LEXINGTON — Superintendent Jeremy Secrist thought Lexington would have two new school buildings by now.
Instead, officials are saying it may be four to six years before Lexington receives the state funding it needs to build its new, consolidated elementary school.
During a board meeting last week, frustrated administrators and board members said the district can't proceed with the project until the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission releases funds set aside for Lexington. Some said they were worried project costs will continue rising while the district waits.
"We’ve stressed to (the OFCC) every delay that’s caused by them causes increases in the cost of that next project. We’ll continue to meet with them; we will continue to pressure them," Treasurer Jason Whitesel said.
“We’re not causing these delays. We’re ready to roll."
The OFCC is a state agency that manages the allocation of state funds for renovations and construction of public K-12 schools. Schools must secure a local funding share within 13 months of receiving an OFCC funding offer to begin a facilities project. Otherwise, a district is categorized as "lapsed" and its project is put on hold until a local share can be raised.
Secrist said when district leaders began discussing the project with the OFCC in April 2017, they were told districts entering an active planning process during that project cycle weren't likely to receive a funding offer before 2019.
They decided to move forward anyway in order to get the ball rolling.
"At that time, there was never discussion that the district may receive funding long beyond 2019," Secrist said.
"In communications and lockstep with OFCC officials, passing a levy was our way to get into the queue in order to secure our place in line for OFCC funding."
Lexington voters passed a bond levy to replace its facilities in Nov. 2018. The district planned to construct its new elementary and grades 7-12 buildings at the same time, as soon as OFCC funding was released.
Once it became clear the delays would be longer, the district joined the OFCC's Expedited Local Partnership Program, which allows districts to begin facilities projects using local funds regardless of their priority level with the OFCC.
"We use our local money, they track it, they credit us and they'll give us that money when their money is available," Whitesel explained.
The district's new junior high/high school building opened in the fall of 2022. Whitesel said the district has yet to receive any funding from the OFCC.
- By Katie Ellington Serrao, Staff Reporter
Secrist, Whitesel and board president Robert Whitney met with officials from the OFCC last week and claimed they couldn't give "a straight answer" on when funding would be released.
“Three years ago when we started I was told we were 24th (in line for funding)," Secrist said. "In July, I was told we were 18th. Today she told me, 'There’s 15 or 16 ahead of you, so we probably can release the money in a couple of years.'”
Secrist expressed skepticism about the OFCC's estimate.
“Two years would be great," he said. "It could be five years.”
OFCC Chief of Planning Melanie Drerup told Richland Source the agency hopes to provide Lexington with a funding offer within four to six years. Design, planning and construction of the new school would take approximately two more years.
Secrist called the estimated timeline "disappointing" and said the district would continue working with local legislators to advocate for the release of the funds.
"As a community, we did our part by passing a levy in 2018 to fund the local portion of the project," he said.
"We will continue to focus our attention and efforts on securing the OFCC funding for our elementary building that was promised and is owed to our community."
Drerup said the OFCC can provide funds to a limited number of districts each school year based on its budget, which is set every two years as part of the state's biennial budget.
"The legislature has been very generous, but there's a lot of need," she said.
Public relations manager J.C. Benton said OFCC funding has remained fairly consistent at about $300 million per year, but the agency did experience its own delays getting funding in 2020.
Furthermore, the way the OFCC prioritizes school districts is governed by the Ohio legislature, not internal policies.
According to Drerup, the order in which districts become eligible for OFCC funding is determined largely by an equity list, which is adjusted annually using a formula outlined in the Ohio Revised Code.
According to the OFCC's website, the formula takes into account both the taxable value of property in the district and the median income of the district's taxpayers. Lower wealth districts generally receive state funding sooner and receive a larger share than higher wealth districts.
Drerup said Lexington went on the ballot to raise their local share of the funding before receiving conditional approval from the OFCC.
“Typically, we indicate to a district that they are up for funding, we send them out a notice of conditional approval. They respond with a resolution to participate. Then we go to the commission (for project approval)," Drerup said.
"We were not in a position to do that with Lexington. But they wanted to go out and raise money and so we gave them information regarding the cost of the project, what we would estimate it to be at that point in time.”
Secrist said the district's decision to go on the ballot in 2018 was not made lightly.
"This decision was not made in a vacuum," he said. "It occurred over years of conversations with our community and OFCC officials.
"If we had waited, there would have been no guarantee that we would receive OFCC support, which represented over 50 percent of funding for the building project."
OFCC officials say the state and local shares have been "locked in" for Lexington. The OFCC will cover 53 percent of the final cost for district's two new facilities.
Lexington will cover the remaining 47 percent, plus any locally-funded initiatives — construction costs the state did not agree to fund, including the new 750-seat auditorium and an additional gymnasium at the high school.
Lexington officials said one factor that complicates the timeline on the release of funds is that some school districts can "jump ahead" in line, including those that were previously approved by the agency but unable to secure local funding (lapsed districts).
Drerup rejected the notion that districts can "leapfrog" the line, but said Ohio law does prioritize lapsed districts once they secure funding. It also requires the OFCC to service other types of institutions.
“Districts that enter in the program before (Lexington) would be served before them," she said. "We also have lapsed districts that we’re working with, we have STEM districts, we have vocational schools."