Education Funding

Cleveland Banks on Bond Issue To Repair Aging Facilities

By Karla Scoon Reid — May 02, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When the roof over East High School’s gymnasium collapsed here last fall, renovating and repairing the crumbling building moved from a short list of priorities to among the Ohio school system’s most critical needs.

This month, voters must decide whether they will help the 76,000-student district pay the $1.4 billion bill to replace aging roofs, faulty wiring, rotted windows, malfunctioning boilers, and a host of other chronic building problems facing the Cleveland public schools.

The May 8 bond issue would raise $335 million for school construction improvements and would qualify for a match of $500 million in state funding. The measure also would generate about $3 million annually for building maintenance.

But the district’s shaky financial past continues to make some voters uneasy, and some local leaders fret about who should monitor the funds. In particular, some voters haven’t forgotten how the district mismanaged about $60 million generated from a 1987 bond issue; few of the promised renovations were completed. Still, district officials point to the successful 1996 operating levy that generates $67 million annually for Cleveland schools as a sign of voter support.

If voters back the bond issue, money for repairs and renovations will be available early in 2002. Michael A. Eugene, the district’s chief operating officer, called the bond issue a “stop-gap measure” because it still falls short of the $1.4 billion needed.

Nevertheless, the bond issue, along with the state matching funds, would provide the district with enough money to spend about $100 million on facilities improvements annually until about 2010. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, school officials say they will begin replacing the roofs on 16 schools this summer.

While the average age of a public school nationwide was 42 in 1998, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Mr. Eugene said the average age of Cleveland’s 122 schools is 51. All but five Cleveland schools flunked a review of minimum state school building standards. Public schools in Cleveland, Mr. Eugene said, also fell victim to “25 years of deferred maintenance.”

In the 1990s, the district’s custodial staff was cut in half and now has about 500 employees, the trade staff was reduced from 250 to 47 workers, and the engineering staff of 35 was eliminated and not reinstated until recently.

“We have to get more people from the community to see how bad the general problems really are,” Mr. Eugene said.

The Challenge

Although the Cleveland Teachers Union, the AFL-CIO, and several state and local politicians are backing the bond issue, the district suffered a temporary setback last month when George Forbes, the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, announced opposition to the bond proposal.

Mr. Forbes, who did not return telephone calls for this story, has said the NAACP feared that contracts would be given to the mayor’s friends and that minority contractors would be overlooked. But Mr. Forbes, a longtime foe of Mayor Michael R. White, and the NAACP reversed that decision days later after pressure from state and local leaders.

Despite the lack of unity on the bond issue, Mr. White said in a recent interview that he was confident the bond issue would pass. He declined to comment on Mr. Forbes’ allegations of favoritism in awarding contracts.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district’s chief executive officer, said she was saddened and disappointed by the NAACP’s initial opposition. Last month, Ms. Byrd-Bennett and Mr. White created a bond-accountability commission that would monitor how money generated from the bond and levy would be spent.

The 24-member commission, which is made up of business and community leaders, will be led by former U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, an Ohio Democrat, and Robert Gillespie, a former chief executive officer of KeyCorp, a Cleveland- based financial institution.

Some local leaders have called for an itemized account of what repairs and renovations would be made to reassure voters and hold the district more accountable.

In an April 9 letter to Ms. Byrd-Bennett, Michael D. Polensek, the City Council president, wrote: “I must tell you that many of us have been used and lied to in the past as it pertains to [school] building improvements in each of our wards ....”

Mr. Eugene said district officials are developing a plan to prioritize schools’ renovation needs.

In a televised town hall meeting last week, Ms. Byrd-Bennett pledged to resign if money from the bond issue was mismanaged. The school board also has approved a resolution encouraging the district to award 20 percent of the construction projects to minority-owned firms, 5 percent to female-owned businesses, and 20 percent local contractors.

A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2001 edition of Education Week as Cleveland Banks on Bond Issue To Repair Aging Facilities

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Puerto Rico Schools to Use New Aid for Teacher Raises, Hurricane and COVID Recovery
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced $215 million in federal funds before the start of the new school year.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina during a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 28, 2022.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina during a trip to San Juan on July 28.
Carlos Rivera Giusti/GDA via AP Images
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Education Funding Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About ESSER funding for Career and Technical Education Programs?
Answer 7 questions to assess your knowledge on ESSER funding for CTE programs.
Content provided by iCEV
Education Funding 3 Things in the Senate Climate-Change Bill That Could Affect K-12 Schools
The sweeping proposal includes funding opportunities for schools to operate electric buses and improve air quality in buildings.
3 min read
Image: San Carlos, CA, USA - 2019 : Yellow low emissions NGV school bus refuel cleanest burning alternative fuel at compressed natural gas CNG fueling station owned by PG&E
Michael V/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Opinion Book Bans? My School Doesn’t Even Have a Library
Underfunding schools is its own censorship, writes one Philadelphia public school teacher. After all, they can’t ban books we don’t have.
Lydia Kulina-Washburn
4 min read
Distressed photograph of an empty card catalogue cabinet
Arkadiusz Warguła/iStock/Getty