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Keeping Tabs on Cleveland Schools Project

Wednesday, September 10, 2003 at 11:28 AM

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Cleveland's school overhaul project is for the most part on time and on target. That's according to the Bond Accountability Commission, the group charged with keeping tabs on the one-and-a-half billion dollar rebuilding effort. The full commission met last night for the first time since two new co-chairs took over this past summer. As ideastream's Bill Rice reports, the new leadership is still getting the feel of their new responsibilities.

The first pair to head the Bond Accountability Commission were well-known Clevelanders - Louis Stokes, former Ohio Congressmen, and Robert Gillespie, Present of Key Bankcorp. Their replacements aren’t quite so high-profile. Reverend C.J. Matthews is a pastor at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on Cleveland’s East Side. Andres Gonzales is Executive Director of the Hispanic Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program on West 25th Street. Both are eager successors, and still on the learning curve, according to Gonzales.

Andres Gonzales: I haven’t had the chance to really review all the information that we need and we’re doing that as we go. And we’ve scheduled several meetings with Mr. Kolp to actually get some other background information that Reverend C.J. Matthews and myself will need to get a better picture.

Mr. Kolp is Dennis Kolp, Executive Director of the Commission - the paid mastermind of the monitoring process, according to Gonzales, since the group was assembled. Gonzales says so far Kolp has given the project a satisfactory grade.

Andres Gonzales: My understanding from some of my preliminary conversations with Mr. Kolp is that they are pretty much on target and any concerns that will arise will come through us and either Reverend C.J. Mathews or myself will address those as co-chairs of the commission.

Ask Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett how the project is going so far, and she smiles.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Our team in the warm safe dry effort have done some incredible work this summer. I’m smiling at the fact that all of that work could be done in such a short time.

That work includes repairing or replacing 18 roofs, full window replacements in some 30 schools, heating and air conditioning replacement in 58 schools - all part of segment one of the project to be completed by January first. The East High gymnasium, the collapse of which was the catalyst for the entire rebuilding effort, is still on target for completion by the beginning of the basketball season. So far, Byrd-Bennett says, there have been few glitches.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett: They are coming in on time. I think we’ve been vigilant, and I think the pace with which we have begun the work - segment one and segment two - has allowed us to start with the most difficult and most challenging, but also to put our arms around it so that we can manage the projects as well. And that has kept us on time and on budget.

Then there’s the issue of hiring goals set at the project’s outset, Byrd-Bennett says - promised to taxpayers to ensure equity and opportunity to city residents. 20% of the work would go to minorities, 5% to women, and 20% to district residents. Byrd-Bennett says those have been goals have been met and exceeded.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Slightly over 40% of the people who receive the contract for our work, are either firms that are based in Cleveland or subcontractors that are in Cleveland. I think we’re at about 34% of the workforce are female, and that far surpasses our five percent goal, they either own the companies or are doing the work. And we’re well over - I think we’re in the high thirties of African Americans who are actually doing the work on the projects.

This glowing report is fundamentally corroborated by Bond Accountability Commission Director Dennis Kolp, and also by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which has an active interest since it’s footing about two-thirds of the bill.

Details of the renovation project and its progress are a little tougher to access than they should be though. The Commission does maintain a web site, but as of yesterday it contained little more than last year’s annual report - and even that contained little more than general statements as to how things are going. Commission co-chair Andres Gonzales says improvements to the web site will be forthcoming.

Andres Gonzales: We will take measures to make sure that that information is available on the web site so that the community can log in, find out what’s happening, where and how much money is being spent.

In the meantime, he says, that information is also available at the commission’s regular meetings. All one need do is come. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.

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