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Highland officials discuss condition of school buildings

7/3/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Scott Kriska

At the Highland Local Schools Board of Education’s June 30 meeting, Superintendent Catherine Aukerman delivered a presentation on the progress of a multi-phase research process to determine the next steps regarding the district’s school buildings.

She said so far, three components in the process have been completed — a staff focus group, parent focus groups and an online community survey. A telephone survey is planned to take place in the fall, according to the presentation.

Aukerman said earlier this year, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) completed a thorough assessment of the buildings and provided a comprehensive report. She said the elementary schools and the middle school are older buildings that present educational and financial challenges. According to Aukerman, the Sharon Elementary building is 92 years old, the Granger Elementary building is 85 years old, the Hinckley Elementary building is 65 years old and the Highland Middle School building is 55 years old.

Aukerman said the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program is based on the assessed property valuation per student. She said because Highland is considered a wealthier district, it would be eligible for approximately 6 percent of funding from the state. The remaining funding would come from a bond issue that would need to be approved by voters, according to the presentation.

Aukerman addressed some of the specific deficiencies noted by the OFCC. She said many of these deficiencies could be found in each of the buildings, such as inadequate ventilation, inadequate electrical systems, noncompliant automatic fire systems, noncompliant security systems and noncompliance with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, among other areas.

Although these deficiencies exist, she said, the schools have been grandfathered into the requirements for these areas. Aukerman assured the public that despite the noncompliance in some areas, the students are safe and secure in the buildings.

Included in Aukerman’s presentation were slides of the problems in each of the schools illustrating water damage due to leaking roofs, drainage problems, inadequate technological access, teacher storage problems due to leaking, inadequate boiler systems causing heating problems and inadequate educational spaces.

All of the schools also have undersized classrooms in terms of current state standards, according to the presentation. The schools also contain asbestos.

Aukerman said parent and staff input reflected some of these same problems, as well as comments on how these problems affect conducive learning conditions.

No final decisions about how to handle these building problems have been made. Aukerman said a facility advisory committee will continue to review information and tour the buildings. She said the public is invited to tour the buildings as well.

“The time has come, once in every 100 years or so, to address these issues,” she said. “The buildings will not get any younger.”

She said there has been some criticism for using the district’s sales tax money toward Highland’s new athletic complex instead of using it toward a school building project. Aukerman has said the athletic complex will be a public/private project that will cost $7 million to $8 million.

In May 2007, Medina County voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax to benefit the seven public school districts in the county, and the revenue is divided among the school districts on a per pupil basis.

Aukerman said the amount the district receives from the sales tax is approximately $1 million per year, which is not enough to fund a district school building project.

Highland Board of Education Vice President Robert Kelly said he hopes the sales tax does not become an issue because both the buildings and the stadium need to be addressed.

“Our administrative staff puts academics ahead of everything,” he explained. “We need to do what’s right for this district, for this community.”

In other business:

  • Maria Kipfstuhl, business development manager for the Medina County Economic Development Corp., presented information on two community reinvestment area compensation agreements. She said S&V Properties, of Granger, entered into a $1,000 per year compensation agreement for 15 years, and Hemingway Development, of Sharon, entered into a $9,000 per year compensation agreement for 14 years.
  • Aukerman welcomed the district’s new staff members for the 2014-15 school year, including Sharon Elementary School Principal Katie Kowza, Granger Elementary School kindergarten teacher Katie Blower, Highland Middle School intervention specialist Alicia Lambert, Highland High School science teacher Patrick Martin, Sharon Elementary tutor Connie Kurko and Highland High School girls basketball head coach Mike Moser.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the following:

√ financial reports for May 2014;

√ amendments to appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014;

√ a transfer of $10,000 from the General Fund to the USS Fund;

√ a transfer of $10,207 from the Ohio High School Athletic Association Fund to the Athletics Fund;

√ a $1,000 advance from the General Fund to local grants;

√ temporary appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015;

√ middle school and elementary school student fees for the 2014-15 school year;

√ donations to Hinckley Elementary, Sharon Elementary and the Highland High School Speech and Debate Team;

√ the use of school facilities and waiving of associated fees for various functions;

√ contracts and agreements with the Alliance for High Quality, North Coast Council, Medina County Health Department, McGown and Markling Co., the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism, S&V Properties, Hemingway Development and ABC Therapy;

√ certified substitutes and home tutors for the 2014-15 school year;

√ a salary increase of 1.5 percent for Highland High School Principal Dana Addis for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years; and

√ the hiring of Kurko, transportation office aide Laura Beatty, Highland Middle School special education aide Sue Post, Hinckley Elementary special education aide Diane Schwandt, Highland Community Education director of the 2014 summer session Mary Fran Kudla and Highland High School assistant speech and debate adviser Mariana Hardy.

The next Highland Board of Education meeting is scheduled for July 14 at 7 p.m. in the Media Center at Highland High School, 4150 Ridge Road.

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