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Penn Hills schools expect little impact from PlanCon funding bump

Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Hills Progress
Above, construction on the new Penn Hills Elementary School in 2013. The elementary, as well as the new Penn Hills Senior High School, are in the PlanCon pipeline for reimbursement.

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The expiration of a moratorium that blocked state funding for new school construction is good news for local leaders with plans for new buildings.

State officials also boosted the reimbursement program, known as PlanCon, by $10 million, for 2014-15. Still, Penn Hills School District Business Manager Rick Liberto is not optimistic about the chances of his district being reimbursed for projects, at least for now.

“Let me put that $10 million in perspective,” he said. “They owe us $4 million.”

Liberto isn't counting on the increase to the state's $296 million PlanCon budget making much of a dent in the backlog of projects awaiting reimbursement — including Penn Hills' two major construction projects.

PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement when districts build new schools or additions.

The state instituted a moratorium on new projects in 2012. When the state budget was passed on July 10, the moratorium was lifted and the $10 million added. Meanwhile, Penn Hills still is awaiting reimbursement for paperwork submitted prior to the moratorium.

“The paperwork that we need to do to get that reimbursement is done and filed,” Liberto said. “With that said, we are supposed to be in the pipeline (to receive) something in the fall, which is what we were told by the governor's office in a recent email.”

The amount owed the district grows every six months, he said.

The latest addition will be completion of construction on the Penn Hills Elementary School, which opens in early August. But the district still is owed state reimbursement for construction on the new Penn Hills Senior High School, which opened more than a year ago.

“We make our payments, and then we submit another application for reimbursement,” Liberto said. “It probably grows about $700,000 every six months.”

State legislation aimed at addressing PlanCon is awaiting action by the state Senate.

Rep. Seth Grove's (R-York) House Bill 2124 streamlines the PlanCon process from 11 steps to five and, according to Grove, will allow the state to save money by making one-time lump-sum reimbursements of up to 75 percent for school districts. Grove said more than $1 billion is owed to districts throughout Pennsylvania.

The state House of Representatives passed House Bill 2124 in mid-June, and it was assigned to the Senate education committee on June 20, where it currently sits.

A state Education Department report released in May outlined 200 PlanCon projects which are currently awaiting reimbursement.

Patrick Varine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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