RSS passed over on spring capital grants, next round slated for the fall

Published 12:06 am Sunday, May 8, 2022

SALISBURY — When the state released a list of schools awarded capital grants last week, Rowan-Salisbury Schools was not on the list, but unusual circumstances mean the district could qualify for grant money this fall.

The state announced 28 school districts were awarded capital grants on Tuesday ranging from $900,000 to $40 million for capital projects. In total there were more than $395 million in awards announced.

The grants were doled out from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund which is made up of money collected through the N.C. Education Lottery.

RSS applied for a grant to help fund its Knox-Overton K-8 project, but was not on the list of awardees for this fiscal year. But the fiscal year ends in June, and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction confirmed the grant cycle for the next fiscal year is not a full year away: It will run from August to October.

NCDPI School Planning Section Chief Nathan Maune told the Post if the laws for the grant program are not changed during the General Assembly’s short session this month, the applications submitted for the 2021-2022 cycle will still be considered.

The assembly has appropriated $153 million for the 2022-2023 grants and excess money from the lottery may add to that total, but that will be not set in stone until the state closes out the 2021-2022 fiscal year in July.

The district applied for $40 million in funding for the new K-8, which would cover most of the project cost.

RSS Chief Operations Officer Anthony Vann said he has requested a debrief with the state to determine if anything in the district’s application caused it to fall behind districts that were awarded money and others who were not.

“If we need to adjust our application based on the debrief then we can certainly tweak our application,” Vann said.

Vann said the timing of the grant could affect the timeline for the project, which is slated to go to bid with a completed set of drawings this summer.

“We’ll have to look at it real close and see exactly how this grant timing will affect our schedule,” Vann said.

The district has applied for a grant from the fund in the past for a different project and did not receive a grant at that point either. Vann said the district first looked at applying for a grant from the fund years ago, but the tighter rules on the program at that point did not allow Rowan County to apply.

Maune said the grant cycles after the passage of a state budget. The last state budget was made in November and the legislature made changes to the program.

The grants have evolved over the years. Initially the grants were only available to counties classified as the most economically distressed by the N.C. Department of Commerce, called tier 1 counties, but in 2018 the grants were opened up to counties classified as tier 2 like Rowan.

When that change was made less money was available for tier 2 counties and the awards largely still went to poorer counties. At the time the most a county could receive for a grant was $15 million. This latest round was capped at up to $50 million for a new high school construction project. The program used to require districts to give up regular disbursements of lottery funds for a few years after receiving a grant, but that is no longer the case.

This latest round of grants was the largest by far in terms of money doled out, accounting for more than half the money given to school districts since the program was founded.  The funding for this round is a mix of counties based on tiers, with some tier 2 counties getting tens of millions in funding for their projects.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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