The Ohio School Facilities Commission appears poised to reverse Strickland era policies that allowed local school districts to adopt more union-friendly requirements for school construction projects.
OSFC, which is now controlled by appointees of Republican Gov. John Kasich, met in executive session for nearly an hour Tuesday to discuss matters of pending legislation and the appointment of a new executive director.
After the special meeting, Office of Budget and Management Director Tim Keen, who chairs the commission, said during an interview that the selection of a new school construction chief was “forthcoming.”
Interim Executive Director Eric Bode, who has long served as the commission’s chief fiscal officer, said he was not tapped for the permanent position.
Mr. Keen said members also had a “general discussion” about various legal cases involving the commission, including some that are timely in nature.
Director Keen said the commission was reviewing the Strickland administration’s policies on prevailing wage and project labor agreements (PLAs) at OSFC.
“It is quite possible that there will be some resolutions to address those matters in the near future,” he said.
OSFC has a regular meeting set for Thursday.
Early in the Strickland administration, OSFC scrapped the previous policy, which simply required school districts accept the lowest responsible bidder. The administration said allowing school districts to include prevailing wage and PLAs ensures more local control and higher quality workmanship.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is one group that has filed lawsuits challenging OSFC policies on prevailing wage, according to Executive Director Maurice Thompson, who attended the hearing.
He said the policy contradicts statute that prohibits OSFC from paying union-scale wages for school construction projects, and thereby violates the constitutional separation of powers. “That’s the executive branch changing the law from what the legislature made or departing from it in a dramatic way,” he said.
The group also filed a separate corrupt activities case alleging that former OSFC Executive Director Richard Murray improperly coerced school districts to include prevailing wage or PLAs in their construction contracts. Last year Mr. Murray was the subject of an Inspector General report that questioned his role in promoting labor-friendly agreements.
Mr. Thompson said unions often fund school levy campaigns if local district officials agreed to include prevailing wage or PLAs, effectively excluding non-union contractors from bidding.
The 1851 Center has communicated to OSFC’s legal counsel that it was willing to drop the litigation if the commission repeals the prevailing wage policy, he said. Further, it wants the Kasich administration to review pending contracts that include prevailing wage requirements or PLAs and refuse to fund any that were improperly executed.
“We think that they would have to agree with our position and we will be able to resolve this. But if we’re not, we’ll win the case the old fashioned way,” he said.