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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Legislators address PlanCon backlog

  • STATE – Area representatives are moving to address the school construction funding backlog through the Planning and Construction Workbook (PlanCon) process.
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  • STATE – Area representatives are moving to address the school construction funding backlog through the Planning and Construction Workbook (PlanCon) process.
    Reps. Sandra Major (R-Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming) and Mike Peifer (R-Monroe/Pike/Wayne) are among the legislators taking steps to help rectify the issue.
    PlanCon is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for Commonwealth reimbursement for projects completed through the state Department of Education (PDE).
    The Western Wayne School District was among the many schools across the state that opted into the program with the construction of the EverGreen Elementary School.
    “When a school district follows the PlanCon process, the state needs to live up to its end of the bargain, but that hasn’t been happening,” Peifer stated in a release on Wednesday. “It will take some time to clear out the backlog, but I believe we are finally moving in the right direction.”
    Major agreed with Peifer.
    “Resolving the problem with PlanCon requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses both funding issues and the cumbersome nature of the process itself,” she stated. “We are working at it from a couple different angles and are making significant progress.”
    Local level
    Western Wayne has been missing funds from PlanCon since 2011.
    Superintendent Clay LaCoe said PlanCon was initially designed to keep the school districts in check, allowing them to build something of good quality and will serve the community well.
    “We went in from the beginning expecting the funding to be there,” he said.
    The missing PlanCon reimbursements owed to Western Wayne have put a huge strain on the district.
    LaCoe said there are bonds they have to pay back and a chunk from the PlanCon reimbursements was going to be used to help with those payments.
    Major struggle
    “We are now paying more [from the fund balance] than we were planning on,” LaCoe stated. “It's a tough fiscal climate and that makes it worse. We planned on having the funds that are no longer there.”
    The steps involved with PlanCon are labeled A-K. Western Wayne is currently on step H. The paperwork for part H was submitted in March of 2011 and the district is still waiting on approval.
    Part H would assign the district a temporary reimbursement percentage based on project estimates and the bid process.
    “The state gives a temporary percentage as we make our bond payments,” Business Manager and Board Secretary Rose Emmett said. “It is a little lower than the final reimbursement will be, but it's something.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Emmett said they can't submit for the next part, J, until H is approved. Part J is the permanent reimbursement.
    “The steps take several months of review from the state until they're approved,” she said. “The normal approval of Part H is six to nine months. We knew that going in.”
    She added before the time frame was up for Western Wayne the state put a hold on approving anymore with the moratorium in place.
    That was in October 2011.
    Western Wayne is currently owed approximately $1.2 million from PlanCon. That includes what the district already paid in bonds from the 2006-07 school year until now.
    Difference-maker?
    “If we were to receive the reimbursements now it would give us some relief, but it's not going to solve all of our problems by a long shot,” said LaCoe. “For example, if we receive the PlanCon money like we are entitled to, we still have to deal with the pension crisis.”
    For the 2014-15 school year, Western Wayne will have to pay around $700,000 to fund the pension.
    “Next year in new dollars it's even more,” LaCoe said.
    He added nobody has been willing or able to tell them where the district stands in the chronology of reimbursements.
    He also said they only know the districts that received some reimbursement this year submitted part H in 2010.
    “That's our only indication of where we are in the process,” LaCoe said. “There are around 150 total projects that were on hold like we are. We have no idea where we stand.”
    He said the district appreciates the legislators advocating for them, but they need to see the dollars.
    Having a plan
    Wanting to address the immediate needs for funding, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives included “an additional $10 million for PlanCon projects.”
    The release states the total appropriation was $306.2 million, a 3.4 percent increase in funding over the last year.
    On Wednesday night lawmakers voted on the state’s Fiscal Code bill, which includes a provision that calls on the PDE to “distribute available construction reimbursement funding to more school districts by bumping down those districts that have approved projects but have failed to submit final documentation for payment.”
    This action could free up as much as $70 million.
    Fiscal Code bill 278 passed by a vote of 121-78.
    “The Fiscal Code was amended then passed significantly,” Major said. “It was a bipartisan vote.”
    It now goes back to the Senate.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Hopefully they [the Senate] concur with us,” Major said.
    Growing frustrations
    “There are projects inside the cue that have been approved, but haven't submitted final paperwork,” said Peifer. “There are a backlog of projects just sitting there. We asked PDE to go through and find out the ones who have been there for a certain time and give them 90 days to fill out the paperwork or it goes back to the pot.”
    Peifer added it's unfathomable that the districts are not getting the money they've been approved for.
    “There was money set aside for projects that were approved, but have not been taken by the school districts by not filing out the paperwork,” he said. “Some are three to five years old. We want to clean out the backlog.”
    Peifer explained Western Wayne has done everything correctly, but still have yet to see funds.
    “We are doing what we can to get them funded now, not later,” Peifer said. “It drives me crazy because they followed all the rules.”
    He added if Western Wayne should move up and be in the cue during the next budget cycle if they don't receive the PlanCon funds this year.
    “It's unacceptable,” he said. “If districts were approved years ago and didn't take the money, give others a chance to be reimbursed.”
    “There are PlanCon projects at the top of the list that don't have all the documentation to receive payment,” added Major. “If those districts don't have documentation in, they'll get bumped down the list so others move up who have documentation in.”
    She said this would occur if the Fiscal Code passes in the Senate.
    Major said once she found out about the situation last year, she immediately started making inquiries on behalf of Western Wayne.
    She first heard about it when the Elk Lake School District was going through the same situation.
    “It's important to me to try to rectify and resolve the situation to help them get the money,” Major stated. “We are finally coming up with a solution that will allow us to free up more money.”

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