Democrats on the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) received mixed news Thursday as they approached their final month on the bipartisan panel, getting the thumbs up on the embattled School for the Deaf/School for the Blind project and the thumbs down on nine of 10 school construction bonds on the Nov. 2 ballot.
OSFC Director Richard Murray, who, while not a voting member of the commission, appears destined to lose his job in January, led his November report with an update on scheduled construction for the School for the Deaf and School for the Blind. The project is at the center of a partisan skirmish over union participation in tax-funded school construction. Bids for the schools originally included project labor agreements (PLA), which allow for a labor-negotiated wage scale, but costs came in roughly 40 percent over-budget, providing additional fire for open-shop advocate Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio (ABC) to attack Murray’s union ties.
Democratic commission members J. Pari Sabety, director of the Office of Budget and Management, and Hugh Quill, director of the Department of Administrative Services, have rejected calls from Senate President Bill Harris (R-Ashland) and ABC for Murray’s resignation, but the commission nevertheless agreed to re-bid the dormitory portion of the School for the Blind/School for the Deaf project without PLAs.
Thursday, the OSFC director provided the final numbers for the project: 4 percent over budget, or well within the accepted deviance.
“The bids are acceptable, and the contractors are ready to go,” he told Sabety, Quill and Chief Operating Officer Francis Pompey of the Ohio Department of Education, who sat on behalf of state Superintendent Deborah Delisle, one of OSFC’s three voting members.
The commission also includes four non-voting members from the Legislature – currently Senate Education Chairman Gary Cates (R-West Chester), Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), Rep. Kris Jordan (R-Powell) and Rep. Matt Patten (D-Strongsville), a labor official who lost his seat in the General Election.
Commission members turned to issues farther down the ballot, receiving a Nov. 2 update from OSFC Chief Financial Officer Eric Bode. The report was sobering.
“It was our worst showing ever,” he said. “We had 10 bond issues on the local ballot for school facility construction, and only one passed.”
The result appeared to mirror eroding support for school funding issues this year, which saw a significant downturn over fall 2009. (See The Hannah Report, 11/4/10.)
Sabety, a Strickland hire who will lose her job to Kasich appointee Tim Keen in January, could not resist a little dark humor.
“That’s enough on the election.”
OSFC moved to its long list of monthly business, including LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of new school construction. Murray announced the commission’s first LEED Gold certification at a K-12 facility, coming in Buckeye Central Local School District inCrawford County. The $21.2 million building houses the district’s 700 students.
“Buckeye Central’s success was a great inspiration to the other districts we are working with across the state,” Murray said. “It’s important to note, however, that this is not a singular event. We have over 130 buildings that are currently in the certification process, including another 87 that are on track for Gold certification. In addition, there are six buildings that may even achieve a LEED Platinum certification, the highest rating available.”