RAYMOND — The House and Senate Committee of Conference agreed to final language on HB-533. Both chambers voted it out, and the Governor signed bill into law. This is a completely new methodology for school construction aid. Over the past few months, I have been asked questions about this bill. Below is a summary of my understanding.
One of the questions that was raised during the bill hearing process was why do we provide school construction aid when we don't provide construction aid for fire stations, police stations or town halls. One answer to that question is that towns are provided aid in other ways: (1) Revenue sharing with the Rooms and Meals tax. (2) Police academy and Fire academy that provide training for first responders. (3) Income from a variety of programs.
The changes to funding are significant, but in my opinion, necessary if we are to have meaningful state aid for school construction in the future. I think it is a great improvement that in the long term will be a win-win for both local districts and the state. Districts won't have to borrow as much and will see significant savings in interest. When the project is completed, Districts will receive their final state aid payment, rather than waiting every two years to see if the state will budget to provide its share of the bond payment for that biennium.
A summary of the key points to HB-533:
1. The new program will begin in FY 14 which starts on July 1, 2013.
2. The moratorium for voting on new projects remains in effect until June 30, 2013. To be eligible, Districts cannot vote on projects prior to July 1, 2013.
3. Project applications will be prioritized by the NH Department of Education (DOE) based on the following criteria: (a) Unsafe conditions. (b) Americans With Disabilities Act violations, obsolete, inefficient, or unsuitable facilities, including major systems. (c) Overcrowding. (d) Enrollment projections. (e) Reasonable attempts at maintenance of existing buildings. (f) District's fiscal capacity. (g) Other criteria identified by the DOE.
4. School building aid will be paid up front in two payments. The first payment will be 80% of the estimated eligible amount upon approval and the balance upon completion of the project. This will save taxpayers money as a District will not have to bond the total amount of money needed as has been done in the past.
5. The basic formula for aid based on multi-town arrangements is gone. The amount of aid will be based on median family income and equalized valuation per pupil. The amounts range from 30% to 60%.
6. Charter schools are eligible for 30%, but they will have to make the cut like everyone else and will have to meet the criteria found under (3.) above.
7. SAU offices and portable classrooms are no longer eligible.
8. The 25% of the cost for Career & Technical Education (CTE) centers not covered by the CTE aid is no longer eligible for regular building aid.
9. Any future aid for leases will be through an appropriation separate from building aid.
10. The additional 3% incentive for high performance school buildings is gone. Building projects will need to be cost effective and efficient. School construction aid dollars will not be available for unnecessary items or for excessive space.
11. The bill initially caps the total amount at $50 million per year. This will allow for budgeting. Projects that cannot be funded in one year may be re-submitted in another year.
12. If construction aid is used, the building must be used for 20 years as a school, or the construction aid funds must be repaid to the state.
13. A 20 year maintenance plan is required. There has long been contention that some districts fail to maintain their schools.
The NH Department of Education plans to hold information sessions around the state next year, after interim rules have been developed, in order to help school boards understand the process.
(Editor's Note: NH State Representative Mike Kappler can be reached at email@example.com.)