Report shows schools need more money

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 02, 2001

SACRAMENTO — All school districts should receive more school construction money more often, according to a report released Tuesday by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. 

In order to build new schools or modernize old ones, the state must change the way local districts receive construction money, the analysis recommends. 

Instead of paying 40 percent of school construction costs, the report said, the state should increase that to 50 percent, or about $1.6 billion a year. 

The LAO suggests the money be given out each year on a per-pupil basis. Districts could save the money or spend it immediately. 

Under the current system, the state approves project applications submitted by local districts. That system is unpredictable, slow and has created a $30 billion backlog of needed construction projects, said Marianne O’Malley, an LAO spokeswoman. 

LAO’s proposal, she said, “puts the responsibility on the locals to decide what’s best.” 

About one-third of California students attend school in a classroom that should be fixed or torn down, the report said. 

While it could be a year or more before the recommendations are even shaped into a specific bill, school districts welcomed the proposals. 

The per-student distribution would quiet complaints that the Los Angeles Unified District receives an unfair share of state dollars and forces small districts to depend solely on local bonds, said Robin Thompson, business manager for the Chico Unified School District. About 13,000 kids attend school in the district. 

Because state government issues so many mandates, Thompson said, the Chico board would “like anything that would give us more say on what we could spend money on.” 

Although Chico hasn’t been flooded by new students as much as other districts, nearly all of its buildings need to be updated for energy efficiency, computer wiring or disabled access, Thompson said. 

The LAO’s proposed transition plan to dedicate the next two state school bonds solely to areas where 80 percent of the classrooms need to be modernized or rebuilt pleased officials at the Compton Unified School District, the Los Angeles-area district in state receivership. 

Compton has a 10-year plan for facilities, but “the state always seems to run out of money before we get up to ask for it,” said district spokesman Fausto Capobianco. “We need that money now.” 

But Kevin Gordon with the California Association of School Business Officials said he doubts the proposal would change the historic inequities among school districts. 

Some schools have such bad problems that the new few state bonds might not make much difference, he said, adding that a per-pupil formula incorrectly assumes costs are the same in Los Angeles as they are in Lodi. 

Lawmakers should also wait and see if a recently approved state initiative that lowered the majority needed to pass a local school bond will help solve the problem, Gordon said. 

State officials said they were concerned the transition money would be too little for needy schools and not enough for others. 

“Not all districts are growing and what this could do is give the meat to the healthy and those that are lean and emaciated will always be playing catch up,” said Department of Education spokesman Doug Stone. 

The report was part of the LAO’s continuing effort to re-examine public school financing, O’Malley said. 

On the Net: 

Read the policy recommendation at http://www.lao.ca.gov