SAB makes gains on facility grant adjustments and earthquake retrofit money

The State Allocation Board delayed action Wednesday on two items pertaining to adjusting funding formulas so districts can access money for school construction projects.

At their monthly meeting, the board decided to wait for further information from the Office of Public School Construction before acting on a funding methodology for new and modernized projects becomes available.

The board also considered expanding the eligibility provisions on what qualifies a school for earthquake retrofit money so new eligibility criteria can be discussed and possibly voted on at the next meeting.

There is currently $199.5 million available in voter-approved Prop 1D bonds to make school facilities earthquake-safe.

The money has sat untouched since 2006 because the criteria to qualify schools for the funds was made so narrow that so far only one school has accessed the money.

Twenty-five districts, however, are believed to fit the existing criteria.

There is something fundamentally flawed here, said board member Kathleen Moore. We know the districts and we dont know why they arent coming forward.

Open the door wider, she added. Make a little competition.

In an attempt to open the door wider, the SAB has explored the ways in which they can lower the specifications to let more schools qualify. There is a concern among board members, however, that opening eligibility too much would qualify far more schools than the current bonding authority can accommodate.

In an attempt to modify the criteria so that only the most vulnerable schools are added to the seismic mitigation program, the Division of the State Architect put forth two solutions: expand the list of building types believed to be insufficient in an earthquake, and, or, lower the allowable degree to which the ground is expected to shake during an earthquake. That number is known as the ground-shake intensity factor (GSI) and has been set 1.7g.

The board moved Wednesday to expand the types of building materials into a list that can be discussed at the next meeting. At some point, the board will open eligibility by bringing in more building types, lowering the GSI factor, or doing a combination of the two.

In the item related to adjusting school construction grant methodology, the SAB urged board staff and the OPSC to examine the different types of data needed to determine the adequacy of new construction grants.

A new methodology is needed to help districts receive the 50 percent in state matching funds for new and upgraded school construction projects.

Up until 1998, the formula for determining state matching funds was based on square footage. But legislative changes switched the methodology to a complex formula involving ADA. At the time, this was believed to help simplify the cumbersome construction apportionment process.

A 2006 bill by former state Senate Pro tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, allowed the SAB to increase or decrease the per-unhoused-pupil grant eligibility as necessary for inflation. Increases were capped at 6 percent.

Districts and school construction officials have concluded that the current methodology is not sufficient, as districts believe they receive less than they should be allocated.

Since April, school districts and the OPSC have debated on what kind of data is needed to reform the methodology. A consensus has not yet been reached.

At Wednesdays board meeting, the SAB moved to let board staff and the OPSC analyze data collected from 600 school construction projects and present their findings at the next meeting.