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News items come from the U.S. Department of Educations's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).

-- JOHN MOONEY, NJSpotlight

New Jersey: January 22, 2015 -- Hespe concedes state didn’t follow legally required procedure, says it’s now complying with law. In a rare show of cooperation with one of its staunchest critics, the Christie administration has agreed with a legal challenge to the way the state Department of Education reviews and approves new school-construction projects in New Jersey’s neediest cities. State Education Commissioner David Hespe this month sided with an administrative law judge’s recommendation that backed a challenge from the Education Law Center over the operations of Hespe’s own department. The complaint filed in 2012 by the ELC, which has led the landmark Abbott v. Burke school-funding litigation, accused the department of failing to ensure that districts covered under the Abbott case completed required long-range facilities plans that would drive the construction projects. At the time, the ELC maintained that the department had not received new plans in five years, and the case has been central in the ELC’s ongoing challenge to the Christie administration’s slow pace in moving forward with court-ordered projects for these districts. The school-construction work has since gotten underway, but the ELC has continued to maintain that the administration has still not adhered to the law requiring it to follow long-range plans set by the districts.

General Assembly bill would earmark small percentage of R.I. sales tax for school construction projects
-- LINDA BORG, Providence Journal

Rhode Island: January 22, 2015 -- PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sen. Ryan W. Pearson is proposing using a small percentage of the state’s 7-percent sales tax to pay for school construction in an effort to encourage school districts to maintain their buildings rather than wait until they are falling apart. Pearson, D-Cumberland, proposed a similar measure last year as chair of the Senate task force on school construction. The new bill, submitted Wednesday, would allocate .57 percent of one percentage point of the sales tax to pay for school construction. The percentage would increase by .04 each year until a 1 percentage point is reached in about 10 years. “No state has figured out how to do this,” Pearson said, referring to the financing of school construction. The Rhode Island plan is similar to one developed by Massachusetts, which dedicates 1 percent of the state’s sales tax to help pay for school facility improvements. In fiscal 2016, this proposal would generate $81.4 million, according to Pearson. The annual increases would add an additional $5.7 million. The goal is to reduce the state’s dependence on costly bonds and allow districts to fund smaller projects such as a new roof or boiler.

Pasco school officials anticipate push for higher impact fee
-- C.T. Bowen, Pasco Times, Tampa Bay Times

Florida: January 22, 2015 -- LAND O'LAKES — The last time Pasco County commissioners considered changing the amount of the school impact fee, the public debate turned into a monthslong political brawl featuring public protests, crowded town hall meetings and even intimidating emails from a home builder to elected officials. And that was a 2011 discussion about lowering the fee, which is charged on newly constructed homes to help pay for new classrooms. Commissioners, on a 3-2 vote, eventually decided not to lower the fee, an idea that had been pitched to them as an economic stimulus. Now, Pasco School District officials are laying the groundwork for a renewed debate, but this time the topic is about an expected increase in the school impact fee. The fee, currently at $4,800 per single-family home, finances school construction, but approval authority rests with county commissioners. "If we don't have this discussion now, all we're doing is kicking the can down the road,'' superintendent Kurt Browning said this week to the school district's Penny for Pasco Oversight Committee .

District growth mandates more school construction
-- Rachel Rice,

Texas: January 21, 2015 -- The Lake Travis school district should include a new elementary school and middle school in the next bond election, demographers recommend. During the Jan. 20 school board meeting, Pat Guseman, President of Population and Survey Analysts, and Stacey Tepera, PASA data manager, indicated the district’s current rate of growth would likely require the opening of two new schools between 2018 and 2020. “The population is 12 percent greater than when we were here two years ago,” Guseman said. “A district with as much high growth as you (have) can get in a crisis if they don’t have a long-range plan. A high growth rate makes it so hard to stay abreast of the infrastructure and teaching responsibilities.” Guseman said the Lake Travis school district has the highest growth rate among the 33 districts in the region. Guseman noted the increase in the student population was less pronounced in kindergarten than overall because it was more difficult for young families to afford housing in the Lake Travis area. The district also has a low underprivileged population, she said.

Leggett proposes $191 million more for school construction
-- Kate S. Alexander, Maryland Community News Online

Maryland: January 21, 2015 -- As Montgomery County lawmakers fight for more school construction money from the state, County Executive Isiah Leggett is asking the County Council to approve $191.2 million more locally. Every two years, Leggett (D) issues his recommended capital budget for the next six years. In odd-numbered years, he generally recommends amendments to the spending plan. His proposed amendments to the $4.66 billion capital improvements program for fiscal years 2015-2020 would provide not just more funding for public school construction, but also for affordable housing and road repair, according to a county news release. It also includes money for redevelopment projects in White Flint and Wheaton and $32 million to replace the Shady Grove Bus Depot. School construction continues to be a top priority for the county. Leggett’s proposal would increase spending for school construction by $191.2 million to speed up the construction of 14 additions, 20 renovations, and one new school and one alternative school, according to the county. Adding $191.2 million would fully fund the $1.75 billion six-year request from the board of education, according to the county. Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said that, while he had not seen the details, he was “deeply appreciative” of Leggett’s recommendation.

