FACILITIES FOR THE FUTURE
The Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act passed in 2000 initiated the most comprehensive school construction program in the nation. The state was authorized to borrow $6 billion for projects in the 30 special needs or Abbott districts, $2.5 billion for non-Abbott projects, and $100 million for county vocational schools.
The law provides for 100 percent state funding of eligible school construction costs in the mostly urban Abbott districts. In the non-Abbott districts, school construction projects are funded at the district’s state aid percentage multiplied by 1.15, or a minimum of 40 percent of the allowable costs, whichever is greater. In addition, any school districts in district factor group A or B, which are the most economically disadvantaged communities, may apply for 100 percent state support of its project.
In order to make facilities funding equitable for all districts, the Department of Education developed facilities efficiency standards (FES) for elementary, middle and high schools. These standards determine the extent to which a district's construction project qualifies for state aid and determines the amount to be awarded. The standards represent the instructional and administrative spaces that are educationally adequate to support the achievement of the Core Curriculum Content Standards.
Every district prepared and submitted a Long-Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) to the Commissioner of Education in December 2000. The plan detailed the district's school facilities needs and how it would address those needs over five years. Districts have submitted a revised long-range facilities plan as required every five years by the law. The DOE is working to review and approve these updated long-range facilities plans.
Any district seeking to initiate a school facilities project must submit a project application to the Commissioner who determines whether it complies with the facilities efficiency standards and the district's Long-Range Facilities Plan. The Commissioner must also approve additional space that exceeds the state standards, if the district demonstrates the additional space is necessary for required programs. If the commissioner approves a district's school facilities project, the department calculates all eligible costs of the project on which the district will be entitled to receive state aid. If the Commissioner does not approve additional space beyond that provided in the facilities efficiency standards, the district may either modify its plan or pay for the excess costs locally. Once the Department of Education has reviewed and approved a construction project, the applicant works with the Economic Development Authority (EDA) or the NJ Schools Construction Corporation (SCC) to finance and complete it.
With the exception of the Abbott districts, school boards must obtain voter or board of school estimate approval for the local share of the construction project. State funding for the project is available once the district secures financing for the local share of the project. The construction referendum must identify the final eligible costs of the project, as determined by the Commissioner, as well as those amounts that are in addition to eligible costs.
It is important to understand how the law applies to your district, and you may want to review your district’s facilities plan. Questions about your district’s construction needs and program must be answered by your district personnel. It is advisable to take part in debates on your district’s facility needs. You may check with your board of education to find out when these opportunities are available.