by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2018) Bond Accountability Commission Executive Director Elise Hara Auvil explained to those in attendance at the Commission’s September meeting at Tremont Montessori School what she saw as the role of the organization she heads. Director Hara Auvil said the goal of the Bond Accountability Commission is to oversee spending of the Bond money earmarked for rehabilitation and construction of Cleveland schools and to watchdog construction dollars. She explained that the Bond Accountability Commission has eleven members, and that six members are needed for a quorum. Five Bond Accountability Commission members were in attendance that evening.
Director Hara Auvil said she has attended recent meetings of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) Board of Education and there has been no mention of any resolution of the dispute between CMSD and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC). The dispute involves whether or not the State of Ohio will provide funds to CMSD to compensate the district for higher labor costs in Cleveland. Without compensation for the labor market conditions, CEO Eric Gordon has stated that the district cannot complete segments 8 and 9 of the School Facilities Plan.
Director Hara Auvil also noted the limited amount of money left in the Locally Funded Initiatives Fund Number Three. She said there was $85 million in the fund in April, and now it is down to $80 million. The dollars in the fund are used to fund construction that the State of Ohio Facilities Construction Commission says it will not pay for due to state school construction guidelines.
A summary of school funding to date compiled by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission showed that since the passage of the first bond issue in 2001, fifty buildings have been constructed or rehabbed or are being worked on now with a total cost of $1.016 billion dollars. The State of Ohio paid 68% of that cost for Segments one through seven. In addition to the 68% cost, the state chipped in an average of 10% more per segment for segments 1 through 6 for a total of $101.5 million to compensate CMSD for market conditions in Cleveland (higher costs). Another $3.25 million was given to Cleveland following negotiations on the extra costs for Segment 7 that is currently under construction. In the early years of the program (Segments 1 and 2), the State of Ohio also contributed $55.4 million to make existing schools Warm Safe and Dry.
Given the dispute with the State of Ohio and the limited funds for Locally Funded Initiatives, there was some discussion as to whether CMSD would have enough resources to fund the additional 13 schools planned for Segments 8 and 9 of the CMSD Schools Facilities Plan. That question resonated with those in attendance, most of whom had a stake in the future of Tremont Montessori School which is in Segment 9 of the School Facilities Plan. Director Hara Auvil said, there probably are not enough dollars left to complete all 13 schools in Segments 8 and 9 of the Facilities Plan. Maybe, not all 13 schools should be built, she suggested, given the district’s current population.
Because of the population of Tremont Montessori School, Director Hara Auvil suggested it factored well as to its chances of getting funded. A grandparent of a child at Tremont Montessori School expressed concern that CMSD wanted to eliminate Tremont Montessori because it was not a neighborhood school and the high cost to the district of busing students from around the whole city to the magnet elementary school. She also wondered why CMSD had not make promised repairs to the school and if money earmarked for the school for repairs was going to fund some of the elitist schools in the district.
Director Hara Auvil said that the Bond Accountability Commission had compiled a report of spending of Locally Funded Initiative dollars by neighborhood from the beginning of 2017 to the present. She said the report is available on the Bond Accountability Commission website at www.bondaccountability.org.
Some discussion followed with the Tremont Montessori Principal wondering who the decision makers were and what it would take for Tremont Montessori School to get moved from the back of the line to the front in terms of when the new school would be built. She asked about the possibility of Tremont Montessori School raising some of its own money to help with the extras in the new school.
There were questions about the budgeting of Locally Funded Initiatives (LFI) if the Tremont Montessori wanted to put in extras not funded by the State of Ohio. The question was raised as to how many LFI dollars are going into the Campus International School in downtown Cleveland. Director Hara Auvil said she is monitoring that construction project and will have answers when the books are closed on that construction project.
CMSD representative David Riley, in attendance at the meeting, explained the financing of the LFI. He said the $80 million in the fund is all there is to spend on local initiatives. He explained that CMSD borrowed money against future revenue projected from property taxes approved by voters. Thus, the district already has its money, and when the taxes come in each year, they are dedicated to paying back the bond issue.
At the closing of the meeting the Bond Accountability Commission discussed plans to hold its November 27thmeeting at Max Hayes High School and have a discussion of a report on the CMSD’s Workforce Inclusion for construction projects.