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Education

City, school district enters agreement to share services

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LORAIN — The city and Lorain Schools will share services in a money-saving partnership approved by Board of Education members Monday.

The amount of annual savings to the school district was unavailable Monday night, but Superintendent Jeff Graham said it will be substantial by reducing the contractors the district hires.

“It’s all fantastic and truly win-win,” Graham told board members. “It’s a great savings for both sides.”

Under the agreement, Lorain Schools will purchase road salt from Lorain for $55 per ton and 30 cents per gallon for brine. Mayor Chase Ritenauer said by phone after the meeting that Lorain spends about $500,000 annually on road salt.

A city garage mechanic will make repairs to the district’s truck fleet for three years. The district will pay half the mechanic’s benefits and salary the first year. The second and third years could include incremental increases to benefits and salary based on use.

The city will provide free labor for installing and paving the parking lots of Garfield and Larkmoor elementary schools and the district will pay for the asphalt.

The city will pave the streets around the new Lorain High School, 2600 Ashland Ave., and pay for removal of deteriorated concrete. The district will pay for the new concrete.

Ritenauer said the assistance will save Lorain Schools “tens of thousands of dollars” annually. He said the city will benefit by the district taking less in future tax-increment financing deals. Tax-increment financing involves future business tax revenue being spent on infrastructure improvements designed to increase economic development and property taxes.

Under the financing, libraries and schools receive less future money in the form of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, known as PILOT programs. For example, Lorain last year approved two TIF deals: a $617,000 project at 3671 Oberlin Ave. to build a Taco Bell and a $450,000 project at 5320 Oberlin Ave., where a GenFed Federal Credit Union is.

The school district, which would’ve received about 75 percent of future taxes paid by the businesses, receives about 25 percent, while Lorain receives 75 percent. The projects will cost Lorain Schools, which has a $100 million annual budget, $112,150 over 10 years. Lorain, which has a $33 million annual budget, gains $158,390.

The financing deals prompted an angry letter from board members to City Council members last year, saying the programs thwart the will of voters who approve school levies. The letter said board members have a “legal and moral obligation to secure, protect and defend the dollars that the citizens of Lorain have designated to fund the education of children through the voting process.”

Ritenauer said he hopes the agreement will address board members’ concerns about future TIF deals, and he hopes the agreement can be expanded. Ritenauer campaigned in 2011 and this year on a promise of a closer relationship with the district. He said the agreement came out of talks with Graham, who took over as superintendent in August.

“Everybody talks about partnership, collaboration and working together,” Ritenauer said. “But we really wanted to make it something where, tangibly speaking, it would benefit the taxpayers.”

In other business

  • Board members approved building a new 12,000-square-foot administration building on the campus of the new high school. Graham said the $2 million cost made better sense than renovating the approximately 60-year-old Charleston Administration Center at 2350 Pole Ave. Renovating the 46,000-square-foot center, which houses about 45 people, would’ve cost $1.76 million. The cost of the new building — expected to open with the high school in August — will be paid through the district’s general fund. Graham said the cost was factored into the five-year financial forecast.
  • Board members approved payments for furnishings for the new high school. Columbus-based Continental Office Furniture Corp. receives $670,712 for office furnishings. Mansfield-based School Specialty Inc. gets $290,409 for classroom and library furnishings and $92,750 for career tech furnishings.
  • Board members approved hiring Blackboard Inc., a national education software company, to upgrade the district’s website. District spokeswoman Erin Gadd said new software will also allow parents to choose how they get information on their children’s academic work whether by phone, email or through social media like Facebook and Twitter. The change is designed to provide parents with info without them having to go to the website to get it.

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