Construction Boondoggle Leaves Classroom Seats Empty

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Schools built through the state’s emergency construction funding resulted in more than 25 percent of empty seats at half the schools, a state report found.


In accordance with Florida law, the state established the Special Facility Construction Account to provide financial assistance to school districts that lack the resources to address urgent construction needs.


However, a report released by the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found that the new schools were often larger than justified given expected student population growth patterns.


Between fiscal years 1998-99 and 2009-10, districts received Special Facility Construction Account funds for 25 school projects, but each of these projects “created more student stations than needed to serve the number of students who were enrolled in the 2009-10 school year,” according to the report.


Thirteen of the 25 projects had more than 25 percent excess student stations, which totaled $108 million in additional construction costs, the report stated.


The excess may be due to a decline in the projected student enrollment due to a poor economy, which has affected Florida’s overall population growth, according to the report.


Additionally, because funding was restricted to building new schools rather than expanding current facilities, districts may have had an incentive to request funds for larger schools since they would not be able to obtain program funds in later years for smaller program funds, the report said.


To prevent excess in the future, the report recommends clarifying the types of projects eligible for funding and the department’s role in making decisions, as well as requiring approval for final construction plans for program-funded projects, among others.