East Lansing School Bond (two responses)

PUBLIC RESPONSE NOTE: I am agreeing to post one last submission on Public Response today regarding the school bond issue. It is a rebuttal. It is interesting reading! Since the Thrun lawyer is paid by taxpayers(through the ELPS), not all the taxpayers in this city may agree with his conclusion and thus this last minute submission, by possibly equally qualified taxpayer rationale -but different, is being approved for submission. I will add that the submission speaks for itself (not me). There were two additional lobbying request to get this rebuttal published in Public Response this evening. One was a respectful phone call describing the situation and offering additional ways for publication to happen; and a second email from a person who was disrespectful with wild claims that I have been tilting the PR dialogue in favor of the YES position. That is just not the way I play the game! We are dealing with appearances here folks; the appearance of differences. I dwell in the world of not different. Let's vote tomorrow and continue our conversation to improve our city and school district. Sincerely, Jim Cuddeback
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#10. East Lansing School Bond

You posted a response by Patrick O Riley approximately 15 minutes ago that relayed false and inaccurate information from the Thrun lawyer being paid by the East Lansing School District. In fairness, I believe you should post the following responses to the lawyer’s claims.

Mike Conlin’s Response
This is a response to the statement posted today at 9:00 pm on Public Response by Christopher J. Iamarino, an attorney at Thrun Law Firm, regarding the capacity and enrollment figures. Michael Colaresi’s (an MSU political science professor) detailed response to this statement is below. I am familiar with Michael Colaresi’s analysis because I fully participated in how to present the capacity and enrollment projection numbers in a simple but unbiased manner. Because of this, I take this statement by Mr. Iamarino as an attack on not only Michael Colaresi‘s analysis but mine as well. With that in mind, I hope people consider the incentive of the different parties. In this regards, I think it is important to state who I am and who I am not.

I AM…
an MSU economics professor who prior to graduate school worked at a project engineer for a consulting firm that did similar capacity and demand calculations for the electric utility industry.

a father of a Glencairn 6th grader, a Marble 2nd grader and a five year old who will attend Marble next year.

a resident of East Lansing who lives half a block from Glencairn School and thinks that the schools require a significant capital upgrade.

a dissenting member of the K-8 Citizen Facilities Committee.

the economist who explained to the K-8 Citizen Facilities Committee that a school closing only saves operating expenses if there is unused space in other schools to locate the displaced students.

the economist who informed the K-8 Citizen Facilities Committee in a May 3rd, 2011 email that our bonding capacity through the State of Michigan revolving fund (nowhere in the email did I state this was the only, or the preferred, source of capital).

I AM NOT…

a lawyer employed by the East Lansing School District.

the chief executive officer of Public Sector Consultants who “serves as senior consultant for many of the firm’s clients in the areas of K–12 general education and special education policy, information technology, public finance, large-scale program implementation, and evaluation and survey research.”

a superintendent who has absolutely no training in this type of financial analysis.

When evaluating the information different individuals distribute, it is important to consider their incentives.

Sincerely,
Mike Conlin


Michael Colaresi’s Response

Let me point out several disagreements that are apparent in the email that was sent by the school board's lawyer on the eve of the election:

1) The enrollment projections the board chose to use (the 1.5, optimistic numbers) are said in the letter from Stanfred to have been chose because:
"The analysis of prior projections compared to actual enrollments found that actual enrollments were tracking between the most likely and high for three of the past four years with the fourth year at the most likely."

So the most recent year we were at the "most likely". But main problem here is that each enrollment projection was done assuming that the current percentage of school or choice students is held constant (see the superintendent's most recent e-blast), but the enrollment numbers that we have gotten over this time ADDED school of choice students to make up for lost resident students. I believe it is highly dishonest to tell people that you are basing your enrollment forecasts on "current" school of choice population, when the whole enrollment forecast method relied up increasing school of choice students. How much of an increase? In 2006 we were are 19.5 percent school of choice, and now we are over 24 percent. Thus the "1.5" enrollment projections were only "spot on" previously because we were able to add about 170 school of choice students since then. This implies that if we are to remain on the "1.5" track we will need to keep adding schools of choice students, if we can. However, the school board has stated that the projection are for "current" school of choice levels. Pointing out the school board's logical inconsistency is not "dishonest", it is providing information. Saying that a chosen enrollment projection is "incorrect" is intellectually dishonest unless the lawyer writing has a time machine.

2) Additionally, there is nothing intellectually dishonest about a citizen looking at data and making a different decision as compared to the school board's own assumptions with that data. For example, the school board chose to ignore the increase in school of choice students over the last five years in choosing the 1.5 enrollment track, I did not. I believe that closing Red Cedar school will lead to more children leaving the district, as occurred after the closure of Spartan Village school. The school board disagrees and that disagreement is fine. As long as a person tells the public what is it is they are doing and what forecast they are using (as I did explicitly), then this is being honest, not the reverse. The school may not like the specific citizen's decisions or my decisions, but calling them names through a lawyer is not particularly informative. I hasten to add that the bond application only appeared on the ELPS website after the document was already available on the Support a Better Plan website. Citizens should be able to look at the data in its entirely not just what the school board or another citizen tells them to look at. This is not "loading" the data, it is explaining it, again, something the school board failed to do until challenged. As I said at the high school a few weeks ago, everyone should go look for themselves. Read the K-8 Facilities report, read the architects report, look at the enrollment trends over the last 17 years (resident and non-resident), and analyze the bond application. This is what we are voting on tomorrow.

