A U.S. Congressman says he plans to introduce a bill that would help school districts across the state keep up with renovation and maintenance projects.
The Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act, to be introduced by Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, would provide financial assistance to help cover a multitude of projects for districts across the nation. Under a proposal included in President Barack Oba-ma’s American Jobs Act, Brown said Ohio could net approximately $986 billion for projects, which could support more than 12,000 jobs.
“The average U.S. public school building is 40-years-old,” Brown said during a teleconference with regional media. “Ohio’s are a bit newer than that on the average.
We were one of the last in the country, until Gov. (Bob) Taft, and I applauded him for this at the time and I still do today, embarked on his program through the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) that modernized schools.”
The measure would provide funding for districts to renovate existing buildings and perform maintenance projects. Among the projects are removing mold and reducing energy costs, improving HVAC systems and increasing building efficiency. The program would work independently of the OSFC program that provides state money with a local match for school construction projects.
“Not nearly enough school districts are making fiscal improvements to the structures of their schools,” Brown said. “According to the School Facilities Commission, more than 100 districts are in the process of constructing or renovating school buildings. Another 55 have construction needs and were offered resources by the School Facilities Commission but were unable to meet the local match. The FAST Act would invest in states and local school districts to help them make critical repairs to existing facilities or supplement their current maintenance efforts.”
According to data released by Brown’s office, Fort Recovery was the only local district on the list of 55 that could not meet the local match requirement for projects through the OSFC.
Wapakoneta and St. Marys school districts have already built new schools using OSFC money.
Brown said the FAST Act could help bridge the gap.
“Sixty percent of these dollars will go to communities other than the three largest cities in the state,” Brown said, noting the 60-40 ratio holds true for the rest of the nation. “There will not be a requirement for matching dollars as there is with what I thought was a very good program that Gov. Taft had.”
District proposals will be reviewed based upon a series of guidelines including current needs, condition of school buildings and future plans. Brown said he wanted the money to go “out the door quickly.”
“It depends on when we can get this bill through,” Brown said of how quickly the funds could be available. “As soon as the bill goes through, they are going to start.”
Brown said the program will not cover the local match requirement associated with OSFC projects. However, Brown noted the national program could help bridge the gap and keep current buildings maintained and operational.
“It’s to do renovation,” Brown said. “This is a national bill so it’s not going to get into the intricacies of how Ohio does it.”
To cover the billions in funding, Brown said oil subsidies should be ended.
“These parts of the bill will be paid for by oil and gas subsidies that were set when oil was $10 to $15 a barrel,” Brown said. “There’s no reason that these oil companies should get these subsidies from taxpayers. Let’s make a choice here — do you want to continue to give Exxon and Sunoco tax dollars subsidies or do you want to see school buildings.”
Ending the subsidies has been an uphill fight. Brown cast blame on the tea party delegation in Congress for keeping the subsidies intact.
“Unfortunately they have been able to block our efforts to end those subsidies and put that money into something that really will matter.”