A newly-signed law aims to curtail wasteful public school construction spending in the Sunshine State, and it could have a big impact on schools statewide.
When House education budget chair Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, found out Florida schools were overspending on construction costs, he vowed to do something about it.
School districts have always had limits from the state on how much they could spend to build new infrastructure, but there were no caps on local spending for school construction projects. The current caps were established 10 years ago and were set to around $22,000 per student for elementary schools, $23,000 per student for a middle school, and around $30,000 for a high school.
Bolstered by a report which found Florida’s 67 school districts have spent more than $1.2 billion more than they should have over an eight-year period from 2006 to 2014, Fresen sponsored legislation to cut back on construction spending.
Some of the findings in the study showed districts spending well beyond the proposed caps.
In defense of the bill, Fresen said Florida’s schools have an unfortunate pattern of overspending on construction projects, much to the detriment of taxpayers who largely fund the projects. Districts also receive some local money through local sales taxes.
Fresen pushed for new limits since the previous limits were established after the 2005 hurricane season when construction costs were largely inflated, making them unrealistic to maintain.
To crack down on wasteful spending, Fresen spearheaded legislation to curb construction spending from school districts. Fresen and school superintendents went head-to-head over assertions that school districts incorrectly assessed capital outlay needs.
Districts disagreed with Fresen’s assertions that school districts were spending significantly more than the spending caps.
Fresen told the Florida Association of District Superintendents that around 30 percent of reported school construction projects were built at a higher construction cost than the statutory limit, calling the overages of construction costs “egregious” and saying they must be reeled in.
In a letter to Dr. Barbara Jenkins, President of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Fresen vowed to make sure facility costs and caps were not merely suggestions, but were “enforceable and adhered to.”
Now, districts really will have to adhere to the strict spending caps, which will have stark implications for future construction projects. That’s because the new spending caps will apply to all revenue, including local taxes. But the entire outlook isn’t totally gloomy: districts may be able to obtain exceptions with the state if they encounter unexpected costs during construction projects.