The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) hosted a long-awaited celebration Thursday for Dayton Public Schools’ as the first of six urban districts to cross the finish line under its 10-year-old master facilities plan, originally pegged for a half billion dollars in state money.

District Superintendent Lori Ward was joined by school board President Ronald Lee and other district officers.
“It started out critical,” Ward said of the condition of Dayton schools in 2002 when OSFC approved a $488 million, 61

percent match to the district’s contribution of $298 million. (See The Hannah Report, 7/23/02.)

Other Big 8 districts participating in the program include Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Akron. Youngstown and Canton city schools had launched their facilities master plan with OSFC prior to the 2002 omnibus, Hickman would later note.

Ward praised the district’s “partnership with Dr. Hickman,” who joined the building campaign as former Gov. Bob Taft’s OSFC appointment in 2005. He returned last year at the behest of Gov. John Kasich.

“Construction is not an easy business — in fact, it’s a very difficult business,” said Hickman, sharpening the analysis. “Urban school districts are very difficult to manage under a building program.”

The commission then broke for a rare executive session, during which members discussed litigation concerns over a proposed resolution to approve Cincinnati Public Schools’ energy conservation financing program. The commission emerged over a half hour later to approve the resolution in public session.

It went on to a typical list of commission business before receiving the monthly director’s report. Hickman said there had been number of positive developments since the February meeting.

“I think the most pleasing is what happened at the ballot box in the March election,” he said, noting all eight bond proposals for school construction had passed. “That represents over $500 million in commitments to school district construction in the state. It’s good for our staff; it’s good for districts.”

Hickman said OSFC is also pressing for several program modifications with the Mid-Biennium Review, including more liberty to free up money committed to construction projects as yet unfunded at the local level.

“We have a number of changes to the program that address our concerns at the end of last year about the ability to continue our building program,” he said of badly needed dollars, “because of the difficulty districts have had passing local bond issues.”

After the meeting, Hickman put the magnitude of the problem into perspective, noting only three of nine total school construction issues had passed in July 2010. The situation grew worse last November, when only four of 14 bond proposals passed.

“We were looking at the possibility of tying up as much as $300 million,” he said, noting several local matching proposals that failed last year were part of the eight successful bond packages approved this month. Hickman said the systemic problem is much larger than that, however.

“Are we tying up large sums of money that we should be using to build schools?” he said of the one-year hands-off requirement on OSFC commitments.

As a remedy, the Legislature is considering allowing the commission to divert construction awards lacking matching dollars to other districts that already have local funds in place.