Legislative News

Overview

 

Inside

The Thrasher Group

January 18, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 2

By Jim Wallace

State Supt. Steve Paine has told legislators the Department of Education has four main priorities this year: improving students’ math performance, curbing chronic absenteeism, teaching computer programming and coding in every school, and providing adults with second chances to complete their education.

Paine told the House Education Committee that the first two priorities came out of changing the accountability system for schools. The state had just barely established a system that gave schools grades of A through F when Gov. Jim Justice came into office in 2017 and announced he wanted to get rid of it. The Education Department responded by creating the Balanced Scorecard system.

“I think there were those in the field that thought that was going to give them a pass on accountability,” Paine said. “But what has truly happened is: The A-F gives you a grade on six areas of performance in elementary, middle and high school. The Balanced Scorecard gives you a grade for each of those six areas at elementary, middle and high school.”

In other words, he said, the Balanced Scorecard provides officials with more information on what is working and what isn’t working by assigning numeric grades in each area.

“We have found very, very clearly that mathematics is our number one deficiency. It’s abysmal. It’s been that way for 30 years, and it’s time for us to do something to fix it.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“It really enables you to figure out where are your deficiencies statewide,” he said. “We have found very, very clearly that mathematics is our number one deficiency. It’s abysmal. It’s been that way for 30 years, and it’s time for us to do something to fix it.”

Paine said the Education Department has spent much time analyzing and diagnosing the problems with math and is carrying out a 15-point plan, which he did not explain in detail.

“It’s by far the number one problem we have,” he said. “We would not necessarily have isolated mathematics had we not had this Balanced Scorecard. If every school would have received a letter grade, then they would have received a cumulative letter grade.”

Some people have told Paine that science also needs attention, and he agreed with that, but he said he doesn’t want to focus on too many priorities at once. “My first time around, I think we took on too much,” he said, referring to his previous service as state superintendent before returning to the job in 2017.

A big problem with math instruction is not having enough certified teachers. Paine said 25 percent of students in Algebra I classes and Math I classes, which include algebra and geometry, have teachers who are not fully certified in that subject.

“Collectively, we need to figure out: How do we attract more and more teachers to the math profession,” Paine said. “And on top of that, how do we get the teachers that are in our classrooms that are non-certified right now – how do we immediately get them content knowledge so that they’re stronger math teachers?”

One way Gov. Jim Justice wants to do that is by providing a one-time $2,000 payment to teachers who take courses to become certified in math. That’s what he has proposed in Senate Bill 327, which was introduced this week. But Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, wants to go further.

“We may want to do a more structured approach to those areas where it’s built into their salaries,” he said on Talkline on the MetroNews Radio Network. “Maybe it’s $2,000 every year.”

In the past, the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia have opposed such proposals to give certain teachers higher pay than others. They have preferred across-the-board pay raises, but Carmichael said it’s time to do something different.

“When we’re failing in math and we have areas of uncertified math teachers teaching courses to our children and scoring poorly, let’s do something about it.” – Senate President Mitch Carmichael

“When we’re failing in math and we have areas of uncertified math teachers teaching courses to our children and scoring poorly, let’s do something about it,” he said.

Senate Bill 327 has gone to the Senate Education Committee, after which it is to go to the Senate Finance Committee. The House of Delegates also has a version of the same legislation, House Bill 2483, which has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

Too many students miss school.

On the issue of absenteeism, Paine said any school with more than 20 percent of students who miss 18 or more days of school is defined as having chronic absenteeism.

“That is totally unacceptable, and I’m not sure why that’s the case,” he said.

There are reasons for excused absences in state board policy and state law that are not permitted under the federal system, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which has a higher threshold for what is accepted for excused absences, Paine said. Over the years, various reasons for excused absences have been layered on top of each other in West Virginia, he said, and now that system must be fixed. He said a group that includes judges, Parent-Teacher Association representatives, principals, teachers, students and others is working on it. The Education Department plans to suggest some solutions for both the math problem and the attendance problem, he said.

