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

Judge rules school facility plans overdue
-- Julia Terruso,

New Jersey: October 29, 2014 -- TRENTON The state must update its facility plans for low-income school districts, including eight in South Jersey, a judge ordered this month, calling the Department of Education's failure thus far noncompliant with its own policies. The Department of Education's Office of School Facilities is obligated to keep an up-to-date list of long-range facility plans for New Jersey's 31 so-called Abbott, or low-income, districts to enable prioritizing of renovations that would be carried out by the Schools Development Authority. The Education Law Center, a nonprofit that focuses on Abbott districts, sued the state, saying plans had not been updated in some cases since 2008. Of the 31 districts required to submit plans to the state, only eight had done so in the last five years. The state Department of Education did not return a request for comment Tuesday. An up-to-date plan is a prerequisite for any facility improvement project, according to state statute. Administrative Law Judge Ellen Bass said in a written order out of Newark that until the plans are updated, districts are unable to benefit from any SDA improvement projects. She ordered the department to direct the districts with outstanding plans to file within 60 days. The department then has 90 days to approve and review the plans and create a ranking of projects to send to the SDA.

EPISD report suggests schools may close, be consolidated, upgraded
-- Lindsey Anderson , El Paso Times

Texas: October 29, 2014 -- Dozens of El Paso Independent School District schools are on the list for possible closure and consolidation while district officials consider what to do with aging buildings and declining enrollment. A draft report by Jacobs Engineering Group offers a variety of suggestions, including closing schools, consolidating campuses into kindergarten through eighth-grade schools and redrawing school boundaries. "These are all options on the table," EPISD spokeswoman Melissa Martinez said. "Nothing is a plan." Officials will present the options to the public at 6 p.m. Monday at Bowie High School, 801 San Marcial. Community input will be taken into account before Jacobs presents recommendations to the EPISD Board of Managers, likely at the board's Dec. 16 meeting. The board of managers could decide to implement a number of options, a few or none of them, Martinez said. District officials said any decisions could take years to execute because they are part of EPISD's yearslong master plan and require funding. "This is not going to happen overnight," Martinez said. The EPISD is projected to lose more than 5,000 students by the 2019-2020 school year. Currently, 61,151 students are enrolled. By 2019-20, about a dozen schools are expected to have only half as many students as they could house, while another dozen are expected to exceed capacity, according to Jacobs. More than a dozen schools, primarily elementaries, are mentioned as possible sites that could be closed to save money on maintenance costs and address falling enrollment. The elementary schools mentioned are Roberts, Putnam, Vilas, Lamar, Beall, Alta Vista, Zavala, Bonham, Cielo Vista, Burnet, Travis, Schuster, Dowell and Fanin. Also mentioned were Charles Middle, and Andress or Irvin high schools.

Construction firm threatens to take Palo Alto school district to trial
-- Elena Kadvany, Palo Alto Weekly

California: October 28, 2014 -- While Palo Alto High School students were finally able to make full use of a new classroom building and just-completed Media Arts Center at the start of this school year, the school district continues to be embroiled in a $3.5 million lawsuit filed by the construction company that built both facilities. Taisei Construction Company, contracted by the district in 2011 for the Media Arts Center and a two-story math and social studies building, is accusing the district of employing a range of "bad-faith tactics" that delayed the buildings' openings by nearly a year. Taisei has sued Palo Alto Unified for $3.5 million to compensate for additional costs and expenses incurred as the district "substantially changed and increased the scope of the work to be performed" throughout construction, according to the lawsuit. Palo Alto Unified's conflict with the Santa Clara-based construction company reaches back to April 2013, when Taisei filed a claim against the district demanding to be paid $1.6 million based on change orders it had submitted in connection with added or altered work the district directed Taisei and its contractors to perform. The district rejected this claim, and Taisei filed a lawsuit in June 2013 -- the original completion date for the work. Taisei amended the suit three times as it continued with construction of the two buildings, which were completed in May. The district did not become aware of the lawsuit until July, officials said, alleging that Taisei did not notify or serve the district.

LA Unified getting $26 million in Prop 39 energy efficiency funds
-- Vanessa Romo , LA School Report

California: October 28, 2014 -- Governor Jerry Brown today dropped by John Marshall High School to talk about energy efficiency and the millions of dollars LA Unified schools can expect to receive from the state as a result of Proposition 39. The governor, who’s up for re-election next week, was on the Los Feliz campus with Tom Steyer, the Democratic mega-donor who backed the initiative; and state Sen. Kevin de Leon. The Clean Energy Jobs Act was passed by voters in 2012 and changed how corporations calculate their tax loads, sending the proceeds to schools and other learning centers for use in improving energy efficiency. “Two years ago, voters closed a flagrant tax loophole and sent hundreds of millions of dollars to California schools with passage of Proposition 39,” Governor Brown said. “Today, with these funds, schools are starting to repair inefficient heating and air conditioning systems, replace old windows and install new lighting, saving money through energy efficiency.” As the largest school district in the state, LA Unified has been awarded over $26 million for the first year of funding from Prop. 39. Funding is based on a district’s average daily attendance. In all, the state has collected over $400 million to fund energy retrofit projects at every K-12 school district in the first year.

Will Bedford County lose state funds if two schools don't close?
-- Tim Saunders, WDBJ7

Virginia: October 27, 2014 -- BEDFORD, Va. - The Bedford County School Board has a tough decision to make. In a few weeks, it will decide whether to close Thaxton Elementary. Earlier this year, the board voted to close another school: Body Camp Elementary. The superintendent and several school board members have said that schools have to close, to keep the school system from losing a special amount of state funding. When the city of Bedford reverted to a town last year, the change allowed Bedford County Public Schools to get an additional $6.2-million every year for the next 15 years. To receive the money, the school system had to undergo an efficiency review. They completed the process in May and one of the document's major recommendations was to close two schools. Is that action required for Bedford County to get the extra money? The short answer: not necessarily. Delegate Scott Garrett sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which allocates school funding. He believes Bedford County was only required to complete the efficiency review itself, not carry out its recommendations. "The efficiency review has been done. The county and the town are in full compliance with the wishes of the General Assembly," Garrett told WDBJ7 Monday. But State Senator Steve Newman, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, believes the school system will have to prove it's being efficient. "What the General Assembly has said is that we're going to require you to do an efficiency review. Once you go through that process, we expect you to follow most of the recommendations," Newman said.

School leaders want buildings torn down
-- David Berman, Chillicothe Gazette

Ohio: October 27, 2014 -- CHILLICOTHE – After a rash of break-ins at the former Smith Middle and Hopewell Elementary schools, Chillicothe City School District officials seem more eager than ever to have the vacant structures torn down. Superintendent Jon Saxton and the board of education have repeatedly said the buildings are not part of the district’s facilities master plan going forward, but now they’re actively seeking funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission to expedite the demolition process. That comes after a two-week span in which more than a dozen people are suspected to have broken into the buildings and stolen copper pipes and wiring, Saxton said. Arrests have been made in several incidents, whereas others are still under investigation, he said, adding that two people were taken into custody Monday while allegedly trying to break into Hopewell. Utilities to the buildings have been shut off several years, but they’re still equipped with security cameras, and maintenance workers frequently have to make sure they’re secured. The structures are now viewed by district leaders as a drain on resources that would be better spent educating students. In the past, there’s been some hand-wringing over the future of the Smith building because of the sentimental place it holds in the collective memory of so many Chillicothe graduates. Saxton, who attended Smith, has chosen his words carefully, but he went on record Monday saying the time has come to demolish the building. “As long as they’re there, they’re going to be a problem,” he said, adding that neighbors are growing more concerned by the break-ins. The district is aiming to significantly reduce its facilities’ footprint to the point where all of its buildings are on three campuses — the high school and middle school and likely two elementary campuses.

Dollars for schools
-- David Louis & Han Cheung, Rawlins Daily Times

Wyoming: October 27, 2014 -- SARATOGA — In many states, governors and legislators struggle to fund school construction projects. Often, large portions of these projects are paid for through property taxes or local improvement bonds. Wyoming takes a different approach. The Cowboy State is the only state that pays 100 percent of school construction and major maintenance projects. The state has the ability to provide funding through a number of sources including the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. The Wyoming School Facilities Department (SFD) is the agency responsible for getting the dollars to where they are needed. The SFD and its commission provide non-matching grants to local school districts for approved capital projects. Project funding is determined by combining scores from a facility condition assessment, educational functionality and capacity of student enrollment to create a prioritized needs index list. Anthony Hughes, SFD spokesperson, said the list is broken up into two primary categories — capacity and condition. Capacity issues most often address meeting the state mandate of a 16-to-1 teacher to student ratio, while condition prioritizes facilities based on more than 50 separate factors such as heating and cooling, electrical issues and the structural and educational condition of classrooms. “Once the buildings are scored they are ranked by need,” Hughes said. “Condition is condition. Typically there is not a great deal of fluctuation once the schools — whether they have condition or capacity issues — are put into the (SFD) department’s budget. When this happens we start the planning process to determine what is the most cost effective way to fix the issues.” Since 2002, when the state formed the SFD, Wyoming has invested more than $3 billion in school facility construction and maintenance. During the 2014 legislative session, nearly $231 million was appropriated for the biennium budget of new and previously funded school capital construction projects. Other funds were also appropriated to SFD for component projects, major maintenance and unanticipated expenses. The SFD will submit a supplemental budget request of slightly more than $21 million at the legislature’s upcoming general session in January. Both Carbon County School District 1 and 2 have several projects on the condition list. Both districts have recently benefited from SFD funding. The highest item on the list for CCSD1 is the Bairoil School at 31, but that school no longer functions. “We were leasing it until the end of June, so that’s why it’s still on the list,” CCSD1 Business Office Manager Dave Horner explained. The next is Little Snake River Valley School at 71. Horner said CCSD1 doesn’t have any high-priority facilities because SFD had recently remedied Rawlins High School, Middle School and Sinclair Elementary School. “Those projects would have been on the top,” Horner said, “But now we’ve dropped to the bottom and we’re working back up again.” Horner added that every time the district makes improvements to a facility, it might drop down the list further.

