Indiana to Scrutinize New School Projects

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Want to build a new school in Indiana? Be prepared for more paperwork.

Indiana school districts will have to provide more documentation to the state before getting approval to build new schools. The rules, which went into effect this summer, came after Gov. Mitch Daniels questioned whether some districts were building grandiose athletic fields and facilities at the expense of more academically oriented programs.

Gov. Daniels, a Republican, put a moratorium on new school projects last winter, which was lifted when the new regulations were put in place.

The Hoosier State will use construction data from F.W. Dodge, a construction research group, as a starting point for evaluating costs. State officials will mainly look at the average national cost for school facilities, giving Indiana districts leeway of up to about 10 percent before investigating possible excessive spending.

In addition to considering the average cost per square foot, the state will look at factors such as academic plans and anticipated use by other groups, said Kathryn Densborn, a spokeswoman for Indiana’s department of local government finance. She said that the average cost range was not an absolute, and that districts could receive exemptions.

“We’re not asking for any additional information that a school corporation wouldn’t already have,” she said.

Some district leaders dislike the state’s requirement for approval, given that all school construction money comes from local bond issues and revenues.

“If a local community wants to have a nice football field, why should the state of Indiana get involved?” said Dennis Costerison, the executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials.

He noted that communities have a safeguard that allows property owners to petition to stop school construction bonds if they believe a project is excessive. He said it was not clear whether the new rules would be a major burden.

Mr. Costerison added that educators were perplexed at Gov. Daniels’ insistence that education funds be spent on “instruction, rather than construction,” given that the money comes from separate sources and can’t be mingled.

“In reality there are going to have to be some major law changes for that to happen,” he said.

Vol. 25, Issue 01, Page 20

Published in Print: August 31, 2005, as Indiana to Scrutinize New School Projects

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