Outlook 2008

Outlook 2008

Each year, the world evolves, but for education institutions, the cyclical nature of the school calendar means administrators come up against the same issues and challenges again and again.

In 2008, schools and universities must deal with most of the same facility issues that they have addressed in some fashion before — how to provide safe and healthful environments conducive to learning in a cost-effective manner.

It's not so easy when the details come into play: budget constraints, rising costs, environmental and health concerns, insufficient space, outdated facilities, fluctuating student numbers, security requirements, technological advances rendering existing equipment and programs obsolete.

The new year will be different in some respects. Voters will choose a new president in 2008, and the issue of reforming and improving education is likely to get some attention from the presidential candidates.

They will get a push from Strong American Schools, an advocacy group backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation. The group's goal is to make sure education is a top priority in the 2008 presidential election.

Some cynical educators dissatisfied with previous national attention in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act might hope that Congress and the federal government would not shine their spotlight on schools.

Efforts to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law stalled in Congress in 2007, but lawmakers are expected to take up the issue in 2008, and, depending on one's view of the law, refine and improve it, or fix it.

Following is an analysis of key issues that will impact education institutions in 2008 and beyond, as well as insight into how school and university administrators can best prepare for what lay ahead.

OUTLOOK: Enrollment

The long-range outlook for school enrollment in the United States is continued growth, but at a slower pace than what occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But, in a nation as wide and diverse as the United States, hidden in the gradual climb of those numbers are pockets of individual districts and public schools that are losing enrollment because of population declines and families that choose charter schools and private institutions.

Federal estimates of future student enrollment in K-12 school districts show overall numbers will keep climbing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics' “Projections of Education Statistics to 2016,” total enrollment, public and private, in elementary and secondary schools grew 15 percent between 1991 and 2004 — from 47.7 million to 54.9 million. From 2004 to 2016, the report projects, pre-K to 12 enrollment will grow 9 percent.

The growth slowdown is expected to occur mostly in high schools. Enrollment in grades pre-K to 8 rose 11 percent from 1991 to 2004 and is expected to grow another 11 percent from 2004 to 2016. However, the numbers in grades 9 to 12, which climbed 26 percent from 1991 to 2004, are expected to climb only 4 percent between 2004 and 2016.

Enrollment in private pre-K to 12 schools is projected to rise 5.7 percent, from 6,133,000 in 2004 to 6,481,000 in 2016. Public school enrollment is projected to climb 9.2 percent over those years, from 48,795,000 to 53,300,000.

As urban sprawl continues to gobble up rural areas with housing and commercial developments, those newly built communities need school facilities. Meanwhile, aging urban school systems find themselves with empty classrooms and inefficient operations.

In general, the greatest areas of expected growth are in the west and south, led by Nevada, which is projected to grow 36.6 percent from 2004 to 2016. Other states projected to see growth of more than 25 percent from 2004 to 2016: Utah, Arizona, Texas and Idaho.

The other end of the spectrum — states expected to see their enrollments decline from 2004 to 2016 — is populated mostly by Eastern states. Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, D.C., New York, Maine, Michigan, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio all are projected to have fewer students in 2016 than they had in 2004. However, the state projected to have the steepest decline over those years is not in the East. North Dakota is expected to have a student enrollment decline of 9.3 percent.

In Washington, D.C., years of declining enrollment and projections that the drops will continue have spurred school officials to take steps to close more than 20 schools in 2008.

Looking specifically at 2008, one area that will see an enrollment rebound is New Orleans. Public schools in the city are seeing their student numbers rise again as the state-operated Recovery District makes further progress in re-opening facilities that had been flooded and damaged after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hundreds of thousands of residents evacuated the area because of the flooding and destruction, and many of them are gradually finding their way back to the Gulf Coast.

The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center says that as of October, 32,149 students were enrolled in public schools in Orleans Parish — in facilities run by the Recovery District, in schools run by what remains of the Orleans Parish District, or in charter schools. That's still much less than the 62,000 students in Orleans Parish public schools before Katrina, but it shows a steady climb as the community works to put itself back together.

Neighboring parishes show similar enrollment patterns. The St. Bernard Parish district went from 8,588 students before Katrina to 955 in January 2006. By October 2007, student numbers were up to 4,198. Jefferson Parish enrollment dropped from 51,110 before the hurricane to 41,750 in January 2006. Its October 2007 enrollment was 44,058.

As the recovery continues, the numbers in New Orleans continue to rise. In early December, the Recovery District reported that more than 1,800 additional students had enrolled in its schools since the academic year began. The district is moving forward with plans to renovate or rebuild five schools that will open in 2009.

In higher education, enrollment projections show a faster pace of growth than elementary and secondary schools. From 2004 to 2016, the NCES projects that enrollment in degree-granting institutions will rise between 14 and 19 percent, depending on economic conditions. That means that in 2016, between 20 million and 20.8 million students will be enrolled in colleges and universities, compared with 17.5 million in 2004.

In comparison, higher-education enrollment from 1991 to 2005 grew 22 percent, from 14.4 million to 17.5 million.

Women will continue to make up the majority of higher-education students. In 2016, between 11.9 and 12.5 million women will be enrolled in college; the number of men in college is projected to be between 8.1 million and 8.3 million. In 2005, there were about 10 million women and about 7.5 million men enrolled.

OUTLOOK: Construction

The outlook for education construction for 2008 is the same it has been for many years: Schools and universities have a lot of needs, and voters and lawmakers are going to be spending billions to address many of those needs. By the end of the year, the unmet needs still will outpace the ability of schools and universities to pay for new and renovated facilities.

In American School & University's 2007 Official Education Construction Report, school districts projected they would spend $51.3 billion on construction in 2007-09; colleges projected their construction spending for 2007-09 at $45.5 billion.

As costs climb and needs multiply, the dollar amounts allocated for school construction projects can seem astounding. On election day in November 2007, districts in Texas, led by an $807 million package in Cypress-Fairbanks and an $805 million request in Houston, won approval of more than $7 billion in school bond proposals.

Higher-education institutions also have sizable facility needs. In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine has proposed $1.65 billion in construction and renovation projects for the state's colleges and universities. Boston College has announced a 10-year, $1.6 billion plan to renovate and expand its campus. The University of Massachusetts at Boston wants to spend $750 million over the next decade to build three academic buildings, two residence halls and a parking structure.

Colleges and universities are continuing to devote attention and construction dollars to creating more appealing campuses that attract prospective students and their parents, says Frank Hayes, a vice president with Shawmut Design and Construction in Boston.

“We've seen a lot of new campus centers with state-of-the-art food-service operations,” says Hayes. “Lately, campuses have been building science buildings and performance spaces. They are trying to keep up with the Joneses. Once you reach a certain tier of schools, it's more about the amenities that are available.”

In addition to providing more amenities, Hayes says higher-education institutions are having to address the decline of their aging facilities. Facility planners are trying to breathe new life into their outdated buildings.

“Schools are repurposing their old facilities and making more efficient use of space,” Hayes says. “They're doing more than just slapping some wire and data ports into a building.”

On many campuses, Hayes says, old-style residence halls are reaching the end of their useful life and being converted to apartment-style suites that are more suited to the preferences of modern students.

In 2008, expect to see more gasp-inducing bond requests on the drawing boards. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell wants the state to put a $9 billion bond request before voters in November. The money would go to school districts, community colleges and state universities. Testifying before a legislative committee, O'Connell told lawmakers the bond money would help districts integrate preschool programs into their facilities, upgrade food-service facilities and operations, provide community services on school campuses, and modernize facilities to provide more flexibility and access to technology.

In the Clark County (Nev.) district, administrators are mulling over whether to hold a $7 billion bond proposal in November that would help the district provide enough classroom space over the next 10 years to keep up with unrelenting growth in the Las Vegas area. The $7 billion in bonds, together with another $2.5 billion in hotel and transportation taxes, would provide money for 73 new schools.

As Clark County's buildings age, the district is finding it needs to pay more attention to repairs and renovations, as well as new facilities. The latest construction proposal calls for more than $4 billion to renovate or replace aging facilities.

Clark County's new construction plans come as the district nears the end of its previous bond program — a $3.5 billion plan approved in 1998. When all the projects are completed from that program, the actual costs will be $4.9 billion.

Price tags that exceed the initial estimates are not unique to Clark County. Many schools and universities have seen their construction budgets drained by unanticipated expenses and delays. In some cases, a shortage of workers or materials is to blame.

Recently, Hayes says, acquiring specialty equipment — especially specialty glass — in a timely fashion has been difficult.

“There's a real struggle to get some types of materials,” says Hayes. “It can affect the lead time and whether a project will be ready in time for an academic year. When there isn't as much demand, you can negotiate with vendors and get a shorter procurement time.”

OUTLOOK: Sustainability

As 2008 arrives, energy prices continue to drain school and university budgets, and scientists and political leaders are sounding ever-dire warnings about global warming and the need to stop squandering the earth's resources. The effect on the nation's education administrators has been a growing realization of the need to operate their campuses more efficiently and responsibly.

For school facility planners, efforts to become more environmentally sensitive manifest themselves in new and renovated spaces designed, built and maintained using sustainable concepts and strategies. From individual elementary classrooms to sprawling university campuses, students, educators and administrator are pitching in to bring the green movement into the mainstream.

As of December 2007, more than 460 presidents of U.S. higher-education institutions had signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. It calls on campuses to establish plans to become “climate neutral.” That means a campus would have no net greenhouse gas emissions.

“We … recognize the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80 percent by mid-century at the latest, in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming,” the commitment states.

The commitment calls upon colleges to compile a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions on their campuses and then develop a plan to achieve climate neutrality. Among the recommended steps cited in the commitment: at least 15 percent of a campus's electricity consumption should come from renewable sources; schools should encourage use of and provide access to public transportation for all faculty, staff, students and visitors; schools should adopt an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy requiring Energy Star-certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist; and all new campus construction should be built at least to the silver standard of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

The growing acceptance and use of LEED standards in education construction will continue to propel the green movement forward in 2008. As of November 2007, the Green Building Council had certified 67 K-12 facilities in the United States as meeting LEED standards for environmentally friendly design and construction. But the council lists more than 500 K-12 projects in various states of design or construction that plan to pursue LEED certification.

The state of Ohio gave the green movement another burst of momentum in September when the state's School Facilities Commission adopted the LEED rating system as part of its school design standards. The commission has $4.1 billion earmarked for construction projects, and it estimates that 250 school projects in Ohio will be registering for LEED certification in the next two years.

Helping to shine even more light on the benefits of green schools is former President Bill Clinton. The Clinton Climate Initiative, working with the Green Building Council, is putting together a program to reduce energy consumption in K-12 facilities. Together with the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, the Clinton initiative will help retrofit facilities on college campuses to increase their energy efficiency.

Also working with the Clinton initiative is the Earth Day Network, which plans to kick off an International Green Schools Campaign on Earth Day 2008. Students at 100 schools will begin a year-long school-greening project with the network's help. Each school will compete to reduce its ecological footprint, and the top performers will receive awards from the network.

The Earth Day Network says it plans to “promote hands-on, interdisciplinary learning through projects that benefit schools and increase green space and biodiversity in communities, such as outdoor, living classrooms; refurbishments with certified green building materials; or green roof installations.”

Frank Hayes, a vice president at Shawmut Design and Construction, says some green strategies are becoming more common, such as designing buildings with good indoor air quality and recycling construction waste.

“Where there is hesitation is with systems that have a big upfront expense,” he says.

The continuing perception that it can add significantly to a project's construction costs is a key impediment to wider acceptance of sustainable design strategies. A 2006 study indicated that a green school construction project cost an average of 2 percent more than a conventionally designed project; those extra costs would be more than offset by savings that accrue over the life of the building.

Hayes notes that the costs of green construction depend on the philosophy and practices of a school or university.

“How much more it costs depends where you're starting from and how you build,” says Hayes. “If it's a school that is just squeaking by the code requirements, then the additional costs are going to be extensive. But if you're making good business decisions and factoring in life-cycle and operating costs, the difference is not going to be significant.”

OUTLOOK: Maintenance/indoor environmental quality

Environmental stewardship doesn't end for schools when construction of a sustainably designed facility is completed. The decisions a school or university makes about what it uses to clean and maintain a building and how it carries out maintenance and cleaning can make the difference between a healthy student body and staff, and one beset by recurring illnesses and absences.

Just as green design and construction have taken root in the education field, the green cleaning movement is gaining popularity in schools.

In Illinois last summer, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Green Clean Schools Act, and the state became the second in the United States, after New York, to require green cleaning in schools. The Illinois law calls upon the Illinois Green Government Coordinating Council to come up with guidelines and specifications by Feb. 11, 2008; schools must begin following the guidelines by May 9, 2008.

The Healthy Schools Campaign, a vocal proponent of green cleaning, says a comprehensive green clean policy should cover: use of safe and environmentally friendly cleaning products; use of equipment that reduces the need for cleaning solutions and promotes healthful indoor air; adoption of cleaning procedures that reduce exposure; use of recycled paper products; and involvement of all school members in promoting a clean and healthful environment.

In New York, the state's office of general services conducted a survey of schools to determine the effectiveness of the law requiring green cleaning. The results, released in 2007, indicated that the law has succeeded in making sure schools have access to green cleaning supplies that are comparable to traditional products.

“The main goal of the legislation — to provide environmentally preferable cleaning products for use in schools that are available in the same form, function and utility as traditional products — has largely been achieved,” the survey report says.

The benefits of green cleaning will become more pronounced, the survey said, as maintenance departments use up their inventory of old products and replace them with more environmentally friendly items.

New York's green cleaning guidelines have eight categories: glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, carpet cleaner, general-purpose cleaner, vacuum cleaners, hand soaps, floor finishes and floor finish strippers.

“There are numerous products available in each of the eight cleaning categories,” the survey says.

In addition to recommendations about the types of cleaning products to use, the New York guidelines spell out best cleaning management practices. Those include:

  • Reduce the need to clean. Prevent, to the extent possible, soil and other contaminants from entering the facility.

  • Follow instructions and precautions provided by the manufacturer.

  • Clean first; only use a disinfectant or germicide if needed.

  • Minimize the use of products that leave a scent in the room.

  • Buy high-quality floor finishes.

  • Use cold water.

  • Consider the impact and life-cycle costs of maintenance in choosing floor products.

  • Vacuum carpets frequently prior to considering the use of any carpet cleaning products.

  • Maintain vacuum cleaners and filters regularly.

  • Investigate the use of new cleaning technologies and equipment.

  • Ensure all custodial and maintenance personnel are trained properly.

  • Leave virtually no residue.

  • Consider purchasing universal mounted dispersing/proportioning systems, not proprietary systems that can be used only with one company's cleaning products.

Based on the survey, state officials concluded that the schools that have achieved the most success converting to green cleaning are those that embrace the philosophy and show that commitment through staff training.

“We found that some schools have employed green-cleaning strategies long prior to the enactment of the law,” the report says. “There is anecdotal information that those districts and schools that have been most successful appear to be those which fully embrace the concept of using less toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products in schools, and who actively work with vendors and others to provide appropriate training to custodial and maintenance staff on the proper use of new products. This may also involve changing cleaning practices and techniques.”

Schools that convert to green cleaning may see costs rise. Two-thirds of those that responded to the survey said their expenditures for cleaning supplies climbed 10 percent or more because of the switch to green products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a guide for environmentally preferred purchasing, points out benefits that can offset the costs of green products: Products with positive environmental attributes, such as biodegradability, low toxicity or low volatile organic compound content can minimize the harm to custodial workers and building occupants, and reduce water and air pollution. In addition, buying cleaners in concentrates with appropriate handling safeguards, and reusable, reduced, or recyclable packaging, reduces packaging waste and transportation energy.

OUTLOOK: Security

Toward the end of 2007, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007,” an annual report from the U.S. Justice and Education departments, contained good news about crime in the nation's K-12 public schools. “There is some evidence school safety has improved,” the report's executive summary states.

Non-fatal crime against students aged 12 to 18 declined from 144 incidents per 1,000 students in 1992 to 57 per 1,000 in 2005. Over the same timeframe, comparable drops were seen in violent crimes (from 48 per 1,000 to 24 per 1,000) and serious violent crimes (10 per 1,000 to five per 1,000) against students.

Still, any positive thoughts that school and university security officials can extract from those statistics are eclipsed by the horrific shooting deaths on April 16, 2007 on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va.

Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho fatally shot 32 students and faculty members and wounded 17 others before killing himself. Authorities say it was the deadliest shooting incident in U.S. history.

In 2008, those responsible for school and university security will use the lessons learned from Virginia Tech, as they have done with previous school-related tragedies, to identify flaws in their own safety and security provisions and take steps to prevent similar episodes from occurring on their facilities and grounds.

After Cho killed two students in a residence hall, some two hours elapsed before he turned up at another campus building and began shooting. A report from a task force formed by the Virginia governor said that the university could have sent out a campuswide warning or cancelled classes in response to the initial shootings.

“It is critical to alert the entire campus population when there is an imminent danger,” the task force concluded. “There are information technologies available to rapidly send messages to a variety of personal communication devices.”

The report recommends that in an emergency, immediate messages must be sent to the campus community that provide clear information on the nature of the emergency and actions to be taken. The task force says campus police, as well as administration officials, need to have the authority and capability to send an emergency message.

In the months following the Virginia Tech shootings, many college campuses beefed up their notification systems to alert students and staff about campus emergencies no matter where they may be. Technology enables schools to send information via voice mail to cell phones or landlines, e-mail, text messages, campus message boards and loudspeakers. The more avenues for delivering a message, the more likely an emergency message will reach the targeted audience.

University administrators also are taking note of the consequences that could befall them and their campuses when violent incidents are handled improperly. Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti has been entangled in controversy throughout most of 2007 because of the deceptive way it dealt with the slaying of a student in her residence hall room.

Laura Dickinson was killed in December 2006; although police immediately considered her death a possible homicide, the university maintained in the days after her death that “at this point there is no reason to suspect foul play.” The school maintained that stance even after police told officials there was “obvious evidence of a murder and a sexual assault.”

The U.S. Education Department announced in December that it was fining Eastern Michigan $357,500 for its “very serious, numerous and repeated” violations of the Clery Act, which governs disclosure of crimes on college campuses.

“Despite the ongoing homicide investigation, including the identification of a possible suspect, who may have had the student's keys to the dormitory as well as her car, EMU did not issue a warning to the campus community,” Mary E. Gust, director of the U.S. Department of Education's Administrative Actions and Appeals Division, said in a letter to the university. “EMU did not take any steps to re-key any of the locks on the dormitory.”

Police arrested a suspect in February — 10 weeks after the killing. “It was only at this point … that the university advised the campus community and the student's parents of specific information about the crime,” Gust wrote.

Also in its investigation, the education department found that Eastern Michigan did not report or disclose properly its crime statistics in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

“These failures have endangered EMU's students and employees, who must be able to rely on the timely warning of a serious crime, the accurate reporting of crimes and crime statistics, and disclosures of campus crime policies and statements in order to take precautions for their safety and security,” Gust wrote.

Before the fine was announced, the school's bungling of the Dickinson case already had led to the firing months earlier of the university president and the resignation of two other top administrators. Eastern Michigan also has agreed to pay the victim's family $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit.

OUTLOOK: Technology

Computer availability and Internet access have become almost universal in U.S. public schools.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, virtually every public school has had Internet access since the early 2000s. In 2005, 94 percent of public school instructional rooms had Internet access; of the schools with Internet access, 97 percent of them connected to the Internet with broadband connections.

From 1998 to 2005, computer availability in the average public school went from one computer for every 12.8 students to one for every 3.8 students. As wireless Internet access and laptop computers become more prevalent, technology trends point to schools having a computer for every student.

“America's Digital Schools 2006,” a report by The Greaves Group on technology in school districts, found that 19 percent of student computers are mobile; by 2011, 50 percent of student computers will be mobile.

The report also found that 24 percent of school districts have taken steps to establish some degree of 1:1 or ubiquitous computing (defined as “each student and teacher has one Internet-connected wireless computing device for use both in the classroom and at home”).

The research found that 88 percent of the schools that tracked academic results in a ubiquitous computing program reported positive outcomes.

“It appears that properly implemented ubiquitous computing solutions can help improve student achievement to a significant degree,” the report says.

Ubiquitous computing will require teachers to receive training so they can work more effectively in a one-on-one environment. Only 17 percent of district curriculum directors believe their professional development program is set up to effectively support ubiquitous computing.

“Professional development is perhaps the single largest factor in the success or failure of the digital school,” the report says.

The prevalence of computer networks and Internet connections at most schools and universities also has led to a boom in online courses and distance learning. In “America's Digital Schools 2006” school districts reported that 3.8 percent of students were taking part in online courses in 2006; by 2011, the report projected, 15.6 percent of students will be taking online courses.

At the higher-education level, nearly 3.5 million students — about 20 percent of all students — were taking an online course in fall 2006, according to “Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning,” a report by the Babson Survey Research Group. The report gathered responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities.

More than two-thirds of higher-education institutions have some form of online offerings, the report notes. The most prominent school specializing in online courses is the University of Phoenix. Its online campus reported an enrollment in fall 2006 of more than 165,000 students, far outpacing the numbers found on any brick-and-mortar campus.

Administrative support for online programs is critical for online courses to flourish, the study found.

“For online education to continue its rapid growth, it must be perceived as important by the chief academic officers who are planning tomorrow's educational offerings,” Online Nation says.

With Internet connections in place for academics, schools and universities can take advantage of the bandwidth their computer networks provide. Some districts and college campuses have set up Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems to replace traditional phones.

Continuing technology improvements allow schools and universities to boost student security. Computer networks typically have enough capacity to accommodate numerous video cameras that can provide surveillance of many parts of a school campus. The images captured can be monitored in real time, or recorded and reviewed after the fact. Their presence deters crime and allows security officers to more effectively investigate incidents that do occur.

Some schools have adopted high-tech identification systems using biometric software to determine who is allowed to enter a facility. The systems can scan a finger, hand or even a person's eyes. In Nashville, Tenn., a pilot program that began in 2007 at three schools uses face-recognition technology to compare someone trying to enter a building with a photo database of those authorized to come into a facility.

OUTLOOK: Business and Finance

The costs of running schools and universities continue their steady upward climb. In 1991-92, the nation's public school expenditures were $293 billion, or $6,969 per student. By 2003-04, the amount had risen to $415.5 billion, or $8,561 per student. In “Projections of Education Statistics to 2016,” the federal government projects that by 2016-17, public school expenditures will be between $565 billion and $618 billion. That translates to between $10,598 per student and $11,599 per student.

Making sure there is enough money to pay their staffs and maintain facilities is a perennial battle for administrators. There never seems to be enough money to accomplish the educational objectives, and what is a suitable budget one year can become a nightmare the next because of economic conditions or the whims of legislators. When legislatures or other funding sources tighten the purse strings, administrators can have a hard time sorting through the priorities delivering high-quality education.

In Nevada, superintendents are trying to figure out how to absorb a mid-year 4.5 percent cut to their 2007-08 state funding. At first, schools were spared from the state's cuts, but Gov. Jim Gibbons determined that the size of Nevada's financial shortfall — $440 million over two years — forced him to include school districts in the budget rollbacks.

Administrators say the cuts could lead to layoffs and program cuts. Walt Rulffes, superintendent of the Clark County district, Nevada's largest with more than 300,000 students, says that because the cuts are coming halfway through the school year, they will have to be twice as severe.

For some struggling school systems, the situation has become so dire that government intervention becomes necessary. In Washington, D.C., schools are suffering from declining enrollment, aging facilities in disrepair and poor student achievement.

Mayor Adrian Fenty has persuaded the City Council to give him greater authority over the school system, and Fenty hired Michelle Rhee to the new position of school chancellor. In 2008, she is expected to begin overhauling the school system's central administrative staff; the city council has given her the power to fire non-union employees without cause. Rhee also is moving forward with an unpopular plan to close more than 20 of the district's under-capacity schools.

In Los Angeles, the city's mayor also is pushing forward with efforts to take some control of schools in the Los Angeles Unified District. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's efforts to assume control of the district's operations has been thwarted in the courts, but he has formed a partnership with a non-profit group that will take control of several struggling city schools and provide them with extra support and resources.

The difficulties encountered running a school system have made the job of superintendent a difficult one to fill in some districts, despite the high salary in most large systems. A report issued earlier this year by the American Association of School Administrators, “The State of the American School Superintendency: A Mid-Decade Study,” found that 60 percent of superintendents found their job “very stressful.”

“These are the highest stress levels in any AASA state of the superintendency study, as superintendents face the pressure of meeting increasing expectations with dwindling resources,” the AASA says. Still, the report noted, 9 out of 10 superintendents say they find their work rewarding and believe they have made the right career choice.

OUTLOOK: Energy

Higher energy prices and a weak U.S. dollar may combine to ruin utility spending forecasts for schools and universities in 2008. Education institutions that have taken steps to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels to heat and light their facilities, and power their buses and other vehicles will be in a better position to keep their school systems operating smoothly without busting their budgets.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergySmart Schools program, schools can cut their energy costs by 5 to 20 percent by improving operations and maintenance. Lighting, which represents from 25 to 40 percent of a typical school's energy costs, is one area where energy-saving steps can make a significant difference in utility bills.

The use of daylighting strategies to reduce dependency on electric lights has become more accepted in recent years at schools and universities. Accelerating that acceptance were studies that have indicated that students perform better in classrooms with ample amounts of natural light.

Properly designed clerestory windows, roof monitors and lightshelves allow daylight to be dispersed uniformly and prevent glare. Baffles can further diffuse daylight in a space.

To further reduce the use of artificial lights, schools can use sensors that adjust lighting levels depending on the availability of natural light or whether anyone is using a particular space. Timers also can be installed to automatically control lights.

Compact fluorescent and smaller-diameter fluorescent tubes provide more light with less energy than incandescent bulbs or wider fluorescent tubes.

Reducing the use of electric lights also means less heat is generated. Another way schools can prevent unwanted heat from entering a facility is installing cool roofs, which typically are made of light-colored, reflective materials that turn away sun rays.

Alternative energy sources can help schools acquire the power they need at lower costs. Some education institutions use wind turbines to harness energy and use it to power their facilities. The federal government's goal is for wind power to provide 20 percent of the nation's electricity by 2030.

The Department of Energy's Wind Powering America program works with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to bring wind power to schools, especially in rural areas. Schools in 23 states have school wind projects.

In addition to the energy savings, wind power projects can be used to educate students about how energy is produced.

Solar power is another way schools can acquire energy more efficiently. Photovoltaic cells atop school roofs can be used to capture sun rays and convert them to energy. In Florida, the SunSmart Schools program provided photovoltaic systems to 17 schools and colleges in 2006-07. In California, Pacific Gas & Electric's Solar Schools program provides photovoltaic panels to up to 40 schools a year so they can cut electricity costs and teach students about solar energy.

Some schools have been able to lessen their reliance on fossil fuels for their energy needs by installing geothermal heating and cooling systems, which take advantage of the constant temperature of the earth. In the summer, heat pumps remove heat from a building and store it in the ground; in the winter, the system pumps heat from the ground back into the building.

Systems such as a geothermal heat pump can be expensive, and schools may not have the finances to pay for such a large upfront cost — even though administrators know they can save money in the long run with a more efficient system.

For many schools and universities, the solution is a performance contract. An energy company agrees to pay the initial costs of installing more energy-efficient equipment in an education facility. The school or university agrees to repay the cost of the new system out of the savings generated by the more efficient system.

The rising cost of fuel hits school district transportation budgets especially hard, so administrators should be open to alternatives that will enable them to run their fleets more efficiently. Several districts around the country are experimenting with electric-hybrid school buses.

The Austin (Texas) district began using a plug-in hybrid school bus in November — the first district in Texas to buy such a bus. The district estimates that with an electric drive and a diesel engine, the bus will get about 12 miles a gallon, compared with about 6 miles a gallon for a typical diesel-powered bus. Battery packs that provide the electric power to the bus are recharged overnight.

Higher-education institutions also have sizable facility needs. In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine has proposed $1.65 billion in construction and renovation projects for the state's colleges and universities. Boston College has announced a 10-year, $1.6 billion plan to renovate and expand its campus. The University of Massachusetts at Boston wants to spend $750 million over the next decade to build three academic buildings, two residence halls and a parking structure.

Colleges and universities are continuing to devote attention and construction dollars to creating more appealing campuses that attract prospective students and their parents, says Frank Hayes, a vice president with Shawmut Design and Construction in Boston.

“We've seen a lot of new campus centers with state-of-the-art food-service operations,” says Hayes. “Lately, campuses have been building science buildings and performance spaces. They are trying to keep up with the Joneses. Once you reach a certain tier of schools, it's more about the amenities that are available.”

In addition to providing more amenities, Hayes says higher-education institutions are having to address the decline of their aging facilities. Facility planners are trying to breathe new life into their outdated buildings.

“Schools are repurposing their old facilities and making more efficient use of space,” Hayes says. “They're doing more than just slapping some wire and data ports into a building.”

On many campuses, Hayes says, old-style residence halls are reaching the end of their useful life and being converted to apartment-style suites that are more suited to the preferences of modern students.

In 2008, expect to see more gasp-inducing bond requests on the drawing boards. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell wants the state to put a $9 billion bond request before voters in November. The money would go to school districts, community colleges and state universities. Testifying before a legislative committee, O'Connell told lawmakers the bond money would help districts integrate preschool programs into their facilities, upgrade food-service facilities and operations, provide community services on school campuses, and modernize facilities to provide more flexibility and access to technology.

In the Clark County (Nev.) district, administrators are mulling over whether to hold a $7 billion bond proposal in November that would help the district provide enough classroom space over the next 10 years to keep up with unrelenting growth in the Las Vegas area. The $7 billion in bonds, together with another $2.5 billion in hotel and transportation taxes, would provide money for 73 new schools.

As Clark County's buildings age, the district is finding it needs to pay more attention to repairs and renovations, as well as new facilities. The latest construction proposal calls for more than $4 billion to renovate or replace aging facilities.

Clark County's new construction plans come as the district nears the end of its previous bond program — a $3.5 billion plan approved in 1998. When all the projects are completed from that program, the actual costs will be $4.9 billion.

Price tags that exceed the initial estimates are not unique to Clark County. Many schools and universities have seen their construction budgets drained by unanticipated expenses and delays. In some cases, a shortage of workers or materials is to blame.

Recently, Hayes says, acquiring specialty equipment — especially specialty glass — in a timely fashion has been difficult.

“There's a real struggle to get some types of materials,” says Hayes. “It can affect the lead time and whether a project will be ready in time for an academic year. When there isn't as much demand, you can negotiate with vendors and get a shorter procurement time.”

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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