The department’s third priority this year is to make sure every school in West Virginia can teach students the basics of computer programming and coding. Paine said that includes being proactive by having a teacher in each school certified through Code.org – a national group – to teach kids to program in a developmentally appropriate manner. He said that would help create the seeds of the next entrepreneurial generation.

The Education Department’s fourth priority is working with Gov. Jim Justice to provide second chances for adults. Paine said West Virginia ranks lowest among the states in having adults aged 25 through 64 with college degrees. That affects the public education system because the leading determinant of a child’s student achievement is the mother’s educational level, closely followed by the father’s level, he said.

“We need to try to figure out ways to expand career-technical education offerings and to get the stigma removed from those kids that it’s not cool to be in those classes.” – Supt. Steve Paine

In Colorado, Texas and Maryland, graduates of highly technical, two-year college programs are outperforming in income their peers with four-year degrees, Paine said. “I think that really should be an alarm for all of us,” he said. “We need to try to figure out ways to expand career-technical education offerings and to get the stigma removed from those kids that it’s not cool to be in those classes.”

Public schools offer advanced credentials that build on the programs students get in high school, he said. The department also is meeting with employers and trying to create very specific workforces for them starting with five-week job-training programs. He cited the heavy level of construction of natural gas pipelines as providing West Virginia with “golden opportunities.”

Higher graduation rate is one thing that is going right.

Despite West Virginia’s challenges in education, Paine said, the state does have some positives. One of them is that the graduation rate has gone up to 90.2 percent. He said that indicates more students have figured out they can’t get very far in life without a high school diploma.

“Do we need to improve the quality of that education? Absolutely.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“Do we need to improve the quality of that education?” Paine asked “Absolutely.”

The large number of high school graduates who need remedial classes in college indicates the need to improve the quality of public school education, he said, adding that many colleges are getting away from remediation.

Public education faces many challenges from outside the schools, mainly the deterioration of homes, Paine said. The schools are seeing more opioid victims and social challenges, which is among the reasons why the department is working with the governor on second chances for adults.

Paine noted that the public education also is trying to address declining enrollment in most of the state. In 2005, West Virginia had 284,000 students in public schools. Now, enrollment is down to 265,755.

West Virginia students’ performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests is another challenge related to the problems already mentioned, Paine said.

“We’re a low performer in mathematics,” he said. “We have way low, substandard, poor performance on the NAEP test.

In reading, West Virginia is ranked 37th by NAEP, Paine said. Considering the state is 50th in mothers’ education attainment levels, he said, “We’re outperforming our rank.” But he added that the state must do better.

Some people still think the Education Department has a bloated bureaucracy, Paine said, but it’s actually doing more work with fewer people than in the past. In 2005, when he first started as superintendent, the department had 324 employees. By 2018, the number was 261, he said.

Paine added that after 2017, the Education Department added 26 employees because the legislature decided to eliminate the Regional Education Service Agencies, the Office of Education Performance Audits, the Department of Education and the Arts, and the Center for Professional Development. The Education Department took over all those duties, so after reducing the number of employees by 471 people from the RESAs, nine from the Office of Education Performance Audits and 12 from the Center for Professional Development, it added back 26.

“So I think you’ve gotten a pretty good deal for the money,” he said, adding that some people from the eliminated entities were picked up by county school systems.

“We’ve taken on more work,” Paine said. “We’re working smarter and with less.”

The state has been pushing control to the local level, he said, but that means more is expected from the county school districts.

“With increased flexibility comes robust responsibility,” Paine said. “We don’t have an accreditation body anymore to go out and check the schools like we used to.”

Now that the Office of Education Performance Audits has been eliminated, the Education Department has established the Office of District and School Advancement, which is trying to build capacity in schools and districts first, he said.

“There will be a day of reckoning. If there is willful neglect or inability to perform at the prescribed levels, then we have to step in and do some kind of intervention.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“There will be a day of reckoning,” Paine said. “If there is willful neglect or inability to perform at the prescribed levels, then we have to step in and do some kind of intervention.”

