Issue 12 And The School Master Plan- By Tony Biasiotta
First, I want to encourage everyone to vote this election. Your vote helps us ensure we are represented at our greatest potential. Please be sure to complete an absentee ballot or vote in person on November 7. Second, I ask that you join me in voting “YES” on Issue 12. Issue 12 is a no tax increase renewal of two existing Parma City School District operating levies. Operating levies is how we pay for the day-to-day activities at our schools such as teachers, student curriculum, and support staff.
Next, I want to follow up on public letter I released this August. The letter was regarding potential new options for improving the building conditions of our schools. The call to action in my original letter was for open and transparent dialogue on all available options, including those just brought to light. Not for any specific long-term plan. Why is that a bad idea?
Some have asked why now? I read an article about Shaker Heights School district having a bond issue this November for the refurbishment of their schools. A few weeks later, I attended a party for the son of close friend who recently graduated from Shaker Heights High School. At this party I learned of the age and condition of their buildings. This made me curious as to how this was possible for Shaker Schools to secure refurbishment funding and not Parma schools.
I then contacted state officials on July 16th asking for information related to Shaker’s potential use of OFCC funds. I received responses on July 31st and reviewed them on Aug. 2nd. This information included details regarding the OFCC 2/3rds waiver. The waiver program allows school districts to receive 100% of the funding they could get for a rebuild to put towards refurbishment.
Why is the relevant? Many hard working and well-meaning residents participated in a school facilities master planning sessions. During those sessions it was presented that the only way to receive state OFCC funds was to rebuild our schools. Any reasonable person would have come to same conclusion, we must rebuild. State funds to rebuild vs. No funds to refurbish, what would you choose?
Therefore, I asked we stop all demolition and revisit the master plan before irrevocable actions happen.
Since then, I have learned that OFCC gets its direction from the school districts not the other way around. Many districts have opted for the refurbish approach. In addition to Shaker Hts., Cleveland Hts., and Elyria have used this approach and next door in Brooklyn they are looking to refurbish Brooklyn High School (Opened in 1957 (not part of the OFCC program)). Further Lakewood used a hybrid approach, keeping their historic auditorium and the building façade while rebuilding the remainder of the school. I also need to point out that my research to date has indicated that 100% of the districts applying for a waiver have been approved by OFCC (my public record request from August with OFCC is still pending).
Since my letter there has been some discussion at two school board meetings regarding Parma Senior High. While I appreciate the “dialogue”, 3 minutes at the first meeting and 5 minutes at the second meeting (albeit before the presentation without opportunity for follow up). Neither addressed the core issue of revisiting the entire plan with the new information. The first meeting was predominantly about the cost of re-opening Parma Senior High as the 3rd High School, something I did not request. The 2nd meeting was with the OFCC presenting an analysis on the rebuild vs. refurbish of Parma Senior. This analysis was completed in 1 week. A waiver application is typically a 4-to-6-month process. At a high level I do concur with the findings for what was reviewed, but I will note that OFCC funds are for classroom space and do not cover the current board office, the auditorium, bell tower or pool area. Further, the analysis was for a significantly larger facility than what is there today. The direction for OFCC to do analysis on the “MEGA” format came from the district and did not look at other potential uses for the structure, nor has a professional appraisal been completed for this property.
In summary, after new construction bond issues have failed 4 times, there is currently no funding available to improve the building conditions or rebuild. Therefore, we must work together to address this issue and the operating deficit by informing the public of new information and educating them on all possible solutions for the entire plan. With this new information the 1 High School-2 Middle School-4 Elementary Schools conclusion may turn out differently.
I believe this is the only hope we have to get the buy-in from the whole community that is required to achieve what is best and what we all want for the children of this community.
Daniel P. McCarthy
I am the publisher of the Parma Observer. Lifetime resident of Parma for over 50 years.