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

D.C. parents raise questions about funds for at-risk students, school renovations
-- Emma Brown, Washington Post

District of Columbia: April 17, 2014 -- Also a subject of much discussion Thursday was Gray’s proposal to spend $400 million for school renovation projects next year. Many parents complained that Gray’s plan delays renovations that had previously been planned for next year. “Our school has so many issues that need to be addressed,” said Bernetta Reese, a parent at Watkins Elementary on Capitol Hill. The school’s fire alarm system is not up to code and there is no sprinkler system, Reese said, while its faulty heating system leaves students shivering in winter coats on cold days. Catania signaled that he will seek to fund promised renovations at Watkins and other schools by shifting money away from a proposed renovation of the old Spingarn High. Gray is seeking to spend $62 million during the next two years to reopen Spingarn as a vocational education center with a special focus on training for transportation-related careers. Catania said it makes no sense to spend those capital dollars on Spingarn because another career-oriented school — Phelps ACE High — is next door and underenrolled. Ann McLeod, a parent leader at Garrison Elementary in Logan Circle, said that modernization decisions seem to be random and politically motivated and that the constant shifting of renovation schedules — and testifying before the council -- takes parents’ time and energy away from volunteering in schools. Garrison’s renovation funds have been yanked and restored several times in recent years, and the school is now scheduled to be fully modernized by fiscal 2016, a victory that McLeod compared to surviving a plane crash in which others are not as lucky. “We don’t understand what happened or why, and why we are the ones who survived and others did not,” McLeod said, adding that decisions should be driven by hard data and transparent analysis. “There is currently no strategy whatsoever in the whole modernization planning.”

Prince William capital improvements plan includes 20 new schools
-- Amanda Stewart, InsideNova

Virginia: April 17, 2014 -- In the next 10 years, Prince William County school officials plan to build 20 schools, complete an extensive renovation at one school and build additions to 11 schools. The school board recently adopted its capital improvements plan, which includes plans for school construction projects to be built now through fiscal 2024. The plan is based on enrollment projections for the county’s elementary, middle and high schools. As of Sept. 30, 2013, 85,055 students were enrolled in county schools, up 1.8 percent from 2012 enrollment, according to school division enrollment data. School officials are projecting that enrollment will reach 87,108 students next year, and will climb by more than 10,500 students in the next five years. To make room for more students, school officials plan to build new schools and, where possible, to build classroom additions to existing schools, according to the capital improvements plan. In September, two new schools, Haymarket Elementary School and The Nokesville School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school, are slated to open. Additions to River Oaks Elementary and Parkside Middle schools and a renovation at Dumfries Elementary School are also slated to be complete for September 2014.

Grand Forks Air Force Base to close school
-- Staff Writer, SFGatecom

North Dakota: April 16, 2014 -- GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — The Grand Forks Air Force Base School Board has voted to close an elementary school to deal with declining enrollment on the northeastern North Dakota base. Starting next school year, students from Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School will go to Nathan F. Twining Elementary and Middle School. The move ends years of debate and will save the base and Grand Forks school districts more than half a million dollars annually, KNOX radio reported. "I know it was a difficult decision for the school board to make," Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nybladh said in a statement. "However, it speaks to their resolve to find efficiencies." There currently are about 350 students on base, down from a peak of about 1,500 in 1995, when the base still had its KC-135 air refueling tanker mission. The base lost that mission in the last round of military base closings, in 2005. It has since gained a smaller unmanned aircraft mission but still has lost about half of is population and is down to about 2,400 people.

New School Building Doubles as a Storm Shelter
-- Staff Writer, WZDX-TV

Alabama: April 16, 2014 -- HATTON, AL (WZDX) - Hatton High School in Lawrence County now has one of the first tornado shelters of its kind in the state. The school's new main building will help students learn and keep them safe at the same time. For two years, Hatton High School science teacher Chasta Chamness and her students have been without a science lab after their old building from 1936 was torn down. "The old building was very limited. We did the best we could," said Chamness. On Wednesday, construction was complete and the high school's new building passed inspection. Students immediately started moving in supplies. That means next week, Chamness will be teaching in her new classroom and lab. "This entire building is great," said Chamness. "The lab is more than I could have ever imagined." The building has four new classrooms, two labs, and offices but it also provides peace of mind. It doubles as the school's tornado shelter for 1,000 students and staff including the elementary school. "On a stormy day, the kids are nervous anyway and maybe there will be a little less anxiety knowing you can just walk out into the hallway and your safe," said Chamness. The hallways and some classrooms have reinforced walls and doors on the windows that can withstand winds up to 200 mph. A FEMA grant paid for half of the buildings $2.3 million price tag. The opening of the storm shelter comes at the beginning of the tornado season which is a big concern at the school after an EF-5 ripped through the county three years ago killing 14 people.

Parents fight to convince district not to close nationally recognized elementary school
-- Sarah Moses ,

New York: April 16, 2014 -- Cleveland, NY -- Cleveland Elementary School, once labeled by the state as a failing school, was recognized in 2010 and again in 2013 as one of the nation's best schools. This month, the Central Square Central School District school board voted to close the school due to falling enrollment in the district, state aid cuts and rising costs. Cleveland Elementary parents are now seeking support from the community to urge the school board to keep the school open. Parents said they were shocked to learn that their school was selected to close. "The decision does not make sense," said Hannah Reed, the vice president the school's parent teacher organization. Reed said the school has experienced an amazing transformation since 2006 when the school was considered a failing school by the state. Since then, Cleveland Elementary was named a national Blue Ribbon School in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education. The program honors schools with high academic achievement or those that have made great strides in closing achievement gaps. The school was also recognized as a National School of Character in 2013 by Character Education Partnership. The recognition is given to schools that demonstrate that character development has had a positive impact on academics, student behavior and school climate. Recognized schools are expected to serve as models for other schools and they will hold the distinction of a National School of Character for five years.

R.I. Senate task force calls for new way of funding school construction
-- LINDA BORG, Providence Journal

Rhode Island: April 16, 2014 -- PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Senate task force proposes using 1 percent of the state’s 7-percent sales tax to pay for school construction projects in an effort to reduce the state’s reliance on costly bonds. Sen. Ryan W. Pearson, D-Cumberland, outlined the report’s major findings and recommendations in an interview Tuesday. The task force, which includes school leaders from Cumberland, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket, will be presented at the State House Wednesday afternoon. With the three-year moratorium on new construction expiring in June, Pearson, who chairs the task force, said he decided to examine the condition of school buildings and the way new ones are financed. Pearson highlighted the following findings: Forty percent of the money spent on school construction goes toward interest on bond payments, not the buildings themselves. There is no cap on how much the state spends on school construction. The report says that when the moratorium is lifted, the state will face $600 million in pent-up demand for new construction. In fact, the task force estimates that it would cost $1.8 billion to bring all 276 of the state’s public schools up to an acceptable condition.

Kamenetz Eyes Future Of School Buildings

Maryland: April 15, 2014 -- Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled Wednesday a $1.1 billion school building program to accommodate increased enrollment of more than 9,000 students. The plan, announced as part of his State of the County/Budget Message, would renovate and expand some schools and replace others over the next 10 years. Kamenetz’ “Schools for our Future” program would replace buildings that are at least 40 years old; add 11,000 new classroom seats and eliminate a projected shortage of 1,400 seats. It would provide air conditioning for every elementary and middle school as well as most of the high schools. The program will include a new elementary school for the New Town section of Owings Mills. Kamenetz expects that school to open in the fall of 2015. The plan, however, is contingent upon the approval of the County Council, Board of Education and county voters, who will see a $158 million bond referendum for school construction this fall. Kamenetz says the request, which will be repeated in 2016 and 2018, will be double – and sometimes triple – what the county has asked for in the past. The county is also anticipating the state to chip in at least $240 million dollars in each of those years. Kamenetz, who said it will be the first time the county has ever looked at a long term plan for school construction, said the idea came about after work on installing air conditioning on older buildings began. The cost of the work was more expensive compared with newer buildings.

