic choices and provide a comprehensive education at a level our community can afford.
Michelle Taigman July 15, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Last year's vote was about funding, not the decision whether to consolidate the schools. The decision to consolidate has been made. Small schools are wonderful but budgetary realities must be recognized and considered or we are all walking towards a cliff. Fortunately even a combined Bloomfield Hills high school will be the same size or smaller than many other public high schools.
mighty oak July 15, 2011 at 07:07 PM
The question is all about what to fund and how to get the money to do it. The next vote, no matter the language presented on the ballot will really be about money to the VOTERS. Teacher salaries and benefits will continue to grow. If the district can't afford the teachers...does it matter how new the building?
Isaac Barr MD July 16, 2011 at 12:51 AM
The issues were discussed in detal in the past yet Bieneman and Kaufman repeat the myths: 1. Smaller schools are better scholastically, economically, favorable to low achieving students, less drop out rate and less drug problems. Chicago and NewYork school districts are dismanteling big schools for smaller ones. 2. The cost of a new structure a'la BHSEB is prohibitive. It is 100 million dollars plus overhead, plus maintenance, plus furniture plus electronics plus plus plus. We are dealing with a millage of 10/1000. It is not a problem for Ann Bieneman and Brandon Kaufman since they live in relatively low value homes. They want the expensive home owners to pay for education of their children. Yet the community cannot afford such a millage at dire todays economy.High property taxes loose property value. 3. There are ZERRO savings here. The interest on the Bond will be about 2 million dollars annually. 3. Assessments of new structure by FNI is seems by expert to be excessive while maintanence of the old buildings was blown by FNI out of proportion. Lastly, if both Lahser and Andover are so delapidated that they must be replaces by a new school, why are these fit to accomodate students fo 4 years? The two schools must be maintained properly before school opens in September 2011. Last of Last: If Kaufman and Ann Bieneman so much want the new school why do they not put some of their millions in BHS foundation. Let all the yes people pay for it if they want it so much.
Jenny Greenwell July 16, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Seems to me that a couple of people are FRANTIC to get a new high school...why? I do not understand what would motivate people to be so desperate to build a new high school. Any ideas? The tax figures quoted by one person are not accurate for people who live in Bloomfield Twp, as most BHSD residents do. And, the writer omitted the part about "X 30!"
Linda P July 16, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Ms. Bieneman....your opinion is welcomed but honestly you are making this a one woman column its time to let others comment....you need to give this a rest and get a gin and tonic.
Jenny Greenwell July 16, 2011 at 02:37 AM
Michelle T's thoughts are interesting: Has the BHSD considered consolidation with Birmingham? We certainly would not "need" a 28,000 sq. ft. Central Administration renovation at unlimited cost if our board would get to work on that! Our school district is very small, with fewer than 5000 resident students. Perhaps the students and taxpayers of the BHSD would be better served by a consolidation of Birmingham/Bloomfield Schools. We could eliminate duplication of many positions and direct more money to the academic, social and physical development of our K-12 and special needs students. Michigan has over 550 districts, while VA, with roughly the same population, has just 178. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to spend the savings on our students!
Jenny Greenwell July 16, 2011 at 01:35 PM
The BHSD needs a better board of education. To participate in the RECALL of all 7 Trustees, please call the Recall Hotline at 248-943-8580. We need Trustees who understand that their role is to provide financial oversight and to challenge the administration. Our current board consistenly endorses every administrative intiative will unanimous votes, and with very little discussion and NO debate. On Thursday, they unanimnously voted to allow our central administration to move to the Doyle Center, a 28,000 sq. ft. former school building. That's 28,000 sq. ft. for 32 employees! No spending limit was indicated in the motion, which passed with a 6-0 vote; Trustee Mark Bank was absent. We need a board of education that puts the comfort and convenience of STUDENTS ahead of new executive offices for adults!
Joan G. Berndt July 16, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Dr Barr, what you say about smaller schools applies to big city schools where high schools often have 2-3000 kids per building. Bloomfield Hills is NOT Detroit, or Chicago or New York City. To continue two small high schools here means to give up students' choices and opportunities. If we were to maintain Lahser and Andover as is, say good bye to the band, orchestra, choir, drama, radio station, TV studio, specialized foreign language classes, upper level math, science and technology classes because THERE WILL BE TOO FEW STUDENTS TO ALLOW THE CLASSES/PROGRAMS TO EXIST. The enormous amount of $ and time wasted on busing kids back and forth will stop. Ergo, no more opportunities. As to your comments about expensive homeowners vs. "normal" homeowners, please do not start a class warfare here. Check out the OneBloomfieldUnited's web site for the tax calculator that Brandon has compiled. And I would urge all thinking BHSD residents to refuse to sign the recall petitions. It seems that every time voters are unhappy about decisions THEIR ELECTED officials make, they want to recall them. Recall elections are not cheap, by the way. And then what comes next?
Kat1324 July 16, 2011 at 03:27 PM
We MUST put all of our students in one location if we are going to continue to deliver a comprehensive education. It is as simple as that! Comprehensive education is about offering a breadth of classes. If we do not consolidate, decreasing enrollment will force us to cut those classes that are underfilled. What classes will be lost, I wonder? Dr. Barr, one must be careful about drawing conclusions from a movie or small bits of research. Smaller schools MAY be better for low-income, inner city schools but if you delve into the research more carefully, you will find that much of the research is in favor of larger, more-comprehensive schools for more affluent communities. Here is a recent quote from Bill Gates regarding this experiment with dismantelling the larger schools into smaller ones. He says, "Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way... [S]maller size by itself proved disappointing." Our students are high-achieving students. We have two of the top public high schools in the nation. We have a 99% graduation rate. We do not have a dropout problem! Lastly, to speak of individual community members home values and intimate that our community of parents is not expecting to pay their fair share is inaccurate and in very poor taste. The relatively small investment we make in our high school will surely reap huge benefits to our students, community and our home values.
