Legislature(1999 - 2000)
04/27/1999 09:05 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 4(JUD) "An Act relating to establishing an office of victims' rights; relating to compensation of victims of violent crimes; relating to eligibility for a permanent fund dividend for persons convicted of and incarcerated for certain offenses; and amending Rule 16, Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 9, Alaska Delinquency Rules, and Rule 501, Alaska Rules of Evidence." This was the third hearing for this bill. Co-Chair John Torgerson reminded the committee that earlier concerns had been worked through during the last hearing. A committee substitute had been before the committee but was not adopted to give the sponsor an opportunity to review the changes. Senator Rick Halford, the sponsor, approved of the proposed version. Senator Sean Parnell moved to adopt CS SB 4 (FIN) Version "I" as a Workdraft. Without objection it was so ordered. There was no further debate on the bill and Co-Chair John Torgerson noted the committee had already discussed the fiscal notes. Senator Sean Parnell offered a motion to report the bill from committee. There was no objection and it was so ordered. BREAK 9:07AM / 9:08AM SENATE BILL NO. 95 "An Act relating to the combination of grades that constitute junior high, middle, or secondary school." BRUCE CAMPBELL, staff to Senator Randy Phillips, spoke to the bill. He explained this was a priority issue for the Anchorage School Board. SB 95 recognized the grades six to eight "middle school" concept. Current statute dealt with "junior high" consisting of seventh, eighth and ninth graders. However, Anchorage and some parts of other school districts had adopted the middle school concept. That meant that the sixth graders were counted as elementary school students even though they were using space at the junior high school rate. This bill would allow elementary students in the sixth grade, when housed in a middle school be counted as secondary students for the purpose of space allocation. Senator Randy Phillips moved for adoption of SB 95 (FIN) Version "I". Senator Al Adams asked for explanation of the differences between this version and the original. Bruce Campbell explained that the first version went into the actual definition of a secondary school student. The Department of Education informed him the real issue was housing and should be located in a different area of statute. The new version had the same concept but was more elegantly drafted. He pointed out language on page 3 relating to provisions for bond issues. One of the requirements for a school building project was that the municipality had to demonstrate the need by establishing a long-term enrollment to indicate the current facilities were inadequate. This was the particular area the bill addressed by focusing on the issue of the sixth grade students and whether they were located in a middle school. If so, they could be counted as part of the projections of space requirements. For more technical detail, Bruce Campbell said the department would need to be consulted. Senator Al Adams asked if the basic premise was to move sixth graders into a different school category. Bruce Campbell said it was to give the school boards that option. Senator Al Adams pointed out that one of the impacts would be the change of square footage allotments for individual students. In doing so, the square footage would increase to 43 square footage per student. He wanted to know if the students were kept in their present situation, wouldn't there be adequate space for each student in the Anchorage School District for the next seven years. Bruce Campbell deferred to Mike Morgan from the Department of Education. Senator Al Adams pointed out that in rural Alaska there were six schools that had unhoused students who were using hallways and libraries for classrooms. Shouldn't they be addressed first? Bruce Campbell replied that was a policy question not appropriate for staff to address. Senator Lyda Green felt the bigger step this bill would take was contained on page 3 line 18. This dictated that a student was considered unhoused if the student attended a school in a temporary facility. She thought that was a total shift from the current policy and wanted to know if that issue was what contributed to the fiscal note. Co- Chair John Torgerson agreed she was probably right but it was really a question of whether a portable building was temporary housing. That had been debated by school districts for years. Bruce Campbell responded to Senator Lyda Green's concerns saying it was part of the statutory construction. He noted page two lines 2 and 3 addressed whether students were considered unhoused. This bill continued the statutory consistency and did not add to the issue, he explained. He detailed other areas of the bill where this was repeated. Co-Chair John Torgerson said that matter would need to be worked through as he had some of the same concerns. Senator Lyda Green did not have the same understanding of the language as the sponsor. She said that while she did not necessarily object to the change, she just wanted the impact clarified. The workdraft was adopted by a vote of 7-1-1. Senator Al Adams cast the nay vote. Senator Loren Leman was absent. MIKE MORGAN, PMP, Manager, Facilities Section, Education Support Services, Department of Education, came to the table at the request of Bruce Campbell to address the concerns related to the housing of students. He understood the question to be, "Are students in temporary facilities considered unhoused?" That was currently the case in policy, statute and regulations, he answered. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if this bill would change the way the department interpreted unhoused students. Mike Morgan replied it would change the way the unhoused students would be calculated in that sixth graders, when not in a "case fixed" building, would qualify for 43.75 additional square footage over what they currently qualify for. The space allotment for junior and senior high students was 150 square feet per student. For elementary students, that allotment was 106.5 square feet per student. Therefore, using the higher number, middle schools housing sixth graders would reach their capacity sooner under the provisions of this bill. Senator Lyda Green clarified that no cost would be incurred until the time when need for a new building was being justified. Mike Morgan responded that until a school district requested additional space, either an addition to an existing building or a new building, the space allocation would not be considered. It was only in the qualification for new space that the cost would come into play. If a district qualified today for 10,000 square feet all because of sixth graders, if this bill passed the district would then qualify for approximately 15,000 square feet. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked what was the middle school allocation. Mike Morgan said it was determined by the grade of the student, not the building itself. The school could house any combination of students at the discretion of the district. Co-Chair John Torgerson wanted to know if under current law, in a grade sixth through ninth school, the 6th graders would be calculated at the lower elementary rate. Mike Morgan confirmed. Senator Pete Kelly wanted a brief explanation of what the bill was trying to achieve. Senator Randy Phillips told of the situation in his community of Eagle River, which was growing. They had almost 2100 students at Chugiak High School that was meant to only house 1750 students. The Department of Education regulations prevented the community from building another high school until the student population reached a number the department set. He was attempting to relieve the pressure on the high school and give the community the ability to bond itself to build another high school. He estimated the student population at the high school in five years would be 3800 students. He understood it would have statewide affects, but found the situation intolerable and felt other communities would encounter the same problems eventually. Senator Lyda Green didn't understand how this would alleviate the high school overcrowding situation since it applied to junior high schools. Senator Randy Phillips made an inaudible comment. DEBBIE OSSIANDER, Anchorage School District, testified via teleconference from Anchorage in favor of the committee substitute. As school districts moved toward more local funding for school construction projects, they wanted to have more input in the configuration of the schools and what projects were built. She believed the strong educational arguments for housing sixth graders in middle schools. The district had one school that operated that way now and wanted to look at moving more that direction. The logic of saying that some middle school students qualified for more space than others did not make sense to her. The school board wanted to treat all middle students equally. The most immediate effect of this bill would be seen in the Muldoon area as a new middle school was planned for construction. The school board also wanted to look at changing grade level configurations of two other junior highs. This legislation would also impact school districts that currently housed sixth, seventh and eighth grade students together, but had not qualified for fair and equitable square footage. The main intent of the school board was to allow increased flexibility in program designs so the educational goals could be met. Senator Al Adams asked if even without this legislation, couldn't a new school in Eagle River be funded through local bonds. He also wanted to know if the witness didn't think the first priority should be to take care of the unhoused students no matter where in Alaska they lived. Debbie Ossiander agreed there was a problem with rural student facilities. However, she noted the overcrowding issues in her community. The school district gained 500-600 students every year and flexibility was needed in designing schools. She stated that this problem was broader than just the Eagle River/Chugiak school situation. The primary goal was to deal with the middle school problem. Senator Al Adams repeated his question about bonding for Anchorage school construction. Debbie Ossiander said that could be done and voters approved bonding where there was a fifty-percent local match. The school board continued to urge that the state continue its responsibility for school construction in the urban areas of the state. The state should pick up some of the cost of school construction. Senator Gary Wilken appreciated the plan to extend the middle school concept. He wanted more information on the Chugiak situation. Debbie Ossiander responded that in that specific situation, the community had two middle schools and one high school. One of the middle schools housed sixth, seventh and eight grades. Because that school had those sixth graders, and using the lower allotment for calculations, it was considered to have excess square footage. In order to qualify for additional reimbursement for new construction, the department looked at secondary space as a combination of middle school and high school square footage. This formula made the community ineligible for a new high school. If this bill passed, the Mirror Lake Middle School space allocation would be adjusted and the district would then qualify for a new school. She noted this was not an immediate problem in the sense that the district did not plan to address the situation for the next couple of years. The intent was to assist in long- range planning for that high school. The Anchorage School