A state school board policy covering that has been sent to the legislature, he said.

In regard to the budget, Paine said, public education’s portion of the general revenue budget has declined from 56.8 percent in 1993 to 42.5 percent now. In 2003, the department’s unclassified budget was about $5 million, and now, it is about half of that, he said, so the department is doing more with less. Spending is $11,485 per student this year, he said, and that includes state and federal money. He noted that some of that is devoted to a 40-year plan to pay off the long-term debt in the Teachers Retirement System – debt the state ran up years ago by borrowing from that pension fund.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, expressed concern about school calendars. He said many parents don’t have enough seniority at their jobs to schedule vacations at ideal times, so they have trouble scheduling vacations when school is out of session. Because of that, he said, they pull their kids out of school to take vacation, which contributes to the absenteeism problem.

Paine said he has heard that complaint from parents, but school districts have flexibility to work with parents on that, such as by turning vacations into learning experiences. Nevertheless, Kelly said he intends to introduce a school calendar bill this year. “It will establish an absolute calendar,” he said.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved one bill on assessing the college- and career-readiness of students in the 11th and 12th grades and put off action for a week on another bill about revoking teaching certificates of teachers convicted of any offense requiring them to register as sex offenders.

House Bill 2095 is a simple bill that would eliminate the requirement that a student placed in transitional education programs as a high school senior must retake a college-and career-readiness examination or similar assessment of readiness if that student already has taken the examination or assessment as a junior.

The committee approved the bill after only brief discussion. It now goes to the full House of Delegates.

Discussion on the other bill, House Bill 2378, was more extensive as members realized they want it to do more. For example, Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, wants to address drug dealing as well as sex offenses.

“There are different levels of dealing drugs,” Westfall said. “They all sound bad, but they’re still different levels.”

“I think this will pass 100 to nothing in the House, but we got to get it correct.” – Delegate Steve Westfall

With a little work the bill should have no trouble getting passed, he said. “I think this will pass 100 to nothing in the House, but we got to get it correct,” Westfall said.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said he wants to move the bill as soon as possible, but he also would like changes in it. In addition to teachers, it should cover school service personnel, bus drivers and perhaps even coaches, he said. Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, suggested covering school administrators, as well.

House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said it might be better to handle those additional people in companion bills rather than putting them into House Bill 2378.

Hamrick assigned the bill to a subcommittee led by Westfall. Other members include: Kelly; Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier; Ed Evans, D-McDowell; Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell; Robert Thompson, D-Wayne; Chris Toney, R-Raleigh; and Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. The subcommittee held its first meeting Thursday. It is expected to have its recommendations ready in time for the full committee’s meeting next Wednesday.

One education-related bill already has passed in the House of Delegates and gone to the Senate. House Bill 2128 would allow state employees to take paid leave to attend parent-teacher conference for their children. The House approved it on a vote of 97 to two with only Delegates Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, and Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, opposed to it.

By Jim Wallace

At a time when many state agencies and other entities that get state funding are hoping to benefit from the current surplus in state revenues by getting more money, the Department of Education is going in the opposite direction.

“We’re requesting $47 million less than we asked for last year. Most of that is due to declining enrollment, but if you look at real dollars, we’re not asking for an increase in any of our programs. We think that our budget is sufficient.” –Supt. Steve Paine

“We’re requesting $47 million less than we asked for last year,” Supt. Steve Paine told the House Finance Committee during the department’s budget hearing. “Most of that is due to declining enrollment, but if you look at real dollars, we’re not asking for an increase in any of our programs. We think that our budget is sufficient.”

Paine and others from the department gave the same budget presentation to the Senate Finance Committee. “We have an ample amount of money,” he told senators. “I think our district superintendents might disagree with me, but I don’t want to be the person that asks for more money at a time when I know you have other areas of citizenry that are served by this state and other services that are very important to them. You’ve always treated us fairly in the past, and we trust that that will happen again in the future.”

