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Proof will be in buildings

The Ohio School Facilities Commission recently awarded Ironton City Schools an additional $4 million for its new schools project.

That increase from the original 2005 estimate was not unexpected based on the increase of fuel and construction costs. That increases the state’s share from $30 million to $34 million and pushes the cost to $52 million. It also has spurred criticism of the district’s project labor agreement, the first of its kind for an Ohio school district.

Part of the language indicated that “all employees hired by the employer, as a condition of employment, become and remain members in good standing in the union on the eighth day of employment.”

Some laborers argued against the PLA and said it would force much of the work to be completed by non-local workers because only about 30 percent of laborers are union members.

Ironton Superintendent Dean Nance has said the PLA is designed to ensure the highest quality project and outlines a very clear set of criteria to make sure workers are qualified. He also said the PLA does not restrict non-union workers from doing work and that a non-union group is currently working on the project.

This is not an easy issue because taxpayers expect the most affordable measures to be taken to complete the project. But what exactly is most affordable? The cheaper route isn’t always the best option.

It is understandable for the superintendent to want to ensure that the schools are built properly, even if that means going outside the area for some labor. That is not to suggest local laborers are not qualified, but finding the most qualified laborers is a sensible motivation.

With that said, the proof will be in the pudding. PLA supporters cite other area projects that were built well and came in under budget.

Regardless of who does the work, the real answer to the question of whether school districts are best served by adopting detailed PLAs will be determined by the quality of the schools and the final price tag.