Commission Pushes Prevailing Wage Study, Increase in State School Construction Funding

In its final decision meeting, the 21st Century School Facilities Commission settles on recommendations that could bring big shifts in statewide school construction funding, if they are enacted by the General Assembly.

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Martin Knott chaired the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, the closest study of statewide school construction programs in more than a decade.

The 21st Century School Facilities Commission, called the Knott Commission after its chair Martin Knott is wrapping up its work in time for its recommendations to become legislation in the 2018 session of the General Assembly. At the same time, the recommendations have no force of law unless they are enacted, and, even for recommendation that are picked up and introduced as legislation, there will be many changes to them as they wind their way through the legislative process.

Still, a look at where this 1+ year long Commission, appointed by the Presiding Officers of the General Assembly, has finished, is warranted. Some of the recommendations were surprising, even to one who watched the whole process.

For example, the Commission ultimately recommended a phased-in increase in the State’s school construction funding to $400 million annually, even though the hot topic of discussion over the course of the year has been on cutting costs rather than increasing funding. And the Commission recommended examining the effect of prevailing wage requirements on school construction costs, even though efforts since 2014 to repeal the State’s extra-broad application of prevailing wage laws to school construction have all decidedly failed.

County governments have a fundamental role in funding school construction projects. While county allocations vary from district to district, when contributions to school construction are totaled statewide, counties are providing the lion’s share of funding, as compared with the State’s annual allowance of approximately $340 million.

As described in a Letter to Martin Knott from MACo’s President and Executive Director that was distributed at the decision meeting, many of the Commission’s draft recommendations paralleled MACo’s past advocacy in school construction.

With regard to the county role in funding school construction, a few Knott Commission recommendations of interest include asking the State to:

  • Review state design standards and guidelines to ensure they are aligned with funding allowances
  • Streamline state review processes to minimize unnecessary delays
  • Provide incentives for use of prototype school designs
  • Repeal the requirement that all schools must qualify as emergency shelters
  • Request that the Maryland Green Building Council develop guidelines for achieving the equivalent of LEED Silver standards without requiring LEED certification
  • Explore the possibility of creating a school construction authority to issue revenue-backed bonds, or creating a revolving loan fund to help counties with their local share of construction projects.
  • Provide a financial incentive to counties willing to explore alternative financing.
  • Update the state-local cost share at least every 2 years (rather than every 3 years)

For more information, see the the Knott Commission Decision Meeting Materials.