State Allocation Board eases labor compliance deadline, funds seismic projects

Following concerns that districts don't understand laws regarding labor compliance, the State Allocation Board has moved to extend timelines for some districts to set up an enforcement system that ensures that their school construction workers are receiving a prevailing wage.

At issue are the guiding regulations that state officials and facility interests argue have changed and thus complicated the School Facility Program. Historically, districts have had to monitor their workers through an internal labor compliance program or by contracting the services out to a third party.

That is still the requirement.

A wrench was thrown in the system last year in the form of SBX 2 9, a law that required districts to pay a fee to the Department of Industrial Relations for a state-provided labor compliance program. But because of legal complications, implementation of the law was suspended in November.

Meanwhile, the districts that planned to contract out to DIR for recently approved projects in between the months of August and November 2010 now must return the monitoring services back to an in-house program or a third party.

On Wednesday, the allocation board voted to extend the timeline to May 2011for those districts to ensure internal or third party labor compliance.

A greater question, however, is how the allocation board will deal with districts that may have planned for DIR oversight after November 2010 and therefore did not set up an independent labor compliance plan. At this week's hearing, board members debated giving those projects a grace period as they did with the previous pool of districts, but did not reach a conclusion.

The board will likely revisit the issue at next month's hearing.

In order to release state construction funding, the Office of Public School Construction requires districts to ensure labor compliance for projects that draw funds from Proposition 55 and Proposition 47. Proposition 1D does not require labor compliance.

In other action this week, the board approved a request from Morongo Unified to move an elementary school replacement project to the front of the state's waiting line for school construction funds.

The project would relocate and replace the Joshua Tree Elementary School, which sits on multiple seismic fault lines.

In order to qualify for a Facility Hardship, which moves projects to the front of the so-called unfunded list, a project must constitute an imminent threat to student health and safety.

In May, the district submitted a Facility Hardship application following findings from structural engineers and the State Architect that the school's proximity to seismic fault lines created a safety hazard.

But the State Architect later clarified that since the school complied with building codes, it therefore didn't pose an immediate threat." As a result, it didn't qualify for Facility Hardship.

The board bucked the finding and granted the district's request.

There is nearly $200 million available for seismic retrofits approved by voters in 2006 that has since sat untouched. Eligibility criteria were written so that only a limited amount of districts could access the funds.

Joshua Tree Elementary, which was constructed in the 1950s, does not qualify for the seismic program, but district representatives said that it didn't matter because the school needed to be relocated.

State-hired engineers are currently helping districts assess whether their sites meet the criteria for the seismic mitigation program, and officials said Wednesday that an update will be available next month.

The board also accelerated funding for Calexico Unified, which sustained damage to Jefferson Elementary during a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked the region last year.

The conduits, lighting, and ductwork that would be fixed with the district's modernization project were not damaged by the earthquake, but the district wanted to fix them both at the same time to improve efficiency.

The district argued that it would be wasteful to repair the ceilings that were damaged by the earthquake now, only to demolish them two years later to make the second round of repairs.

The project bypassed 511 projects on the state's unfunded list. The project, which took a state share of $2.2 million, left that money unavailable for the next district in line under the state's priority funding program. more