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Districts may get financial relief for minor school capital projects

Jarek RutzEducation, Delaware Live, Headlines, Milford-live, Town Square Live

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(Delaware LIVE/Jarek Rutz)

Poorer Delaware school districts could soon see a drop in their financial burdens for minor school capital projects.

Senate Bill 293, which would change the funding formula used by the state, passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday.

It will now head to the House Education Committee for a hearing.

The bill addresses the responsibility of school districts to match state-appropriated minor improvement funds with 40% local funds, regardless of the financial capacity of that district.

Technical and charter schools are exempt from the 40% match.

“Districts have a great deal of difficulty raising the funds, and this bill removes the 40% mandatory local match for minor capital improvement funds and replaces it with the same formula used for major capital improvements,” said Hansen in the debate.

The bill would allow districts with poor financing to utilize the same funding formula for major capital projects to determine how much money they need to match for minor jobs, such as HVAC maintenance.

Funding for major projects is determined through an equalization formula that takes into account an “ability index” and other factors that shows how much money a district has at its disposal to match their funds.

The equalization formula can mean that a district will pay as little as a 20% local match.

The idea, said bill sponsor Stephanie Hansen, D-Newark, is to use a more equitable formula so districts with less local funding don’t have to pony up the same amount of money as those districts with more.

The local share for districts has already been established for fiscal year 2024. It’s different for each district.

FY24 Local Share

Fiscal year 2024 state and local share percentages. (Department of Education)

Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, voted for the bill but requested that the local matches are not determined until after the state finishes its ongoing property reassessments.

“Some districts are way out of date on their reassessment so those local share numbers would be way out of line,” he said. “Some of those percentages are going to change substantially after the reassessments are completed by the end of 2024.”

According to Delaware code, major capital improvements are one or more construction projects having a cost of at least $1 million. Anything less is considered a minor capital improvement.

Minor projects are primarily completed to keep real property assets in their original condition of completeness and efficiency, rather than changing an entity’s composition. For example, fixing lab equipment of HVAC systems would be minor, but building a greenhouse to study botany would be a major project.

Also, Tuesday:

  • Senate Bill 272 passed unanimously in the Senate. The bill would add Delaware to a 17-state compact where audiologists and speech-language pathologists who are licensed and in good standing in a compact member state to practice in any other Compact member states via a “compact privilege,” which is equivalent to a license. It’s on its way to a House committee for consideration.
  • Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 270 passed unanimously in the Senate. The bill would establish an evaluation and assessment system created by the Department of Education to determine whether a school facility is in good repair to assure that school facilities are clean, safe and functional for staff and students. It’s on its way to a House committee for consideration.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 88 passed unanimously in the Senate. The resolution would prioritize funding for social emotional learning in schools and would require the General Assembly to work collaboratively with the Department of Education to promote social emotional learning.

Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz and on LinkedIn.

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