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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 5:35 pm | Fair 60º


Local School Districts Starting to Plan for Wave of Energy Project Funding

Public school districts are starting to plan energy-efficiency projects with the first batch of funding from Proposition 39 will be distributed next year.

Community colleges and K-12 schools will get a portion of the $1 billion in increased income taxes from November’s Proposition 39, which made multistate firms pay a percentage for the sales done in California. Districts will be splitting the money with the state’s general fund for five years, which was an arrangement negotiated between Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature during budget talks.

Smaller districts — with 1,000 students or fewer — can apply for two years of funding at once, so the California Department of Education will have to process those applications before estimating funding for everyone else.

Districts can spend the money on any kind of energy-efficiency projects, such as retrofitting lighting fixtures to become more efficient, adding motion detectors for lighting so they turn off when they’re not needed, replacing manual thermostats with programmable digital versions, replacing equipment with more efficient models, replacing windows and adding low-flow water fixtures.

The money could also be used for larger, more expensive ventures such as solar and wind generation.

Each district gets money based on attendance and skewed for the number of students receiving a free or reduced lunch, but projects have to be approved by the California Energy Commission. The CEC hasn’t developed the guidelines for those projects yet, according to Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s office.

Her office expects schools in the 19th State Senate District, which includes Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County, to receive $7.8 million next year, but that doesn’t include the possibility of smaller districts getting two years of funding. The state’s 112 community colleges are expected to get $50 million next year.

Local districts haven’t decided how to spend the money yet, but are starting to plan for it.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District is expecting $750,000 next year from Proposition 39 funding and is still discussing what kind of projects to pursue, according to facilities director Dave Hetyonk.

“We will not know for sure what the final amount will be until the state finds out how many small districts will take both years’ funding in the first year, reducing the first-year amount available for distribution to the remaining districts,” he said.

The district recently completed an assessment of all of its facilities as it has been funding projects with Measure Q and R general obligation bonds. Schools have been getting many upgrades and modernizations, and it’s possible that the Proposition 39 funding could be used for some of the projects on the bond measure priority list, Hetyonk said.

Santa Barbara Unified’s board has considered funding a solar project at San Marcos High School, but cost estimates had the roofing improvements and solar panel installation at around $5.5 million. That would have eaten a huge chunk of the Measure Q bond funds, and it never moved forward.

The Hope Elementary School District’s three schools did complete bond-funded solar projects and installed 936 solar panels over the parking lots of each campus.

The panels save the district $60,000 in electricity bills every year and are bringing in $430,000 in rebates from Southern California Edison over the first five years.

Hope Elementary has applied for two years of funding since it has fewer than 1,000 students in average daily attendance, Superintendent Dan Cooperman said. The district would be eligible for $50,000 for each of the two years. No proposal has been presented to the board yet, but Cooperman said they are considering retrofitting the light fixtures to be more efficient and add to the conservation efforts of the photovoltaic system at all three campuses. 

At Goleta Union School District, more efficient LED classroom lighting and a small-scale solar project are possibilities for the funding, said Ralph Pachter, assistant superintendent of fiscal services. 

All small districts have until Thursday to apply for two years of funding in the first year, so more concrete estimates will be coming from the Department of Education in the next several months.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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