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

Wake County releases draft 2015-16 student assignment plan
-- T. KEUNG HUI, News & Observer

North Carolina: August 19, 2014 -- CARY — Wake County’s newest student assignment plan is focused on sending students to schools near where they live, reducing how often children are moved and keeping schools full – but not on promoting diverse enrollments. School administrators presented Tuesday the first draft of a plan for the 2015-16 school year that they say focuses primarily on filling four new schools, reducing crowding at existing schools, cleaning up inefficient bus routes and minimizing the number of families with children on different calendars. The plan would mostly affect Apex, North Raleigh and Wake Forest and would transfer a relatively small percentage of Wake’s 153,000 students. The list of priorities used to develop the new plan only includes “minor adjustments” to balance student achievement levels at individual schools to keep them from having too many students from low-income families, where students tend to post lower scores. Administrators say they’re relying on providing more programs and resources to help schools with low test scores instead of relying on assignment to promote diversity – one of the things that Wake has been known for since the 1980s. “The primary tool that we’re using as a district to address student achievement in schools is not through assignment but through the multiple factors and the work that we do intentionally at those schools,” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance. Moore said administrators did not have data yet on how the draft plan would affect the number of high-poverty or racially isolated schools in the district. The plan will be reviewed by the public and school board for comment and potential changes. A second draft will be presented in October with the final draft going to the school board in November. Administrators hope the board will approve a plan in December.

Panel's report: Close three NP schools and rebuild
-- JESSICA BOISCLAIR, The Valley Breeze

Rhode Island: August 19, 2014 -- NORTH PROVIDENCE - After sifting through more than a dozen options for the North Providence school district's facilities overhaul, town and school officials finally narrowed it down to one master plan, which would ultimately close the three circa-1930 elementary schools. Members of the North Providence Facilities Committee met with Luis Torrado of Torrado Architects last Thursday, where he presented his final proposal for Phase 1 of the master plan. This $76.3 million master plan would go before the voters in Mid-June and if approved, the town would go out to bond. Through housing aid, Business Manager John McNamee said the district would be reimbursed 58 percent, leaving the town to foot a $49 million bill, after accumulating an additional $43 million in interest over 10 years. Torrado said that all three of the elementary schools, James L. McGuire, Stephen Olney and Marieville, were identified early on as needing to be replaced. "We looked at the ability to find land you could build new buildings on and were not successful in that because there is no land," he told the committee. "So we focused on, out of those three schools, which property can we build new schools on?" Torrado designed a plan to rebuild both Olney and McGuire in two stages. Phase 1A, he said, would include the rebuilding of the schools with enough space to accommodate the students, while keeping the existing buildings in tact. During Phase 1B, the students would be relocated to the new facilities and the construction crew would tear down the old building. Committee member William Floriani questioned Torrado about the traffic and congestion that might occur at the elementary schools during construction.

Pay cuts, school closures, steeper student losses on way, DPS plan shows
-- Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press

Michigan: August 19, 2014 -- Over the next few years, Detroit Public Schools will have fewer students and larger annual deficits than what officials projected just four months ago, according to new documents filed with the state. The 2014-15 school year could bring an additional 10% wage reduction for DPS employees. And while no schools will close this year, 24 schools will be shuttered beginning in 2015-16. The district gave an updated budget and deficit-elimination plan to the Michigan Department of Education last week, after the state said it wasn’t able to approve a version submitted in April. The updated version contains new details about ways DPS is trying to eliminate its multimillion-dollar deficit. Among the challenges DPS officials face: The budget they crafted earlier this year included $14.8 million in expected revenues from a county-wide school millage that voters turned down Aug. 5. District spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said in an e-mail that the newplan offers the most conservative projections and estimates available. “Now it’s our job to continue to offer the best programs possible, delivered by the most qualified educators to help retain and attract students in order to beat these projections,” she wrote. The district will close 24 schools starting in the 2015-16 school year through 2019, according to the documents. The plan did not say which buildings would close, and a task force will be formed to study the district’s supply of excess seats.

