School Administrative Unit 2 Superintendent Mary Moriarty was surprised to hear that state building aid may become available again, but said neither the Inter-Lakes nor Ashland school district is looking to build a new school at this point.
“If building aid becomes available, and there’s something that matches things we’re trying to do, we’d certainly want to look at that,” she said.
Gilford Superintendent Kirk Beitler had a similar reaction to the news that Sen. David Watters of Dover is planning to introduce a bill to reassign keno revenues to building aid in an effort to end the moratorium on state support for building projects.
Beitler noted that Gilford has just completed its infrastructure improvements to the elementary school with this summer’s work on a secure entryway. The district’s capital improvement program does not identify any major projects until 2023, when they will tackle an upgrade to the high school locker rooms.
“The last time we renovated the high school was in 2003,” Beitler said.
He added that the district envisions eventually doing work at The Meadows property, putting in public restrooms and locker rooms. “But we haven’t been able to do that yet,” he said. “That’s something we would consider” if building aid became available.
Moriarty said her districts “are always looking at maintaining and improving our physical environment and campus,” and there are plans to schedule capitalexpenditures in a way that will not significantly impact the tax rate.
“Things get shifted during budget work,” she said. “We’ve shifted priorities at times, based on priorities that have come up.”
Watters, who spearheaded the effort to have school districts offer full-day kindergarten funded by gambling revenue from the introduction of Keno 603, said he believes funding for full-day kindergarten should be part of the state’s adequacy aid. He plans to introduce a bill to do that in the next legislative session.
As a corollary, he would reassign the keno revenue to support state building aid.
New Hampshire provided building aid for school projects from 1956 through 2009, according to Amy Clark, who manages the program for the New Hampshire Department of Education.
“Every year, schools applied to DOE and we took the amount necessary to fund those schools and asked for appropriations from the Legislature, and money was appropriated,” Clark said. “Then, in 2009, the Legislature called for an official moratorium for two years … and the moratorium has been renewed since then.”
That meant that the state would follow through on its obligations to previously approved building projects, but would accept no new projects. Because the state was providing aid in increments throughout the life of the school building loans, it has a continuing obligation through 2041, Clark said.
To avoid that sort of long-term obligation, the state changed the formula for awarding building aid in 2013, aiming to pay 80 percent of its obligation up front, which also reduces the amount of money school districts have to finance.
The new formula also changed the allocation to take into account equalized valuation, median household income, and other factors. The result is a range of funding from 30 to 60 percent of the building cost. In the case of regional and cooperative school districts, the amount is determined by the values in the member communities.
Because of the continuing moratorium, the Department of Education had outdated information on the need for building aid, so Clark did a survey in 2017, asking school districts to let the state know of any projects planned or identified that would exceed $500,000. The result, Clark said, indicated $513 million worth of projects, based on need.
“The take-home message was that the median building project is about $3.6 million, so that means districts are looking to do renovation projects,” Clark said. “New schools would be much more expensive than that to build.”
She said, “Schools are doing well, for the most part, but some schools were ready to build, but weren’t able to.”
She said the really big projects identified were from affluent communities, while those from property-poor school districts tended to be renovations to address safety issues.
Even if the Legislature were to end the moratorium, building aid is currently capped at $50 million per year. Because of the outstanding obligations to districts that had building projects approved prior to the moratorium, there would not be much new money to give away, Clark said.
“The cap includes debt service, so any obligated funds, or ‘tail,’ leaves very little to work with,” she said. “For 2020, that obligation is $43 million, and in 2021, $37 million. It leaves us with about $19 million to give out in the biennial budget.”
After 2030, the outstanding obligation drops to $10 million, then to $4 million.