PDT Staff Writer
The U.S. House of the 111th Congress on Thursday voted 275-155 in favor of passing the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act (HR 2187). Among those members voting, 6th District Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH) voted to support the bill, and 2nd District Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) voted against.
The bill, sponsored originally by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY), asks the Secretary of Education to make grants to state educational agencies for the modernization, renovation, or repair of public school facilities, including early learning facilities and charter schools, to make them safe, healthy, high-performing, and technologically up-to-date.
“This bill is going to make sure that our children’s schools are safe and secure,” Wilson said. “In addition, this bill is going to help make our schools energy efficient. The money saved on energy bills can instead go toward hiring more teachers and buying more textbooks.”
Wilson described a provision of the bill that would ensure all the iron and steel used for these school facility repairs must be from American companies that follow proper safety and quality standards.
“This way we benefit the Ohio steel industry, a huge source of jobs in my district,” Wilson said.
Bruce Pfaff, communications director for Rep. Jean Schmidt’s office, said the congresswoman opposed the bill because she opposes federal involvement with local school planning.
“The congresswoman feels strongly that how school districts build schools is a local issue to fit the needs of their students and teachers. Secondly, essentially this bill is telling local schools what to do without paying for it. The federal government doesn’t build schools, the local school districts do and local tax payers pay for that. They make the decisions as to what’s important and what’s necessary for their district,” Pfaff said.
“It’s the federal government dictating a one-size fits all policy for every school district across the country. How they should build schools, and what should be in those schools and how they should perform. I mean, do they want to start prescribing what HVAC system they have to have? Where does it stop?”
Not all schools can benefit from a local tax base alone.
In Scioto County, New Boston and Clay school districts are each in the planning stages of building new facilities, acting on local tax levy options passed in 2008 and funded greatly through the Ohio School Facilities Commission. A 7.9-mill tax levy proposal for Green Local School failed in May. Further complicating matters for Green, the school board closed its 60-year old primary school building in April after it was ruled unsafe. Faced with crumbling buildings and a projected operating deficit, Superintendent Ron Lindsey went as far as to apply for $35 million in state stimulus money.
Pfaff said the bill, as it’s currently drafted, would not help renovate or repair schools like Green.
“It (the bill) would have mandated how they would have had to do it, but not provide the funding to do it,” he said. “It’s just like a lot of the stimulus money. There are strings attached to it.”
The bill did pass the House and now awaits consideration in the Senate. If passed, Pfaff said Schmidt will not refuse money made available to schools in her district.
“She’ll certainly assist anyone she can to help them. The same as we’ve done with the stimulus bill. If a local unit of government wanted money, she’s happy to write a letter to advocate for them to receive that money,” Pfaff said.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.