Courtney wants money to earthquake-proof schools
-- JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press,

Oregon: August 19, 2014 -- Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney on Tuesday called for the state to take on $200 million in debt to help prepare school buildings for a devastating earthquake that scientists say could come at any time. A 2007 analysis of Oregon's school buildings found that more than 1,000 were at a high or very high risk of collapsing in a major quake. "We do have this responsibility to the children to get the schools to the point where they can take this kind of hit," Courtney, a Salem Democrat, said at a news conference at a Salem elementary school. Experts say the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon coast shifts on average every 300 years, causing massive earthquakes on par with the magnitude-9.0 temblor that shook Japan in 2011. The last Cascadia earthquake was in 1700. School construction is generally the responsibility of local school districts. Some have done more than others to retrofit their buildings, often with bonds approved by voters. Courtney said the money would be available to all schools without regard to how much money local taxpayers have committed. Courtney has long advocated improvements in earthquake safety at schools, but fixes often lose out to other priorities in the Legislature. The proposal could face better odds next year, however, as lawmakers look at retrofitting their own offices in the state Capitol. Republicans signaled it won't be an easy slam dunk. They criticized Courtney's move and said school upgrades should take precedence over capital improvements that are estimated to cost at least $250 million. The GOP has targeted Courtney in the November election, but he's the front-runner in a district that favors Democrats.

Richmond Mayor Responds to Public School's Repair Report
-- WRIC Staff, ABC 8 News

Virginia: August 18, 2014 -- Just 15 days before students head back to class, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones is responding to a new report that finds the city's public schools need at least $35 million in repairs. School leaders say major maintenance projects like replacing HVAC systems and crumbling buildings can't wait any longer. "I've got grandmothers calling me begging that their grandchild doesn't get put in a basement because they have asthma and we have mold issues," says School Board member, Kim Gray. "We have sewage issues, we have HVAC and boiler issues that we have to address right now," says Gray. But Mayor Dwight Jones says -- while repairs are needed -- performance, enrollment, graduation and dropout rates also need to be part of the discussion when it comes to improving education. "I agree that we need proper facilities to educate our children, and every maintenance request we have received from richmond public schools has been fully funded," says Mayor Jones. "It's imperative that we undertake the due diligence to ensure that the money we do have and the money that we will seek is invested wisely," says Jones. Earlier this month, the school board got a presentation about what needs to be fixed after administrators spent months inspecting every school and building.

California $4 Billion School-Bond Push in Jeopardy: Muni Credit
-- Alison Vekshin,

California: August 18, 2014 -- California lawmakers are pressing to add a $4.3 billion school-bond measure to a November ballot already crowded with a $7.1 billion proposal to sell debt to ease a crippling drought. The school bill, pending in the senate, would fund a program created in 1998 that’s responsible for building more than 55,000 classrooms, according to Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, a Democrat. While Governor Jerry Brown would have to sign the measure into law to put it on the ballot, his finance office says the most-populous state shouldn’t take on more debt. Investors in the $3.7 trillion municipal market see a potential missed opportunity, given that California’s bond costs have fallen to pre-recession levels as the state enjoys a record surplus and its highest debt rating since 2001. “Borrowing costs are the lowest they’ve been in a decade for the state,” said Michael Johnson, managing partner at Gurtin Fixed Income Management LLC, which oversees $9.3 billion in Solana Beach, California. “If it’s out there, the market is definitely buying it.” California voters have approved about $35 billion in general-obligation bonds since 1998 to build or renovate public-school classrooms. The last was in 2006, for $10.4 billion of general obligations. Those funds have dried up, leaving the state with no new construction funds for the last two years, according to Buchanan’s office. No Position Brown, a 76-year-old Democrat seeking re-election in November, hasn’t taken a position on the school-bond measure, said Evan Westrup, his spokesman. Last week, he signed a bill to place a measure on the November ballot asking voters to approve bonds for water projects as the state grapples with a third year of drought. The governor has made reducing budget costs a centerpiece of his administration since taking office in 2011. A surge in revenue, mostly from capital gains and temporary increases on income and sales taxes, has taken the state from a $25 billion deficit three years ago to a record surplus. Moody’s Investors Service raised California to Aa3 in June, the fourth-highest grade and the highest since 2001.

Safeguarding our facilities: Blount systems address community use of schools in different ways
-- Matthew Stewart, The Daily Times

Tennessee: August 18, 2014 -- At a time in which political and religious organizations are seeking the use of school facilities for after-hours programming, potential liabilities have never been greater. In addition to normal wear and tear, personal injury and property damage, school districts must now consider the risk of potential litigation for denying groups the right to host after-school programs. Knox County Schools is already dealing with this new legal reality. Freedom X, a conservative nonprofit law firm targeting religious freedom issues, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court earlier this month on behalf of John Peach, director of the Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America, against Knox County Schools, Knox County Board of Education, Superintendent Jim McIntyre and another school official. After complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, McIntyre rescinded approval for Peach’s group to use Farragut High School after hours for an April event centered on Islamic or “Sharia” law. Blount County’s three school districts are addressing community use of their facilities in different ways, ranging from Maryville’s “closed” policy to Alcoa’s and Blount County’s more permissive policies. Maryville “Our precedent has been to use our facilities less (than other school districts),” said Maryville Director of Schools Mike Winstead. “We have a lot of older buildings, which are well-maintained. It does make us more cautious about noneducational uses, though. Maryville High School is our largest facility, the one that most people would want to use. However, it’s the community’s flagship, the one we want to protect the most.” In Board Policy 5.7, the school board disfavors the use of school facilities for noneducational uses. However, the policy notes “religious, charitable and other community groups may be granted permission to use school facilities on an event-by-event basis.”

