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For the most part, funding for the construction and repair of school facilities is separate from funding for operations. The bulk of capital costs are paid for through public bonds.
For many years, particularly through the 1990s, public schools in California faced a serious facilities crisis. The number of students was increasing, many schools were overcrowded, and an alarming number of buildings needed renovation and modernization. Californians responded to this need by passing both statewide and local general obligation (G.0.) bonds for facilities.
School districts rely on state and local G.O. bonds to raise money to build and remodel school buildings and purchase long-term equipment. Some districts also generate funds by levying developer fees and forming facility districts.
General Obligation (G.O.) Bonds
California has a statewide school building program—the School
Facilities Grant Program—supported by statewide bond measures.
Statewide bond measures require a simple majority (50% plus one) to
For more information about Proposition 39, see EdSource’s September 2000 voter guide on the proposition.
Local school districts can also issue school construction bonds and
levy property taxes to pay for them, provided they get voter approval.
Prior to 2001, districts needed two-thirds approval to pass local G.O.
bond measures, and more than 40% of local school bonds failed. But in
November 2000 California voters passed Proposition 39, which allows
school bonds to be approved with a 55% "super-majority" (with
restrictions on the amount of the bond and greater accountability
requirements). Since the passage of Proposition 39, districts have had
the choice of whether to seek two-thirds or 55% approval. Local
elections that rely on 55% approval have been more successful, with
more than 80% passing.
School districts also have the authority to levy developer fees on
residential and commercial construction or reconstruction, but
statewide these fees generate significantly less money than bonds. The
money may be used only for school facilities, including portable
classrooms. These fees are charged both to developers of new properties
and to property owners who remodel. They are based on the concept that
new construction will lead to additional students. Individual school
districts decide whether to levy the fees and at what rate up to the
allowed maximum. Districts are required to substantiate the financial
impact of the new development and show that they have used the revenues
to address that impact.
The State Allocation Board (SAB) adjusts the fees for inflation in even-numbered years. In 2010 and 2011, the maximum remained at 47 cents per square foot on commercial construction and $2.97 per square foot on residential construction. School districts may levy higher fees if they apply to the SAB and meet certain conditions.
School districts are also able to tax just a portion of their
districts-often new housing developments-by establishing a Mello-Roos
Community Facility District or a School Facility Improvement District
Under Mello-Roos, which requires two-thirds voter approval, property owners pay a special tax based on a formula. School districts have been able to establish Mello-Roos districts since 1983, when the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act became law.
In 1998 school districts were first able to form SFIDs, which generate funds through general obligation bonds based on the value of the property. In response to Proposition 39, legislators passed a law in July 2001 that allowed the voter-approval threshold for SFIDs to be either two-thirds or 55% (with added accountability provisions). Since then, SFIDs have become much more common than Mello-Roos districts and represent almost all facility districts established today.
The ongoing maintenance of facilities comes out of district operating
funds in ways that are partially determined by state law. Districts are
required, for example, to maintain a Routine Restricted Maintenance
Fund that dedicates 3% of their general fund budget to this purpose. In
addition, they can receive state funds for deferred maintenance
projects as long as they provide matching local funds.
The routine cleaning and upkeep of facilities-custodial work, in other words-cannot be funded from the above sources. Instead, it comes out of regular district operating funds.
The Williams v. California lawsuit, originally filed in
2000, charged that the state had failed to give thousands of children
the basic tools necessary for their education, including "inadequate,
unsafe, and unhealthful facilities." The 2004 settlement included
accountability measures, extra financial support, and other help for
The state agreed to provide $800 million for critical repair of facilities in future years for the state's lowest-performing schools. That includes 1,475 schools that were in the bottom three deciles of the state's 2003 Base Academic Performance Index (API) rankings, according to the California Department of Education (CDE). Those schools serve more than one million students.
The settlement also requires all schools-no matter how they rank on the API-to post signs in every classroom that explain the standards for facilities. Any school that receives funding from the state's school building program must also establish a facilities inspection system to ensure that schools are well maintained.
In addition, all schools must report the condition of their facilities in their School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs). Because of Williams, all districts must also have a uniform complaint process for complaints regarding unsafe or unhealthy facilities.
For more information, see the Williams section of the California Department of Education's (CDE) website.
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