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Advocate: Conditions inside Columbus City Schools reflect 'systemic problem' facing many districts across the U.S.

The conditions inside Columbus City Schools have become a focal point in the ongoing labor dispute between the teachers’ union.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A 10 Investigates’ review of Columbus Public Health records found inspectors have flagged 32 Columbus City Schools since March for adverse conditions that needed to repaired.

Among the issues flagged included lead paint that was peeling, loose bricks that students were throwing, leaking roofs, missing ceiling tiles and water intrusion issues.

10 Investigates’ review of work orders and emails between the state’s largest school district and the city’s health department show that some repairs were delayed – or not fixed at all – despite recommendations from Columbus Public Health that issues be addressed as soon as possible.

The conditions inside Columbus City Schools have become a focal point in the ongoing labor dispute between the teachers’ union – the Columbus Education Association – and Columbus City Schools. On Friday, the school board announced it would hold a special meeting Monday. That move came less than 24 hours after the union voted to authorize a 10-day strike notice.

10 Investigates shared our findings and the photographs taken inside the schools with Maria Lehman, the current president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“I would love to tell you that is unique but it's not. This is a systemic problem. I feel like you could find examples like this around the country,” Lehman said.

Last year, ASCE published a report that found rated schools buildings across the country with a “D+” letter grade. The report noted that schools need "…to provide a safe and effective learning environment for the nation's K-12 students, public schools need to be in good condition…"

ASCE also cited other government studies that noted that more than "53% of public schools needed to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to bring the infrastructure into good overall condition…"

“I am not shocked and I can imagine that most major city school systems have buildings that look like that. I would love to say that's not the case, I know from my 40 years in the business that I have seen that. It's not a one-off,” Lehman said. “And that is sad because we really need to make the investment."

Lehman suggested that all school districts get creative with their financing – consider re-financing old debt, dipping into rainy day funds instead of always turning to voter-backed levies or bond issuances.

When 10 Investigates’ asked about the conditions inside CCS schools, a district spokeswoman said that: “Our administration has transparently informed the community of the District's needed maintenance and infrastructure needs. The pictures you've shared show why there is a need for continued investment in our school facilities. Funding is critical to addressing many of these needs, and our Board of Education understands the importance of investing in our schools. For this reason, they've voted to place a permanent improvement levy and bond issue on the ballot this November to ask the public for support.”

The district would not agree to on-camera interview until 10 Investigates said it planned to attend Tuesday’s board meeting.

It was only then that we are able to speak to district deputy superintendent of operations, Dr. David James, who said the district makes efforts to address issues “ as soon as practical because sometimes we have to set out bids for that work. Sometimes we have people that are already on a purchase order, it just depends on the situation and the extent of it. Is it a small area or is it multiple areas…”

When asked if the district could keep parents, students and other stakeholders better informed of issues, he said:

“I think any organization could do a better job. I have asked my team to review the process of getting these inspection reports in, and then working with our staff at the buildings because there are multiple parties involved from custodian to different departments in operations to make sure we can turn around those issues as quickly as possible so the buildings are as safe as what everyone wants.”

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