Leaders seek public's support in building debate
Chief Operating Officer Patrick Zohn addresses a community meeting at Joseph M. Gallagher School.
CMSD NEWS BUREAU
CMSD leaders and a city councilman took their case to the public on Tuesday, asking for help in the fight to keep what is estimated to be millions of dollars in state funds for school construction and renovation.
About 70 people turned out at Joseph M. Gallagher School for the first in a series of community meetings on the District’s master facilities plan.
The state has been paying two-thirds of the cost of building and renovating schools in the District, with the state’s share based on the city’s poverty. But concern looms because the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission has virtually eliminated allowances for Cleveland’s higher construction costs.
CEO Eric Gordon, Chief Operating Officer Patrick Zohn and ward Councilman Matt Zone asked the crowd to help pressure the OFCC into reversing the decision. They said the abrupt shift to a one-size-fits-all policy ended 16 years of practice that the District relied on in planning remaining projects.
“We did all that on good faith that the state would be a good and equal partner,” said Zone. His ward includes Joseph Gallagher, which is scheduled for major renovation, and Marion C. Seltzer School, which is to be replaced with a new building.
Since 2002, the District has used state and local funds to build and renovate more than 40 buildings.
In 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved a $200 million bond issue to help fund the remainder of the program. Plans call for building 20 to 22 schools and remodeling 20 to 23 schools.
Seven PreK-8 buildings are under construction and work is to begin soon on two high schools. Those nine projects are not affected, but 13 more schools remain.
CEO Gordon and Zohn said the state’s decision could cost the District $34 million, equal to the local share of about four or five PreK-8 schools. Gordon said the District is pressing the OFCC to cover those expenses.
“We’re going to fight to get the $34 million,” he said. “We’re going to stay at the table as long as we can.”
Cleveland Teachers Union Vice President Tracy Radich said the union is on board. She said bombarding the state with complaints would get attention.
"Our issue is going to move up on their radar," Radich said. "We're going to make this something that has to be dealt with."
Separately, the Board of Education has agreed to revisit the building plan, following a recommendation from the Bond Accountability Commission.
The BAC, an independent watchdog created to monitor the construction spending, called for an extensive re-examination of the plan, which was last modified four years ago. The panel cited a need to look at current enrollment and population patterns, changes in academic programming and rising construction costs.
The District will hold eight more community meetings this month to update the public on the status of the building program. A second round of meetings – to seek public input on the plan – will occur in the fall.
For a community meeting schedule and other information, go to www.clevelandmetroschools.org/buildingplan.