New Tilden Middle School Could Be Collocated With Special Education Center
-- Aaron Kraut, bethesda now

Maryland: January 21, 2015 -- Over the past few weeks, a group of parents, teachers, administrators, MCPS planners and architects have begun discussing how a North Bethesda middle school might share a new building with one of the county’s special education centers. MCPS has suggested collocating the Rock Terrace School, which serves students age 12-21 with special needs, with the new Tilden Middle School once it’s built. Superintendent Joshua Starr has yet to formally recommend the move, but the Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School Roundtable Discussion Group has been hammering out big picture issues that would need to be addressed. At a meeting of the roundtable on Tuesday, architects presented eight concept plans for how a Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School building might look. MCPS previously decided to move Tilden (now at 11211 Old Georgetown Road) back to 6300 Tilden Lane, where it was until 1991. Many of the questions and concerns brought up Tuesday were about where to put the school’s gyms, cafeterias, parking lots and bus drop-off areas.

School Closures Could Save Taxpayers Millions Of Dollars
-- Darcy Thomas, WHBQ FOX13 Memphis

Tennessee: January 21, 2015 -- SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (FOX13) - Shutting down two more schools in Shelby County could save taxpayers millions of dollars. That's a proposal by SCS, who says Lincoln Elementary and Southside Middle are underperforming and slated to close. They say this is the best option to merge the students into schools which are higher performing. It's often difficult for a parent to see the intricate puzzle pieced together by Shelby County Schools to close schools, boost student achievement and save money. Parent Theopolis Lyons says, "Stop closing down the good things and take away some of this crime, look at the empty houses sell them, keep the schools open." Lyones says times are tough, recently moving his family from Riverside Elementary to Lincoln, "I love this school, this is the best my son has ever did, he's one grade away from the honor roll right now because of Lincoln Elementary teachers like Mr. Holiday and people that care." SCS wants to move Lincoln elementary students, where less than 20% are proficient in core subjects to AB Hill Elementary. The plan includes merging Southside middle school students with Riverview middle which is 2 miles away. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson says by closing these two schools taxpayers save more than 2 million dollars, "By combining struggling schools and making them I-zone it goes to the heart of student achievement."

Post navigation LA Unified making plans to upgrade buildings most in need
-- Vanessa Romo, LA School Report

California: January 21, 2015 -- LA Unified is getting close to fixing its schools most in need of repair. Superintendent Ramon Cortines has developed a priority list for rehabilitating 11 campuses, once the Bond Oversight Committee, then the school board approve his plans. In a memo to school board members last week, Cortines said he would present his plan to the bond committee on Feb 27, and with its blessing, put it before the board for a vote in March. The modernization projects, called the School Upgrade Program, represents the next phase of the district’s bond program. The majority of the funding — approximately, $4.2 billion — would come from the district’s forthcoming Measure Q bond sale, with additional money from bonds that were previously sold. “Despite the billions of dollars invested in building new school facilities and improving older school facilities, this district still has a facilities crisis,” Cortines explained in the memo. “Due to the size of the district, and the significant need for capital improvements, many aging and deteriorating school facilities were left unaddressed.” Cortines has talked of embarking on the renovations projects, a mandate begun under his previous superintendency, since his return to the district in October. Over the last few months, he said, “I directed staff to move forward with identifying secondary school sites with the worst physical conditions; those that may pose a health and safety risk or negatively impact a school’s ability to deliver the instructional program and/or operate.”

Wake school board hoping $810 million bond is enough for new schools
-- Eileen Park, WNCN

North Carolina: January 21, 2015 -- CARY, N.C. - Some Wake County School Board members are concerned funds could run out before all 16 new schools and six existing schools are built and renovated. In November, voters passed a $810 million school construction bond to help facilitate the growth in Wake County. The Wake County Public School System has about 150,000 students, and projections indicate that by 2018 there will be 20,000 more students in the system. Kevin Hill chairs the Wake County Board of Education's facilities committee and said bids for several new schools are coming in much higher than expected. “Worst case scenario could be that we do run out of money before all the projects are finished,” Hill said. Right now, Hill said they're over initial estimates for building construction by $7.6 million, site construction by $17.6 million, and public infrastructure by $5.5 million. If this continues, Hill said the nearly $1 billion dollars allocated to building the 16 new schools and renovating six existing schools might not be enough. “We're not asking for more money, but we may be accelerating how we're able to draw it down to take advantage of the financial markets,” said Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner. She said taxpayers should not be worried. Right now, no extra money is needed but to continue building new schools like Abbott's Creek Elementary, they need faster access to the funds.

Older Schools Not Required To Have Fire Sprinklers Despite State Code
-- Addie Hampton,

South Carolina: January 20, 2015 -- LAURENS, S.C. - An Upstate middle school damaged by fire Monday night did not have a sprinkler system inside. The school is exempt from needing the sprinklers, despite current building codes that require schools to have working sprinklers. A faulty electrical outlet caused the fire Monday night at Laurens Middle School. According to Laurens City Fire Chief, Bill Hughes, they kept the fire to one room in a wing not connected to the main building. Built in 1955, Hughes said the school was around long before fire and building codes made sprinkler systems a requirement. This is the case for many schools across the Upstate. "If it's an existing school building, unless there's some extensive renovations or a new facility, if it's in place as is, it's not required they go back and install the sprinkler systems," said Easley Fire Marshal, Brad Owens. There's not much they can do about it. Owens explained while it is a requirement for all newly constructed schools to have sprinklers, there are obvious exceptions. "There are some exceptions based on square footage. Also, if the school has direct exits from each classroom," he explained. In the US, fire sprinklers just became mandatory back in 2007, but only in certain commercial buildings and only on new construction at places like schools, nursing homes, big restaurants and bars. It's not a comforting thought for some Upstate parents.

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