A majority of school principals say they will not fund improvements unless local districts change the way work is funded to reduce Millcreek’s share
Construction projects expand Fairview high, primary schools as enrollment grows
Fairview School District’s high school, high school expansion tops the list of school building projects in Erie County.
Ed Palattella, Erie Times-News
A planned $34.4 million renovation of the Erie County Technical School is unlikely to happen.
Millcreek Township School Board rejected a resolution to proceed with the renovations by 5-4 votes Tuesday, for the second time in a week. A similar resolution failed with an identical 5-4 vote on September 13.
All 11 school districts that send students to the school must approve the project before work can proceed. Everyone except Millcreek unanimously approved the project.
The submitted bids for the work expire on Tuesday.
This week’s resolution would have required the Millcreek Township School District to pay 36% of the cost of the renovation, or more than $12.1 million. Technical school capital projects are funded based on the estimated value of the property in each participating school district. Millcreek’s real estate value is 36% of the total property value in the 11 participating school districts.
The latter resolution would have included the condition that it would be the last time Millcreek would fund engineering school capital improvements under its current funding formula.
The resolution failed when school board chairman Gary Winschel and school principals Jason Dean, Michael Lindner, Shirley Winschel and Christopher Busko voted against.
Future Millcreek school boards would not be required to abide by the caveat, opponents said.
Janine McClintic, Lisa Cappabianca, Rick Lansberry and John DiPlacido voted in favor of the resolution.
Last week’s motion was rejected by an identical vote. That resolution was to fund the project on the current formula only if all counties agreed to base funding for future improvements on tenders rather than property values.
The school districts have not agreed to change the capital financing formula.
Earlier this year: Millcreek School Board Rejects Engineering School Renovations toestemming
Difference of opinion about financing
Basing funding on enrollment, or actual cost per student, would be fairer, Millcreek school principals said. Millcreek has 126 students in engineering school this year, or about 17% of the school’s enrollments, and would pay 17% of future renovation costs, according to an enrollment-based formula.
“I would support this project if the funding formula changed after this project. The funding formula is my hang-up. We have to pay twice as much as we would pay for our attendance,” Dean said. “We pay double our turnout. I don’t think it’s fair that we pay $12.1 million if it were (on a turnout basis) $6 million.
“We rely heavily on our local taxes. We can’t just subsidize other districts,” Dean said.
Because Millcreek Township School District is considered an affluent district by the state based on the appraised value of the property, it receives a smaller percentage of state funding.
Each district’s share of the technical school’s operating costs is currently based on enrollment. Other local school districts argue that it is fairer to base funding for capital projects on property values instead.
“The formula is based on each district’s ability to raise tax revenues. It’s based on each district’s ability to pay,” said Iroquois Superintendent Shane Murray in February.
Provincial schools push back: As Millcreek pushes for change in tech school funding
Millcreek has far more residential, commercial and industrial properties than any other school district that sends students to technical school. And it has more taxpayers to bear the cost, Murray said.
If Millcreek contributed $12.1 million for the renovation of the engineering school, it would have to raise taxes by about 1%, Gary Winschel said.
“That’s one-third of our index,” or the limit the district can levy taxes without special permission from the state. “And we run into that every year with normal costs,” said Winschel.
The Erie County Technical School directors have approved a resolution that could help ease some of the financial burden of all participating school districts for future improvements to the school, Sam Ring, the chairman of the Joint Operating Committee of the United States, said. the school, to the school principals at Millcreek.
Renovation technical school: Here’s What Any Participating District Could Pay
The school plans to put money aside in a capital reserve fund to pay for the improvements, Ring said.
“We have a way forward that hopefully won’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Ring. “We’re changing the way we fund projects. We’re giving you exactly what you want right now, albeit in a slightly different format.”
But the school must first have modern mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and other improvements, otherwise the reserve fund would pay for repairs rather than future upgrades, Ring said.
There’s no guarantee the fund would significantly reduce how much local districts would pay going forward, Millcreek school principals said.
Can renovation plans be relaxed?
Directors also questioned whether the $34.4 million project could be curtailed or implemented at a lower cost to bring the school up to modern safety and education standards.
“We hear you talking about the need for the (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) project as we did six buildings in our MEP project for less cost than this project,” said Lindner, Millcreek School Board Finance Committee Chair . “The cost per square foot is significantly different. It’s one of the biggest concerns of our finance committee, why this project is so different from the projects we’ve done.”
Prices have risen since the Millcreek projects were offered. And because the engineering school hasn’t seen significant improvements since its construction in 1968, that’s now driving up costs, renovation project architect Chris Coughlin told Millcreek school principals on Tuesday.
“Keep in mind that this building hasn’t been touched. Many of your buildings have been touched at least once during major renovations,” Coughlin said. “That’s the big difference. Your buildings have had new roofs (and other work). This building has not.”
Millcreek school principals who voted in favor of the renovation project warned that failing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems at the Summit Township school could cost local school districts more if they fail.
A pipe corroded at the school late last year is an example of what will continue to happen, McClintic said.
“That pipe and some others are going away, and if they go, we’re going to have to fix them and in an emergency dig up the (floor). And we’re going to take a break to continue studying (at school),” McClintic said.
According to the renovation plan, classes would have continued while the school was expanded and improved.
“They give us something to work on to change that formula in the future,” McClintic said. “We need to do something today for students to fix up a building that is literally crumbling.”
Technical school officials had hoped to issue quotes for the renovations this week and begin work next month. The work would be completed in phases, with the last phase expected to be completed in the spring of 2023.
The renovations include new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; new doors and windows; ADA-accessible toilets; and reconfiguring classroom and lab spaces to meet current Pennsylvania Department of Education standards.
School officials earlier this year had hoped to cut project costs by several million dollars. But higher costs for some materials less readily available due to the pandemic negated those savings, they said.
This school year there are 722 students at the technical school.