The state House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that will make it easier for school districts to apply for state reimbursement for construction projects, and jump-start the reimbursement for schools still waiting to receive payment from the state.
House Bill 2124 aims to speed up the reimbursement process schools go through during state-approved construction, said bill author Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township.
It will also get rid of "archaic" requirements for school districts and reduce the reimbursement process from 11 steps to five, Grove said. The new process could save the state and districts time, Grove said, while also giving opportunities to save money, too.
Reimbursement plan: The current process requires schools who meet certain construction requirements to fill out the Planning and Construction Workbook, often referred to as PlanCon.
Pennsylvania owes $105 million in reimbursements for 200 school construction projects, according to a May 2014 report from the state Department of Education.
Right now, the department has $70 million to $73 million of reimbursement money that hasn't been claimed by school districts for one reason or another, Grove said. That could come from the money being tied up in litigation, leadership changes or the district just not wanting the money, Grove said.
His bill gives districts three months to claim that money, with waivers for districts that might be in construction-related litigation or other factors prohibiting the districts from meeting that deadline.
If it's just a matter of filling out the paperwork, Grove said, it's time to claim it or forfeit the money to other districts.
"If you're eligible and just lazy, you're actually hurting other school districts who are waiting for that reimbursement," he said.
Another $39 million in expected savings from project refinancing would go toward covering that $105 million total, Grove said.
How it works: Under the current PlanCon process, a school district is only eligible for construction projects at a building every 20 years. Once the district has gone through the PlanCon paperwork and is approved for reimbursement, the district receives reimbursement payments from the state in increments that can last for 20-30 years, Grove said.
And for new projects, Grove said there will be an emphasis on remodeling, not building new construction that costs more. Instead of a 20-year plan for eligible projects, the bill states a school will not be eligible for reimbursement for 30 years. In between, the district will need to cover repairs and minor rehabilitation projects in-house.
The bill also requires the department set up a transparent website so the public can see the status of all projects, Grove said.
Another provision in the bill gives school districts a new option for reimbursement: School districts can choose to receive a one-lump sum, with 75 percent of the reimbursement.
Districts could use the large lump sum to pay off debt incurred from the construction, Grove said, instead of incurring more interest costs.
Grove has said revising some of the law requirements by allowing for new technologies such as submissions via email will reduce the time burden on school districts and save state money at the same time.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.