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


Many Pennsylvania school districts wait for millions in state reimbursements
-- Mary Niederberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvania: July 24, 2014 -- It appears the 200 school districts across the state, including 13 from Allegheny County, that are awaiting millions of dollars in state reimbursements for construction projects will continue to wait. The reason: Legislators included only a modest increase to the reimbursement fund of the PlanCon program that since 1973 has provided partial reimbursements to districts for new construction or renovation of buildings. The $10 million increase to the $296 million annual PlanCon fund for distribution is not expected to have much effect on the backlog of payments that has existed for several years, given that Allegheny County districts alone are owed more than $18 million. Along with providing the increase, the new state budget signed by the governor on July 10 ends the October 2012 moratorium on districts‘‍ ability to apply for PlanCon reimbursements, a moratorium set in place because of the backlog of payments. But the ending of the moratorium largely means that more districts can get in line for reimbursement that may be years away. An alphabet soup PlanCon is an acronym for the Planning and Construction Workbook of the state education department. The state has provided reimbursement for school construction since the 1950s, but the process as it is known today has been in effect since 1973. The passage of Act 34 at that time created a complicated 11-step process with parts A through K required for partial reimbursement for school construction and renovation costs. The process is voluntary but mandatory for districts that want state reimbursement. A project is eligible for reimbursement upon its approval of part G but does not get funded until approval of a PlanCon Part H application. The clog in the pipeline exists after approval of part G. Of the 338 projects currently in the PlanCon pipeline, 200 have been approved through Part G. “Everybody who is waiting is waiting for approval of H and [the state Education Department doesn’‍t] want to approve it, because if they approve it then they have to pay,” said Richard Liberto, business manager of the Penn Hills School District, which is owed $4 million in reimbursement on its $64 million high school project. The district is also currently finishing a new $40 million elementary school project that is also in the pipeline for reimbursement.


School construction work added 95,000 jobs, report says
-- Jennifer Fenn Lefferts, Boston Globe

Massachusetts: July 24, 2014 -- In the 10 years since the Massachusetts School Building Authority was created, the agency has distributed $10.5 billion to help build and renovate hundreds of schools to improve the quality of education around the state, but the funding also has played a significant role in creating jobs and generating tax revenue, a new report shows. The economic impact was particularly meaningful during the recent downturn, which hit the construction industry hard, according to the report, written by Alan Clayton-Matthews and Barry Bluestone of the Northeastern University Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Planning. The building authority commissioned the report to find out what kind of impact its investments have had on the state’s economy. “Taxpayers have a right, when they spend money, particularly $10.5 billion, to say how are you doing, what happened, what are your results,’’ said state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who serves as the chairman of the authority’s board of directors. “People need to be reassured that we are on the right track for how we are doing the taxpayers’ business. We have schools, roofs, and boilers, but in addition, it’s about jobs, taxes, revenues, and economic impact.’’ The report, released last month, suggests that between fiscal year 2005 and the year that ended June 30, the spending by the authority led to the creation of nearly 95,000 jobs and generated $4.5 billion in total employment earnings. The boost to the economy also led to approximately $411.9 million in additional state revenues — $296.3 million in personal income taxes, $67.1 million in sales taxes, and $48.5 million in business taxes — the report says. The report also states that the estimates pertain only to the state funds allocated to cities and towns for their school construction projects, and do not include the local funding contributed by each community for the construction, renovation, and repair work. “That much of this investment occurred while the economy was suffering the effects of the Great Recession suggests that MSBA activity played a significant role in boosting what otherwise would have been even more dire economic straits, putting unemployed workers to work, increasing consumer spending power, and augmenting the state treasury,’’ the report states.