CPS trying to unload dozens of closed schools
-- Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune

Illinois: August 17, 2014 -- More than a year after Chicago Public Schools closed nearly 50 schools for under-enrollment, there has been little progress on finding new uses for most of the now-empty buildings. Just three of the buildings have been opened for bidding to potential developers and buyers. Aldermen, who have been charged to gather community input on preferred use of the buildings, have scheduled meetings on seven other schools. "I think it's moving slow," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. , 27th,, who has six closed buildings in his current and former ward boundaries. "For me to have all of these meetings, my schedule doesn't allow me to do it immediately. It should be (Chicago Public Schools) doing this, but they're asking us to do it because they're trying to be sensitive to the community and the aldermen. That type of sensitivity takes time." CPS is bound by a promise district chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett made not to allow privately run charter schools into any of the buildings. A district official said CPS feels the process to "repurpose" the buildings is moving along at a decent clip, with interest shown in turning the buildings into community centers, affordable housing or social service centers. But there are no plans in the works for 36 buildings, some of which are being vandalized as they sit empty, becoming neighborhood eyesores. The district closed 47 elementary schools and a high school program in the summer of 2013, and two more schools closed this past year. Uses were quickly found for 11 buildings, including one that was kept open because the designated school for its students became overcrowded. In addition to these buildings, the district has yet to find a use for 21 properties from 2012, when it moved to sell 29 buildings and vacant lots from previous school closings.

Building projects lead to financial hole for Butler County schools
-- Bill Vidonic, Trib Live News

Pennsylvania: August 16, 2014 -- A spending spree on school building projects in the last 15 years is catching up to local districts, a nonprofit public policy group says. “School district debt payments are growing a lot faster than classroom spending,” said Nate Benefield, vice president of policy for the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation. A report from the Butler County controller's office says the county's nine school districts, along with Butler County Area Vo-Tech, owed nearly $320 million in debt at the end of June 2013. For many districts, that means annual debt payments in the millions. As startling as those numbers may be now, a change in state law means that districts will have to start listing their benefits and pension liabilities as debts in 2015. “Those other debts will look small by comparison,” Butler Area School Board member Bill Halle said. “It will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” Seneca Valley Area School District has paid off about $6.3 million in principal in the last year, lowering its debt to about $74 million, business manager Lynn A. Burtner said. The district budgeted about $9.3 million in debt payments for the 2014-15 school year. The district had no choice but to expand in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said spokeswoman Linda Andreassi. “We had an enrollment boom, and we had to address it,” Andreassi said of the expansion and renovations. She said that for several consecutive years, enrollment rose 5 percent annually. Very few districts borrow money for operating expenditures, Benefield said. Instead, like Seneca Valley, they borrow for new buildings and improvements to existing ones.

Questions mount about West Contra Costa school district's construction costs
-- Theresa Harrington , Contra Costa Times

California: August 16, 2014 -- RICHMOND -- A federal probe. An overdue audit. Voter revolt. After years of smooth sailing, West Contra Costa Unified's massive $1.6 billion bond program is listing as trustees and staff scramble to get back on course, respond to mounting questions and figure out how to complete more than two dozen large construction projects after residents rejected a multimillion bond measure in June. Their rejection of the district's $270 million Measure H -- the seventh school construction ballot measure in 16 years -- came as a shock to district officials who are now trying to dole out what's left while assessing what to do next. "My concern is that we're not going to have enough growth in assessed valuation to keep to our current commitments and time schedules as we move forward," said trustee Todd Groves. "We've committed to building schools and building them to standards. If we don't get double digit growth in assessed valuation for three or four years, we're going to have to make some decisions to either scale back standards, delay construction -- which may not save money -- or not follow through with all of our commitments." But the loss of new bond money is just one woe for the district as residents, elected officials, members of the independent bond oversight committee and even the federal Securities and Exchange Commission pile on and intensify scrutiny of the program and those who run it, including the board president, bond underwriters and the highly paid construction management and design consultants.

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