School Buildings & Grounds
A significant portion of the education dollar is spent on the construction, maintenance and operation of school facilities. The board of education is responsible for providing adequate educational facilities, keeping them in the proper state of repair and operating them in a manner that ensures the learning experience of students takes place in clean and comfortable surroundings.
Colorado law authorizes the board of education to determine the location of public schools and erect necessary buildings and structures. Major construction projects are generally financed through bond issues, but the board may be able to finance lesser projects through the capital reserve fund or other funding arrangements.
Funding of Capital Construction Projects
Traditionally, school districts have funded school capital construction through the issuance of general obligation bonds paid back through property tax revenues with only limited assistance from the state. General obligation bonds may only be issued if approved by voters in the school district. The relatively low amount of assessed property value in some communities has limited the ability of many school districts to keep up with the capital needs in the district.
The state struggled for several years to find ways to meet the capital needs of many school districts that have been unable to meet those needs with local mill levies. In 2008, the state legislature adopted legislation known as “Building Excellent Schools Today” (BEST). The BEST legislation was designed to use the growth in the Public School Fund—money and resources that reside in a state trust fund originally created as a result of federal lands dedicated to Colorado’s public schools when Colorado became a state—to create resources for school construction. The money utilized under the BEST legislation is generated from interest earnings, lease payments and mineral royalties earned on the school trust lands and other investments. It is not tax revenue. By using these funds, the state has been able to create a pot of hundreds of millions of dollars to address high-priority school capital construction needs. Under BEST, school districts are expected to bear part of the costs for these construction projects, according to the ability of local taxpayers and the school district.
Districts with the most immediate health and safety needs are the top priorities for supplemental assistance from the state. The state program offers a grant program for districts with capital needs and has distributed more than $695 million to high-needs school districts around the state.
The amount of money available from the state for capital construction purposes does not meet all the statewide need for facilities. Most school districts still have to rely primarily on traditional sources of funding for school construction or other creative local solutions to meet their needs. However, the state assistance is beneficial for many districts unable to meet their needs through any other avenue.
Planning for New Buildings
The most successful school facility and community master planning is achieved by early and frequent communication between school districts and the applicable local government leaders. Sharing information such as enrollment trends, proposed residential areas or developments and other factors affecting the number of students and future need for school capacity will help avoid conflicts.
State law requires boards of education to consult with the local planning commission prior to acquiring a school site. The board must advise the commission in writing of the site’s location and confirm that the proposed site will “conform to the adopted plan of the community insofar as is feasible.” State law also requires the board of education to consult with the Colorado geological survey regarding potential swelling soil, mine subsidence and other geologic hazards to determine suitability of the site for the proposed use.
After site selection and before construction of any structure or building on the site, the board of education must submit a site development plan to the planning commission for review. As long as the district follows the required planning commission review process, the board of education has the ultimate authority to determine the location of its public schools and erect the necessary buildings and structures. All buildings and structures must be constructed in conformance with the state, not local, standards of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.