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Building-aid formula for schools may alter

School districts used to getting state building aid might not want to count on that money next year.

The School Building Legislative Task Force on Monday questioned whether the state school building aid programs are helping districts that need it most. The task force also discussed a draft bill that would require districts receiving aid to limit their building costs and campus size.

School boards qualify for Capital Outlay Foundation Program funds based on effort and tax base. Qualifying districts also can get Enrollment Growth Program money if they average some growth over three years, legislative staff reports state.

Last fiscal year, 17 school districts shared $24.3 million in capital outlay funds and $2.9 million in growth program funds.

But Washington School District, for one, didn't get aid, even though it averaged 3.6 percent annual enrollment growth between 2000 and 2003, said Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George. Box Elder District did receive funds, even though it lost an average 1.2 percent of its students each year in the same time frame.

"Why are they getting any money?" task force chairman Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said. "I don't have an answer except that's how the formula works."

Still, noted Sen. David Thomas, R-South Weber, slow- or non-growing school districts might need the money to fix up crumbling old buildings.

Perhaps the formula needs to be reworked to better reflect reality, or created separately for each program, some lawmakers said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, unveiled a draft bill that would restrict construction costs and land acreage for new schools in districts receiving capital outlay money.

The numbers are preliminary and could change with public input. But Monday, Ferrin proposed limiting construction costs to $5,000 per student and campus size to .01 acres per student in elementary schools — which comes out to be about $3 million for a 600-student school on a 6-acre campus.

It also would restrict middle schools to $7,000 and .015 acres per student, or $7 million for a 1,000-student school on a 15-acre middle school, and high schools to $9,000 and .015 acres per student, or $18 million for a 2,000-student school on 30 acres.

The numbers were derived after lawmakers visited charter schools built for even less money. The idea, Ferrin said, is to free up more state money for instruction.

But some noted schools are community centers, built less expensively than national and regional averages.

The committee asked for more information from architects and will further discuss both matters in the coming weeks.