BEFORE THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
In the matter of the amendment of ARM 8.2.503 and the repeal of ARM 8.2.504 pertaining to the administration of the Quality Schools Grant Program
NOTICE OF AMENDMENT AND REPEAL
TO: All Concerned Persons
1. On March 27, 2014, the Department of Commerce published MAR Notice No. 8-2-124 pertaining to the proposed amendment and repeal of the above-stated rules at page 537 of the 2014 Montana Administrative Register, Issue Number 6.
2. The department has amended and repealed the above-stated rules as proposed.
3. The department has thoroughly considered the comments and testimony received. A summary of the comments received and the department's response are as follows:
COMMENT #1: The draft project grant documents make no reference to the planning grant process. Is there any anticipation of either amending the planning grant process or eliminating the planning grant process?
RESPONSE #1: The department proposed to repeal the rule for the administration of the Quality Schools Grant Program – Planning Grants because ARM 8.2.504 has been replaced in its entirety by ARM 8.2.501. The current administration of the Quality Schools Planning Grants is under ARM 8.2.501, which is still in effect. In the event any changes are to occur with respect to the Quality Schools Planning Grants, the department will follow the ARM process.
COMMENT #2: The application date of June 26, 2014 will be difficult to meet due to the award date of Quality Schools Planning Grants late last fall. Many of the schools that I am working with will be wrapping up the important planning efforts in May and June. It would be helpful to have the month of July to prepare Quality Schools Project Grant applications.
RESPONSE #2: The department provides technical assistance to applicants who are completing applications in order to submit a proposal on the proposed June 26, 2014 deadline. Additionally, the statutory attributes primarily focus on the attributes of the school and its facilities such as long term planning, school characteristics, and financial situation which can be responded to without the proposed project planning document. The proposed deadline allows the department a minimum amount of time to review the numerous applications (66 applications from the previous application cycle) and provide funding recommendations to be considered during the 2015 legislative session.
COMMENT #3: It would be helpful to clarify that school districts may (at their own risk) proceed with the design and bidding of their project in advance of potential legislative approval in April 2015. Some schools may proceed with design upon release of the Governor’s budget in November 2014; other schools may wait for confirmation in a legislative committee. This would allow projects to be bid during the optimal time frame of January-March 2015, with contractor mobilization in the spring and maximum construction impacts taking place during the summer of 2015. In addition to the 8-10% savings typically achieved by projects bid in January versus June, school districts and the Quality Schools program would save an additional 3% per year due to inflation savings associated with bidding a project in January of 2015 versus January of 2016, allowing more schools to participate in the program.
RESPONSE #3: The department does not restrict school districts from completing design or procuring construction bids in advance of the legislative process; however, all Quality Schools applicants should be aware that the Quality Schools program cannot reimburse any cost incurred prior to the award of grant funds. Any costs incurred prior to the date the bill has been signed by the Governor awarding funding would be the sole responsibility of the applicant and could not be reimbursed with Quality Schools funding.
COMMENT #4: I understand the legislature prioritized repairs to existing facilities over new construction; however, the planning processes that I facilitate occasionally identify the replacement of an existing building as the wisest use of the available resources. I would hope that the Quality Schools staff would have discretion to recommend a project that includes expanding or replacing existing buildings if the comprehensive planning process resulted in such a recommendation.
RESPONSE #4: The department reviews and provides funding recommendations based on the statutory priorities and statutory attributes, which does mirror the intent of the Legislature and has established priority for projects that present repair over new construction. All applications receive a ranked score for each statutory priority and statutory attribute based on the information that is presented in the application responses and supporting documentation.
COMMENT #5: The current wording of Priority #1 links safety to state or federal standards. Many schools have prioritized making safety improvements to address armed intruders, but such improvements are not included in state or federal standards. In some cases the improvements might be fairly simple to achieve–relocating a receptionist to a location that allows observation of each visitor, retaining the visitor in a secure waiting area and providing additional security through electronically controlled doors in order to contain sub-zones of the school. All told, such a solution might represent $50,000-$75,000 of improvements, and barely warrant a grant application. But for districts with 5, 10 or 20 schools, meeting those needs on a comprehensive level might be substantial. It would be helpful for such projects to be considered a single project, implemented in multiple locations, and submitted under priority #1.
RESPONSE #5: The department will consider an application for work in more than one school building within the district. The work described in the application, though occurring in multiple buildings, must all be substantially related and all meet the applicable statutory priority. Statutory Priority #1 follows 90-6-811(1)(a), MCA, which states the first priority will be “projects that solve urgent and serious public health or safety problems or that enable public school districts to meet state or federal health or safety standards.” A district may apply for a grant which can demonstrate that the project solves an urgent and serious public health or safety problem.
COMMENT #6: The inclusion of deferred maintenance is an important clarification to Priority #2. Some of the school districts that I have worked with have accumulated a substantial back-log of deferred maintenance, and will benefit from the potential of requesting Priority #2 funding. Deferred maintenance is difficult to fund at a local level, and is often only completed through grant funding.
RESPONSE #6: The department will continue to consider funding requests for deferred maintenance projects, proposed in these application guidelines under Statutory Priority #2.
COMMENT #7: It would be helpful to graphically illustrate which portions of the guidelines and application are being modified as a part of the public comment process.
RESPONSE #7: The department has posted the proposed guidelines and does maintain previous versions of the guidelines on the web site to allow the public to review and compare all information.
/s/ Kelly A. Lynch /s/ Douglas Mitchell
KELLY A. LYNCH DOUGLAS MITCHELL
Rule Reviewer Deputy Director
Department of Commerce
Certified to the Secretary of State April 28, 2014.