Pass or Fail?

More than $21 billion of school construction was completed in 2000 and we have barely scratched the surface. The National Center for Educational Statistics’ Condition of America’s School Facilities: 1999 Report estimates $127 billion is needed for repair or replacement. The National Education Association’s Modernizing Our Schools Report estimates the total funding need for public school modernization to be $321.9 billion -- $268.2 billion for infrastructure and the remaining $53.7 billion for education technologies. Many agree that federal funding is needed to assist schools in their efforts to improve facility condition. The federal funding needed may be a reality in the future, but it is not today.

What we are finding is that the task of improving facility condition is being taken on by the states. New agencies are being established to deal with facility issues. While the funding is welcome, the ability to strike a balance between state money and local control still has its skeptics. SP&M interviewed the directors of three of these programs to see what works and what doesn’t in state-run programs.

Arizona’s School Facilities Board

Before 1998, schools in Arizona were built primarily through bonded indebtedness, their payment generated through property taxes. In the 1994 Supreme Court decision Roosevelt vs. Bishop, the state’s system of school capital finance was declared unconstitutional. The legislature’s response was a plan called Students FIRST. In July of 1998 the School Facilities Board (SFB) was established. The SFB’s first task was to establish building adequacy guidelines. Arizona chose to develop “functional guidelines,” which, written in layperson’s terms, give them a wide berth for interpretation.

With the guidelines and a centralized funding system in place, work began on the three major components: deficiencies correction, building renewal and new school facilities. A facility assessment was performed on every building in the state in order to establish a basis for deficiency correction. The deficiency funds allocated are to cover everything from adequate square footage to quality. The scheduled completion date is June 30, 2003. Other funds allocated include building renewal funds, which can be used for major renovations and repairs, upgrades to building systems and infrastructure costs. The new facilities fund is for the purpose of constructing new schools that meet the minimum adequacy guidelines.

Time being a factor, the SFB has moved ahead at great speed. All deficiency correction assessments have been completed, totaling nearly $750 million on more than 6,000 projects. Authorizations have gone out to districts to begin design and engineering on more than $507 million of these projects. An additional $120 million in building renewal funds has also been made available, and state funds are being stretched even farther, with $61 million in property donations being made by developers who recognize the value of local public schools within their project. This has all been accomplished through the aggressive efforts of both district administrators and SFB staff.

Dr. Philip E. Geiger is executive director of the Arizona SFB. When asked why the SFB program works, he offered the following perspective: “A school district’s main focus is educating students. The SFB’s focus is on getting the job done as it relates to facilities; moving it out of local politics and having the ability to provide as much funding as is needed.” The key to the SBA’s success lies in a few basic premises: Policy must be generated by those with knowledge in the field; the processes must be fair, reasonable and participatory; staff must not only be technical, but communicative; the director must be visible and accessible to all; and customer care is key. Confidence in the process has been gained through the relationships established with the districts. According to Geiger, “It has to be right for kids, right for schools, right for facilities and right for taxpayers.” So far it has been. With 6,000 assessments under their belt, there have been no appeals.

Ohio’s School Facilities Commission

In May of 1997, Senate Bill 102 created the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC). The OSFC has been charged with oversight of the design and funding of Ohio’s schools. Currently the OSFC is spending approximately $1.25 million a day on school facilities. But before starting to spend, the OSFC did its homework. The Ohio School Design Manual was developed as a comprehensive set of guidelines to be used in the design and construction of OSFC-funded buildings. The guidelines also established the basis for the assignment of a square-foot-per-child standard to be used in the allocation of state funds. Ohio’s funding formula is based on a district’s property wealth, high-poverty districts receiving 90 percent funding, the average being 81 percent.

As in most state-run programs, the greatest challenge for the OSFC was overcoming the local districts’ feelings on loss of control. The OSFC has learned a few lessons along the way. In its first attempt at master planning, plans were prepared by the OSFC and given to the district. This has changed. The OSFC now works with each district and their architects in order to learn the tangibles, as well as the intangibles, becoming a true partner in the process.

