News items come from the U.S. Department of Educations's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).
School leaders decry any delay in spending state bond money
HAROLD PIERCE, Bakersfield.com
January 13, 2017
-- The governor's call this week to delay spending of Proposition 51 state school bond funding until rules for spending it are more equitable to small districts is irking local school leaders in growing districts that desperately need the money.
Gov. Jerry Brown has been critical of Proposition 51, the $9 billion school construction bond voters approved in November, calling it “the developers bond” and something legislators should have drafted instead of special interests.
He’s now proposing halting the sale of those bonds in his proposed budget until the Legislature rolls out better auditing systems and ensures the program doesn’t perpetuate a “first-come, first-served” approach that benefits resource-rich districts.
The reform process could take as long as 18 months.
“We continue to have a commitment to the taxpayers to make sure that every dollar that goes out through that program is accounted for appropriately,” said Michael Cohen, director of the state Department of Finance, during a Tuesday news conference.
Brown's reform proposal comes just four months after a Department of Finance audit revealed a lack of financial oversight in bond spending and that almost $200 million had been used statewide for ineligible purchases including trucks, golf carts, iPads and cleaning supplies rather than construction.
Behind sale of closed schools, a legacy of segregation
Kalyn Belsha , The Chicago Reporter
January 13, 2017
-- Key Elementary School, a sandy-colored brick building on a tree-lined street on Chicago’s West Side, sits empty now. Several windows near its entrance are boarded up, giving the school’s façade the look of a smile that is missing front teeth. The school is in a busy, historic section of the Austin neighborhood near a stately town hall inspired by the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed Key and 49 more public schools—the most at one time in any school district in the nation—in an attempt to save money by shuttering schools with low enrollment. About 11,000 students, or 3 percent of the district, were forced to change schools.
Emanuel said residents would have a say in turning the former schools into facilities that would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods. Yet four years later, two-thirds of the buildings are still vacant. There are no common standards for community involvement in determining their reuse. And aldermen, who until recently oversaw the process, have not held public meetings to discuss the future of about half of the schools, including Key.
In response to a widely criticized and failing reuse plan, Chicago Public Schools put 28 vacant schools that were shuttered in 2013 on the market this week, taking decision-making about their future out of aldermen’s hands. The announcement came months after The Chicago Reporter began questioning CPS officials about the status of the repurposing.
District spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement that the decision to expedite the sales was made to “accelerate the reuse and revitalization of former school sites and help spur new value from properties throughout the city.” School officials hope a mass sale will increase the number of offers, as the approach has in other cities.
Building Boom: Towns, school districts spending millions on new or improved facilities
Jake Flannick, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
January 13, 2017
-- Around the suburbs, numerous municipalities and school districts are planning, building or have recently completed large-scale construction and renovation projects, issuing bonds or tapping reserve funds to address pressing needs.
In general, the activity is being driven largely by aging infrastructure, not growth, said Orlie Prince, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service. Its credit rating agency rates the financial condition of a number of municipalities and school districts throughout Allegheny County.
Over the past couple of years, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported on a flurry of capital projects big and small that have been completed or are underway, being planned or under consideration.
Some municipalities and school districts are paying for the projects out of their own pockets, tapping cash reserves.
Others are borrowing money amid lower interest rates, which have proved “favorable” for issuing bonds or refinancing debt, said Charlie Goodwin, managing director and head of public finance for the Bank of New York Mellon. The global corporation serves as the county’s financial adviser.
In Brentwood, officials are considering replacing the nearly century-old borough building with a two-story structure that would contain about 14,000 square feet. It would cost about $5 million, which would come from a general obligation bond, borough manager George Zboyovsky said.
While the existing borough building is much larger, containing more than 35,000 square feet, it once housed a library as well as a number of other services but now is home only to the police department and the borough’s emergency medical services and administrative offices.
More pressing, however, is the condition of the building.
East NY Community Uneasy On Proposed 1,000-Seat School
Sarah Kaufman, Brownsville Patch
January 12, 2017
-- EAST NEW YORK, BROOKLYN — Before there is a consensus on the proposed 1,000-seat school in East New York, issues such as integrating disruptive District 75 special education students are among those that need resolving.
That was one of the takeaways from last night’s first community meeting at PS 13, 557 Pennsylvania Avenue, on the school. City Council Member Rafael Espinal (Cypress Hills, Bushwick, City Line, Oceanhill-Brownsville, East New York) one of the proposal’s strongest advocates, led the meeting with more than a dozen elected officials, community advocates, teachers and parents weighing in on the school.
"The project is part of the East New York Rezoning process. We’ve worked together and advocated to have a brand new school included because of the increased density that will come into the neighborhood and because of the current needs that we have," Espinal said. "Cypress Hill and East New York have historically had issues with overcrowding, but I think this is a great opportunity to get a brand new building into our neighborhood. Our schools are falling apart, some classrooms don’t have air conditioning, some classrooms don’t have heat and those aren’t good conditions for our children or our teachers to work in."
Detroit teachers, school district settle suit over building problems
Ann Zaniewski , Detroit Free Press
January 12, 2017
-- A settlement has been reached between the Detroit's teachers union and the city's school system in a lawsuit over mold, vermin and other problems found in some run-down school buildings.
The agreement calls for a five-member oversight committee to ensure that all building repair requests are handled promptly.
The deal also includes enforcement to compel the district to act on work orders logged by parents and educators, officials said. It requires the district to generate a monthly maintenance report identifying every work order request and its status.
