The Ohio School Facilities Commission's leader on Thursday laid out goals for the year, listing the automation of operations and the filling of vacant project manager roles as priorities.
All goals for the year revolve around the commission continuing to "support our growing customer list" and run as efficiently and effectively as possible, OSFC Executive Director David Williamson said.
One way to achieve those goals is to automate as many of the commission's operations and activities as possible, freeing up staff time and making it easier to stay in communication with districts, he said. OSFC staff is currently investigating options in that regard.
Also among the 2017 focuses are implementation of the funding and policies in the next biennial budget and providing professional development opportunities to employees, he said.
Since its inception in 1997, the commission has served 380 districts, with 279 remaining eligible for funding, Mr. Williamson said. There are currently 39 projects in planning stages, 49 in design and 70 in construction.
Closing out projects is an area where the commission can improve this year and into the future, he said. There is currently a backlog of about 100 projects waiting to complete the long finalization process.
Pointing to districts that are eligible but haven't reached the top of the list for construction funding yet, Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria asked the commission to meet with him to provide details on those schools and what their needs might be.
While some districts likely haven't reached out for dollars in the last 21 years because their local share percentage is high, he voiced concern for districts that would receive a large portion of funding from the state but haven't taken advantage of OSFC programs.
For various reasons, 92 school districts have become eligible for funding but chose to defer their program participation, Mr. Williamson said. Forty districts were approved but their projects have lapsed and eight districts haven't begun work on projects because they're still waiting for local share actions, such as levy approvals.
Although not all districts are receiving support from OSFC, staff has likely communicated with all of them, he said.
"Our team has done a very good job of reaching out and touching base with the districts so they're aware of what we do," he said.
However, one district in particular argued at Thursday's commission meeting that OSFC communication hasn't been up to snuff as of late.
New Riegel School Board President Scott Hohman spoke before the commission to take issue with its handling of structural issues with the district's relatively new school building.
Representatives from his district and others shared a similar message at the commission's last meeting in October. At that time, they urged OSFC to provide financial and legal support for issues the districts have faced with their projects.
Mr. Hohman said he felt the testimony bears repeating because meetings between the commission and the district have been canceled and OSFC staff has been ordered not to speak about the issue because of pending litigation.
"As a result, a monologue in this public setting is the only venue we have for communication," he said.
The district has opened the bid process for the structural fixes that will likely cost about $6 million - significantly more than the $1 million the district invested in the project in 1999, Mr. Hohman said.
Commission members on Thursday also approved a settlement agreement for contractor errors made to a Dayton school's project as well as funding for districts that have acquired their public shares and made changes to their construction plans.
They also voted to maintain the leadership structure of the commission, with Office of Budget and Management Director Tim Keen serving as chairman and Department of Administrative Services Director Robert Blair serving as vice chairman.