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

Posted at 10:22 AM, Oct 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-23 10:22:37-04

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.

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."