36 Ohio schools get first shot of tobacco money
COLUMBUS - In an early round of a 12-year plan to rebuild or replace many of the state's public school buildings, the Ohio School Facilities Commission yesterday approved $1 billion for construction in 36 school districts, including paying 80 per cent of
This marks the first round of funds awarded since the General Assembly agreed to set aside a hefty chunk of its share of the national tobacco settlement for school construction. It would bring the price tag of state expenditures for replacing and repairing schools to $2.6 billion since 1997, affecting 116 districts.
"The 36 school district construction plans that were approved will help ensure we meet my goal of helping Ohio school districts with their facilities needs within the next 12 years," Governor Taft said.
Elmwood will have to ask voters in November to approve at least a $5.5 million bond issue to be repaid through a 5.7-mill or more property tax hike to cover the district's local share. That is 20 per cent of the total $27.4 million cost of demolishing existing schools and replacing them with a single building to house prekindergarten through 12th-grade classes.
If Elmwood can put its local share in place, the state will kick in $21.9 million.
"We wouldn't even consider it [without the state's help]," said Superintendent Harold Bower. "We would never be able to afford this kind of project. We don't have the kind of wealth to support this kind of building."
Elmwood is one of a growing number of districts using their state dollars to consolidate their various schools into one, using separate wings for elementary, middle, and high school students.
The district plans to demolish the Bloomdale, Portage, and Wayne elementary schools, its middle school, and its high school.
The district is one of the poorer of the state's 611 districts.
Except for districts that demonstrate emergencies, poorer districts are getting first crack at an estimated $10.2 billion over 12 years, providing at least some state funds to every district in the state. As the wealth of the district served increases, the state's share of the total project costs decreases.
The school facilities program is part of the state's attempt to address two Ohio Supreme Court rulings that declared the state's method of funding public education unconstitutional. The court found that, because districts are so reliant on local property taxes, students in poorer districts are placed at a competitive disadvantage with their counterparts in wealthier districts.
The most dramatic example yesterday of a higher-wealth district leaping ahead of poorer districts because of emergency need was River Valley in Marion County, which plans to move two schools that were built on the chemically contaminated former site of an Army depot.
The district would receive $17.8 million in state funds toward the $23.8 million project. The district ranks 479th on the state's poverty list and could not have expected state help otherwise for several years.
"It's one of those things where you can't make everyone 100 per cent happy, but we think the program is working very well," said commission spokesman Rick Savors. "We're doing what we're supposed to, moving up the list in good manner."
Twelve northwestern Ohio districts were among the 36 approved by the commission yesterday.
Next to Elmwood, the largest price tag for the state is $20.2 million for the Paulding School District in Paulding County. That represents 73.8 per cent of the total $27.4 million cost of building a new elementary school to house prekindergarten through sixth grades, and expand the existing prekindergarten through 12th grade facility.
The project includes demolition of Oakwood Elementary School as well as the middle-school portion of the prekindergarten-though-12 building.
Paulding must come up with the remaining $7.2 million.
Other northwestern projects, include:
f46 w Ottoville in Putnam County, $10.5 million in state funds toward $12.7 million in renovations to the existing prekindergarten-through-12th grade facility.
f46 w Patrick Henry in Henry County, $8.2 million toward a $14.4 million project to expand the high school to accommodate students from Hamler Middle School, which will be razed.
No Lucas county schools were included in this round of funding.