Joint legislative panel backs facility bond measure

Joint legislative panel backs facility bond measure

(Calif.) In a major boost to supporters of a $9 billion school construction bond measure, key lawmakers said Wednesday that they back the longstanding practice of debt financing to support building facilities – costs that otherwise would be  put on the back of a rebounding housing industry.

That said, members of a joint legislative panel on school facility financing signaled that if the bond passes in November, they would likely make changes to the way the funds are distributed to schools.

“Personally, I have and continue to believe that the state has a role in funding school facilities,” said Patrick O’Donnell, chair of the Assembly’s Education committee. “I also believe that general obligation bonds are an appropriate source of funding for school facilities across California.

“And, just as a note from a parent and teacher, [I believe] an investment in our schools is an investment in our kids and an investment in the future of California’s educational system and its economy,” he said.

The hearing comes less than a month after a large contingent of administrators, employees and families from districts in Dublin and Fremont came to Sacramento to appeal for relief to alleviate their severely overcrowded schools. They called on the State Allocation Board, which oversees California’s school construction funding, to declare the program out of money, allowing the districts to trigger fees on new home construction equal to 100 percent of the building costs.

In the meantime, legislative efforts the past few years to replenish the School Facility Program’s various funding pots by floating a new bond measure have been shut down by Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor, who guided the state through one of the worst recessions in decades, has continually called for restraint in his budget proposals – including not adding to the state’s debt.

The $9 billion bond, placed on the November ballot by a citizen’s coalition of school facilities and home building advocates, would cost the state about $17.6 billion by the time it’s paid off, adding about $500 million a year to the state’s bond debt service, analyst Dan Kaplan of the Legislative Analyst’s Office told lawmakers.

The measure would direct $7 billion to K-12 school construction, $2 billion for community college facilities and $1 billion for charter schools and career technical education facilities.

If approved, the bond funds would breathe life back into the School Facilities Program, created in 1998 as a partnership between the state, local school districts and members of the building industry. Legislators at Wednesday’s hearing said they agree with the governor that the longstanding program needs to be simplified and restructured to benefit more schools.

“As a member of the State Allocation Board, I have been frustrated by the program that is overly complex and bureaucratic,” said Carol Liu, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “I, too, believe that the state has an important role in meeting our school facilities needs but I also believe that the state and the school facilities community have a responsibility to ensure the efficient and effective use of public resources.”

If the bond measure fails, the state would have no money to support school construction and, under California law, districts would be able to charge home developers for the costs of building and upgrading facilities – something no one wants to see since it could negatively impact economic and job growth.

Since 1998, the School Facilities Program has provided state funding of $35.4 billion through general obligation bonds approved by voters. School districts in that time have provided $75.2 billion from local school bonds, and developer fees have accounted for $9.4 billion.

The last statewide school facilities bond was approved in 2006. more