Editor's Focus: Lifelong Learning

What is the greatest challenge education will face over the next 20 years? While most likely no two responses will be exactly alike, one concept that deserves closer attention is “cradle to grave” education — or ensuring local communities, states, and the nation as a whole strive to provide environments that encourage and promote lifelong learning and opportunities to transcend traditional teaching-and-learning models.

And there is no better time to do this than the present.

Schools and universities are spending record amounts on construction, and taxpayers continue to be asked to shell out billions of dollars annually on education facilities. But early in the planning stages, when designs and dollars are being discussed, does the conversation revolve strictly around the type of school desired, or does it encompass the larger picture: the desire to create a “center of community” that will be the nucleus of an evolving plan to provide facilities and opportunities for a community of learners?

At a national Education Summit sponsored by Heery last month, this was one of many concepts discussed by an Industry/Policy Panel formed to explore myriad issues affecting education today and in the future. Made up of executives from The United States Conference of Mayors, Council of the Great City Schools and Center for the Reform of School Systems, as well as a state senator from Texas and yours truly, the panel spent an entire morning discussing everything from handling political issues and trends in education to construction financing and high-performance schools.

The “schools as centers of community” concept is nothing new. But often political and jurisdictional roadblocks sabotage the creation of true “community-central” facilities. If we are to realize this goal, we need to revisit much about how education facilities are financed, planned, designed, constructed, operated and maintained. And the earlier in the planning process the discussion starts, the better.

SCORECARD

There is no doubt that inadequate maintenance and operations (M&O) can detract from the learning environment. Yet, spending nationwide on M&O, especially at school districts, continues to suffer. A sampling of results from AS&U's 33rd annual M&O Cost Study:

7.7

Percent of total budget school districts allocated to maintenance and operations in the 2003-04 school year.

9.5

Percent of total budget colleges allocated to maintenance and operations in the 2003-04 school year.

31

Percent of M&O budget spent by school districts on energy/utilities this academic year.

37

Percent of M&O budget spent by colleges on energy/utilities this academic year.

$24,174

National median custodial salary at school districts.

$21,013

National median custodial salary at colleges.

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