As school districts across California work to craft their school spending and accountability plans, one area that has received little notice is a requirement that school facilities are maintained in “good repair.”

The Center for Cities and Schools at UC Berkeley hosted a webinar today to address how districts should meet the healthy school facilities’ goal in the new Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP), which are mandated under the state’s new funding formula. More than 100 people across the state, including district administrators, registered for the discussion. The Center for Cities and Schools is a research and technical assistance center that promotes high-quality education as a means to support urban development.

Jeff Vincent, the center’s deputy director, said a building in “good repair” is defined as a facility that is maintained in “a manner that assures that it is clean, safe, and functional.” But Vincent, along with the other webinar presenters, stressed that “good repair” is merely a minimum standard and urged school district leaders to go “above and beyond” that level when drafting their plans.

Bill Savidge, assistant executive officer of the State Allocation Board in the Office of Public School Construction, said during the webinar that districts would use the state’s Facility Inspection Tool (FIT) to evaluate whether their buildings meet the “good repair” standard. The inspection tool, which was adopted by the State Allocation Board in 2007, is a ranking and scoring system that evaluates the cleanliness, safety, and function of school buildings.

The evaluation system is, in part, a result of the so-called Williams Settlement, the resolution of a class-action lawsuit filed against the state in 2000 that alleged that public school students were denied equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent schools, and qualified teachers. Savidge emphasized, however, that although Facility Inspection Tool is thorough, it does not address the critical modernization needs of California’s schools.

Additionally, Savidge noted that the state’s emergency repair program, which was established in 2005 to immediately address critical school health and safety problems, was never fully funded. While Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget has set aside $188 million for the program, Savidge said there are about $450 million in emergency repair applications waiting to be funded.

Faced with drastic cuts in state funding, Savidge cited a Legislative Analyst’s Office survey from 2012, which found that almost 50 percent of California districts shifted all or a substantial amount of funding away from their deferred maintenance budgets to pay for other pressing financial needs.

The flexibility available to districts under the new school funding formula and the LCAP will be vital to “restore a sensible level of maintenance funding” for schools, Savidge said. He added that the LCAP process, which includes annual reviews, could prompt state lawmakers to review and improve California’s minimum school facility standards.

As districts seek ways to pay for much-needed facility needs, Brad Strong, a senior director of education policy for the Oakland-based research and advocacy group Children Now, cautioned administrators not to use their supplemental and concentration state grant funds, which were allocated to improve programs for English Language Learners, foster youth, and low-income students. Strong said only base grant dollars should be used to ensure that all school facilities are meeting health and safety expectations.

Karla Scoon Reid covers Southern California. Contact her at kreid@edsource.org.

 


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