School officials push for construction funding

School officials and advocates on Monday urged state legislators to continue paying a share of school construction costs to local districts.

The state superintendent and representatives from several education groups spoke before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on school budget issues such as levy equalization and transportation costs. But no topic likely mattered more to two local school districts than the School Construction Assistance Program -- SCAP.

The program provides matching dollars once local voters approve bond measures for school construction. Without it, districts would have to raise much higher bond levies.

Prosser and Pasco school districts are counting on that money for their planned new schools.

Prosser banks on $23 million in state money to go with $41 million raised from local property taxes if voters say yes to the bond next month to build a new high school.

Pasco's proposal for two new schools and an early learning center factors in $50 million in matching funds from Olympia.

But the governor's proposed budget includes only $487 million for SCAP, Senate staffer Elise Greef told the committee Monday. The state agency responsible for distributing the money needs $660 million to match every bond measure put before voters by the summer.

If the Legislature were to pass the governor's budget, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will have to set up a priority list, which means only the districts with the greatest need would receive money, said Superintendent Randy Dorn.

The state hasn't had to pick some school projects over others since 1998, he said.

The good news is that Pasco and Prosser are almost guaranteed to be on the priority list. Districts would be scored by the number of students in portable classrooms and by the condition of their existing facilities, Dorn said.

Both districts have a lot of students in portables and Prosser High School was built in the 1930s. The two districts' superintendents told the Herald they've been assured they will make the priority list if the matching funds are reduced this session.