Amy Willard, executive director of the Office of School Finance, told senators $15 million in the Education Department’s request for less money represents a shift in the cost of educating students from the state to the counties. “The counties’ property values are projected to go up, so they are going to be able to contribute $15 million more towards educating the students in their counties,” she said.

The total budget request for the Department of Education and the West Virginia Board of Education is $2.512 billion.

The department has become much more efficient, Paine said. That includes taking over responsibilities from several agencies the legislature eliminated last year, including the Regional Education Service Agencies, the Office of Education Performance Audits and the Center for Professional Development. The department’s budget request document for the next fiscal year shows 471 jobs were cut from the RESAs, nine from the Office of Education Performance Audits and 12 from the Center for Professional Development, while only 26 were added in the Department of Education to cover those agencies’ responsibilities. Thus, total employment went from 727 at the end of fiscal year 2017 to 261 at the end of fiscal year 2018.

Meanwhile, Paine said, the department’s work has become more difficult because of federal mandates and social problems caused by West Virginia’s drug epidemic.

Paine said total enrollment in West Virginia’s public schools has declined from about 284,000 students, when he first became state superintendent in 2005, to 265,755 now. “That number is skewed just a bit because of the enrollment date for kindergarten,” he said. “Accordingly, our budget this year reflects a slight decline for that reason, but there has been a steady decline.”

(The legislature changed the cutoff date for students to enroll in kindergarten this year from September 1 to July 1.)

Willard told delegates that statewide enrollment dropped 4,858 over the past year. She said net enrollment, which is adjusted and used for funding, dropped 4,825.36.

The reasons Paine offered for the enrollment decline include outmigration, a decline in the birth rate in West Virginia and more students being home-schooled or going to private schools.

West Virginia spent $11,485.12 per student in fiscal year 2017-2018. Paine said some people are using an incorrect figure of more than $14,000 per pupil because his department mistakenly gave that number to the National Education Association before realizing some funds were double-counted when state figures and local figures were combined.

The figure for per-student spending includes $1,238.78 for paying off the unfunded liability in the Teachers Retirement System. When that is subtracted, the spending per student is $10,246.34, which the department’s budget document says puts West Virginia in line with spending in Virginia at $11,161 per student, Ohio at $10,669 per student and Kentucky at $10,508 per student.

Certain additional funding would be welcome.

Although the department is not asking for additional funding in next year’s budget, it didn’t stop Paine from suggesting to legislators where they might add money. For example, he said, Step 5 of the School Aid Formula, which typically funds school nurses and counselors, would be a good place for more funding.

“We certainly need more nurses. We certainly need more counselors. But what we really need are people that can deal with kids that are coming from opioid families.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“If you were to increase that line-item, we would ask you to do it generally, so that you might consider something like a student advocate-type of position as opposed to more nurses and counselors,” Paine said. “We certainly need more nurses. We certainly need more counselors. But what we really need are people that can deal with kids that are coming from opioid families. We know that 85 percent of the kids that are placed in foster care are placed there because of drug addictions of their parents.”

Social issues from the drug crisis are compounding problems in classrooms, he said. “We know that there are variables we can overcome – external variables to the classrooms and to schools,” Paine said. “We can overcome that if we do the right things in schools.”

The positions could be called student advocates or social workers rather than specifying counselors or nurses, he said, because that would put more control at the district level.

“If a district needs a nurse, so be it,” Paine said. “But if they would need a social worker or a student advocate or whatever they want to call it, let them make that call because they know their needs much, much better than we do.”

Another item he said could be funded better is alternative education, which also would help address problems resulting from the drug crisis.

Some House Finance Committee members wanted more information on how the Department of Education intends to comply with Gov. Jim Justice’s proposals for more anti-drug use education in the schools and job training for people coming out of drug treatment programs. Justice called the initiative JIM’S Dream, in which the first word stands for Jobs In Making (You) Succeed.

