School construction money running dry, legislative revisions considered

The State Allocation Board, charged with overseeing school construction projects, has been wresting for months over the fate of the School Facility Program, knowing that money in its various funds - derived from statewide, voter-approved bonds - will run out this year.In just the first three months of the year, the Office of Public School Construction has received applications for new school facility projects totaling $60.2 million beyond what is available - and it's only March.With virtually no interest in taking a bond measure to the voters this year, Capitol sources said Tuesday that lawmakers are considering changes to the School Facility Program itself.A shift in how the projects are funded - i.e., districts could be asked to pay more than the half of project costs they've traditionally paid - has been floated as one possible change but no one is saying just yet what the details of any proposal might be.We're in a very different era now than we've ever been before," said Bill Savidge, OPSC's assistant executive officer. "It's pretty clear it will be a couple of years before we have a bond, and there's a lot of discussion [at the Capitol] regarding ways we can change the program."A movement to refill program coffers by placing a school construction bond on this November's ballot never gained a full head of steam before being sidelined in favor of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax proposal to fund educational programs.While one school advocacy group hasn't yet given up hope for a 2012 bond proposal, a bill that would have created one quietly died in January after it was targeted for defeat by the Brown administration and legislative leaders.Still, said Ian Padilla, a legislative advocate for California's Coalition for Adequate School Housing, "CASH is working on trying to get the governor and legislative leaders to see the value in it in terms of not only meeting school facilities needs but in terms of creating jobs that will stimulate the economy even further."In the meantime, the State Allocation Board - which holds its monthly meeting today - continues to accept district applications for a variety of facilities projects.The program's once-largest fund - new construction - has just $112 million remaining, most of which has been apportioned to board-approved projects. The most recent figures available from February, show this fund was projected to be depleted as early as April, depending upon whether all the districts with approved projects come in for their funding allocation.The modernization fund has slightly more bond authority remaining but is projected to run out as early as October.Suggestions to transfer money from some of the smaller School Facility funds - critically overcrowded schools and the overcrowding relief grant - have met with resistance from some district advocates and legislators, who argue that the funds were created for certain purposes by voters and they are needed for those specific types of projects.The State Allocation Board, had in a previous session directed staff to maintain a list of districts submitting project applications so that when funds do become available, those projects can be processed in the order they were received.That policy is under scrutiny as well since some say such a list could be viewed as a promise to fund,' creating a liability issue for the state." more