While Governor Ted Strickland reviews a capital budget bill that arrived in his office last week, Brent Welker feels as if he’s sitting on pins and needles.
Whether or not the governor approves an amendment to the budget bill could decide how two area school districts proceed with major construction projects that qualify for funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.
Welker, the superintendent of Eastwood schools, said the amendment would provide school districts with more flexibility in construction projects by allowing them to “segment” the facility master plans required by the OSFC and not have to complete their entire plans as currently mandated.
There is no sound reason, financial or otherwise, says Mr. Welker, for Gov. Strickland to block the amendment with a line item veto.
“We’re waiting on the governor to sign the bill and if he line item vetoes the amendment we are going to face a very difficult decision on whether or not we are going to proceed or whether we are going to defer maybe five or six months,” Mr. Welker said Tuesday. “Right now it’s all in his hands. I’d really have to struggle to find a reason the governor would veto this provision. It would benefit over 150 districts and the amendment has broad bi-partisan support.”
Under the OSFC program, school district use local funds – usually raised by voter-approved bond issues – to leverage state funding to construct new buildings.
The budget bill amendment sponsored by State Representative Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) would lower the floor on the millage for local bond issues in the program to three mills, allowing districts, in effect, to take on smaller projects of renovating and upgrading more buildings rather than replacing them.
If allowed to segment their plan, Eastwood school officials could opt to seek OSFC funding for improvements at the high school such as new boilers and ventilators and to construct a new building for housing kindergarten through the eighth grade at the high school/middle school campus.
“The board hasn’t made a final decision about the high school,” Mr. Welker said. “Replacing the mechanical system would really strengthen the life of the building and its efficiency.”
If the district could consolidate school buildings on the central campus it would realize a savings of at least $300,000 annually in operational costs, he said, and offer an all-day kindergarten curriculum.
“A segmented plan could save us the equivalent of 1.5 mills in operating costs,” Mr. Welker said. “We have levy renewals coming up in 2010 and 2011. It would be more promising for us if we could centralize our operations.”
The likelihood of smaller school districts passing 8 or 9-mill bond issues to build new schools is unlikely, he said, adding it will be a “monumental task” for Eastwood to secure voter approval of a bond issue in the range of 5.7 mills.
Dennis Mock, Genoa superintendent, and the school board are also hoping the amendment stays intact.
Genoa voters last March turned down a 4.9-mill bond issue to pay for the local share of construction costs for a new high school and new elementary school. The district is eligible for about $21.8 million in OSFC funding. The new buildings are projected to cost about $37.6 million.
With a segmented plan, the Genoa school board could instead upgrade the existing high school and build a new K-5 elementary school at the campus on Genoa-Clay Center Road.
The board has retained an architectural firm to prepare cost estimates for new doors and windows for the high school as well as a new roof and boiler system and improvements needed to bring the building into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Instead of again asking for 4.9 mills, the board would prefer going back on the ballot with a bond request closer to 3 mills, Mr. Mock said.
A spokesperson for Gov. Strickland’s office said Tuesday the governor was reviewing the amendment and was expected to sign the budget bill this past weekend or early this week.