Paine said his department was caught off guard by that the day before the governor’s State of the State speech. “But we’re excited to have the opportunity,” he added.

It could lead to a line-item for social workers or student advocates, he said, but he admitted he didn’t have a good answer on what might happen. Paine said the initiative is still in its initial stages. He said funds for the program in the department’s budget would be used for both students in public schools and for adults. In the regular classrooms, kids would be educated about the dangers of opioid addiction, he said. Adults coming out of addiction treatment would be able to receive short-term training to help them qualify for jobs, he said, but other adults without college degrees also would have the opportunity for training.

Associate Supt. Clayton Burch is serving as the Education Department’s liaison with the governor’s office and other agencies on JIM’S Dream. He said the department is looking at not only the public school system’s career-technical centers but also at 92 adult learning centers throughout the state. The department has looked at every training program and every certification offered and matched the data up with where the Department of Health and Human Resources believes addiction recovery and treatment centers will be, he said.

What’s needed now is someone to work closely with both the treatment centers and the training centers, Burch said. That could be a transitional specialist who can connect people coming out of treatment to training opportunities, he said.

“Those details should be coming together for an overall plan very, very shortly.” – Clayton Burch

The Education Department also is working with the National Guard on training efforts using heavy equipment. “Those details should be coming together for an overall plan very, very shortly,” Burch said.

Teacher absenteeism costs school district $6 million a year.

On the issue of absenteeism by teachers, Paine told legislators he would support any incentive that would keep them in their classrooms. He said the problem goes back to a law that took effect July 1, 2015. It eliminated the option teachers formerly had to bank their unused leave time and convert it later into health care or other benefits upon retirement. Paine said he was able to cash in his own banked leave time for four years of benefits when he retired after his first stint as superintendent several years ago. He said teachers now view the 15 days of leave they receive each year as a benefit they should use or lose. That has cost about $6 million per year for substitute teachers, he said, and the costs are borne by the county school districts.

“On average, our teachers use 13 days a year,” Paine said. “That’s unacceptable.”

One solution could be a payout for unused leave days, he said, and another could be to require them to earn leave days as they go through the year rather than being entitled to them for the whole school year.

As Paine previously told the House Education Committee, the Education Department’s top priority is to improve student achievement in mathematics. He said part of the problem is not having enough teachers who are certified to teach math. One way he suggested addressing that problem is to use dual-credit courses to create more math teachers.

“One area we’d like to expand is to grow your own math teacher,” Paine said. “I’ve seen a program where you can earn your associate degree while you’re in high school, take all your math content, take two years after high school in college – West Virginia University or any four-year institution that offers a teacher preparation program – graduate perhaps at the age of 20, commit five years to service in West Virginia and maybe rework the Smith-Underwood scholarship, so that in some way we could incentivize kids to go into that profession.”

“We need to do something to attract more kids into the math teaching profession.” – Supt. Steve Paine

West Virginia has a crisis in math instruction, he said. “We need to do something to attract more kids into the math teaching profession,” he said.

Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, said many teachers have complained to her about having to use their personal funds to buy supplies for their classrooms. She suggested increasing the line-item in the budget for faculty senates to cover more classroom supplies. Paine said teachers would appreciate that. He said that funding has been unchanged for years.

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, challenged the Education Department leaders on why the department had spent more than a quarter-million dollars in the past year on catering from Distinctive Gourmet, which handles food operations at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center (formerly the Charleston Civic Center). After conferring with Terry Harless, the department’s chief financial officer, Paine said that money was spent on food during professional development sessions. He said Harless’s office has a person who negotiates contract prices for such conferences. He added that county superintendents told him they wanted their educators to have the professional development training, and it probably was handled more cost-effectively than if the 55 school districts did it on their own.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Finance Committee has approved a bill designed to improve access to education at West Virginia’s community and technical colleges, which is a priority for Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. Senate Bill 1 also has implications for West Virginia’s public education system.

