Survey: School Construction Up Slightly in '96

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The nation's school districts spent nearly $11 billion on construction last year, reversing a decline over the preceding two years, according to an annual survey by American School & University.

Despite widespread concern over the condition of the nation's schools, the spending in districts was just 3 percent above the $10.7 billion annual average for the 1990s. That modest increase, which is wiped out when inflation is taken into account, attests to continued reluctance by many voters to approve bonds for school construction, experts say.

"The resistance to bond issues is still one of the biggest reasons why we're falling behind on the need for facilities," said Jay Butler, a spokesman for the National School Boards Association.

Steady Spending Predicted

Joe Agron, the publisher of the trade magazine, said communities in select pockets and regions that face crises of rising student enrollment are winning passage of construction bonds.

"It became more and more difficult the past two years for school districts to get bond issues passed," he said. "Now they've had a little more luck."

The highest spending levels were in the Midwest and a band running from the Southeastern states to the Pacific Ocean.

The federal government estimates that the nation will need more than 6,000 additional schools--at an estimated cost of $60 billion--over the next decade, plus billions more in repairs and upgrades to existing schools.

The magazine's survey found that districts nationwide plan to spend an average of $10.5 billion on new buildings, additions, and renovations annually over the next three years.

Such plans could multiply, however, under President Clinton's proposal to provide $5 billion in federal subsidies for school construction over the next four years. The program, which is expected to be submitted to Congress this week, would subsidize the interest on construction bonds or other financing costs by up to 50 percent for new and renovated facilities.

The idea is to prod taxpayers to support an additional $20 billion in state and local construction spending over that period.

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