State funding delayed for years? Warren County district looks at other options for building new schools

A slowdown in state funding for new school buildings won’t be a deterrent in plans being developed by the Franklin Board of Education.

On Monday, the board voted to move forward with a new building project through the state’s Expedited Local Partnership Program, which allows the project could be done in phases with the local share of funding being used up front to begin or do smaller projects until the state funding is available through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

District officials were told April 3 that the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program would not be able to assist Franklin schools for until 2027 with its estimated $120 million project for new or renovated buildings.

A Journal-News review of state records recently showed that a jump in school districts winning voter approval of local school funding projects last year combined with uncertainty surrounding future state funding from Ohio’s pending biennium budget, which must be approved by June 30, has forced OFCC officials into a slowdown.

“It’s simply a matter of more demand than available funding,” said Rick Savors, spokesman for the OFCC, said at the time.

Since 1999, the OFCC has channeled more than $702 million to a dozen local school districts to help them complete their new school construction projects. The level of state aid is largely determined by ranking criteria that favors districts with relatively low property values.

And since 1997, the OFCC has “opened 1,213 new or renovated school buildings and addressed the complete facilities needs of 285 of the state 659 public and vocational school districts,” Savors said.

Franklin school officials have been looking at reducing the number of school buildings from eight to four — a high school, a junior high school and two elementary schools. The district’s oldest building, Franklin Junior High School, was built nearly 100 years ago.

The district had previously been told it would be eligible for funding in 2021 or 2022 with the state providing 56 percent of the funding, or about $67.2 million. The state portion of the funding is based on district need and fluctuates from year to year. Had the board opted to move forward with the building project five years ago, Franklin’s local share would have been 75 percent of the construction costs.

Superintendent Michael Sander said if the board chose to enter the ELPP program, the state would lock in the percentages for the building project.

“The ELPP program would allow the district to meet urgent needs and move forward on the building project,” he said.

Sander said Franklin voters could see a ballot request for a bond issue as early as the November 2020 general election. The district will need to pass a bond issue within 13 months for the 44 percent local share of the construction costs.

He said the district is planning to meet with community stakeholders starting in August to discuss the project and gather additional community input.

Charlie Jahnigen, vice president of architecture for Cincinnati-based Steed Hammond Paul, told the Franklin board in late April that “there has been so much success across the state with this program and the state said they have to slow down the financial distributions.”

Several area districts such as Middletown, Lebanon, Mason, Talawanda and Little Miami have used the ELPP program to construct new buildings. He also said that the Monroe School District also is considering that option.

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