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Northern Lehigh resolves to recoup state funding

Published April 09. 2013 05:01PM

Northern Lehigh School District remains determined to recoup about $245,000 in back payments it's owed from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

On an 8-0 vote, the school board agreed on Monday to approve a resolution urging increased state funding for school construction and renovation projects. Director Natalie Green was absent.

For the district, the resolution pertains specifically to the reimbursement it's owed by PDE for last year's $20.4 million renovation project at Slatington Elementary.

Last month, Sherri Molitoris, co-director of business affairs/human resources, informed the school board that the state governor plans to extend the reimbursement moratorium to school districts by another year.

The district submitted its PlanCon Part H in Aug. of 2011, said Molitoris, who noted that to date, $245,000 has been lost from the state based on the amount the district would have received on payments it already made.

On Monday, Molitoris reiterated that if the district never gets any kind of reimbursement, it could stand to lose close to $4 million that it should have been reimbursed over the life of the bond.

Superintendent Michael Michaels then weighed in on the situation.

"It's a shame; part of our sales pitch was we were going to get money back," Michaels said. "We are trying to get the message out there."

Molitoris also stated last month that charter schools continue to receive reimbursement on their construction projects.

The resolution adopted by the board calls for reform of the Commonwealth's Charter and Cyber Charter School Funding Formula.

As per the resolution, "Whereas":

- The Public School Code assigns local school board directors the duty to provide students with suitable school buildings that are constructed, furnished, equipped, and maintained in a proper manner;

- The construction, renovation, and repair of school facilities to ensure that they meet the educational and safety needs students and staff can be costly for school districts;

- Recognizing the importance of providing appropriate school facilities, to help school district pay for a portion of the costs of school construction and renovation, the Department of Education developed the Planning and Construction Workbook, known as PlanCon, a system through which the Commonwealth reimburses school districts, based on need, for a share of their construction costs and oversees and approved a school district's school construction project at each step of the construction process;

- The line item for the annual PlanCon reimbursements to school districts has been flat-funded at $296 million since 2011-12 and has decreased by over $30 million since 2009-10, resulting in a significant backlog of projects in the PlanCon pipeline and a significant delay in reimbursement;

- This significant delay in state PlanCon reimbursement has created financial hardship for many school districts and the imposition of the state moratorium has created uncertainty for school districts that are in dire need of critical renovations or repairs to fix leaking roofs, failing mechanical and electrical systems, crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, and ADA compliance concerns;

- The Northern Lehigh School District began a project in Oct. of 2009 to renovate and add additions on an elementary school to address school safety and a deteriorating facility with failing mechanical and electrical systems;

- The Northern Lehigh School District submitted a Part H application in Aug. 2011 and has completed construction;

- A significant delay in receiving the state reimbursement at Part H of the PlanCon process will force the Northern Lehigh School District to cut programs and services, raise taxes and utilize fund balance to meet bond payment obligations;

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