Happening Today: Education Week Leadership Symposium. Learn more and register.
Education Funding

Cleveland Banks on Bond Issue To Repair Aging Facilities

By Karla Scoon Reid — May 02, 2001 3 min read

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

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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

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 States Are Waffling Over Billions in K-12 Federal Relief. Schools Are Getting Antsy.
Schools in some states have already started spending money from recent federal stimulus packages. Others don’t yet have the dollars in hand.
6 min read
Conceptual image of money dropping into a jar.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Opinion The COVID-19 Stimulus Money Won’t Last Forever. Here’s What's Next for Schools
There are three important first steps for states to start helping schools prepare now, write two policy experts.
Zahava Stadler & Victoria Jackson
5 min read
a group of people water a lightbulb plant, nurturing an idea
iStock/Getty Images
Education Funding Opinion What Ed. Leaders Can Learn From a Wildfire About Spending $129 Billion in Federal Funds
There are five entrenched routines that leaders should reject to forge a better path forward after the pandemic.
Kristen McQuillan
4 min read
Firefighters fighting fire
akiyoko/iStock/Getty
Education Funding Opinion Does Place-Based Giving Make It Harder for Funders to Get Reliable Feedback?
Big donors can be lulled into underestimating the financial, political, and information constraints of place-based philanthropy.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty