Hawaii’s big bond sale this month was great news for the state because of how much it will save in lower interest rates. But for the Hawaii State Department of Education, it was a routine event.

“If the state had never sold the bonds, we would never have had any (capital improvement project) money released, but nobody ever suggested that wasn’t going to happen,” said Randy Moore, assistant superintendent for school facilities and support services at the department.

That means the same capital improvements the department already had slated for this year and next will proceed as planned. Those include a much-needed campus modernization project at Farrington High School and a new middle school in Kapolei, among a host of others.

Here’s a quick rundown of how the capital improvements process works for the department, according to Moore.

“It really is simple,” he said. “The department requests, the Legislature appropriates, the governor releases, and the department spends.”

Because the request-to-spend timeline can be lengthy, the department relies heavily on 16 lump sums that can cover everything from fixing leaky roofs to constructing temporary classrooms at fast-growing schools.

Years can pass even between the time the Legislature appropriates and the time the department spends. Capital improvement appropriations made in the first year of the state’s budget biennium are good for three years. For example, the $600,000 lawmakers set aside earlier this year for Moanalua High School’s new performing arts center can be spent any time before June 30, 2014.

The flexibility is handy, because sometimes the governor releases less than the Legislature appropriated. That usually forces the department to spend on a different schedule than planned. And to make sure the expenditures follow some rhyme and reason, the department keeps a numbered list of its capital improvement projects in order of priority.

“The priority number determines which projects DOE will request be funded, if the total funds available to DOE for CIP is less than what the Legislature appropriated,” Moore wrote in an email.

Lawmakers have criticized the strategy, but it has allowed the department to continue at least eight large-scale school improvement ventures this year with only half of the $300 million it asked for — all while trying to keep up with routine maintenance projects.

Here are the big projects this year and their allotment status:

For next year, the district is seeking another $130 million from the Hawaii Legislature for even more capital improvements, in addition to the $170 million lawmakers already set aside.

See this year’s requests here, and an explanation for them here.

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