CONCORD, N.H. — A new law in New Hampshire has many districts biting at their nails. For nearly six decades, the state has provided school construction aid to all of those in need, but as of August a new ranking system will take its place, excluding some districts from state funding.
“Under the old system, if a project met the eligibility requirements, it was funded,” said Edward Murdough, administrator for the bureau of school approval and facility management for the N.H. Department of Education. “Under the new system, it will be competitive and will depend on the amount of money provided in the budget. This probably means that schools are less likely to receive state aid, especially in the next few years.”
The law, which takes effect July 1, 2013, replaces a generous practice that districts have been relying on since 1955.
For the first time ever, the state is capping aid at $50 million annually, but only $6.2 million of that is available for new projects the first year. The rest is earmarked to pay off the state’s nearly $540 million share of 360 existing projects, according to the New Hampshire School Administration Association (NHSAA), whose members include superintendents of schools, assistant superintendents, school business officials, special education directors, curriculum coordinators and other system administrators.
The NHSAA estimates it will take the state nearly 30 years to pay off the projects already in progress, but as the state makes the payments more money will be become available for new projects.
Although there are some objections, Murdough believes some may appreciate the law if they look towards the long-term goals.
“The law restores state aid for new school construction projects, which has not been available for the last three years. Since the state share will be paid up front, school districts will not need to borrow the full amount and will therefore save significant amounts of interest,” he explained. “In the long-term it will be less costly for the state to provide aid for the same amount of construction, as would have been the case if the old system continued.”
Currently no projects have been approved or funded under the new state construction aid law, as the new system won’t officially begin until next fiscal year. Interim rules laying out the guidelines for the completion are due November 1, with the final rules due April 30. Murdough is in charge of creating the rules, and plans to assign points to a list of criteria — unsafe conditions will receive the highest consideration.
“The prioritization system is under development,” he said. “Projects will be prioritized based on the existing conditions with life-safety concerns being the highest priority.”