Last of the school construction money going out

The board that approves state construction funding for California schools on Wednesday issued the bulk of its remaining cash to 90 districts, effectively ending for now the pool of money set aside to match local contributions.

The $383.8 million awarded by the State Allocation Board was largely the result of an October sale of voter-approved bonds and will help pay for 196 different shovel-ready projects - some brand new school facilities; others upgrades to existing buildings. As a condition of qualifying for the state match, construction on the projects must begin within 90 days.

Our schools play a key role in California's future," Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement following the board's action. "These new funds provide vital assistance to local districts in the construction and rebuilding of schools, creating jobs in the community, and providing better opportunities to students for a successful future."

Bond sales since 2009 have provided the School Facility Program with just under $10 billion, which the SAB has allocated to districts, county offices of education and charter schools with approved construction projects. Most of the money was for new construction and modernization work, with smaller allocations for other programs such as overcrowding relief, seismic mitigation, charter schools and financial hardship.

While there is still minimal remaining bond authority in some of these smaller accounts, a new statewide bond must be approved by voters in order for the state to continue supporting school construction.

SAB member and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan just last week introduced legislation to put a facilities bond on the 2014 ballot.

Already, there is $1.6 billion worth of projects lined up for state funding when money becomes available because districts are allowed to continue requesting state support. As project applications come in, staff at the Office of Public School Construction will review them for completeness and date-stamp them to be placed on what is known as the unfunded list.'

Board members, who for the last year have been preparing for the exhaustion of program funds, did not discuss Wednesday's big allocation, instead approving the award as part of their consent agenda. Chairman Pedro Reyes, Gov. Jerry Brown's representative, did make note, however, that because of limited resources the board's schedule of meeting monthly may change.

"As the money starts to dry out, we may not need to meet monthly," Reyes announced. "I just want to give everyone a heads up - we may go to meeting every other month or quarterly. We'll let you know."

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