State should require plan before spending

The three local school districts in line to receive state funding for new buildings should compare the offer to the cost of constructing without help from Columbus.

Mathews, Bristol and Austintown are among 19 districts statewide set to receive Ohio Facilities Construction Commission money if they generate a hefty local match. They are part of more than $406 million in state funds pending Ohio Controlling Board approval.

Mathews is scheduled to receive $5.6 million in the hopes of building a new K-12 school. The district must raise more than $24 million in local funds for a total cost of $29.6 million for the new building.

Bristol is set to receive $8.8 million if it produces $5.1 million locally; Austintown is set to receive $32.4 million if it generates a $6.5-million match. In Mathews and Bristol, the plan is to build new K-12 schools; in Austintown, the plan is to build a new high school and expand the middle school.

The districts were selected based on their placement on the School Facilities Eligibility Listing as compiled each year by the Ohio Department of Education. Districts are then ranked by need based on a formula that includes average valuation per pupil and taxable property in the district, divided by the number of students, with adjustments made based on other criteria such as income and property types.

As usual, the state is awarding money without requiring a long-term strategy to reduce the size of government and protect taxpayers. Smaller districts especially should need to show a minimal amount of sharing, up to and including consolidation, in exchange for money for new construction.

While the state has not made government collaboration and consolidation a prerequisite, it has traditionally placed costly mandates on new construction. Several years ago Howland, for example, was able to show its taxpayers that it could build a new high school for less money than its share of what was then called an Ohio Schools Facilities Commission project.

That level of due diligence should be expected in the Mathews, Bristol and Austintown districts. Stripping construction projects of unnecessary state mandates could make the cost of building or renovating below the local shares announced last week.

Local voters should demand that level of research and more before committing to long-term levies.