State preparing to fund new round of school construction projects

State officials are preparing to fund another round of shovel-ready school construction projects with $619.5 million received from last month's sale of general obligation bonds.

The Office of Public School Construction is working with the state treasurer to divide the money among the various funds within the School Facility Program, a department spokesman said Wednesday.

The money comes from the state's April sale of $1.3 billion in general obligation bonds.

OPSC and the State Allocation Board, which administer the facilities program, have been scrambling in recent months to stretch the last remaining dollars in its various funds, some of which are virtually exhausted.

The SAB had been scheduled to discuss various options it has for meeting districts' funding needs Wednesday, but the meeting was postponed to June 27 for lack of a voting quorum.

At that meeting, it is expected staff will present the list of some 236 shovel-ready projects awaiting funding that could receive an apportionment from the new cash. The state's share of these projects totals $702.9 million.

Whether specific projects receive a funding apportionment, however, depends upon how much of the bond proceeds are allocated to the category under which the project qualifies, either new construction, modernization, overcrowding relief, career technical education, etc.

Created in 1998 and funded since then with $35 billion from voter-approved bonds, the School Facilities Program is broken into several different funding mechanisms - based on how much spending authority was approved with each bond. Two of the program's larger funds are for new construction and modernization projects. Smaller funds in the program pay for overcrowding relief, charter schools and career technical education facilities.

SAB members, school districts and several education groups repeatedly have lobbied - unsuccessfully thus far - Gov. Jerry Brown's office and the Legislature to place a statewide school facilities bond measure on the November 2012 ballot to refund the School Facilities Program. That plan has been pushed back to 2014 in favor of Brown's tax measure to bring cash to the schools for educational programs and operations.

Following an October 2011 bond sale, the SAB paid out $924 million in December to fund 377 school projects. Under terms of the program, once funded these projects must begin construction within 90 days.

As part of the School Facilities Program structure, districts pay roughly half the cost of their projects - usually using local bond money - and the state contributes the other half using voter-approved, statewide bond funds.

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