New high school could receive heftier chunk of state money

funding hinges on Legislature's priorities

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

Juneau's proposed new high school has moved up a bit on the state priority list for school construction grants, and it would be eligible for more state funding this year.

But it's not certain the list will be used to allocate funds this year. If it isn't, the school district will have to roll the dice again on eligibility for state funds.

Responding to a formal appeal by the Juneau School District, the state Department of Education recently agreed to move the Juneau project up from No. 53 to No. 52 on the list of 68 projects totaling $630 million in requests.

The agency also agreed to increase the state-eligible portion of Juneau's proposed $50 million high school from $31.47 million to $40.83 million.

The state Department of Education decides how much of a project is eligible for state funds. The Legislature decides at what percentage to reimburse the state-eligible portion.

The fiscal 2001 list now specifically recommends Juneau be eligible for up to $2.68 million for the high school's design, if it's funded this year, up from $1.18 million on the agency's original list. Schools often are funded in stages, starting with design.

In October, Juneau voters approved about $50 million in bonds to build a high school in the Mendenhall Valley's Dimond Park and renovate Juneau-Douglas High School for about $13 million. But the sale of all but $3 million of the bonds - for design and site work - was contingent on getting some state funds.

With the recent settlement of the school district's appeal, about 80 percent of the new school's costs would get some level of state funding, up from about 65 percent under the original priority list.

The actual amount of state funds and even whether the list gets used at all depends on what sort of bill, if any, the Legislature passes to build schools.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican who co-chairs the House Finance Committee, has proposed a multi-year general obligation bond, to be approved by voters. It would take the funded projects from a priority list for fiscal 2002 - not the current list.

The Knowles administration's school construction proposal doesn't include Juneau's new high school in the next three fiscal years at least.

``It would use this (priority list), but it would not reach Juneau,'' said Eddy Jeans, school finance manager at the state Department of Education. ``The Knowles proposal goes through project 40 on the new-construction list.''

But Juneau schools Superintendent Gary Bader is glad the fiscal 2001 list reflects $40 million in eligible costs. That's more than what voters were told, on October's ballot proposition, would likely be eligible.

``We think this certainly is an amount that, if we were to get a grant or debt reimbursement for this amount, would be consistent with the package taken to the voters,'' he told the school board at Tuesday's meeting.

Eligibility for state funds is based on how much space is needed for projected future enrollments, minus current space.

The latest eligibility figure mainly reflects the Department of Education's willingness to exclude the JDHS auditorium from the high school's space, said Tim Mearig, an agency architect.

The school district and the agency also have differed on projected enrollments, with the district anticipating more students than the state does. The parties agreed to lay that question aside for now.

But if the current list isn't used for funding Juneau's project, the school district will have to reapply to the state, and enrollment projections and space will be reviewed again to determine eligibility for state funding, Mearig said.

The renovation of JDHS is No. 33 on a separate priority list of 85 major maintenance projects. The Department of Education has said all of the JDHS project would be eligible for some state reimbursement if funds are available.

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