Local school districts still waiting for some state funding

It’s a waiting game for local school districts eligible for PlanCon reimbursement.

They have to wait until the state is granted a loan that would help pay back districts for construction and renovation projects.

Penns Valley Area business manager Jef Wall said he predicts money won’t start rolling in for PlanCon reimbursements until December.

At least that’s the earliest date he heard through the grapevine, he said.

“It’s not surprising after the way this year has gone,” Wall said. “We should have gotten it sometime in April. … That’s why we don’t plan our budgets around things like PlanCon. The state is too unpredictable.”

When the state’s budget impasse ended in March, monies were dispersed to school districts but didn’t provide funding for PlanCon.

According to a report from Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan, the state Department of Education is looking to loan $2.5 billion in new bond debt to fund PlanCon, which would provide state-funded school districts with funds they were guaranteed, but haven’t yet received.

PlanCon is a state-given shorter name for Planning and Construction Workbook.

Bellefonte Area Director of Fiscal Affairs Ken Bean said it’s a state system and multistep process intended to assist school districts financially with building costs for construction and renovation projects.

Districts, he said, are eligible based on the depth of the project, and if the district applies for PlanCon reimbursements by a certain deadline.

The deadline this year was May 15.

And under its memorandum, districts must start construction within three years of PlanCon approval, or the funding goes void, State College Area Business Manager Randy Brown said.

The amount each school receives is dependent on approval through the 11-step process. Reimbursements are calculated through a PDE formula and based on bond payments the district pays off.

School districts get a certain percentage back based on debt incurred through bond issues and bond payments, Bean said.

“It’s made to defray some of those costs,” Bean said.

There are also stipulations.

Bean said reimbursement though the initiative is only good on a single building project every 20 years.

When applying for PlanCon, district administrators must prove to the state that the construction is substantial enough to have an effect on education.

PlanCon reimbursements are also only eligible on projects that affect student learning in the classroom.

Bellefonte Area hasn’t received PlanCon reimbursements for at least seven years when the district renovated and made additions to the high school, Bean said.

At Penns Valley Area, Wall said the district receives an average of $425,000 a year in PlanCon reimbursements.

“PlanCon has basically, over the years, helped the school district provide quality facilities, and has been a fiduciary promise in part of the state,” Wall said.

The district received about $350,000 in the 2010-11 school year and $531,000 in 2011-12. In 2014-15, Penns Valley Area received $456,504, and expects $460,092 for the 2015-16 school year, Wall said.

Some of the PlanCon money is for renovations to Miles Township Elementary School in Rebersburg; additions to Penns Valley Elementary and Intermediate School; and the construction of Centre Hall Elementary School that opened in 2004.

As the district goes through its master plan proposals to renovate the high school, administrators will also follow through with PlanCon steps, Wall said.

It’s a similar situation in State College Area as the administration also oversees a master plan for some of its elementary schools.

Brown said in total, that project could get about $2.5 million.

The district proposed numerous plans for Corl Street, Radio Park and Houserville and Lemont elementary schools, which would include renovation, construction, repurposing and a possible merger of schools.

High estimate costs could exceed $40 million, Brown said.

And if the project doesn’t start by 2019, Brown said, the reimbursements “go idle.”

Brown said State College Area typically receives about $300,000 in annual PlanCon reimbursements, but that number can vary.

In the 2014-15 school year, SCASD received more than $1 million because of several years of holdback for construction of Mount Nittany and Ferguson Township elementary school projects, Brown said.

Of the 2015-16 school year expected reimbursements of $476,000, Brown said about $200,000 of that would specifically go toward the State High project estimated at $140 million.

Construction crews broke ground at the site last year.

“These projects are paid off in large part from local funding, but PlanCon helps offset some of that cost,” Brown said.

He said the district receives 82 percent of its funding through local contributions like taxes.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo