EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, July 19, 2007


  • The July 18 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook incorrectly reported that "Funding for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency rose by 7% to $451.968 million" in the recently enacted FY 2007-08 state budget. FY 2007-08 funding for the agency is correctly reported as $451.968 million. However, the correct percentage increase in PHEAA funding is a much smaller 0.07%, not 7%.

  • Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • In addition to adopting a FY 2007-08 state budget this week, the General Assembly also approved companion legislation that makes omnibus changes to the School Code, including formulas for the distribution of state funding. House Bill 842 still awaits the Governor's signature and will be reported on in detail in the next EPLC Education Notebook.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education held its first public roundtable on high school graduation requirements in Harrisburg on Monday. Members of the Board's Chapter 4 Committee will develop draft recommendations related to the graduation competency assessments recommended by the Governor's Commission on College and Career Success after gathering additional public input at upcoming roundtables in King of Prussia and Pittsburgh. The deadline to register for the July 27 session in King of Prussia is July 20; the deadline to register for the August 1 session in Pittsburgh is July 25. For details about the roundtables, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?Q=106648&A=3.

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction met July 11 to continue its work with discussion on mandate waivers and school construction. The committee is an advisory body established by Special Session Act 1 of 2006 and charged with identifying potential cost savings for school districts. A report of its recommendations is due to be made to the Legislature in October.

    Task Force members discussed the existing mandate waiver process and reviewed a seven-year history of the most frequently sought waivers. Common wavier requests fall into the following categories: alternative education, certification, construction, purchasing, special education and other. Members discussed the reporting process in place and the benefits of making information about commonly requested waivers more widely known. The current mandate waiver system appears to be working, but interest was expressed in reviewing what other states are doing.

    The Task Force's discussion on school construction focused on seven main areas:

    Green Buildings: Discussion centered on the current reimbursement system and Act 34 provisions that require building projects that exceed a certain cost threshold to undergo a public hearing. Committee members suggested separating from construction costs those additional construction expenditures associated with green buildings and including them in site costs, which could eliminate the need for a public hearing. Task Force members anticipated districts could achieve long-term cost-saving benefits from green buildings, but the initial investment required often triggers an Act 34 hearing. The current system is not viewed as advantageous to making green construction decisions.

    PlanCon: The PlanCon system was viewed by Task Force members as generally working well by providing a "check and balance" for the construction process. It also provides the "pause" needed to construct a school building and provides for community involvement. Members discussed the reimbursement for multipurpose rooms vs. single purpose rooms, i.e. gymnasiums vs. music rooms, and discussed the findings of the School Construction Working group that met in 2003.

    Technical Assistance: Discussion centered on the recommendations of the 2003 School Construction Working Group. Those findings included a Best Practices Report, an annual report to inform the public on the type, scope, and cost of construction projects. Report 30, which has been discontinued, was provided as an example of a report that was invaluable to those in the field working with school construction projects.

    20 Year Rule: Currently, school buildings may only qualify for school construction reimbursement from the state every 20 years, at a minimum, unless a variance is requested and approved. Some Task Force members felt that the 20 year rule should be reviewed to allow districts to accommodate buildings for new technologies and green construction. This could be accomplished by allowing the 20 year rule to qualify for a mandate waiver.

    Work by School Personnel: Members engaged in discussion, but came to no clear consensus, over the level of construction work that may be performed by in-house school personnel. Currently, district personnel are limited to performing projects and repairs that cost less than $5,000. Discussion focused on whether this $5,000 threshold should be increased since it has not been changed since 1970, and whether that amount should be adjusted by inflation for the past 30 years. More information was requested by the Task Force members before any recommendation is made.

    Prevailing Wage: Members also engaged in a lengthy discussion, but came to no clear conclusions, over issues related to prevailing wage. Data provided to reflect the impact of prevailing wage on the cost of construction projects was inconclusive. Information also was gathered from other states and more data was requested by the members. The Task Force did identify an issue of geography where some school districts are required to use the prevailing wage calculated for a large city when they feel they are geographically closer to other areas of the state with lower rates. This topic will be explored further and revisited at another session.

    Prime Contracting: Discussion centered on the current bidding process, which requires four separate prime contracts, vs. a system which would allow for a single prime contract. A consensus appeared to be emerging to recommend allowing school districts to select either multiple or single prime contracting based on what the district thinks is best for each project.

    The Task Force will next meet on August 8 and plans to finalize its recommendations on charter schools at that meeting as well as begin exploring cost savings related to health insurance and wrap-up other outstanding topics. Additional meetings are scheduled for August 22 (to discuss the role of intermediate units and shared services/back office operations), September 5 (to discuss special education), and September 26 (to discuss No Child Left Behind and teacher certification). For more information about the Task Force, see www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/cwp/view.asp?a=305&q=123154&k12_financesNav=|10481|&k12_financesNav=|4339|.

  • Information about the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including details on contacting your local state representatives and locating bills cited in this Notebook, is available at www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm.


  • Next Week...The 14th Annual Education Law Conference takes place July 24-27 in Portland, ME. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education Committee on Chapter 4 holds a public roundtable on high school graduation requirements in King of Prussia on Friday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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