Schools get dates for funds

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 20, 1999

COLUMBUS – The state’s 611 public school districts now have a better idea when they might be able to repair or replace crumbling buildings.

Monday, September 20, 1999

COLUMBUS – The state’s 611 public school districts now have a better idea when they might be able to repair or replace crumbling buildings.

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Last week, the Ohio School Facilities Commission gave approximate release dates for each district’s share of $10.2 billion that Gov. Bob Taft has proposed giving to them over the next 12 years.

”We’re able to start planning things and putting them on a schedule,” said Jane McGee Rafal, superintendent of the 7,400-student Warren City School District in northeast Ohio.

The governor is trying to help districts that have been complaining for years about a lack of money. A coalition of districts is suing the state to change the way schools are funded.

About $2.5 billion of his plan comes from Ohio’s share of the national settlement with the tobacco industry. That would be combined with money from the state’s general operating budget and state-issued bonds.

Those sources are subject to legislative approval.

The districts also have to raise a total of $12.9 billion from local sources to qualify for the state help.

Districts were given estimates of the amount of aid they would get and placed on a schedule based on need. Once their turn comes up, the commission will do an assessment to determine more precise numbers.

The time frame fits in a three-year window. For instance, Warren is scheduled to get aid in the budget year that begins July 1, 2004, but could receive the money in the years beginning July 1, 2003 or July 1, 2005.

Warren must raise about $33.8 million to qualify for the estimated $64.7 million the state has proposed.

Ms. Rafal said the district can afford to wait and she’s confident the community will support its schools.

”I do not have buildings crumbling around our children. What I do have are facilities that are inadequate,” she said.

Although school levies and bond issues can be a tough sell, dangling the state aid in front of voters is helping, said Stephen Stirn, superintendent of the 1,831-pupil Blanchester Local School District, about 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

In Blanchester, where state aid already has been appropriated, the state will pick up 84 percent of the repair tab. The district has a tax issue on the Nov. 2 ballot to raise the rest.

”The people who … say they’re going to vote no, once you explain it they automatically seem to change their mind,” Stirn said.

All districts did not warmly receive the list. The Upper Arlington City School District, in an upscale Columbus suburb, is 585th on the list of 611 districts.

Although it needs an estimated $60.7 million to fix buildings, the state is offering $2.3 million. And Upper Arlington is not scheduled to get the money until 2011.

”I applaud the governor, but I’m a little disappointed with the time,” Superintendent William Schaefer said. ”There’s a feeling that suburban areas like Upper Arlington don’t have financial needs.”

Warren Russell, legislative director for the Ohio School Boards Association, said the state’s estimates will have to make do until each district is assessed with more detail.

He said communities with aging voting populations and fewer schoolchildren may need to be convinced that the state-local matches are a good deal.

”It’s not an automatic sell,” he said. ”It’s one the districts are really going to have to work on.”