City schools may be in line for state funds

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Opportunity might - just might- be knocking soon on Ironton doors, and if it does, Ironton City School Superintendent Dean Nance wants a welcoming committee to answer.

This opportunity, he said, has been a long time in coming.

Nance said he has obtained a list of Ohio School Facilities Commission district rankings for school construction funding for the coming fiscal year. The city district is in the 14th spot on that list in terms of eligibility to receive funding. In the 2005 fiscal year, the Ohio School Facilities Commission funded 14 projects. If it funds as many projects this year, Ironton could be in line for state money.

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"It's the best chance we have ever had to get it," Nance said. "We don't want to give out false hope, but I am optimistic.

… We want people to know if the state would fund as many projects as they did the previous year, we've got a good chance of being eligible for funding. If we become eligible for funding, we want them to know that, because we are so far down on the list, this does not allow for much time to educate people and to pass a bond issue."

The state made known its list of projects to be funded in the 2005 fiscal year in late May.

If the OSFC waits until May of next year to release its list of funded projects, that would give city school officials less than 6 months to get a bond issue on the ballot, develop a support base for such a plan and solicit community input.

Old and new

City schools are an aging bunch. West Ironton, which houses the city's kindergarten, was built in 1936. The middle school opened its doors in 1959. Kingsbury and Whitwell elementaries were both built in the 1950s. The high school welcomed its first students in 1923, and its "new" gymnasium was completed in the late 1970s.

Nance said he would not sanction the idea of tearing down Ironton High School nor does he think very many people in the community would either. Even with its advanced years, the high school is, perhaps, one of the buildings with which people who have lived in and been educated in Ironton most strongly identify. The building suffers, however, from a myriad of problems.

All three buildings that house grades K through 3 have numerous problems, according to Annette Massie, who has served as principal at all three of them.

"They definitely have inadequate space for children," Massie said. "They have plumbing problems. At Whitwell the gym leaks. Many of the classrooms do not have enough plug-ins, not enough for the new technology. The window unit air conditioners are noisy. There is a lack of storage space."

Neither Whitwell nor Kingsbury have complete kitchen facilities. Food is trucked up daily from the middle school.

West Ironton has "some real issues" Massie said.

"Our maintenance people do the best job they can do to keep things nice and clean and comfortable."

In spite of their best efforts,

the building is showing the wear and tear of many sets of little feet over decades.

Chance for change

Two variables to the state's complicated funding formula are student enrollment and property values. Districts with diminished property values and/or increased enrollment stand a better chance of receiving the state funding.

"For the most part property in Ironton has not lost an incredible amount of value," Nance said.

Enrollment, however, is another matter. After several years of declining enrollment, the numbers indicate enrollment is on the rise.

In the 2002-03 school year, the student enrollment was 1,547. In 2003-04 that figure increased to 1,562 and this year the early figures indicate the enrollment is 1,571.

With its current enrollment and property values, under the state's current formula the district would be at a 27 percent funding rate, meaning that for every 73 cents the state would contribute toward the cost of the project, Ironton residents would contribute 27 cents.

"What better investment can you find where you get 73 cents for every 23 cents of your own money that you spend? That's a pretty good bang for your buck."

Nance said he wants people to understand now that the city district has its best chance ever of getting state monies for new buildings.

"I think the city deserves it. I think the kids deserve it. I think our community deserves it."