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Study: State should increase, overhaul school construction bonds
-- John Fensterwald, EdSource

California: November 30, 2015 -- The state’s system of school construction and upkeep is inadequate and inequitable, with districts serving low-income students more often underfunding construction, then overspending on patching up facilities that needed major renovations, a new research study has found. “California must bolster – not recede from – its role in the state-local funding partnership for K-12 school facilities,” concluded the paper by Jeffrey Vincent, deputy director of the Center for Cities + Schools in the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley. “Moving forward, the state should ensure that all school districts can reasonably meet both maintenance and capital investment needs” by combining local dollars with “stable and predictable state funding.” The release of the study, with new data showing disparities in facilities funding, is well-timed. School construction could become a contentious issue in Sacramento next year. With voters last passing a state-funded construction bond in 2006, the state has run out of money, with about $2 billion dollars worth of state-approved district projects waiting for funding. A coalition of school districts and building and design contractors, the Coalition for Adequate School Housing or CASH, already has gathered enough signatures to place a $9 billion bond on the November 2016 ballot. About $2 billion would be dedicated to community colleges and the rest divided among K-12 districts, charter schools and technical education partnerships. But Gov. Jerry Brown, in his budget message last year, said that the state should not take on more school construction debt and that local districts should increase their contribution.

Community presents alternative plans for school closures, redistricting
-- Lauren Loricchio, Carroll County Times

Maryland: November 28, 2015 -- Along with hundreds of emails and phone calls, the Carroll County Board of Education has received dozens of alternative options for school closures and redistricting from concerned citizens and community leaders who believe they have found better ways to downsize the school system. This week, the board will hold three public hearings on the superintendent's final recommendation to close three schools — Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High — by next school year. The recommendation has elicited an outcry from community members who disagree with the plan, which also calls for the Boundary Adjustment Committee to revisit additional school closures and comprehensive redistricting the following year. County Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, put a call out to the community for alternative plans. Since then, he's been presented with about 15 alternative ideas and three comprehensive plans, he said. "I think [school board members] have looked at them — I don't think they've taken any action on them," Weaver said. "We have some pretty good ideas out there. But not any, I don't think, that the Board of Ed has liked." Concerned residents have been critical of the school board, questioning whether members are considering alternative ideas that instead decommission older buildings such as East Middle School, which Carroll County Public Schools' Fiscal Year 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Program plan indicates is in need of a $46.6 million modernization.

With limited space, teams look to use school fields

Arizona: November 28, 2015 -- Practice field space seems to keep getting tighter for the city’s various local sports leagues and one local soccer coach believes he has a solution to relieve the current demand. Brett Miller is hoping to work with his fellow Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members to draft a proposal to expand a user agreement between the Lake Havasu City and Lake Havasu Unified School District for use of the schools’ fields. His efforts come on the heels of a $150,000 assessment study which revealed the city is in dire need of soccer fields to meet the needs of the 750-plus players within the community. While city staff and outside consultants review potential multi-million dollar sports fields projects to expand the city’s recreation options for the future, Miller and others want them to consider the community’s more immediate needs. “I want to make sure these options are aware to staff and the consultant,” Miller said. The city has an intergovernmental agreement with the schools for use of the fields. The city provides water to the school facilities up to 24 million cubic feet per year and both entities agree to establish a joint facilities asset pool, which contains both city and school fields. Considering the agreement in place, Miller said the addition of lights and weekly maintenance to the fields would support team practices at night. His proposal would leave the fields to the schools during the day.

South-metro school districts investing in solar energy
-- Erin Adler, StarTribune

Minnesota: November 27, 2015 -- From installing panels on rooftops to buying into solar gardens, south-metro school districts are investing in solar energy, hoping to conserve resources and improve their bottom lines. In 2014, Waconia High School put 96 solar panels on its new gymnasium roof, while the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district is finalizing the contracts that will place solar panels on two schools next summer. The Farmington school board approved installing solar panels on five district buildings last week, with plans to outfit all nine buildings. The energy savings on just those five structures will total $77,760 annually, but if the district eventually buys the panels as planned, energy bills would be reduced by $7 million over 20 years, said Jane Houska, Farmington’s finance director. Solar energy is becoming a popular investment for cities and counties, too, driven by the same factors that are enticing schools to get on board, said Jason Willett, sustainability director for the Metropolitan Council. “Solar, in particular, is going through a cost curve that sees the cost come down substantially,” Willett said. “If you can take a long view, you can make money on it.”

