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Peifer says education construction funding a priority

By Fritz Mayer
April 2, 2014

HARRISBURG, PA — Rep. Mike Peifer says that funding for school construction projects that have been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) will be a priority as the budget process moves forward in Harrisburg.

Many school districts around the state have begun or completed construction projects after going through an 11-step process known as Plancon. Once that process is complete, the PDE guarantees a certain amount of funding for the project, but for the past two years, that funding that was promised has not been flowing to the schools.

In the case of the Western Wayne School District, the EverGreen School was built through the Planning and Construction Workbook (Plancon) process, and according to a letter prepared by the district, by the end of this school year, PDE will owe the district $1.25 million with another $678,000 the following year. This cost, along with other rising expenses, has prompted the district to seek to override the Harrisburg imposed tax cap of 2% and seek an increase of up to 6% this year.

According to Rep. Seth Grove, $269 million has been allocated in the proposed budget this year to fund Plancon payments, and an additional $100 million to $140 million will be needed to reimburse all the approved projects. To fully fund all projects in the pipeline, PDE reportedly would need $1.2 billion.

Grove has introduced a bill that would streamline the Plancon process, and speaking after a public hearing on the bill, Peifer said he would make it a budget priority to try to get the additional funding so that districts like Western Wayne could be reimbursed.

Peifer said, “In my mind this has got to be a priority for us.” He said the PDE can’t ask school districts to go through this long and complex process and them renege on the promise of funding.

In a press release, Grove said the Plancon not only needs additional funding but it also needs an update because much of the process is complicated and dated. For instance, he said, “One rule requires districts to submit certain specifications on microfilm.”

Grove’s proposed legislation would change the name of the funding program to the “Accountability and Reducing Costs in Construction Process,” or ArcCon. Among other reforms, ArcCon will require reimbursements to be made in the order of PDE approval, unless the Secretary of Education prioritizes a project of a financial recovery school district.