Council vote advances plan for new school in Mattapan
-- James Vaznis, The Boston Globe

Massachusetts: October 27, 2014 -- Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey last week inched closer to a dream that few people believed would ever be realized: building a high school in Mattapan. The nearly two-decade quest took a notable step forward Wednesday when the City Council approved the first of two required votes on a $120 million loan to build the school, which is proposed for the former Boston State Hospital grounds. It passed by a 9-3 vote, giving Yancey confidence that the second vote will sail through in the coming weeks. “It’s just amazing it has taken this long,” Yancey said in a phone interview the day after the vote. “I know when I’ve talked about this high school, people’s eyes would glaze over.” Boston has not built a new high school since the late 1970s, and recent attempts to do so have hit roadblocks. For Yancey, the push has always been about providing more of the city’s high school students — many of whom attend buildings designed decades ago as middle or elementary schools — the chance to go to classes in a high school complex that rivals those in the suburbs. “We must inspire our children to learn,” Yancey said. “One way to do that is provide first-class facilities.” The city is in the process of creating a 10-year master plan for school facilities, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh has not taken a position on the proposal. “The plan of the administration is to undertake a comprehensive assessment and take the long view on facilities and infrastructure support,” Kate Norton, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “The matter is before the City Council now, and we will withhold judgment while the council process continues.” Previously, Boston had pursued school construction projects on an as-needed basis and has struggled to bring them to fruition — a point of frustration for many parents, city leaders, and educators as they have seen dozens of schools built in the suburbs in recent years.

State will fund Moyer Elementary renovation
-- Chris Mayhew,

Ohio: October 26, 2014 -- FORT THOMAS – Whether Moyer Elementary School will be renovated or replaced remains an open question, but the city's school district has been given assurances the state will pay the bulk of the estimated $20 million or more cost. Fort Thomas Independent Schools will be required to use its entire bonding capacity, expected to be about $1 million, next year to help fund work at Moyer scheduled to start summer or fall of 2015, said Superintendent Gene Kirchner. The Kentucky School Facilities Construction Commission (SFCC) has now promised to pay the difference of the estimated $20 million cost of work at Moyer, Kirchner said. SFCC officials toured Moyer and met with Fort Thomas officials Oct. 15. In September the SFCC pledged to provide an undetermined amount of funding for Moyer. "The clarity that we did receive was that it will be fully funded," Kirchner said. The cost for renovation or replacement is likely going to be similar, he said. The district's Local Planning Committee is now being asked to go back and review the existing plans to include consideration of replacing the school, Kirchner said. "The current plan calls for it to be renovated," he said.

Board unsure it can afford ‘free’ site for downtown school
-- Leah Todd, The Seattle Times

Washington: October 26, 2014 -- Seattle school leaders must soon decide whether they’re serious about acquiring the former branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and remodeling it as a downtown elementary school. The U.S. Department of Education returned the school district’s first application for the building, saying its original proposal was too tentative. The department is asking for revisions that, if approved, would commit Seattle Public Schools to turning the hulking concrete structure into a school within three years. The School Board will vote Nov. 5 on whether it wants to make that promise, which would put the district in line to get the building and land for free, although it would have to spend an estimated $53 million on renovations. That’s a little more than the district’s newest elementary schools, which are being built on district land for between $41 million and $43 million each. The board first voted 5-2 in July to apply for the building, but with caveats. Board members said they wanted time to look at district finances and ask for public input. The board’s original resolution allowed interim Superintendent Larry Nyland to “possibly” accept the building, which has been empty since 2008, when the Fed moved its regional offices to Renton. Critics, who include parents and the umbrella group representing parent-teacher associations across the city, argue the district’s most overcrowded schools are not downtown and that the renovation money would be better spent elsewhere.

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