A key feature of the bill is to relieve students of the cost of tuition at colleges where they could earn associate degrees and job training, but it also calls for the creation of advanced career education (ACE) programs through partnerships between public secondary schools and community and technical colleges. One purpose of the bill is to establish “clear and efficient pathways that begin in high school and lead to obtaining advanced certifications and associate degrees.” The idea is to increase the number of students who ultimately obtain post-secondary credentials or degrees.

During discussion of the bill Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, expressed concerns about it. He said it might provide students with financial incentives to enroll in two-year colleges at the expense of four-year colleges.

“As we pit one against another, we’re not necessarily enhancing students. Why would we preclude students the opportunity to go to a four-year regional institution to further their education?” – Sen. Roman Prezioso

“We’ve got a relatively fragile higher education system, and we have so many students who have the opportunity to choose from several institutions of higher education,” he said. “As we pit one against another, we’re not necessarily enhancing students. Why would we preclude students the opportunity to go to a four-year regional institution to further their education?”

Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the community and technical college system, conceded that at least two four-year institutions offer associate degree programs, particularly in nursing. But she said having the grant program established by the bill would support student choices with financial incentives.

“It would look better to a student who could go for free than it would to a student who would have to pay a significant amount of tuition,” Tucker said.

When Prezioso asked if she would object if the bill were amended to include the four-year institutions that offer two-year associate degree, Tucker replied, “It depends on how much money you’re willing to allocate.”

The bill is based on a program in Tennessee. “What happened in Tennessee was that there was an immediate drop for the first two years for four-year institutions in enrollment, and it wasn’t a huge drop, but there was a drop,” Tucker said. “And then after two years, the enrollment and transfer kicked in, and so students started transferring from the two-year to the four-year system.”

Presidents of the four-year schools in Tennessee have talked about the higher quality of students they received as a result of the transfers, she said. “They were transferring and succeeding,” she said.

The bill would relieve students of tuition costs by paying what’s called the “last dollar in.” In other words, it would pay the cost of any tuition not covered by grants, scholarships or similar aid. But that assistance would be available only at colleges that have established partnerships with high schools in their areas.

“I think that this bill helps us target those students who have no idea what they should be doing.” – Sarah Tucker

Tucker noted that 55 percent of West Virginia’s high school graduates do not go on to higher education. “They’re going nowhere,” she said. “And I think that this bill helps us target those students who have no idea what they should be doing.”

It’s important for West Virginia to target such students coming out of high school as well as adults who did not go to college after graduating from high school, Tucker said. “The very first year of Tennessee enacting this legislation, they saw a four-and-a-half percent jump in their college-going rate,” she said. “That’s a really high jump in the education world in one year.”

The program also has increased Tennessee’s workforce participation rate, she said. That appealed to Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, who said, “Quite honestly speaking, our workforce participation rate – I don’t know how ours could get any lower.” That’s a reference to West Virginia’s workforce participation rate of 53 percent, which is the lowest in the nation. The workforce participation rate is the percentage of the non-elderly adult population either working or looking for work.

Tucker said more than 90 percent of the state’s community and technical college students are West Virginians, and most of them stay in the state after graduation. “The return on investment from the state from an income tax perspective alone will more than pay off whatever the fiscal note is for this bill,” she said. The cost of the bill is estimated at $7.6 million.

The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to get through the House of Delegates. The Senate Finance Committee’s approval of this year’s bill early in the legislative session sends it to the full Senate for expected approval next week. That gives the House more time to consider the bill before the legislative session ends in March.

By Jim Wallace

The School Building Authority is trying new ways to make its money go further, but at least one legislator believes the agency should get more money from the state’s current revenue surplus.

Agency leaders told the House Finance Committee and the Senate Education Committee they want to do more with the money they have because there are many school construction and renovation projects the School Building Authority has not been able to fund.

David Roach, executive director of the SBA, said the agency, in conjunction with local partners, has been able to fund $1.2 billion of the $3.6 billion in needs that were identified in 2010, but that leaves $2.4 billion of unaddressed needs.

