By Michelle Sartor Lang
Senior Multimedia Web Producer
The state has approved $507.7 million to help fund the cost of school construction projects in 331 districts. The money will come in the form of school facilities grants.
“New Jersey students, teachers and school administrators will benefit from this infusion of more than half a billion dollars in state funding,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement. “These grants will allow for efficient, state-of-the-art school facilities that will help foster an improved learning environment for our children.”
The grants will cover Level 1 projects, which are considered the ones with the most critical need, including health and safety issues, roofs, boilers, alarm systems and asbestos removal, according to New Jersey Department of Education Director of Public Information Michael Yaple. “This funding would address all Level 1 projects that we’ve received applications for,” he said.
The state Department of Education (DOE) chooses the school projects to receive grant funds and the Schools Development Authority (SDA) administers them. The DOE received more than 2,100 applications in September.
When school districts take advantage of the grant money, the local school board must also put up money to pay for the project. Yaple explained that there is typically a bond referendum where residents vote for or against borrowing money for a proposed project. Yaple said if the amount of money were low enough, a school board might not have to ask to borrow money, but usually the projects are large enough that a public vote is required.
According to Yaple, grant funding offers property tax relief. “Years ago, there were many, many school districts that if you wanted a school construction project, they did it entirely out of their own pockets. Their local property taxes would pay for everything,” he said. “This state funding will cover a minimum of 40 percent of eligible costs.” Eligible costs exclude money for spending on items deemed non-essential, like swimming pools.
“In the end, it helps out school children. But it helps out property taxpayers as well. It eases the burden on them,” Yaple said.
Any grant money awarded for facilities is separate from the state aid that gets awarded to school districts each year which helps run the districts year to year. “That’s entirely separate from this aid,” Yaple said.