3) Another pieces of intellectual dishonesty/disagreement in my mind is the mischaracterization of previous statements to try and score political points, instead of to inform on the eve of an election. For example, when someone says they are using the "most likely" enrollment estimates (not the 1.5 "optimistic" projections) and calculating capacity district wide (K-12), then one needs to check whether that was done or not. In reading the discussion below, the school board's lawyer agrees that was indeed done (the most likely was used and the capacity was calculated K-12) and there is no disagreement on that statement, it was honest and the calculation accurate. The case the school board's lawyer is attempting to make is simply that the school board would prefer us to only look at the more optimistic enrollment projections, and is begging us to not pay any attention to the high school where maybe we already did some overbuilding. The only dishonesty here is in the response not the original calculation. I think debating the likely resident and non-resident enrollment future of the district is very useful and pertinent to the Feb. 28 vote. Telling citizens on the eve of a vote that they have to use the school board's preferred method, or they will be called "dishonest" by a lawyer seems to get democracy exactly backwards.

But again, the school board had the bond application since November 2011 but did not share it until after it was already in the public domain. There has been one bond application on the website the whole time, the one from the 2000 bond election.

A few more points:
4) If the school board is not adding about 297 seats to the district, then it is adding about 200 seats and has previously kept 90 more of them "secret" from the public. As the note below this note that specifies in more detail, the K-8 facilities committee and the public were told for the last 2 years that the middle school has a capacity of 653 not 743 and was at 83 percent of capacity not at 70 percent of capacity (current enrollment is 521 according to the school board). To imply that a member of the public using the school boards own numbers for current capacity is misleading the public is just a little bizarre. Isn't misleading the public about the size of the current Middle School while not coming forward with the size of the planned middle school what is really dishonest and getting in the way of democracy here? I have asked the superintendent to respond to these discrepancies in the school board's numbers that they gave to the K-8 facilities committee versus the bond application both in person and over email and have not yet received a response. Plus, if we take the current building numbers at the Middle School as a fact, then the wing is only 10 teachings stations for 22.5 children, so has a "capacity" of 225 (as is agreed upon below buy the lawyer), which would not fit the 6th graders that are projected. This is not to say the school board is building too small, but only to say they are being inconsistent in their calculations. Maximum capacity is different than the normal operating capacity that is defined by the department of treasury, so the calculation of empty seats is very conservative if average class sizes for K-2 are over 20 or 2-5th grade are over 25 or the Middle School average class size is over 22.5. If class-sizes in the Middle School are around 30 and each of the 10 teaching stations are used: that is seats for 300 students, and a total capacity at the middle school of over 1000. In 2010, Glencairn was operating at well over 110 percent of capacity. Again, average operating capacity is not maximum capacity.

5) The school board's lawyer has a habit of comparing K-5 buildings under the bond plan with K-6 buildings, which we have currently, while ignoring the middle school in that calculation. Suggesting the new buildings are smaller (because they are for 1 fewer grade level) is not even accurate when looking at average building capacity. The average size of the current 6 K-6 buildings are 285=MEAN(305,190,350,238,280,345) the average size of the K-5 buildings is 335, and that is with one less grade-level. So who is being misleading here? The person pointing out the bond would be adding hundreds of seats to the district K-8 as compared to what we have been told we have for the last 2 years, or the lawyer telling us that we are actually building "33 less" when comparing K-5 then, to K-6 now.

6) The 85 percent threshold for capacity is not a suggestion by the department of treasury. I called them and asked and was told it was a simple lower boundary for new buildings since they did not want to back bonds for near-empty buildings. I asked if 85 percent meant full and the answer was, "no". Another point on capacity, if we should not be operating above or even at capacity then why do most of our elementary buildings operating above 100 percent capacity AND WE STILL ACCEPT SCHOOL OF CHOICE STUDENTS INTO THEM? That suggests there is still room. If the lawyer's response below is to be believed, the school administration has been "educationally imprudent" (this is the lawyer's term not mine) in their management of these buildings and adding students despite being "over"-normal operating capacity.

7) It should simply be noted that point 7 below is false, since this was not in any argument that I am aware of. The calculation was using total normal operating capacity (K-12) if the bond passes and the most-likely enrollment numbers as given in the bond application One can easily calculate the total capacity district wide (K-12) is 3919 if the bond passes and subtract "most likely/median" enrollment (3272), and see that the number is indeed 647. Again, one can disagree about the enrollment forecast (or mislead about current capacity as perhaps the K-8 Facilities committee was), but the rules of addition do not bend, even for lawyers. The lawyer and the school board would prefer to look at different grade levels and different enrollment projections. Which is their prerogative and I respect their choice, even if I believe it is illogical. However, no one has answered to why, if we are school district of 3500 as has been stated by the superintendent several times and other bond supporters, then why are we building towards a system-wide (k-12) normal operating capacity of slightly over 3900. Some would suggest room to grow, but we already have that and more since we are taking in 24 percent school of choice students currently. I worry this is not room to grow, but room to close one of the smaller neighborhood schools.

An open and honest discussion of numbers, enrollment and building is great. Attorney's throwing around allegations to increase their chances of getting paid are not part of the democratic process that I am aware of. Reasonable people can and should disagree about future enrollment forecasts. However, the fact that we can not even get a consistent answer about what the current capacity is in the district that matches what we have been told over the last 2 years is troubling at best.

Please see below for more information on these topics that deals with other points below.