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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflection on the Portage School Board Dynamics

As most of the community knows, the Board had two retreats this last summer to discuss our process. The first was well-covered by the press. Although this discussion was difficult, I was glad the other Board members shared their concerns with me.

I learned that there is a belief that I have a hidden agenda which is to intentionally make the school district look bad! Nothing could be further from the truth. I just happen to believe what I campaigned on, that Portage is a good school district with the potential to be GREAT. I am a strong believer in the process to Greatness defined by Tim Collins in his book, Good to Great. To achieve greatness, organizations must face the brutal facts of their current reality. As leaders, we must not be satisfied to rest on our laurels. And as Mr. Collins says, We must lead with questions, which I have been known to do.

Our second retreat was not well publicized, but it was an example of how we intend to work together better. We are beginning to develop the list of facts we must face around our most important objective, student academic achievement and learning. Thanks Julie Mack for your recent report on college readiness. This brings an important fact to the surface for Portage schools, that this year, 46% of our students are ready for college math. This is a fact. And though this % is higher than some districts, since 90 some % of our students go to college, clearly we have an opportunity to improve on our way to becoming Great!

This next couple years will be full of challenges for us, but many great organizations have faced huge challenges and not just survived, but thrived. We must thrive for the well-being of our community and for the benefit of our children.

Renewal of the Building & Site Sinking Fund (BSSF)

School finances can be a bit confusing. We have four major funds we manage:
- the General Fund which has most of our money and covers most our expenses
- the BSSF, which is used to maintain existing buildings and buy new property
- the Bond Fund, which is used to build the new schools
- the Debt Reduction Fund, which we use to pay our long term debts.
The Enhancement Millage, which is collected for us through KRESA, goes into our general fund.

The decision to put the BSSF Millage up for a renewal election is an important decision. Bottom line, the taxpayers will decide if this funding should be renewed. In preparation, we need to give due diligence to our decision to present it to the taxpayers for a vote and be fully prepared to answer questions from our public. Since the motion to put this issue on the November ballot failed, we will likely be considering it for the May election.

In preparing our due diligence, here are some of the key questions:
-If the BSSF is renewed, what is the specific plan for how this money would be spent?
-Will our community need us to ask for a little less, or can we provide a plan that justifies requesting a little more?
-If we increase transparency as to how monies are spent, would we gain approval more easily?
-Review the overall tax basis for the schools and provide a summary plan:
o When will the 18 mills non-homestead tax need to be renewed?
o Will we ask to renew the Enhancement Millage, if so, when and for how much?
o How has the Enhancement money been spent and how would future $ be spent?
o What is the projection for the Bond Debt millage collection schedule?
o What impact will declining property values have on the millage rates?
o What impact will declining tax collections have on the millage rates & our planned expenditures?
o When do we plan to ask for more Building Bond funds? A long-term building plan would be nice.
o Do we know of additional millage requests coming from KRESA?
-How will we pay for technology replacements in 3 to 5 years?
-Charts with timing and numbers would be helpful for understanding.

I hope all this discussion will fit in our three to five year Financial Planning we have yet to do, but are planning to do. I realize we can’t KNOW everything, but we can take our best shot at a plan that helps our taxpayers understand that we are thinking long term and not just asking for more money.

When is Brick Selection a Board Issues?

For those who might be interested, here is an email chain explaining the issue with the brick selection for the new Portage Central High School. I heard through the grapevine that people thought I was concerned about the color of the bricks! How silly. No, I am concerned about the long term structural integrity.

The conclusion is that the bricks will have a one year warranty and any leakage repair will be the responsibility of the Portage School District. I know our construction team will do their best to make sure we do not have any issues, but I believe the Board should have voted to accept this level of risk. As it is, the Board indirectly accepted the accountability by doing nothing.

From: Melanie Kurdys Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 9:46 AM
Subject: When is Brick Selection a Board Level Issue?To: Portage School Board and Superintendent

Hi all, Some may say never. And I would agree it is never our job to go looking for minor items to make issue about. On the other hand, it is our job to make sure the processes are working. Evidence suggests some additional support to our process might be needed.

Attached are two separate independent sources which suggest the architectural design for the large bricks at PC are not the most structurally sound choice, The Masonry Institute of Michigan and the Brick Industry Association.

The question is, assuming these independent sources might be correct, who is accountable for the decision to accept this risk and who will pay the bill if the bricks in fact do leak and repair work is required? Do we have legal protection whereby someone, not the school district, will pay for needed repairs to a level of quality we accept? Is this protection adequate and are we willing to take this risk? Melanie
Attached is a technical note from the Brick Industry Association that cautions against tall units.
Kelly L. K. Walker Architectural Services Director Masonry Institute of Michigan, Inc.
24725 W. Twelve Mile Rd.
Suite 388
Southfield, MI 48034

Forwarded conversationSubject: Brick Association Engineer's observation

Charlie, Gregg a VP of the Brick Industry Association and P.E. He agrees with your observations. I think that one would be hard pressed to find anyone that would think that this detail is a good idea. Ed

Ed: Brian is receiving this email s he can also comment.
I agree that obtaining full head joints with a 4 x 8 x16” unit laid in a soldier course is difficult. It is hard enough to get full head joints if a modular brick is laid as a soldier. Using one of the features noted in the email from Mr. Wise is preferable.
Engineering and Research Brick Industry Association 703-674-154

Gregg, Would you mind forwarding to Brian or give me your thoughts on a 8*16 soldier course. We think it may be asking for trouble. Ed

I'd be interested in your thoughts regarding the 8X16 soldier course banding around the building on the attached drawing. This large clay masonry unit which laid soldier course will make the coring horizontal and in my opinion hard to fill the head joint, which will be 16" tall and a potential hazard for water penetration leading to numerous problems. 8" inches wide X 16 inches high X 4 inch bed depth. One of my thoughts would be to lay this accent banding out of 4 courses of regular utility size brick laid running bond of the desired accent color. Entire building is being built with 4 x 4 x 12 utility size brick.

Charlie Wiles2628 East Shore DrivePortage, MI 49002