NJ school construction agency announces $500 million for 1,600 projects
-- Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger,

New Jersey: April 15, 2014 -- The New Jersey Schools Development Authority today announced the start of $500 million in funding for some 1,600 projects that have been approved by the state Department of Education at a total cost of more than $1.2 billion. The grants represent the single largest funding decision in the state’s history, SDA officials said. However, the state aid is contingent on voters' approval of the construction projects in 333 districts. SDA CEO Charles McKenna made the announcement in Allendale, where the SDA will contribute almost $350,000 toward four projects involving upgrades to climate and air conditioning units at two schools. These projects bring Allendale’s state construction aid to more than $3.2 million, according to the SDA. “The SDA and DOE are working together to execute approximately 1,600 grants, the largest single grant program allocation in New Jersey’s history,” McKenna said in statement. “This grant funding demonstrates the Christie Administration’s commitment to supporting critical school improvement projects throughout the state.”

Solar panels to save Long Beach Unified $2 million over next 25 years
-- Nadra Nittle, Press-Telegram

California: April 13, 2014 -- LONG BEACH >> Thanks to the newly installed solar panels at Cabrillo High, Long Beach Unified School District expects to slash its utility bills by $2 million over the next 25 years. At the end of March, solar power system provider SolarCity completed the installation of more than 2,500 solar panels on top of carports at Cabrillo. “The $2 million saved will come from an incremental difference in what utility would have charged and what the panels themselves will be producing over a 25-year period,” said Les Leahy, LBUSD’s business services administrator. The 805-kilowatt system has been in the works at Cabrillo for just over a year, according to Leahy. The school, located in the Santa Fe Corridor, isn’t the only Long Beach high school with solar panels. Both Millikan High and the newly opened McBride High have solar panels, but Leahy said that Cabrillo’s installation has the distinction of being the largest. The district estimates that the panels on top of the carports will prevent roughly 28 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted annually over a 25-year period. The panels will also provide shade for drivers, which the district hopes will lower the amount of carbon emissions from vehicle air-conditioning. Long Beach Unified also predicts that the installation will conserve more than 130 million gallons of water because solar power does not depend on water to produce electricity.

School districts owed millions from state

Pennsylvania: April 13, 2014 -- Delinquent state reimbursements may force school districts to hit taxpayers with increases, cut staff and programs or deplete meager reserves to make up the shortfall. The state owes Carbondale Area, Mid Valley and Western Wayne school districts more than $2.6 million in reimbursements for projects completed as many as three years ago. The districts budgeted debt service payments based on what was expected from the state. State officials claim there is not enough state revenue to make the promised payments. "We did all the financial planning that was necessary to build this building," said Western Wayne Superintendent Clay LaCoe, Ed.D. "We followed the rules by the state. They're not following through on their obligation." Reimbursements When districts start a building project, they can apply for reimbursement from the state through a process called PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook. After being approved for PlanCon A through PlanCon H steps, gradual reimbursement begins. The percent districts receive varies based on each project. A moratorium on new PlanCon projects that started in 2012 still exists, and districts starting new projects are not guaranteed reimbursement. The 2013-14 budget includes $296.2 million for reimbursements. As of last month, about half of the appropriation had been distributed. Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed 2014-15 budget also calls for an appropriation of $296.2 million. As of now, the state estimates that to pay for the 347 projects in Part A through Part G of PlanCon, $1.7 billion is needed. The estimate does not include any project that has received Part H approval and is starting to receive reimbursement. The state has not told area districts when they can expect payment. The $296.2 million is in addition to nearly $10 billion in state funding that is provided to schools through other line items in the state budget, Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said. "Perhaps, if pension reform is achieved, additional dollars could be redirected to construction reimbursements," he said in an email. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has called for a more sustainable process for construction reimbursements and supports a bill in the House that would simplify PlanCon. Area legislators said addressing the backlog for reimbursements must be a priority.

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