Sue Chapman, the SBA’s chief financial officer, said 44 percent of the requests for school construction or improvement received since 2015 have not been funded. She said the agency received requests for $608,062,096, funded $389,180,635 worth of projects and did not fund other projects worth $268,881,461. Because of that, she said, the SBA has made several changes.

Currently, the SBA is working with $24 million that came available because of a change the legislature made in state law. Chapman said it is to be used in addition to other funding for construction projects in 2020, and the agency sees it as an opportunity to maximize school construction funding.

“We’re meeting directly with the state Department of Education, as well as the local boards of education,” she said. “I have ongoing communication with their treasurers, as well as copying their superintendents on those communications.”

“We’re not going to get more money, but we need to do more with what we have.” – Sue Chapman

Chapman added, “We’re not going to get more money, but we need to do more with what we have.”

Consequently, she said, she has introduced the concepts of funded depreciation, which a few school districts are doing already, and funded sustainability. Underfunded depreciation, whenever a school district gets a grant to buy equipment, it is to begin to fund the replacement of that equipment, she said.

Although Chapman did not fully explain funded sustainability, she said it is different and requires more creative thinking about how to do more with the money available.

The School Building Authority also has looked at its investment policy to see if it could do get more out of the money it invests. Chapman said the agency has worked with Roger Hunter, chairman of the Investment Management Board, and the Public Resource Advisory Group, which is under contract with the Department of Administration. She said she also has worked with the SBA’s investment advisor, Dave Kirby, senior vice president of BB&T Scott & Stringfellow, and SBA members.

“The policy changes that were made are to allow us more flexibility in taking our funds out there, trying to find the highest yield, also though maintaining the safety and integrity and the liquidity of those funds,” Chapman said. “But categorically, we’re not using all of that money this year.”

The SBA intends to work further with members of its board and the Investment Management Board on this issue, she said.

“It’s something new,” Chapman said. “It’s different. We have heard that others are doing this, so we feel like we’re in the beginning of doing something different of trying to maximize the funds that we do have invested to see where we can go and how much more we can come up in funding for construction and renovation.”

Delegate wants SBA to seek more money.

The School Building Authority is budgeted for $1.085 million to cover its 10 fulltime-equivalent employees. The agency is asking for that line-item to be increased by $49,370. It also is asking for an increase of $579,480 for debt service for bonds that mature at the end of the current fiscal year. Chapman said those are the only changes the agency is seeking in its budget.

“If we have a $200 million surplus this year, how come we haven’t been requesting more funds to get these projects done?” – Delegate Joe Ellington

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, wondered why the SBA isn’t asking for more for school construction. “If we have a $200 million surplus this year, how come we haven’t been requesting more funds to get these projects done?” he asked.

Roach responded, “If you would like to give more money to the SBA, we would be glad to accept.”

In December, the SBA had $137 million in funding requests, he said, and it funded $72.5 million worth of them. “If we had more money, we would give more money,” Roach said.

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, reminded Ellington that the legislature has the prerogative to put more money in the budget for the SBA. To that, Roach said, “I support the governor’s budget, but I always welcome more money if you would give it.”

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, wondered whether construction costs have decreased in the couple of years since the legislature eliminated the prevailing wage law. He noted that, during debate over that legislation, it was said the state would be able to build three schools for the price of two. Thus, he wanted to know if the SBA has seen any significant decrease in the overall cost of construction.

Ben Ashley, director of architectural services for the SBA, said that is hard to answer. He said the SBA hasn’t raised the funding allowance for schools since 2013, so the agency hasn’t seen a need to fund projects at a higher level. Costs have “pretty well leveled off,” he said.

These days, Ashley said, the SBA is funding many more renovation projects than new school construction. In December, the agency awarded funding for projects in 19 different counties out of 27 that requested funds, he said.

Bates said he intends to request a study of whether wages have changed on construction projects.