Thursday, February 6, 2003

Cincinnati schools air upkeep plan

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati public school officials outlined a plan Wednesday to ensure buildings are maintained for the next 30 years, if voters pass a bond issue for an unprecedented school construction project.

In 2000, the district dedicated 1 mill of a 6-mill permanent levy passed by voters solely to maintaining buildings, and school officials Wednesday unveiled a plan to spend $78 million over the next 11 years alone on the planned 35 new buildings and 31 renovated buildings and $66 million on the current buildings.

Board members are expected to vote Monday to place the bond issue on the May 6 ballot to help finance the construction project.

"One of the things people are concerned about is maintenance," said school board member Harriet Russell, who also chairs the board's facilities committee. "They have to be reminded that we have set aside (money) and they have to see that here is the commitment."

Maintenance is a chief concern for the district, which likely will seek approval of a 4.61-mill bond issue to raise around $480 million to help pay for the $1 billion, decade-long project. The state will contribute about $200 million toward the project, but only if the district agrees to maintain the buildings and outlines a plan to do so.

Voters defeated a 4.89-mill bond issue in November, with some people criticizing the district for not maintaining its current buildings and questioning what the district will do to ensure that new and renovated schools are cared for.

District officials began to answer that question Wednesday.

They said that since 1997, nearly $37 million has been spent on maintaining buildings as part of a state program.

The state, as part of that plan to help the Ohio's largest urban districts pay for emergency maintenance projects, paid around half that cost - or nearly $18 million.

Some of that work included boilers at Cheviot Elementary, Withrow High School and Millvale Elementary for $70,000; gutters at the School for Creative and Performing Arts and Hartwell Elementary for $124,000; roof work at more than for 40 schools, around $14 million.

District officials explained that in lean budget years, maintenance budgets were cut. In 1996, the budget was $4.8 million, down from nearly $8 million in 1994.

The district has increased the maintenance budget in most years since 1996. The budget is up to $11.5 million this year.

The millage passed in 2000 means the district has dedicated an additional $6 million a year for maintenance, which is double what the state requires.

For example, in 2014, the total maintenance budget is projected at more than $13 million.

Jim Urling, chairman of the anti-tax group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), said the district needs to start the first phase of the four-segment project and should show it can responsibly manage that money before asking voters to fund the whole project. The group opposed the district's bond issue request.."


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