$2.9M shortfall in state funding fell on Bayonne taxpayers' backs, says city CFO
-- Jonathan Lin, NJ.com

New Jersey: November 26, 2015 -- Bayonne - City residents have gradually borne the brunt of a $2.9 million shortfall in state funding for the Bayonne school board over the past 17 years, according to City Chief Financial Officer Terrence Malloy. Beginning in 1998, the city bonded for millions of dollars for the board to carry out school construction, with the expectation that the state would reimburse some of that money to the board, which, in turn, would reimburse the city. But in a meeting with The Jersey Journal this week, Malloy said those reimbursements have fallen $2.9 million short, a claim Board Business Administrator Leo Smith has denied. Calculating the total shortfall became possible after the state recently issued its findings in a money dispute between the city and the school board. The findings finalized the figures for how much the state believes the board should get in remaining reimbursements, making it clear, according to Malloy, just how much money the board -- and, in turn, the city -- won't be getting. After bonding for millions of dollars in 1998, the city paid off its debt to bond investors on an annual basis, independent of how much -- and the rate at which -- the state reimbursed the board, Malloy said. Because payments were made annually, taxpayers have already "absorbed" the impact of the shortfall, he said.

Idaho school district discovers construction bond is $15 million short of expected costs
-- Associated Press, The Republic

Idaho: November 26, 2015 -- BURLEY, Idaho — Underestimated costs mean a $37 million construction bond approved by voters last spring is $15 million below the amount needed, Cassia County School District officials said. The shortfall was announced Tuesday involving proposed projects in Burley and Declo that include new school construction and other improvements across the district. The district blamed architect Hal Jensen of Pocatello, who supplied cost estimates. "I had some elements that were underestimated," Jensen told The Times-News (http://bit.ly/1OgOcUt). "I feel sick." District officials said options include scaling back plans or asking voters to approve more bond money. Voters approved the $37 million bond in March after rejecting it three previous times. "I'm a really simple guy," said Darrin Moon, a member of a citizens committee that worked with Jensen to draw up cost estimates for the building projects. "You tell the truth and go ask for more money." Officials said the shortage was discovered after the district hired a new architect who discussed plans with a construction management team hired for the project. "We're not sitting on this," said district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield, describing the situation as devastating. "We're trying to be transparent and figure out what to do."

Eureka City Schools takes divergent paths on proposed lease-leaseback projects
-- THADEUS GREENSON, North Coast Journal

California: November 26, 2015 -- Eureka City Schools is backing away from at least one of its controversial no-bid construction contracts. Back in September, the district decided to forgo the no-bid construction contract it had promised DCI Builders to renovate the Alice Birney Elementary School site, opting to put the process out to bid instead. But less than a month later, the district opted to stay the course at Lincoln Elementary School, keeping Dinsmore Construction under a no-bid contract to complete the third phase of the modernization and renovation project. District officials were unavailable to explain the decisions before the Journal's deadline. Superintendent Fred Van Vleck asked the Journal to submit questions via email last week, then responded to say he was out of town and wouldn't be able to answer the questions until after the district's Thanksgiving break. No-bid school construction projects in Eureka and throughout the state were thrust into the spotlight in June, when an appellate court found reason to believe the Fresno Unified School District may have violated state law in a $36.7 million project to build a new middle school. Specifically, the court found that Fresno Unified may have illegally skirted the competitive bid process by abusing a decades-old law that aimed to make it easier for cash-strapped school districts to build new facilities. In 1957, the California Legislature recognized that school districts had few funding options at their disposal. State law prohibited them — in addition to counties and cities — from carrying any debt that exceeded the amount of a single year's revenue, meaning districts couldn't get private loans to build new facilities, unless they first got the approval of 66 percent of district voters. Looking to help districts in areas where voters weren't keen on passing bonds or allowing them to carry large debts, the Legislature came up with what's now known as the lease-leaseback arrangement.

