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Little impact expected in Plum, elsewhere from PlanCon funding bump

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The addition of $10 million to the state's PlanCon program and the subsequent lifting of the PlanCon moratorium is good news for school districts planning new construction.

But Plum School Board member Michelle Stepnick, who traveled to Harrisburg in May to attend meetings with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association at which topics such as PlanCon came up, is not impressed with the additional money.

“Big deal,” Stepnick said. “They owe us millions.”

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, the Plum School District still is awaiting reimbursement for construction of the new Pivik and Holiday Park elementary schools for which paperwork was submitted prior to or during the moratorium. Pivik opened at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. Holiday Park is under construction.

Stepnick 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.

“I don't see Plum getting any money out of this,” said Stepnick, who added the Plum School District is near the middle on the list of districts owed money. “We have to keep lobbying the Legislature and show them the urgency (for the reimbursement). Without it, a tax increase is inevitable.”

PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.

The Penn Hills School District is awaiting $4 million in reimbursement for two major construction projects.

“The paperwork that we need to do to get that reimbursement is done and filed,” Penn Hills School District business Manager Rick 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, Liberto said. The latest addition will be completion of construction on the Penn Hills Elementary School, which opens this month. But the district is still owed state reimbursement for construction on the new Penn Hills Senior High School, which has been in operation for more than a year.

“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.

In a June news release, Grove touted the lump-sum payments as a way to help school districts eliminate debt. Stepnick supports the proposal.

“They need to do the right thing in Harrisburg,” Stepnick said.

A state education department report released in May outlined 200 PlanCon projects, which currently are awaiting reimbursement.

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.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2367 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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