Schools, builders lobby treasurer to sell school bonds

School facilities representatives are lobbying the state treasurer and the Brown administration to include $1.6 billionin school construction bonds at a sale planned for sometime this fall.

Twenty education and labor groups led by the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, the California Teachers Association and the State Building and Construction Trades Council sent a letter to Treasurer Bill Lockyer this week asking him to sell bonds to fund 650 projects.

We urge you to sell school bonds as soon as possible to give the financial catalyst that shovel-ready school projects will provide for California's struggling economy," advocates said in the letter.

The projects identified for funding comprise the state's unfunded approval' list, meaning their applications have been processed, environmental reviews completed, and they are considered ready to build following an apportionment of state funding.

Schools must compete for bond proceeds with other state infrastructure projects. Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance decides which areas to fund after polling numerous state departments.

According to officials in the treasurer's office, the upcoming fall bond sale is expected to yield less than $1.6 billion in total proceeds, and there is virtually no chance that they would all be directed at school construction.

"If you look at recent years, you find that schools have done pretty well relative to other bond programs. They should be a high priority, but we have a lot of pressing needs across the infrastructure spectrum," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer.

According to the treasurer, the Office of Public School Construction, the agency that releases facility funding, has received $6.8 billion or 22 percent of all general obligation bonds sold by the state since 2009 -more than any other individual state department.

Nevertheless, school funding applications continue to pile up.

Representatives from C.A.S.H. explained that the lobbying effort is part of a greater strategy to draw down state construction coffers in order to demonstrate the need for the public to authorize new statewide bonds.

"School districts do have projects and can make those projects shovel-ready quickly. We believe that will provide the justification - as more school districts apply for more funds - for a 2012 bond," said David Walrath, a consultant for C.A.S.H.

According to the Office of Public School Construction, about $4 billion in bonds remain in the School Facility Program.

The bonds were authorized through four separate statewide propositions beginning in 1998.The biggest account, Proposition 1D, contains $1.35 billion in modernization bonds and $32.5 million in new school construction bonds. There are also smaller accounts earmarked for specialized construction such as seismic upgrading and replacing portable classrooms.

These sums represent the last dollars of a giant investment California has made in school construction. Since 1998, voters have approved $15.95 billion in new construction bonds and $10.9 billion in modernization bonds.

Those buildings need to be maintained, and the continued selling and authorizing of state bonds is a way to protect that investment, said Walrath.

Among the groups supporting the school bond sale are the California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators, the California Charter Schools Association, and California Building Industry Association, among others.

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