State College school board supports bill that would allow districts to get around prevailing wage rule

mmorgan@centredaily.comNovember 2, 2013 

With state reimbursements for school district construction projects on hold, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff is looking at other ways to save districts money.

Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, introduced legislation that would allow districts that opt out of the Planning and Construction Workbook, known as PlanCon, to forgo the state’s prevailing wage requirement. The funding to PlanCon, which provides qualifying projects a partial state reimbursement, has been cut since 2011-12, and there is a significant backlog.

“In some ways, I think we’re hamstringing (school districts) because of our inability to find the money to fund the program,” Benninghoff said.

The bill, which is in the House Committee on Education, has about 30 co-sponsors. Benninghoff would like to see more bipartisan support for the bill because he said it would save taxpayer money.

The Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act raises the minimum wage for workers in public projects that cost more than $25,000. It can increase the total cost of wages more than 20 percent on a project, which could be nearly 10 percent of total project cost.

If the bill passes, it would give more options to districts — such as State College — that are looking at high school construction projects.

The State College school board unanimously passed a resolution urging support for the bill.

Board Vice President Amber Concepcion said the bill would give more power to local government bodies and is a possible cost-saving option for the current high school project.

She added that the state finding funding for PlanCon would be a better option and there is no guarantee the board would exercise the option, but it could be a way to make the dollars go further.

“We have limited resources,” Concepcion said. “Money that is spent on construction is money that is not being spent on student programs.”

The board will draft a letter to the House Committee on Education asking for support on the bill, President Penni Fishbaine said.

State Rep. Scott Conklin has not taken a public stance on the bill and will review it thoroughly before it comes to a vote, said Tor Michaels, his chief of staff.

He realizes that the lack of PlanCon funding is an issue for districts like State College, and Conklin is ready to help.

“We look forward to any discussion to help alleviate these problems,” Michaels said.

In order for the bill to pass, Benninghoff said, it will take some pressure from the public on elected officials. He encourages constituents from districts looking at school renovations or construction projects to contact their legislators in support of the bill.

Benninghoff said he hasn’t gotten word from the committee chairman about when the bill will move forward.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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