The second meeting of school facility work group started off with the nomination of task force chairs – Robert Indihar from Moose Lake Area Schools and Mark Bollinger from MPLS Public Schools were elected. Al Fan joined the committee representing charter schools along with Rep. Yvonne Selcer (former Hopkins School Board Member). MSBA has three voting members on this working group – Ann Pate from Wadena Deer Creek Schools; Pete Nelson from the St. Peter Schools and myself.
The first part of this meeting was used to review the role MDE in approving facilities projects. In the last meeting MDE was on the “hot seat” for the department’s review and comment process. Members of the working group hinted throughout the 1st meeting that there has been unequal implementation of law, general dissatisfaction with MDE staff and lengthy timelines for changes in projects. So in this 2nd meeting Audrey Bomstad from MDE’s Division of School Finance, led the discussion on the State’s role in facility project approval. Here is a link to the power point: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Welcome/AdvBCT/SchFacFinanWorkGroup/index.html. She started the slide show with the review and comment process for capital facilities (123B.71) which costs are more than $1.4 million at a specific school site. Any school district capital project that the costs are between $1.4 million – $500,000 needs letter showing the MDE Commissioner’s approval and a letter from the school district describing the scope of the project. Ms. Bomstad commented that a school district can ask MDE for a waiver for projects funded by general education revenue, alternative facilities revenue and safety review.
When committee members pressed Ms. Bomstad on how many waivers has MDE granted? Ms. Bomstad didn’t provide a clear answer. She also reminded the members of the committee that MDE has a 60-day period to complete a review comment application. When asked by Superintendent Wells from Inver Grove Heights, about when the review cycle of 60 days begin? Ms. Bomstad said that the 60-day time period only runs after a MDE employee touches the document. Superintendent Wells went on to press Ms. Bomstad on what happens to an application in which MDE requests new or additional information from the school district? The reply was that the district has to then start over waiting in line to be looked at and touched by MDE reviewers. This “reset” runs on a new 60 days cycle. The take away on this information is that it can take a long time to get a district’s application through the MDE review and comment process.
MDE’s official “review and comment” issues to school districts is one of three responses: a Positive review; a Negative review or an Unfavorable review. A positive review and comment from MDE allows district to proceed with a capital project. An unfavorable review by MDE requires the school board has to reconsider construction, and if the project is to proceed and is funded by voter-approved bonds, must be approved by 60% of the voters. A proposed negative review and comment requires: 1) The commissioner must hold a public meeting on the project; and 2) The school board has to appoint an advisory task force to review the capital project. The school board may appeal a negative MDE review and comment to an administrative law judge.
Lastly MDE review the 16 information pieces that must be contained in a review and comment: 1) Student geographic area, past and future enrollment projections; 2) Age of school facilities; possible alternate facilities within and close by the district; 3) List of needs in the old facilities and benefits of the new facility; 4) the project priorities with in the school, larger educational area, and local government area; 5) Description of bike and transit connections between school and residential areas; 6) Specification of how the project maximizes options for local government collaborations; 7) Square foot specification for site and outdoor facilities and the dates that construction will begin and be completed; 8) Specification for how the project will be paid for and effect on taxpayers; 9) Effect of building on staff and operational budget for new additions; 10) Consultation with local and state transportation officials on safety and multimodal transportation; 11) Indoor air considerations; 12) Facilities air ventilation systems including cooling and heating systems; 13) Desegregation requirements; 14) Usage of environmentally sustainable school design concepts; 15) Description that architects and engineers have consulted national standards on school construction and 16) Cumulative costs to infrastructure including utilities, sewer, roads, and sidewalks.