Delayed construction projects getting one last shot at state matching funds

Attempting to get the last remaining school construction dollars to those districts with shovel-ready projects, state officials on Wednesday agreed to program changes allowing some building plans to be skipped over.

About $413 million was set aside in recent months - in some cases perhaps years - to support construction of about 165 school projects.

But for reasons unknown to the state, districts behind those projects have not moved forward on their approved plans and claimed their state matching funds.

Meanwhile, other districts and local educational agencies ready to build but further down the state's priority list have been put on hold while waiting for an appropriation.

The State Allocation Board moved Wednesday to change regulations allowing it to bypass LEAs still considering options and fund those districts that are truly ready to build. The action gives districts at the top of the list one more chance to claim their funds before being bypassed.

I can see where we're on a collision course here that's going to happen pretty darn soon if we continue to hold this money when other schools are going to be coming in looking for money to build," Assemblywoman and SAB member Joan Buchanan said.

"Whatever the reason, we're holding money for them where they're not moving forward," she continued, "so I do think we're rapidly approaching that time where we have to ask ourselves, are we going to continue to hold or are we going to make sure the money gets to projects that are ready to go forward?' "

With voter-approved bond authority in the state's School Facility Program rapidly dwindling to zero, SAB members for months have been struggling with stretching the few remaining funds to meet as many needs as possible.

And, with no hope of new funds coming into the program until a new statewide facilities bond is passed, districts are getting the message that this could be their last shot at receiving state money for some time.

The message on Wednesday for those districts who haven't come forward to claim the funds set aside for them was made clear - do it in the next funding round or go to the back of the line.

Of the 165 projects on what the state is calling the non-participation in priority funding' list, only 90 totaling $269.2 million are likely to be affected by the new regulations.

Those projects are authorized under either the program's new construction or modernization funds, the two largest and most in-demand programs.

The SAB decided against making changes to programs for projects in career technical education, charter schools or overcrowding relief- much smaller pools of money designated specifically for those types of projects.

Since the new regulations aren't likely to be adopted before January, districts on the non-participation in priority funding list are on notice that they'll have a shot at one more funding cycle, likely one opening in late January and closing in March.