Board fixes deferred maintenance issue, funds coming next month

The State Allocation Board moved Wednesday to resolve a complex problem surrounding funding for hardship health and safety maintenance projects, but the release of a larger pool of baseline deferred maintenance money for the rest of the state will have to wait until April.

The board also agreed after weeks of discussion to transfer $700 million in bonding authority from a lightly used construction account to the School Facility Program, New Construction Fund.

Combined, the two actions are expected to help free up funding capability for school construction statewide.

Districts have been waiting eagerly for release of the deferred maintenance funding because it is one of 40 categorical programs that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger granted flexibility spending options as part of the new budget agreement.

Although the State Allocation Board approved a $216 million deferred maintenance baseline apportionment at its February meeting, a few days later staff learned of a troubling conflict between the boards action and the categorical flexibility provision in the state budget agreement.

Under the budget bills flexibility provision, state support for deferred maintenance for the next five years would be based on this years total apportionment hardship money combined with baseline funding.

Thus, a district in line for one of the health and safety hardship grants would expect to have that money added to its regular apportionment through 2013 and give them an unintended windfall.

After a lot of debate over the course of several meetings, the allocation board agreed Wednesday to:

Distribute 93 percent of the deferred maintenance funding proportionately to all participating school districts. They would also provide 7 percent for the hardship projects distributed at 20 percent of the cost of the projects funding them at a rate of 21 percent annually for five years.

The board action in February released 90 percent of the deferred maintenance funding, a total of $216 million.

Rob Cook, head of the Office of Public School Construction, said that the board would need to bring the issue back at its April meeting to rescind their action in February and adjust the apportionment based on the 93 percent allocation agreement thus also increasing the overall payment out to schools above the $216 million figure.

Meanwhile, the Department of Finance also reported to the board that a big portion of the $6.5 billion in tax exempt bonds sold by the state on Wall Street this week will likely help school construction projects that were hit by a temporary freeze on loans for a public works construction pool.

About half of the money raised in the bond sale will be needed to pay back outstanding loans from the pool, but some of the remaining money would likely be available for new projects. more