How Washington created some of the worst schools in America

National: November 25, 2015 -- t took 50 years for the federal government to admit officially that the education it had promised to provide Indian children was so bad it qualified as abuse. “Grossly inadequate,” wrote the authors of a scathing 1928 report. Forty years later, the feds were taking themselves to task again, in a report by Sen. Edward Kennedy that called the state of Indian education a “national tragedy.” Flash forward 46 more years. The network of schools for Native American children run by an obscure agency of the Interior Department remains arguably the worst school system in the United States, a disgrace the government has known about for eight decades and never successfully reformed. Earlier this fall, POLITICO asked President Barack Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, about what is perhaps the federal government’s longest-running problem: “It's just the epitome of broken,” he said. “Just utterly bankrupt.” The epitome of broken looks like Crystal Boarding School. Tucked into the desert hills on a Navajo reservation 150 miles east of the Grand Canyon, Crystal has cracks running several feet down the walls, leaky pipes in the floors and asbestos in the basement. Students come from extremely troubled backgrounds, but there is no full-time counselor. Last year, a new reading coach took one look at the rundown cinder block housing and left the next day. Science and social studies have been cut to put more attention on the abysmal reading and math scores, but even so, in 2013 only 5 percent of students were considered to have grade-level math skills. “I don't even know what to say,” said Duncan. “It's just not right.”

Sunset Park Parents Frustrated by Overcrowding Are Invited to Join the Search for School Sites
-- Beth Fertig, WNYC 93.9

New York: November 25, 2015 -- Parents hoping the city would provide them with answers to Sunset Park's overcrowding problems were disappointed after Tuesday night's forum with Chancellor Carmen Fariña and other Department of Education officials. More than 200 people attended the meeting of Community Education Council 15, which includes a big chunk of Sunset Park. Henry Carrier, the council's co-vice president, disputed the long-standing claim that the city has had trouble finding affordable sites for new schools. "I think the people here are reasonable, we understand you can't to this overnight, but this has been years now," he said, referring to the Department of Education's capital plan. It includes five schools for the district, two of which are supposed to be in Sunset Park. Carrier gave a PowerPoint presentation showing new housing developments and hotels throughout the neighborhood, and asked why those can go up but not schools. "I gotta tell you, the community is starting to say, 'Are we really being told the truth here?'" Many parents and community leaders want the city to convert a hotel on 39th Street into a school, now that it's been closed over allegations of prostitution and human trafficking. They claim other hotels have also been bad neighbors. One activist held a large sign that said "Schools, not brothels." Others held signs in Chinese and Spanish calling for solutions to overcrowding. Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the city would look into the 39th Street hotel. She also said she would encourage apartment building developers to set aside space for unzoned pre-k and kindergarten classes, which would help the local schools.

Crumbling Schools Add Health Problems to Classroom Stress
-- Joseph Williams, takepart

National: November 24, 2015 -- Among teachers, it’s known as the 2:30 headache, describing the pain that sets in after hours of breathing polluted air in an old school building or a temporary classroom. For Rachel Gutter—and educators and schoolchildren nationwide—it isn’t theoretical. “My mom suffered permanent respiratory damage by working in a sick school,” says Gutter, the U.S. Green Building Council’s vice president for knowledge. A school administrator in metropolitan Washington, D.C., her mother had asthma and mold allergies, which were constantly irritated by the bad air. Gutter says one visit to a portable classroom triggered a particularly severe attack. According to the survey, eight out of 10 respondents support “green” schools—construction and renovation concepts that create airy, spacious, sunshine-filled environments—which enhance learning while saving energy and protecting the planet. “Where our children learn matters,” says Gutter, who unveiled the findings at a green-building conference in Washington late last week. Education-conscious parents, she said, “will talk to you about the who and the what—the teachers and the curriculum—but they won’t talk to you about the where,” which can be just as critical. “I’ve been in schools that feel like jails,” with high security, poor ventilation, and little natural light, Gutter explains. “I come from three generations of educators. I believe every child is entitled to a healthy, safe place to go to school.”

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