Ohio bill focuses on use, funding of school features like AC

By Kantele Franko - Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio would have to study which of its schools have air conditioning, safety measures and certain other building features under a state lawmaker’s proposal to direct some school construction money specifically for those purposes.

Republican Rep. Niraj Antani, of Miamisburg, said every school should have those features but too many don’t.

There is no state tally on that, so the information is anecdotal. Early this school year, for example, a heat wave caused scores of schools around Ohio to close or send students home early, citing concern for students’ health. That prompted mixed reaction online and on social media, with some commenters questioning whether climate control in schools is necessary and some parents and teachers arguing that it’s what students these days are accustomed to and what is expected for a good learning environment.

Sidney City Schools either dismissed early or canceled school because of the high temperatures at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The only building with air conditioning in the district is Sidney Middle School.

Superintendent Bob Humble agrees the lack of air conditioning in all Sidney’s buildings is only the tip of the iceberg when if comes to school funding.

“I’m glad that someone in the legislature has recognized the need for climate control but this is just a symptom of a much larger problem,” said Humble. “They really need to fix and fund more of the OFCC school building procedure. The current system does not work for districts that have high property values especially if it has a lot of industry.

“Putting money into buildings for air conditioning only sugar coats the need for other aging infrastructure and the change in how students learn,” he said. “My concern is that communities that may see dollars for better climate control will think that is all that is needed and never pass anything for newer and more up to date facilities better suited to 21st century learning and what company future needs are for the work force. Air conditioning alone will not solve these problems.”

At Lakewood Local Schools in Hebron, which has a very old elementary school with no air conditioning, educators used fans to circulate air in classrooms and hallways and distributed water and ice to help keep kids cool and offered to excuse absences if parents kept the youngest students home because of the heat, Superintendent Mary Kay Andrews said.

“It was bad,” Andrews said. “It affects their learning. It affects the staff.”

Antani is proposing that the Department of Education and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which oversees the school construction and renovation program, gather information about which schools have features such as air conditioning, then allocate part of the funding going to the commission for helping schools meet some standard for those features.

Antani, who is running for re-election, said the system of how school infrastructure is funded in Ohio isn’t working and he hopes his proposal starts a conversation about changing it.

His Democratic challenger, Zach Dickerson, said Thursday that the lack of climate control in some schools has been a known problem for years, and he questioned why Antani didn’t seek to address it sooner. He also questioned the timing of Antani’s proposal, which was introduced weeks before the midterm election, leaving little time for lawmakers to consider it before their current two-year session wraps up at the end of the year.

Andrews said she is interested to see what happens with the legislation but that her district can’t wait to address its old infrastructure. It has a levy on the November ballot that would be used to build a new elementary school and address other needs, including fully air conditioning the middle school.

Meanwhile, the weather has changed and schools are preparing for their next temperature battle.

As Nordonia Superintendent Joe Clark pointed out weeks ago in a message about dealing with the heat: “Before we know it winter will be here, and we will have this discussion again regarding extreme cold.”

By Kantele Franko

Associated Press