Board supported this legislation for reasons beyond the Eagle River high school issue. She repeated the belief that they should have increased flexibility. Current regulations penalized the school board. LARRY WIGET, Executive Director, Public Affairs, Anchorage School District, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. He stated the intent was to simply give the Anchorage School District the flexibility in program design with the current education philosophy. It was not the intent to take every eligible sixth grader and give them space based on a secondary school allocation. It was merely an attempt by the school district to have the ability with a sixth grade student who was housed in a middle school program to be allocated the same square footage to meet the program needs of a secondary school. He felt the fiscal note provided by the department was based on the assumption that every current or future sixth grade student in the State Of Alaska would be calculated at the secondary school level. The committee addressed the fiscal notes. Mike Morgan pointed out the fiscal impacts. The department looked at sixth graders, excluding those housed in K-12 schools because the bill didn't address those schools even though they might have some of the same programmatic issues. Typically in evaluating square footage the department looked at a five-year post-occupancy horizon. The out-years were used to determine square footage eligibility. He referred to the cost impact sheet noting that it broke the state into several areas and showed the incremental of the sixth grade class and then only the difference between the 106.25 incurred under a current regulation versus what would happen if the bill passed. It then gave an estimated cost per square foot for the additional square footage. Another handout before the committee was an example to show some of the complexities in determining square footage. It reflected the community of Eagle River. Mike Morgan detailed the process of configuring housing of students. The districts could choose to add additional space to existing buildings or build new schools. There was no limit on how they used the eligibility for additional square footage. This handout showed the community had two mixed grade schools and one middle school that housed only seventh and eighth graders. It also listed all the elementary schools and the Chugiak High School. One column on the handout was labeled "capacity" and was based on square footage. Another column showed the enrollments of the various grades. Then a column showed "unhoused students". A negative number meant that that many more students could fit in the school. A positive number showed the amount of overcrowding. Senator Randy Phillips wanted to know how many relocatable students were on the Chugiak High campus. Mike Morgan said hopefully none were included in this figure but they would rely on the school district to provide the information. Senator Randy Phillips asked if the school district included this as part of the housing. Debbie Ossiander answered no. Senator Randy Phillips said the point he was trying to make was that there were nine relocatable buildings on campus, which demonstrated the urgent need for an additional high school in the Eagle River area. The capacity for the school building was 1750 and the campus currently housed 2066 students. Senator Al Adams wanted to know if the current enrollment stayed the same for grades K-6 would there be any overcrowding. Mike Morgan responded that there was currently overcrowding at the high school only. When looking at any individual school, the department did not direct the district to address that particular problem. The department looked at the bottom line to determine qualification for additional square footage. A single school may be under crowded yet the district could still qualify for additional space based on the district totals. Senator Al Adams wanted to know if there were any schools in Alaska that were 150-200 percent over capacity under the current statute. Mike Morgan said there were nine schools that were at 190 percent or higher. A seven-year projection estimated that there would be over twenty schools at that level. Senator Al Adams stated that the current problem should be taken care of rather than rewriting the statute. Senator Lyda Green asked if the intent of the legislation was to take ninth graders and place them in the junior high schools. Mike Morgan said it would give the school districts the option to determine if that was the best choice for them. The department did not interfere with how the students were placed. Senator Lyda Green asked for the definition of "unhoused." Mike Morgan answered it was the calculation of space that a district would be eligible for funding based on existing square footage and projected population. Senator Lyda Green then asked if any "relocatable building" was counted as unhoused. Mike Morgan responded that the square footage from temporary buildings was identified but not counted. This was set in both statute and in regulation. Senator Lyda Green wanted to know if there was a negative impact for school districts if they had lots of students housed in relocatables. She had heard the discussion before and she thought there was another calculation that denied certain funding to the school districts. Mike Morgan was unaware of any. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if there was anything stopping the school districts from building to a higher standard than the department currently outlined. He understood that the districts could do that. They just wouldn't be subject to the full reimbursable rate for the entire square footage. Mike Morgan said that was exactly correct. To facilitate 100 percent locally funded projects the department passed regulations that exempted the square footage of the portion of the facility that were locally funded and managed. He noted the example of building oversized gyms to be used as community buildings. The extra square footage was not counted against them. Co-Chair John Torgerson wanted to know if it would affect any other reimbursement program. Mike Morgan could not think of any except for additional operational costs to the district, such as heating. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if the department was committed to the $97 million fiscal note. Mike Morgan affirmed. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked this to be put into perspective with the recent bond approval in Anchorage. He wanted to know the immediate impact. He didn't believe the impact would be felt in FY01 as noted in the fiscal note. He understood the intent to show the total impact if many more schools were built. Mike Morgan responded that there was one project the Anchorage School District considered submitting with the passage of the bond proposition. However, that school would not have qualified in light of the other school construction in the community. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if the department had discussed splitting the difference in the space allotment for the middle schools housing sixth graders. Mike Morgan said the standards were obtained from the Council for Educational Facility Planners, an international organization that worked on school issues. The department was reviewing those standards and expected to finish the analysis in the next two months. They would be in a better position to respond then. Co-Chair John Torgerson wanted to know if the review was warranted. Mike Morgan responded that there had been enough questions over the past year about space guidelines for all levels to justify the review. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if the department was therefore looking at the broad picture of increasing the square footage for all grade levels. Mike Morgan confirmed. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if most of the districts had adopted the middle school concept. Mike Morgan said there were few using the sixth graders. There were more districts using just the seventh and eighth grades. Senator Randy Phillips wanted to know which districts so he could get a percentage of students in the state. Mike Morgan would get that information. Senator Gary Wilken asked if with this legislation, the Fairbanks School District built another school how would this legislation affect it. Mike Morgan answered. This would only affect the schools built for the middle school configurations. He detailed. Senator Gary Wilken wanted to know if the fiscal note assumed that all new buildings would be constructed under the middle school configuration. Mike Morgan replied that it assumed all that qualified would. Senator Gary Wilken was confused about information on the spreadsheet. Were the terms "unhoused" and "excess capacity" used interchangeably? Mike Morgan affirmed. Senator Gary Wilken wanted to know how the spreadsheet would change if the legislation passed. Mike Morgan explained that the items, Mirror Lake and Birchwood, showing negative numbers in the unhoused category would decrease. In the case of Birchwood, he speculated that the number would become positive. Tape: SFC - 99 #112, Side B 9:53 AM Mike Morgan continued saying that the school could then qualify for additional school construction. Senator Randy Phillips qualified that this school was an ABC school and was different from the rest. He felt the school board members could explain the differences. Mike Morgan referred to the Mirror Lake School, using it as an example instead. That school would then become closer to qualifying for additional space. Senator Gary Wilken asked if by decreasing excess capacity it would drive the decision to build a new high school. He could not make the connection. Mike Morgan responded that because the department did not look at were secondary square footage was used-in the middle school or high school- the district could qualify for new construction. If the excess square footage were used up for secondary students, the district would meet its capacity level sooner. Debbie Ossiander commented on the bond package that had just passed. Even if the district qualified for a great amount of additional funding, that did not mean they would take advantage of it all. Co-Chair John Torgerson wanted the department to come back with more information on the middle school concept and how a compromise in square footage could be reached. He was concerned with Senator Al Adams's points as well as Senator Randy Phillips situation. He wanted the fiscal note to reflect the actual bond package items rather than all students who could possibly be changed. Lastly, he wanted to know the immediate impact if this were to be retroactive. Mike Morgan noted that if there were an approved project, the square footage would already be set. Co-Chair John Torgerson felt the fiscal note was considerable overstated. Senator Lyda Green believed a comparison of costs per student at a middle school versus a junior high would be much higher. Almost a quarter of teaching time was lost under the middle school concept. She supported the intent of this bill, but she did not want to encourage districts to adopt the middle school concept. Senator Randy Phillips wanted the information by Friday and asked if that was possible. Mike Morgan was unsure. He wanted time to work on the fiscal note changes. Co-Chair John Torgerson commented that the new middle school concept might be the most difficult. He felt that the witness should be able to adjust the fiscal note based on information about school district's plans. Senator Al Adams wanted information on the unhoused students. Co-Chair John Torgerson ordered the bill held in committee.