A Budget Deferred: 28th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study for Schools

Growing demands placed on school districts continue to stretch thin available dollars, and maintenance and operations (M&O) budgets remain a prime target for cuts. But this should be of no surprise; M&O traditionally has been shortchanged, resulting in some school facilities that have a deferred maintenance backlog dating back 10 years or more-and deficiencies that are growing exponentially.

Nationwide, school districts allocated just more than nine percent of their net current expenditures (NCE) to M&O in the 1998-99 school year, according to American School & University's 28th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. This represents the second year in a row that schools are using a smaller percentage of their budgets to preserve and run their facilities, which amounts to much less than the 13 percent of NCE earmarked a little more than a decade ago.

Survey methodology

To arrive at the results for the most recent M&O Cost Study, an in-depth survey was mailed to approximately 6,000 chief business officials at public school districts with enrollment of more than 600 students. Administrator were asked to document various M&O costs, including salary/payroll, energy, outside contract labor, maintenance equipment and supplies, and utilities.

Surveys were analyzed, and the median number for each category (i.e., payroll, outside contract labor, gas, electricity, equipment and supplies, etc.) was identified on a national and regional level. In no case were regional medians added or averaged to arrive at the national figures. National medians were calculated by analyzing every survey in each category and identifying the median number. Be aware that the number of responses received from each region will directly affect final figures reported from year to year.

Data reported identify budgeted expenditures for M&O per student and per square foot for the 1998-99 school year. Following are the categories used on the survey questionnaire:

-Budgeted: Amounts for the 1998-99 school year, reported as of the November 1998 survey deadline.

-Per student: Based on enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 1998).

-Per square foot: Based on total gross area of all district buildings maintained, including corridors, common space and offices.

-NCE (net current expenditure): Total district expenditures, including teacher salaries, minus the cost of capital outlay, debt service and transportation.

-Total maintenance and operations expenditures: Including salaries, fringes, overhead, energy, utilities, outside contracts, equipment and supplies, etc., for maintenance, custodial and grounds.

-Custodial: Those individuals responsible for building upkeep and cleaning.

-Maintenance: Those individuals who perform skilled jobs, such as HVAC, plumbing or electrical repair.

-Grounds: Those individuals responsible for landscape upkeep and maintenance.

-Payroll: Including fringes.

-Average salary: Annualized, excluding fringes.

-Outside contract labor: Those hired for specialized jobs to maintain or repair building systems or equipment, such as HVAC maintenance or repair.

-Other fuel: Including oil and coal.

-Other utilities: Including water, telephone, etc.

-Other: Most often identified as clerical costs, equipment repair and rental, trash removal, travel expenses and insurance.

When comparing your district's M&O expenditures with the regional and national medians reported, keep in mind that all costs are greatly affected by the age and overall condition of buildings, the labor market in your area, climate, as well as other factors over which school officials have limited control. Also, because medians are used and the majority of the nation's school districts-and respondents to the survey-are small- to medium-size (median student enrollment of 2,192), costs at large school systems may vary significantly.

Facts and figures

In addition to the detailed charts and graphs, the survey found that, at the national level, the median public school district has 16 full-time custodial, four full-time maintenance and two full-time grounds personnel. The amount of square feet maintained per custodian has increased from what was reported in last year's survey (21,429 square feet compared to 20,612 square feet last year). Acreage maintained per grounds worker also increased to 40 from 33 last year. A new breakout-square feet maintained per maintenance worker-is in response to numerous requests. However, use caution when comparing this figure (93,255 square feet) because job responsibilities for maintenance professionals vary significantly from district to district.

The national median salary for custodial personnel is $20,538 (down 3 percent), $27,938 for maintenance personnel (up 5 percent) and $24,002 for grounds personnel (up 5 percent). In addition, 16 percent of school districts report that they contract out M&O services to a private firm, while 18 percent use privatized grounds services.

Transportation costs make up a smaller percentage of total district expenditures for the 1998-99 school year. The median district spends 3.8 percent of its total budget on transportation ($261.62 per pupil).

Regional breakdowns

More than one-third of the highest costs in per-student and per-square-foot categories are reported in Region 2. Consisting of just two states, New Jersey and New York, the region leads the pack in per-student expenditures for custodial and grounds payroll, grounds equipment and supplies, total M&O, total NCE and transportation. It had the highest per-square-foot costs for custodial payroll, gas and grounds equipment and supplies. The highest salaries for custodial, maintenance and grounds personnel can be found here, as well.

Region 9 logged in the highest per-student cost for maintenance payroll; and per-square-foot costs for maintenance and grounds payroll, other utilities, total M&O and total NCE.

Among other regions reporting the highest expenditures per category include Region 4 (acres maintained per grounds worker, per-square-foot costs for electricity and other, and per-student cost for other), Region 8 (per-student costs for other fuel, maintenance equipment and supplies, M&O as % NCE, and tied for per-square-foot cost for other fuel), Region 5 (per-student costs for outside contract labor, and per-square-foot costs for outside contract labor and maintenance equipment and supplies), Region 1 (square feet maintained per maintenance worker, and tied for per-square-foot costs for other fuel), Region 6 (per-student costs for electricity and other utilities), Region 7 (square feet maintained per custodian and per-student cost for gas) and Region 3 (transportation costs as a percentage of total district expenditures).

Some of the lowest expenditures per category were reported by Regions 8 and 9. Region 8 posted the lowest per-student costs for grounds payroll and total NCE, and per-square-foot costs for grounds payroll, electricity, other, total NCE, and tied for grounds equipment and supplies. Region 9 had the lowest per-student costs for electricity, total M&O and transportation, and tied for transportation as a percentage of total district expenditures. It also reported the lowest square feet maintained per custodian and maintenance worker, and acres maintained per grounds worker.

Region 1 reported the lowest expenditures in a number of categories, including per-student costs for maintenance payroll, gas and other utilities, and per-square-foot costs for gas, maintenance payroll (tied) and other utilities (tied). Region 4 had the lowest per-student costs for custodial payroll and maintenance equipment and supplies, as well as per-square-foot costs for maintenance equipment and supplies, grounds equipment and supplies (tied), and other fuel (tied).

Region 6 had the lowest salaries for custodial, maintenance and grounds workers, transportation costs as a percentage of total district expenditures, and custodial payroll per square foot. Region 7 reported lows in per-student costs for outside contract labor and other, and per-square-foot costs for total M&O, outside contract labor and maintenance payroll (tied).

Other lows are reported in Region 3 (per-student costs for grounds equipment and supplies, and tied for per-square-foot costs for other utilities, and grounds equipment and supplies), Region 5 (per-student costs for other fuel and tied for per-square-foot costs for grounds equipment and supplies, and other fuel), and Region 2 (M&O as % NCE).

Repeat offender

A majority of the nation's school facilities are in a crisis situation. Millions of children are being forced to attend school in poor and often dangerous buildings. The problem is well-known and well-documented-as are the causes, of which deferred maintenance is one. However, school districts will be unable to adequately address appropriate maintenance and operations of facilities until more resources and funding are made available.

A number of state and local governments, as well as national lawmakers, are proposing measures to attack poor and unsafe school building conditions. It is a massive problem that will require monumental assistance.

Agron is editor-in-chief of AS&U.

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