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State Board approves BEST grants

More than 50 Colorado schools will receive state aid of $127.5 million for construction and renovation projects under grants approved Thursday by the State Board of Education.

The funds are part of the Build Excellent Schools Today program, the first large-scale state school construction program in Colorado history, The program matches state funds with local money to either directly fund construction costs or to pay off lease-purchase arrangements.

The total price tag of the project list is $210 million, including the $127.5 million state share, another $7.6 million to cover any higher labor costs that might be required by federal law and $75.6 million in local matching money.

The state is making cash grants of $15 million, matched by $18.7 million in local money. The state will put up $112.5 million to pay off lease-purchases (called certificates or participation, or COPs), which will be matched by $57 million in local money. For some projects raising the local match will depend on voter approval in November. Districts that can’t raise their match forfeit the state funds.

Some of the state share of COPs will be financed by federally guaranteed bonds that are part of the stimulus program. The state doesn’t have to pay interest to holders of such bonds, who instead get tax deductions, but the federal prevailing wage has to be paid on such projects, hence the need for the extra $7.6 million.

The BEST program was approved by the legislature in 2008 and is funded by revenues from state school lands and some other sources but not from tax dollars. Applications are evaluated and ranked by the appointed Capital Construction Assistance Board and its staff and forwarded to SBE. This latest list was approved without change.

About $98 million was approved last March for 11 projects, several of which needed money to complete work started under previous, smaller state grant programs. Three other awards totaling $4 million were made in April.

The projects approved Thursday represent the first full round of new projects under BEST. A statewide assessment of every school building in the state is underway and is expected to be completed by year’s end. The assessment will provide the priority list for future construction board decisions. The next round of money will be awarded in a year. The BEST law gives priority to health and safety projects, followed by those designed to relieve overcrowding and technology upgrades.

The largest COP projects (more than $5 million) are:

Mapleton, $51.3 million for major renovations at Skyview Campus. ($30.2 million state, $21 million local match)

Park RE-2 in Fairplay, $30.1 million for new PRE-12 campus. ($15 million state, $15 million local match)

Miami-Yoder, $17.6 million for second phase of new PRE-12 school. (All state)

Fountain, $13.8 million for a new elementary school. ($3.2 million state, $10.3 million local match)

Silverton, $11.8 million for renovation of historic K-12 school. ($9.5 million state, $2.4 million local match)

Delta, $11.4 million for elementary school renovation. ($8.7 million state, $2.6 million local match)

Crestone Charter, $6 million for new K-12 school. ($5.3 million state, $726,519 local match)

Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, $10.6 million for building renovations. (All state)

Alta Vista Charter (Prowers County), $6.1 million for building addition. ($5.9 million state, $246,790 local match)

The largest cash-funded projects (more than $1 million) are:

Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, $12.9 million for construction of a new school ($1.3 million state, $11.6 million local match)

Calhan, $3.2 million for air handling upgrades and boiler replacements. ($1.7 million state, $1.5 million local match)

Campo, $1.76 million for reconstruction of locker room, concession facility and kitchen addition. ($1.25 million state, $512,016 local match)

Westminster, $1.6 million for high school roof replacement. ($1.3 million state, $399,786 local match)

Ellicott, $1.7 million, roof and fire alarm replacement plus security cameras. ($1.5 million state, $187,509 local match)

Julesburg, $1.5 million for heating/air conditioning repairs and renovations. ($874,665 state, $659,835 local match)

Full list and more project details

Board meeting notes

The hardest work lies ahead

The department – and a host of advisors – has expended considerable effort this year redoing Colorado content standards in 13 subjects. (Go here for more information, including draft standards in five key subjects.)

Things are well on track for the standards to be finished and approved by SBE in December, but there will be no rest for educrats.

The Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids school restructuring program calls for new tests, matched to the new standards, to be selected by the end of 2010.

Stanley Rabinowitz, a standards and testing expert from WestEd (the education consulting agency) who has been advising Colorado, told the board Wednesday that the department has done a great job with the standards, but “Implementation will be a challenge. … The easy part’s done.”

He said the state needs to start planning now for how to implement standards in classrooms. “That is where they will pass or fail. … If a teacher can’t or won’t teach these standards” the project won’t succeed.

Board member Peggy Littleton, R-4th District, agreed, noting, “The difficult part is to get the buy-in. … How do you change behavior?”

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said previous state standards never were fully implemented. “There are some districts that never did a darn thing. … The reality was that it didn’t move across the state in any kind of uniform system” because districts didn’t get enough state help for implementation. (CAP4K requires the new standards and tests to be in effect at the local level in 2012.)

The discussion then turned to money.

Commissioner Dwight Jones said, “The districts are very supportive of the new standards … but they think they’re going to need a lot of support from the state” to implement them. “The dollar amount required to support that will be substantial.”

The CAP4K law calls for a three-part study of what implementation will cost. The department expects to hire a consultant within the next two months to start that process.

Sign us up – as long as it’s voluntary

Also on the subject of standards, the board Thursday unanimously passed a resolution supporting Colorado’s participation in the Common Core Standards project, an effort by the national organizations of governors and education commissioners to develop common national standards for reading and math. Forty-nine states are participating.

Some board members have expressed fears that the common standards could one day turn into federal government mandates, so the resolution was carefully worked to read, “Colorado along with each state throughout the country will make its own determination as to the voluntary adoption of the Common Core Standards.”

Nobody likes to be audited

The department got an unpleasant surprise last March – notice from the U.S. Department of Education that state use of federal funds for disadvantaged and disabled kids was being audited.

Deputy Commissioner Robert Hammond told the board Thursday that two federal auditors have been combing department records and that “it’s been an extremely labor intensive effort” to dig up all the paperwork the feds want to examine.

It appears the auditors are interested in proper billing of staff time, as well as some non-personnel spending, Hammond said. “It’s a long way from being done.”

Board chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, complimented the staff for cooperating with Uncle Sam but couldn’t resist a few digs at Washington. A conservative who formerly represented Colorado in the U.S. House, Schaffer said such detailed “bean counting … does make the case for some federal legislation … to give states the authority to receive our federal funds back in larger blocks with fewer strings attached.”

Speaking of federal money …

Nina Lopez, director of ARRA (i.e., federal stimulus) programs for the department, briefed the board on how the federal cash is flowing. Adding up the figures on Lopez’ tally sheet, EdNews counts about $580 million has committed to various K-12 programs in Colorado. Follow the money on the department’s flow chart.

Another DPS innovation project approved

The board reaffirmed the Denver Public Schools status as an innovation district and approved innovation designation for the Cole Arts and Sciences Academy. So far DPS is the only district to have taken advantage of the 2008 Innovation Schools Act, which gives districts and schools exemptions from various laws, regulations and union contract provisions to order to achieve more flexibility.

Commissioner grades himself

Shortly after he took office in 2007, Jones issued a document titled “Forward Thinking,” laying out his and the state board’s goals for CDE.

Thursday, Jones gave the board an update on how things are going and charted the department’s progress on 20 goals. Read what he concluded. (Check the horizontal bar graphs at the bottoms of pages 4-10.)

• For a rundown on other board action at its monthly meeting, see this CDE release.
Also: Board honors four educators

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