Isaac Barr MD July 16, 2011 at 06:13 PM
80% of top US school in America had less than 1000 students. Excuses such as small schools are better only for big city schools is idiotic.
Kat1324 July 16, 2011 at 07:06 PM
Most of the top schools in America have a merit-based, competitive application admissions process. It is easy to be in the top when you can handpick your students. We educate all students in Bloomfield and still come out on top. That is due to our comprehensive educational model and the large amount of higher-level courses we provide to our students. Those same courses that may be in jeopardy if we are forced to remain in two underfilled buildings with a lack of operational funds to support them. Those schools you refer to aren't great because they are small, they are in the top because they turn students away that are not likely to perform to their standards!
Isaac Barr MD July 17, 2011 at 04:36 AM
I agree that our school has improved dramatically in last few years. From 494 to 221 in major surveys. This means that our two small schools work fairly well. So why do we need a mega school? Do we build schools for their architectual value or to improve scholastic achievements? Small schools proved many times are better for not so good students.This is indeed the core of our present improvement.in scholastic achievements. To the Kaufmans, Berndts and Bienmans I suggest to study the PISA study in order to prevent yourself from being embarassed as ignorant. In the global education trend there are 4 directions: 1. No emphsis on extra curricular activity. Our IA has very little of it. 2. The focus is on young education, kindergarten and elementary, not on high schools. 3. Increase education days. IA has 41 more school days than BHS. 4. In money per student USA is #2 in support per student. But 50% of this money does not reach the students. Rather wasted galour as our school Board manages to do. Lastly, Joan Berndt separation between New York and Chicago "Big cities" that Bloomfield is not. I got numerous letters which protested your comment as being "racist". Indeed, when I re read your note I found a racist smell in it. You have to know the facts,
Kat1324 July 17, 2011 at 03:04 PM
It is YOU, Dr. Barr who should be embarrassed! I am in shock that you would call Joan a racist. There is no HINT of racism in her statement. Do you believe that the students of Bloomfield Hills have the EXACT same educational needs as those in the inner cities? Detroit high schools have a 62% graduation rate. Don't you think one must take into account the population they serve? That is certainly NOT racism. Also, why do you assume our success in Bloomfield has to do with the size of the high school population? Where is the evidence to show that? Noone is wanting to build a school for its architectural value. We are expanding the school to fit all of our students so that we may continue to provide a comprehensive course selection which I'm sure you will agree has been working quite well. It is about the academics, not the building. By the way, IA students do participate in extracurricular activities through Andover and Lahser. Please try to keep your comments civil in the future and free of personal attacks. This is my last comment as it has just gotten to be too upsetting for me to read.
Joan G. Berndt July 17, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Why must everything be interpreted as "racist"?? I thought we were over that with the election of our first African American president. Thank you, kat 1324, for your comments. If I had contrasted office buildings in big cities with office buildings in Bloomfield Hills, would that be racist, too? Get over it, Dr. Barr, I await your apology for reading into my statement something that was not there, and would not be. Also, not only do IA students participate in sports in their home schools, they also have a very fine IA band and orchestra (which is NOT extra curricular but is so defined by some). If global trends are "no emphasis on extra curricular activity" then I hope we do not follow such a detrimental trend which would be disastrous for our students' total education.
Joe July 17, 2011 at 11:37 PM
Dr. Barr, please stop the personal attacks. Let your argument stand on its own. In America, you would be hard pressed to get into a top tier school without dozens of extracurricular activities. The newer studies on smaller schools have found that there is little proof of educational benefit. There is certainly room for intelligent people to disagree on how small is too small, and whether it is beneficial. Increasing instructional days would be tremendous, but expensive. If neither the mandate or the funding for a longer calendar year come from the state, it is not a realistic possibility.
Isaac Barr MD July 18, 2011 at 12:18 AM
First, increase in educational days would have been possible if the district would not have wasted our money on pet projects and in particular building an un necessary mega school. Second, there is little difference between the needs of Detroit public schools and Bloomfield public schools. All deserve high quality education. Talking about the different needs of American children in Detroit and Bloomfield bothered me and others. The failure of Detroit public schools has nothing to do with location of the schools. East Harlem High has 100% college acceptance and so are many inner city schools. It is the administration, teacher unions, attitude of parents and alike that matter. Three, IA does not require students to participate in extra curricular activities. It is entirely voluntary. My 4 children and 3 grand children had no or little extra curricular activities. But all had many AP scores for which two could skip a year in college. I do appologize for those who assumed that my comments were personal.
Isaac Barr MD July 18, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Addition to my previous comment: 1. Mr Austen president of MEB commented that the 750 million dollars received from the federal government will be ear marked to advance early education. He commented that there is enough evidence to put our money in early such education as this is the global experience. We are the only school system which goes in the opposite direction. High schools are the end result of kindergarten and elementary school education. We should have boosted there schools which would have also brought young families to our district. 2. We do have fall breaks, winter breaks, spring breaks, snow days etc. dictated mostly, I understand, by teacher unions. These are days that should be regular school days. There is no excuse to keep a school without using it. Our board is aware of these two options. Rather than spear heading the new realities they are obsessed with building a new unnecessary structure. Yes, we did not discuss democracy which rejected the board plan three times. Surely, members of teacher unions will call my comments personal which they are not.

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