“This agreement brings Detroit closer to the great public schools the Detroit Federation of Teachers has been fighting for,” DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey said in a news release.
Proposal to combine Wyoming school districts lacks support
BOB MOEN Associated Press, Casper Star Tribune
January 12, 2017
-- CHEYENNE — A proposal to slash the number of school districts in Wyoming by more than half to save money doesn't appear to be making the grade in the state Legislature.
Opponents say the idea is politically toxic in the state that values local control of schools.
"We talked about it 15 years ago, and it's an ugly political deal," said state Sen. Hank Coe, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "I mean it's the focal point of a lot of our small, rural communities — the schools are."
Consolidating the state's 48 school districts into 23 — one for each county — is one of the ideas suggested to ease the state's K-12 funding crisis.
The state faces a shortfall of more than $360 million in its annual K-12 budget amid a sharp downturn in fossil fuel production. In addition, billions of dollars in school construction and maintenance funding is drying up amid a halt in federal coal leasing.
Consolidating school districts would save an estimated $7.5 million, mainly by eliminating many high-level district administrators, including superintendents — many of whom earn well over $100,000 a year.
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"We have districts in the state that have barely over a 100 students, but they have a superintendent for that district, a business manager for that district and that top level administration has similar costs to the larger districts," said state Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.
Voters approved a $9 billion school bond, but Gov. Jerry Brown is not ready to spend it
CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO, The Sacramento Bee
January 11, 2017
-- Gov. Jerry Brown, who last year registered deep skepticism about the $9 billion statewide school construction bond, is withholding the proceeds until the Legislature approves more rigorous independent auditing procedures.
The Democratic governor exercised his power over the purse by issuing a proposed budget this week that dangles nearly $300 million from bond sales but requires front-end grant agreements spelling out the basic terms, conditions and accountability measures for all K-12 applicants.
Voters in November passed Proposition 51, which was supported by real estate and development companies and top school officials, despite repeated criticism from the governor.
He had disparaged the bond as a “blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities.”
The measure gives the upper hand to wealthy campuses, he said, because “It says, ‘Hey, if you’ve got your application ready, you’ll be first in line,’ and that will favor the more affluent and the more resourced districts.”
Portland Mayor Pledges $70 Million Bond For School Renovation
FRED BEVER , maine public
January 9, 2017
-- Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling outlined an ambitious policy agenda in his annual state of the city address Monday night.
Strimling put the renovation of aging city schools at the top of his agenda, saying that passage of a $60 million-$70 million school bond was his first priority for 2017. But he also floated a raft of other proposals, including doubling the amount of affordable units housing developers must include in their plans, requiring city employers to allow workers to earn paid sick time, re-instituting evening hours at City Hall and establishing a gender-neutral bathroom in the building.
And he called for Portland to follow the example of other Maine municipalities by providing property tax relief for their senior citizens.
“No group is feeling the pinch of a rising tax rate than our senior citizens — our senior citizens on fixed incomes,” he said. “Our elders, many of whom literally built our city, are seeing increases in costs without an accompanying increase in their pocketbooks.”
One-room schools being preserved to save Washington, Greene history
Scott Beveridge, Observer-Reporter
January 8, 2017
-- A former one-room schoolhouse sits alongside a quiet country road in East Finley Township with a tilting bell tower, broken windows and a fragile slate roof.
Once known as the Stony Point Schoolhouse, the frame structure today is used as a hay barn along East Finley Drive, said township secretary Melissa Metz, who was among those who worked to save another beloved one-room school from coal mine subsidence.
“We used to have nine of them,” said Metz, while giving a tour of the restored Jordan Schoolhouse, a jewel in the township park at 700 Templeton Run Road.
“This was the last one that wasn’t falling down. The rest are decrepit or gone.”
There were once hundreds of one-room schools across Washington and Greene counties when every municipality was a school district until the state forced them to merge in the 1960s.
It’s difficult to say how many of them remain standing because a lot of them have been hidden behind building additions and turned into residences or used for other purposes, Mon Valley historian Terry Necciai said.
Dayton's tax proposal could help schools seeking construction bonds
Don Davis & Alex Kerkman, Le Center Leader
January 8, 2017
-- ST. PAUL -- A tweaked 2016 tax proposal that never made it into law is back.
One feature of the bill, popular when it was considered last year, would reduce farmland property taxes that pay for new school buildings by 40 percent. That could help school districts such as Tri-City United and Cleveland, which saw construction bond referendums fail in 2016.
It would also help ag land owners in the St. Peter School District where a $58.6 million referendum passed in 2015.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said on Thursday, Jan. 5, that his plan calls for $230 million in a variety of tax cuts and $70 million in new spending for things such as increased state aid to local governments. It is based on a bill most legislators backed last year, but Dayton opted not to sign after a $101 million mistake was discovered in it.
The Democratic governor claims nearly a half million people would receive tax relief from his plan, announced on the third day of the 2017 legislative session. Republicans, on the other hand, say they will counter with plans to give every Minnesotan a tax break and increase how much is returned to taxpayers.
Dayton and Republicans agree their focus will be on the middle class. Dayton said, for instance, that his plan reinforces the existing working family tax credit and provides tax relief for parents paying for child care.
"This is a tax bill that really is going to benefit Minnesota families," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said Friday.
The $34 million in tax credit would be included to existing levies, not just new ones, Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly said.
"It is a way to reduce their property tax burden while prices remain as terribly low as they are," Smith said, as well as helping get voters to approve new school facilities.
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