Gov. Jerry Brown resists unzipping school construction wallet
-- George Skelton, LA Times

California: July 23, 2014 -- Who can be against building, modernizing or repairing schools? It's good for children and creates jobs. It improves learning and stimulates the economy. It's like motherhood and apple pie. Who dares dump on that? Well, behind closed doors in the Capitol, a debt-dumping governor, for one. There's a school construction bond bill that has sailed through the Assembly and five committees with 122 "yes" votes — Democrat and Republican — and not a single "no." But its chances of passing the Senate and making it to the November state ballot seem slim. Although Gov. Jerry Brown has taken no position publicly, he has strongly signaled his resistance privately. And that's being reflected among the Democratic Senate leadership. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is focused on trying to negotiate a water bond, regarding that as a much higher political and policy priority. Steinberg is termed out this year and feels personally responsible for crafting a new water bond. He negotiated the last one in 2009, a pork-laden, $11.1-billion stinker that has twice been pulled off the ballot for fear of voter revulsion. Brown — casting himself as a debt-fighting fiscal conservative — never wanted even a water bond on the ballot as he ran for reelection to a fourth term. But the drought has forced him to accept at least a smaller version of what the Legislature had been proposing. Senate Democrats were pushing $10.5 billion. Brown said he'd accept $6 billion. So figure on maybe $8 billion. Let's not forget, of course, that the taxpayers' cost of a bond is actually twice the sticker price when you add in interest over 30 years. The state's outstanding general obligation bond debt is $76 billion, according to the governor's office. That currently amounts to a $5.2-billion annual hit on the general fund. Plus, there's $25 billion in bond borrowing that has been authorized but not used. Additionally, there's a $27-billion "wall of debt" that includes money owed to local governments, schools and special funds.


Rockford Public Schools 10 Year Plan: Close 8, Build 2, Consolidate
-- SUSAN STEPHENS, Northern Public Radio

Illinois: July 23, 2014 -- A plan to close eight Rockford elementary schools and build two new ones is on its way to a vote by the school board. Last night, the school district held the last of 39 public meetings about the proposal. Administrators settled on the plan after collecting more than one-thousand comments from the public. It’s a combination of the three proposals first presented in May. Rockford School superintendent Ehren Jarrett says he’s proud of the transparent process: “I think the fact that we DID make some significant changes shows that number one, we don’t have all the answers, or believe we do, and we really value community input when it comes to making a 250-million dollar decision." Much of that funding comes from a referendum approved in 2012. But that was only supposed to pay for school improvements, NOT new buildings. So the district is expected to go back to voters this fall for permission to build two new schools. The Rockford School Board will vote on the entire proposal at its August 12th meeting.


Lawsuit Over Closure Of D.C. Schools Dismissed By Federal Judge
-- Matt Cohen , dcist

District of Columbia: July 22, 2014 -- A federal judge has dismissed the remaining claims of a lawsuit filed against D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson over the closure of 15 D.C. schools. When Henderson announced in January of 2013 that 15 public schools would close by the end of the 2014 school year, activists with Empower D.C.—a social change community organization—filed a lawsuit to stop the school closures, claiming that they were discriminatory, disproportionately affecting minority students and students from low-income families. According to the Post, black students accounted for 93 percent of the students affected in the closures. Empower D.C. also argued that the decision for the school closures—all of which saw under-enrollment, according to Henderson— was to free up the buildings for new charter schools and to pay bonuses for teachers, a disproportionate number of which, the plaintiffs argued, work in schools that have a majority white student enrollment. Although U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg originally dismissed most of their lawsuit in October, he let parts of the lawsuit—a civil-rights claim that the closure of schools by Henderson was racially motivated—move forward. However, in an opinion released on Friday, Boasberg dismissed the rest of the lawsuit, writing that "although Plaintiffs dislike charter schools, performance pay, and the increasing number of D.C. school closures, there is simply no real evidence that these policies are discriminatory." He added in his 29-page opinion that "no one is denying that the racial disparities in the recent closings are striking. In the closed schools, after all, a startling 93 percent of students were black and fewer than 0.2 percent (six students) were white. But here, the disparity appears to be caused by the location of the under-enrolled schools, not by intentional discrimination." But Empower D.C. says they're going to appeal the decision. "The plaintiffs in this case would be happy for their schools to reopen, though it would be too late for their children whose education was already interrupted," the group writes on their Facebook page. "They want the schools to be restored for other children, though, and for discrimination in D.C. Public Schools to stop."