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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: March 6, 2015 03:56 PM
From: Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr.
To: All Senate members
Subject: School construction - PlanCon reform

I plan to introduce legislation to address issues in the Commonwealth’s process of reimbursing school districts on their construction costs. This legislation would amend the Public School Code to provide a more modern, simplified and financially sustainable process of reimbursement, and is intended to be a companion bill to House Bill 210 introduced by Representative Seth Grove.

When a school district undertakes a major construction project and seeks reimbursement from the commonwealth, a process known as PlanCon is initiated. PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used by school districts to apply for reimbursement. The PlanCon process is overly cumbersome for school districts and requires PA Department of Education (PDE) approval at 11 separate stages.

As you know, in the last several fiscal years, financial constraints have caused a backlog of projects. According to a PDE report, by 2014 more than 200 projects were being deliberately bottlenecked prior to the reimbursement stage. Additionally, the process is full of antiquated requirements, exemplified perfectly by a rule still on the books which mandates the submission of plans and bid specifications on microfilm.

The efforts of the General Assembly in the 2014-15 budget, as well as PDE’s completion of reimbursement payments for older projects in the process, have had a positive impact on the beleaguered PlanCon process. While the situation may be improving, I believe the General Assembly must continue working to resolve the school construction reimbursement challenges.

This legislation would overhaul the reimbursement process as follows:
  • Establish a simplified 5 stage process for school districts to use when applying for construction reimbursement. This will be known as 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 prioritizes a project of a financial recovery school district.
    • Provide reimbursement for a new building only if a cost-benefit analysis indicates the cost-to-construct does not exceed the cost-to-expand or renovate existing buildings or if the district can demonstrate that a new building is necessary.
    • Require automation of the ARCCon Process.
    • Eliminate the microfilm requirement.
  • Create a public database on PDE’s website, which will provide information about school construction and reconstruction projects, building purchase and charter lease reimbursements.
  • Allow school districts which began a construction project during the moratorium on new applications to be eligible to apply for reimbursement for those projects now that the moratorium has ended.
  • Allow an option for immediate lump sum reimbursement in amounts no greater than 75% of the total eligible reimbursement, with agreement from the school district.

Introduced as SB694