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School funding disparity in Minnesota getting attention
-- David Phillips, Spring Grove Herald

Minnesota: December 23, 2014 -- The increasing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has been a national, even global, concern over the past several years. Minnesota school administrators, particularly those in Greater Minnesota, have started to raise concern about a similar gap in one particular area — deferred maintenance funding for schools. It isn’t quite a 1 percent vs. 99 percent economic gap that has become a rallying cry across the globe, but there is significant inequity between the largest 7 percent of school districts and the rest of the districts in Minnesota regarding deferred maintenance. Funding for deferred maintenance of buildings and other facilities is needed for such things as replacing old, drafty windows, repairing leaky roofs, installing security cameras, repairing sidewalks and taking care of other needs. The Minnesota Rural Education Association points out that the 25 largest districts in the state, which have half the student population, are able to spend $2.79 per square foot on deferred maintenance while the other 314 districts, with the other half of Minnesota’s students, only spend an average of 58 cents per square foot. Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald brought this disparity up to his school board during a recent meeting. He also told a community group that the district has invited State Sen. Jeremy Miller and Rep. Greg Davids to discuss the issue in individual meetings this winter and school administrators from throughout southeastern Minnesota will bring the subject up at an annual legislative forum between area legislators and school officials in February. The MREA contends that rural districts face a fallout in facilities because student safety, technology, space for early learners and deferred maintenance needs go unmet in too many rural districts. This means that either facility life expectancy is reduced or general education dollars are siphoned away from programs and staff to deal with facility needs. When one of the 25 largest districts has a roof leak or other problem with a building, it can raise tax dollars without voter approval for school facilities through the alternative facilities program. The rest of the districts in the state have to dip into the general fund for sudden repairs or win voter approval of a tax request to pay for costly infrastructure repairs.

School Facilities Department Requests Modest Budget Increase
-- AARON SCHRANK, Wyoming Public Media

Wyoming: December 22, 2014 -- The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee has approved a modest budget increase for the state agency responsible for building and maintaining Wyoming’s K-12 schools. The State had given the School Facilities Department nearly $430 million dollars for school construction in 2015 and 2016. In a supplemental budget request, the agency asked for $21 million additional dollars to account for inflation, unanticipated costs and health and safety projects. Director Bill Panos told lawmakers his agency has worked to decrease the size of its request—compared to past years. “In 2011, we requested $183 million dollars in our supplemental request,” said Panos. “In 2013, we requested $209 million. And in 2015, this year, we’re requesting approximately $21 million in additional funds. We listened.” Panos says part of the reason for the decrease is that the agency was better able to keep its projects under budget this year than in years past.

Business Oregon awards $15 million in grants to improve earthquake safety in 13 schools
-- Staff Writer, Oregonian

Oregon: December 22, 2014 -- SALEM -- Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency, today named 12 school districts and one community college that will receive grants to rehab elementary schools, high schools and gyms so they will be better prepared to withstand a major earthquake. The grants were awarded through the Infrastructure Finance Authority, a division of Business Oregon. "At Business Oregon, our mission is to grow our economy and our communities," said Sean Robbins, Business Oregon's director, in a news release. "We're proud that we can use the tools provided by the Legislature to help make Oregon school children safer in Bandon, Salem, La Grande and 10 more communities across Oregon." The background: Senate Bill 3 in the 2005 Legislature established Oregon's Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program to make seismic improvements to essential public buildings. The bill created a grant program for schools -- from elementary schools to universities -- and for emergency service buildings, including hospitals, fire stations and police stations. The Oregon seismic program was recently featured in a New York Times' article. The funding: In 2013, the Legislature approved $30 million for seismic projects with the funding split between schools and emergency services.

Overpopulated schools spur study, forums for redistricting
-- Michael Todd, JDNews.com

North Carolina: December 22, 2014 -- School redistricting — a possibility in Onslow County next academic year — can be more traumatic for parents than children, said Pam Thomas, chairwoman of Onslow County Board of Education. “Children are resilient and they make friends quickly,” said Thomas, who has served on the board for a decade. “It’s a challenge. ... In all the years when I was on the board, when we redistricted, we heard the same concerns and complaints. As soon as it was over, we didn’t hear those thoughts again.” Three overcrowded schools — Richlands High School, Trexler Middle School and Carolina Forest Elementary School — would be affected by the realignment, according to a letter dated Dec. 12 by Steve Myers, the Onslow County Schools assistant superintendent for auxiliary systems. Redistricting would require approval by the board of education early next year. For Tavia Williams of Jacksonville, such change is uninvited.

W-B Area faces school construction options
-- Michael Buffer, citizensvoice.com

Pennsylvania: December 22, 2014 -- A long-awaited feasibility study gives the Wilkes-Barre Area School District five primary options for school construction and renovations. The first option — renovating existing schools — appears unlikely and is the most expensive. The renovation cost of just the three high schools would cost more than $222 million in district funds. The least expensive option involves building one consolidated high school at a new site. That cost is projected at more than $141 million in district funds. The study also shows that Coughlin High School may have to be razed at the end of this school year because short-term repairs to keep it open for another year would exceed $1.2 million. The study also identifies Meyers High School as deteriorating, but short-term repairs to keep Meyers High School open for another five years would cost a minimum of $43,000. Building two new schools at two new sites is the third option. That cost is projected at more than $166 million in district funds. The other two options also involve building two new high schools, and four options calling for new school construction would result in at least $19 million in state funds. The district would have to borrow to cover its share. The fourth option is building two new high schools on the Coughlin and Meyers sites and converting GAR High School into a middle school. That would cost the district more than $155 million, including a total of $5 million for demolishing the two deteriorating high schools. The final option is keeping GAR as a facility for grades 7 to 12 and building new high schools on the Coughlin and Meyers sites. It would cost the district more than $152 million, and the new Meyers would remain a facility for grades 7 to 12.

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