The OSFC also partners with districts by providing evaluations of current facilities and future needs, bond issue campaign assistance and oversight and technical assistance during design and construction phases. Twenty-three new buildings have been completed. That number will more than double by year-end. Spending during 2001 is expected to reach $450-$500 million.

Confidence in the program has grown, and so has local support, with 94 percent of the local-share levies succeeding. The state has also earmarked monies from the state’s tobacco settlement for schools, and additional funding has been made available through Governor Taft’s “Rebuild Ohio” program, committing over $10 billion in state funds to be spent over the next 12 years.

Randall Fischer, AIA, is executive director, and has been in that position since the OSFC was formed. When asked what he would say to others considering a state-run program, he offered the following advice: “Just giving school districts the funds and saying, ‘Here, go do this,’ would be not be effective. District administrators are busy running their schools. On the other hand, state-run programs cannot be dictatorial or controlling. Each district is different from the next, and needs the ability to build schools that are unique to them. What made our program successful is that we listened. We did not claim to have all of the answers. We relied upon the school districts and the professionals, learning the tangibles, as well as the intangibles.”

West Virginia’s School Building Authority

West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton, in a speech to the National Coalition on Education Facilities, reported that the state’s schools were rundown and obsolete, and that its citizens were not proud of their schools and therefore did not value learning. He also believed that if people were proud of their schools and had a vested interest in them, they would value learning, thereby improving their chances to become a skilled workforce and competitive in the new economy.

Fortunately for the citizens of West Virginia, Caperton did more than make a speech. He allocated the necessary funds. Created in 1988 by the West Virginia Legislature and Governor Gaston Caperton, the School Building Authority (SBA) was authorized to “facilitate and provide state funds for the construction and maintenance of school facilities….”

In West Virginia, funds are distributed based on “need,” ensuring student rather than taxpayer equity. All districts are required to submit a 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facility Plan (CEFP) and update the plan annually. Each county’s planning team must consist of an architect, a Recognized Educational Facility Planner (REFP) and citizens who represent the community. Community ownership and support for the plan are the major goals. Once the CEFP is submitted and approved, it becomes the working facility planning document. Capital improvement projects funded by the SBA come from the prioritized list developed as part of the district’s CEFP process. In addition, districts may develop a 10-year Major Improvement Plan (MIP), since maintenance projects are not capital improvements and therefore are not covered in the CEFP unless part of a major improvement plan.

Dr. Clancy Williams came on board in 1990 as the program’s first employee. He has been instrumental in the development of the program and the hiring of staff to implement it. According to Williams, “The state has put in more than $700 million, and local districts have contributed $650 million, for a total construction program of $998 million since inception of the Authority in 1990. Currently, the state dedicates $93 million per year to the construction program, $70 million of which will become pay-as-you-go in 2004. Our distribution this year will be $47 million.” Williams was named as the 1998 Planner of the Year by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International for his efforts to provide West Virginia’s students with a better place in which to learn.

Some Have Experience, Some Are Just Beginning

Relative “old timers” in state-run programs include California and Maryland. Maryland’s Public School Construction Program has been in existence for 30 years, paying out more than $3.5 billion for school construction. California’s current annual need includes $1.94 billion for new construction, $1.4 billion for modernization, and $.47 billion for deferred maintenance. Funding for California schools is provided in part by California’s State Allocation Board. A newcomer to state-run programs is New Jersey. In July of 2000, New Jersey launched its School Construction Initiative (NJSCI). The NJSCI anticipates expenditures of approximately $12 billion through the next ten years.

There is no question that states are taking the lead in addressing the problem of aging, overcrowded and obsolete facilities. Many states have already implemented effective strategies, and many more are examining the possibilities. State legislatures are making the right decision for the right reasons, ensuring that their students have an adequate and safe place in which to learn.

Deborah P. Moore is Editorial Director of School Planning & Management and College Planning & Management.