Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Larger state funding sought

Cincinnati pursues school renovations

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Public Schools officials plan to lobby the state for more money for the district's proposed $1 billion building plan.

        The state now plans to contribute about $205 million to rebuild the district's crumbling schools, as long as the school district and taxpayers can come up with the rest. But the district wants a larger share.

        “It's inadequate,” said Board of Education President Rick Williams.

        “The way this funding is designed, it always ends up at the voters' doorsteps. We're trying to do what we can to make sure when we do go to the voters, that we have exhausted every other possibility to find the dollars.”

        The plan, which includes constructing 34 new schools, renovating 32 others and closing more than 20 buildings, is part of a statewide effort to have every school building in Ohio meet new state standards by 2012.

        As part of the Cincinnati Board of Education's new legislative agenda approved Monday, it advocates that the state provide a minimum level of support for the state's biggest urban districts to rebuild their schools. Cincinnati school officials say those districts should not pay more than 50 percent toward their building projects.

        Cincinnati is expected to shoulder nearly 80 percent of its $1 billion building plan. According to the state's formula, Cincinnati should pay 77 percent; but the district's proposed plan includes some items, such as land acquisition, for which the state doesn't provide matching funds.

        Of the biggest eight urban districts, only Cincinnati and Columbus now are slated to shoulder more than 50 percent of the cost of their projects. Columbus is expected to pay 70 percent for its school building needs, estimated by the state at $1 billion. The percentage a school district must pay is based on the district's property wealth.

        Cincinnati officials say the cost to the state would be about $200 million to $250 million more each for Cincinnati and Columbus if the state increases its share.

        Rick Savors, spokesman for the agency that administers the state's school building plan, said it's not up to the Ohio School Facilities Commission to change the funding formula.

        “That would require a legislative change,” he said.

        Mr. Williams said the board's legislative agenda gives the district administration the go-ahead to lobby legislators and coordinate efforts with other large urban districts.


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