CMSD CEO Gordon to Public: Demand OFCC, Legislators, Governor Restore Building Equity
A special report by The Neighborhood & Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland
“I need your help. I know it’s my job to get this stuff done. I can’t get this one done on my own.” This plea from Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon concluded a press conference with Cleveland’s small newspapers in early June (convened by the Neighborhood & Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland). He’s referring to his two-year, behind-the-scenes fight with the state for equal school facilities in Cleveland.
Gordon is holding a series of public meetings to update our Cleveland communities on his School Facilities Plan (funded in 2014 by Cleveland voter support of State Issue Four) and to raise awareness of his negotiations with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC). The OFCC owns the State of Ohio’s site-dollars that are matched with our local, Cleveland dollars to build CMSD school buildings.
“The way schools are built, for us, where we need the matching dollars [from the state], we have to follow something called the Ohio Design Manual,” Gordon explained. “It’s a manual that says what the state is willing to pay for. For example, in our K-8 schools, the design manual would pay for a vinyl gym floor. For a K-8 school; we think students should have a wood gym floor (like most schools), and so we pay local dollars to have wood floors.” Our schools don’t receive matching construction funds for a school auditorium. Gordon said,
At the heart of Gordon’s ongoing negotiation is a two-year old change in the state’s funding formula, originally devised to offset higher building costs in cities to result in equal quality school facilities in Cleveland.
“From the very beginning of the construction program, in 2002, Ohio has recognized that Cleveland as a city is a more expensive place to build than most places in Ohio. When you’re building in Ohio, in schools inside of cities, you typically have to go up—you don’t have a lot of ability to go out; going higher costs more money, as an example. Construction costs in cities are more expensive…moving freight around…all of those kinds of things.”
In 2002, Ohio decided on a specific formula to avoid unequal school facilities in areas like Cleveland. “…since 2002, the state has created a ‘market condition adjustment’ for Cleveland, and that’s been about 12 to 16 percent, so every building we’ve built, we’ve paid one third of that extra cost; the state has paid two-thirds of that extra cost,” Gordon said.
But in 2016, Gordon explained, the average for 14 years of a 12-16 percent market condition adjustment in the state’s school funding formula recently changed to seven percent, and more recently changed again to .007 percent without explanation. So, the issue is this: the state contributes 68 percent of the cost of new construction, but after 14 years decided to stop making allowances for Cleveland’s higher construction costs and no longer include those in the equation.
According to Gordon, “That’s really kind of the crux of the matter because now the state has decided that they are no longer willing to recognize that it costs more to build in Cleveland.” He continued, “…the crux of our argument, essentially, is a crux of ‘equality or equity.’ The state’s position is ‘equal is equal is equal, and too bad, Cleveland, that it costs more to build in Cleveland.’”
Gordon stated, “My position is that we’re the single highest childhood poverty city in this state—second in the country—and that the state has a responsibility to honor what they have done for 14 years.”
The most recent study by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) reflected a 54.4 percent child poverty rate in Cleveland as compared to the highest national rate, in Detroit, MI, of 58.6 percent. Buffalo, NY, comes in third at 50.6 percent (Child Poverty Pervasive in Large American Cities, New Census Data Show, NCCP, 2013).
A Plain Dealer story reported on June 11 that the State says they are giving CMSD 7 percent, and CMSD has submitted a formal public records request to the State to acquire any documentation to support this statement. If true, it appears “market adjustment” would still matter to the tune of $22 million, $10 million in additional costs for segment 7, and $12 million in additional costs for segments 8-9. If this is the case, the difference between a 7 percent State adjustment and a .007 percent State adjustment is the difference between leaving CMSD responsible for $22 million or $34 million, respectively. With time ticking, Gordon is moving forward with the public awareness campaign.
“The fundamental thing I hope for is…to communicate. Let people know we have a problem. Let them know to come to our meetings so that they can learn about it. Direct them to the website, where they can learn about it. We have had to stop the construction program and are coming to the public to share this concern…and [will] continue to negotiate with OFCC and, also, ask for advocacy from our community to be treated fairly.”
Gordon and his team have made it easy for those interested in advocating on behalf of restoring state adjustment levels to account for higher Cleveland construction costs. “If you wish to advocate, go to the website (ClevelandMetroSchools.org/BuildingPlan),” Gordon said. “There are sample letters; it tells you who you can advocate to.” He specified, “It’s three: it’s the [OFCC] Commission; it’s our legislators; and it’s our Governor. Right? It’s the three powers that be.”
To wrap up the meeting, Gordon explained why he’s reaching out to the public in general and to small papers specifically: “I’m finishing my seventh year in this role—11th in the district, which is hard to believe. I am very careful not to ask for help until I need it so that I have not…overspent, right? First of all, I appreciate that you’re here—but the fact that I’ve asked you to come…I need your help. I know it’s my job to get this stuff done. I can’t get this one done on my own. I am very sensitive to when and how I ask for help because I know that it is…something you do judiciously. This one, I need your help. We’re not going to get what our kids and our taxpayers deserve if it’s left fully in my hands.”
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Neighborhood & Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland
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