August 15, 2013
The SAB Program Review Subcommittee met to continue discussing a number of issues that have been addressed at prior hearings, including dwelling units and new construction eligibility, consolidating supplemental grants, and the funding of portable classrooms. While each of these items received in-depth treatment, the subcommittee did not reach consensus on any major policy recommendations. Additionally, they decided to postpone discussion of the definition of a classroom and options for loading and county classrooms to a subsequent hearing.
Members of C.A.S.H. leadership addressed the subcommittee on each of the agenda items during the public comment period, representing the perspective of school districts and the school construction industry. Their overarching theme was to maintain local control and district flexibility.
Dwelling Units and New Construction Eligibility
The subcommittee addressed whether or not new construction eligibility generated by dwelling units should be restricted for use on projects serving the new development. Chair Joan Buchanan has consistently expressed the opinion that eligibility should stay with the development that generates it and not be used elsewhere, such as for a “Use of Grants” request, which allows a district to use pupil grants in excess of project capacity to fund construction of a core facility or to house pupils in a different grade category. Buchanan also specified that infill development should be treated differently than large areas of new development. Kathleen Moore (CDE) continued to urge that flexibility should be maintained to allow districts to determine the best use of their eligibility to meet local needs, and she asked if there is evidence of a real problem with current practice. Moore also clarified that the cohort survival enrollment projection, which is augmented by dwelling units to reflect anticipated growth, is intended to estimate the district-wide enrollment trends and is not meant to characterize specific development. Assembly Member Curt Hagman argued against complex regulation and said that OPSC staff should be empowered to verify maps and make decisions about what dwelling units to count.
OPSC staff presented a range of options for consideration, including restricting use of dwelling units by High School Attendance Area, or by individual or grouped tentative tract maps. The subcommittee did not coalesce around any of these approaches, finding them too restrictive. Heather Steer (Western Placer USD) shared her district’s story; currently they serve 6,500 pupils, increasing to an estimated 25,000 when their development is fully built out. However, their development is in “villages” in different locations across the district that are not large enough to sustain a new high school, therefore local flexibility will be needed to appropriately accommodate the growth. Cathy Allen (Sacramento City USD and immediate past chair of C.A.S.H.) identified some of the unique considerations for her district, including open enrollment and a high proportion of infill. She urged for local flexibility in line with the provisions of the Local Control Funding Formula.
Consolidating Supplemental Grants
The subcommittee discussed options for consolidating supplemental grants into the base grant, with the goal of streamlining and simplifying the SFP funding determination process. The agenda included background information on the incidence of various supplemental grants. OPSC staff identified some possible candidates for consolidation, based on their applicability to most projects:
- Automatic Fire Detection/Fire Alarm (NC & Mod)
- Automatic Sprinkler System (NC)
- Accessibility and Fire Code Requirements (Mod)
Concerns were raised by members of the subcommittee and the public (San Francisco USD) that Accessibility was not a good candidate due to the wide variance of actual costs. For accessibility, the program currently provides the choice of a 3% increase to the base grant or 60% of the estimated costs of the minimum work required to receive DSA final plan approval.
Because supplemental grants are intended to address specific characteristics of a project, Bill Savidge (Assistant Executive Officer, State Allocation Board) suggested another approach may be to fund a cost per-square-foot of construction, rather than the current base grant/supplemental grant model.
Tim White (Oakland Unified School District and C.A.S.H. Board Member) urged for a streamlined approach to project submittals and approvals that allows districts to create comprehensive sites, and he provided background on La Escuelita, a school that will serve as an integrated community site. He also spoke to the ongoing need for modernization funds, especially for urban districts where students should have an equal opportunity to access facilities comparable to those in districts that benefit from new construction funds. Mr. White also spoke about Oakland’s portable replacement program and his district’s method of leveraging state funds with local resources.
Funding of Portable Classrooms
In previous meetings of the subcommittee, members, including chair Assembly Member Buchanan and Assembly Member Hagman, have expressed concern with how new construction and modernization funding is used for portable classrooms. Questions and concerns that have been expressed include whether or not state bond funds should continue to be provided to construct or modernize portable classrooms, whether it is appropriate to provide the same grant amounts for both permanent and portable types of construction, whether the current SFP structure provides an incentive for school districts to use portable classrooms, and how the SFP can assist school districts with portable classrooms already included in a district’s classroom inventory (i.e. how to incentivize the replacement of portables with permanent classrooms if the program is changed to eliminate or reduce funding for portable classrooms). The subcommittee’s discussion revisited these issues, with a particular focus on Assembly Member Buchanan’s primary question of whether or not state bond funds should be used for portable classrooms and how to encourage the construction of permanent buildings.
C.A.S.H Chair Joe Dixon (Santa Ana USD) and C.A.S.H Board Member Darryl Taylor (Colton Jt. USD) represented C.A.S.H. in public testimony. Mr. Dixon and Mr. Taylor both stated that it is important for school districts to continue to be able to use portable classrooms to address local needs and conditions; Eric Bakke (Los Angeles USD) echoed this point. Mr. Dixon stated that his district has replaced a significant amount of portable classrooms with permanent classrooms, but reminded the subcommittee that previous state policy required 30% of classrooms to be portable, and that the necessity of rapidly implementing the Class Size Reduction Program (CSR) made the use of portable classrooms imperative. He also made the point that the life cycle of a portable depends on how well it is maintained. Mr. Taylor referred to the seven options presented in the OPSC’s analysis, stating that it may be beneficial to combine some of the options with a focus on incentivizing replacement. Tom Duffy, C.A.S.H.’s Legislative Director, provided additional testimony and a historical perspective, stating that the use of portable classrooms to meet local needs and conditions has been “a mainstay in California” and that school districts should continue to be able to use them. Mr. Duffy recommended addressing issues related to chargeability through regulation.
The subcommittee’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 5.
~ Rebekah Cearley & Ian Padilla