LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In a matter of months, lawmakers will get their first glimpse of exactly how much money school districts throughout Kentucky will need to comply with new facility mandates passed as part of a sweeping school safety bill.
The Kentucky School Boards Association sent a survey to school districts across the state on Wednesday, asking them to detail their needs and anticipated costs to bring school buildings up to Senate Bill 1 standards.
Eric Kennedy, KSBA's government relations director, said the group has asked districts to submit responses by Sept. 1 so it can compile and present the overall costs to legislators as they begin work on the upcoming biennial budget ahead of the 2020 budget session. Legislators heralded SB 1 as a framework for school safety initiatives and said funding questions would be answered in next year's session.
The first step, Kennedy said, is "analyzing the need, the full scope of costs" associated with necessary facility improvements by SB 1's July 1, 2022, deadline. KSBA told lawmakers that it would gather such information after SB 1 was signed into law, he said.
Exactly how much of the financial burden will be shouldered by the state and how much will be left to school districts to cover remains to be seen.
"We will simply give this to the legislators and say, 'Here's the total cost,'" Kennedy said. "We would love for the state to appropriate this to the districts to fully pay for all of these upgrades because as we know with so many other things that have passed recently and with state budget constraints, districts at the local level are already picking up so much more of the costs for things, even things like all-day kindergarten, preschool, transportation."
"We also know in this budget session and just the normal budget process that full state funding is not entirely likely or certain," he added.
The varied needs of school districts make estimating facility improvement costs a difficult task, he said. SB 1 requires every school building entrance to have electronically locking doors and a camera and intercom system to identify visitors; secure classroom doors that can be opened from the inside and locked from the outside; and window coverings during lockdowns.
Some districts are already in compliance with the new law's mandates while others have schoolhouses with warped, wooden classroom doors that don't shut entirely, Kennedy said.
"If it can't even completely close, it certainly cannot lock," he said. "So you'll have some districts that are having that scale of work to be done and then others that right now today are already fully in compliance with everything in Senate Bill 1."
"I don't think this piece will be staggering, but it will be substantial," Kennedy said.
Kennedy sees two big hurdles facing school districts as they look to come into compliance with the new law, especially considering other SB 1 mandates like hiring more school resource officers and counselors: funding and capacity.
"I think because every district is facing the same eight required upgrades on the same timetable, sometimes we have a capacity issue where we may not have the vendors out there that do a certain type of work and they very quickly reach their capacity," Kennedy said, adding that such a scenario might lead to "a backlog" of work.
Districts' SB 1 facility needs will be presented to lawmakers along with other unmet facility needs that are compiled as part of the budget-writing process, Kennedy said.
"The one key difference and why we need this separate survey to go side-by-side, kind of separate and apart from that normal process is this has a hard deadline," he said.
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