Thursday, March 01, 2001

4 N. Ky. schools in 'poor' shape


Report finds hundreds statewide 'fair' or worse

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — More than a quarter of Kentucky schools — 369 in all and four in Northern Kentucky — are considered to be in no better than “fair” condition, according to figures released by the Department of Education on Wednesday.

        All were built or last renovated more than 25 years ago and need extensive repairs at a minimum, accord ing to the agency. The total includes 76 buildings that are more than 35 years old and now are rated in poor condition.

LOCAL BUILDINGS
    Seventy-six schools were deemed by the Department of Education to be in poor condition. Four are in Northern Kentucky:
    • Kenton County — Dixie Heights High School, Twenhofel Middle School and Caywood Elementary School.
    • Campbell County — Silver Grove Elementary and High School
        Many are in eastern and southeastern Kentucky, but the distribution is statewide.

        The figures are in a Department of Education report on 1,283 schools. The report was presented to the House's budget subcommittee on education.

        Mark W. Ryles, the de partment's director of facilities management, said the flip side is that about three-fourths of Kentucky's schools are in good shape, which is better than the national average. The key is for the state to help local districts renovate the buildings on time, Mr. Ryles said.

        The 76 schools rated as “category 5” are not necessarily dangerous for students. They would meet fire safety requirements but are far below modern building codes, Mr. Ryles said.

        To qualify for money for renovation, the project must bring the building up to code; so that is not a viable option in many cases, Mr. Ryles said.

        The list of 76 includes Ballard Memorial High School at Barlow in westernmost Kentucky.

        Built 51 years ago, the cinder-block building needs to be replaced, but the district lacks bonding capacity, Superintendent Steve Hoskins told the subcommittee.

        He blamed the district's peculiar tax base. More than 18,000 acres came off the tax rolls when land was set aside for state wildlife management areas. “Homestead” property tax exemptions for senior citizens reduced taxable assessments by $21 million, Mr. Hoskins said.

        Ballard County's largest employer, the Westvaco Corp. pulp mill, has extensive tax exemptions under federal law because of its pollution control equipment.

        The county school board in most years has levied a 4 percent property tax increase, the maximum allowed without a referendum, Mr. Hoskins said.

        The General Assembly should make it easier for districts such as Ballard County to qualify for construction funding, Mr. Hoskins said, adding: “We're not a category-5 school because of poor fiscal management or ... declining enrollment.”
       



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