Challenging Times: 34th Annual M&O Cost Study

Results from AS&U's 34th Annual M&O Cost Study

It's a well-known fact that when school districts look to make up budget shortfalls, maintenance and operations (M&O) typically is the first area to be cut. However, since this has been common practice for decades, continued reliance on M&O spending reductions can be equated to trying to get blood from a stone — there is little left to cut without causing additional harm, and some districts have reduced spending so much that learning environments are being impacted significantly.

But recent data confirms that the practice of providing fewer resources to M&O continues. In fact, according to American School & University's 34th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, the median school district spends 7.5 percent of total district expenditures (TDE) on M&O — a slight decrease from last year and a percentage hovering close to the all-time-low 7.43 percent allocated in 2003 (see chart “A decade of M&O expenditures”).

Survey methodology

In October, 2004, a detailed questionnaire was mailed to chief business officials at the nation's public school districts asking them to document myriad M&O costs, including salary/payroll, outside contract labor, utilities, gas, electricity, trash collection/disposal, maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies, and other costs, as well as various maintenance practices.

Data then were broken out on a national level and by district enrollment, identifying budgeted expenditures for M&O per student and per square foot for the 2004-05 school year. Categories used in the survey questionnaire:

  • Per student: Based on total district enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 2004).

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

  • Total district expenditures (TDE): Amounts for the 2004-05 school year.

  • Total maintenance and operations (M&O) expenditures: Including salaries, benefits, outside contracts, utilities, gas, electricity, trash collection/disposal, equipment and supplies, etc., for custodial, maintenance and grounds.

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

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

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

  • Payroll: Including benefits.

  • Average salary: Annualized, excluding benefits.

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

  • Other utilities: Including water, telephone, etc.

  • Other: Most often identified as clerical costs, insurance, travel, and equipment repair and rental.

An important thing to keep in mind as you compare data: All costs are greatly affected by numerous factors including age and overall condition of buildings, climate, the labor market in your area, as well as other aspects over which district administrators have limited control.

Highlights

The 34th annual M&O Cost Study offers many tables and charts that can help you benchmark your M&O expenditures. Among additional highlights:

  • The national median 2004-05 total M&O expenditure for school districts is $1.1 million. For systems under 1,000 students, the median total M&O expenditure is $451,600; for districts with 1,000-3,499 students, the median total M&O expenditure is $1.3 million; and for systems with more than 3,500 students, the median total M&O expenditure is $5.6 million.

  • The median number of buildings maintained in a school district is seven (three in systems with less than 1,000 pupils; seven in districts with 1,000-3,499 students; and 15 for systems with more than 3,500 pupils).

  • Custodial staff account for 85 percent of the full-time M&O workforce employed by a school district.

  • The median school district spends $331,756/yr. for utilities and $77,175/yr. for custodial/maintenance equipment and supplies. Gas and electricity account for about 75 percent of the total utility spending for school districts.

  • The median amount of square feet maintained per custodian jumped to 25,444 from 23,787 square feet last year. Conversely, square feet maintained per maintenance worker dropped to 87,931 from 90,757 square feet last year. Acres maintained per grounds worker shrunk to 41 from 47 last year.

  • The mean public school district has 37 full-time custodial, 10 full-time maintenance and five full-time grounds personnel.

  • National median salaries for all positions increased this year (custodial workers $25,595 from $24,174 last year; maintenance staff $35,000 from $33,039 last year; and grounds workers $29,894 from $29,744 last year).

  • Transportation-program costs continued to drop, with the median school district spending 4.4 percent of its total budget (4.6 percent last year) and $374 per student ($380 per student last year) on transportation.

  • The percentage of school districts outsourcing M&O services increased from last year, with almost 17 percent of the nation's institutions involved in the practice (10 percent last year). The smaller the district, the more likely it is to contract out M&O services.

 

TABLE 1: Maintenance & Operations Costs (Expressed in median dollars per student)

      Nat'l Median <1,000 students 1,000-3,499 students >3,500 students
Total Payroll $361.90 $401.76 $351.23 $349.03
  Custodial** $258.47 $289.72 $256.20 $234.35
  Maintenance** $90.94 $113.43 $78.55 $81.42
  Grounds** $29.57 $43.50 $27.38 $26.35
  Outside Contract Labor $42.98 $66.03 $42.55 $21.08
Total Utilities $238.60 $284.59 $236.29 $222.98
  Gas** $54.93 $80.25 $54.71 $37.24
  Electricity** $124.55 $133.69 $120.94 $117.76
  Gas & Electricity (subtotal) $181.53 $213.95 $177.37 $164.16
  Other Fuels $15.61 $51.87 $22.50 $3.51
  Other Utilities $37.85 $51.57 $33.53 $28.23
  Trash Collection/Disposal $8.70 $11.18 $8.64 $6.50
Total Equipment & Supplies $53.77 $80.25 $50.12 $39.27
  Custodial/Maint. Equip. & Supplies** $41.27 $57.38 $40.69 $27.83
  Grounds Equip. & Supplies** $11.27 $22.94 $11.56 $8.05
Other $25.66 $70.71 $18.95 $20.22
Total M&O* $722.91 $903.34 $699.14 $652.58
Total District Expenditures $9,074 $9,501 $8,925 $8,412
M&O as % TDE 7.51% 7.99% 7.37% 7.95%
*Calculated from subtotals (in blue).
**Based on fewer responses than the total due to schools that combine some of these categories.

TABLE 2: Maintenance & Operations Costs (Expressed in median dollars per square foot)

      Nat'l Median <1,000 students 1,000-3,499 students >3,500 students
Total Payroll $1.79 $1.68 $2.05 $2.39
  Custodial** $1.41 $1.16 $1.47 $1.57
  Maintenance** $0.50 $0.49 $0.47 $0.60
  Grounds** $0.17 $0.18 $0.15 $0.17
Outside Contract Labor $0.24 $0.26 $0.17 $0.14
Total Utilities $1.35 $1.26 $1.36 $1.37
  Gas** $0.31 $0.37 $0.31 $0.25
  Electricity** $0.67 $0.60 $0.65 $0.83
    Gas & Electricity (subtotal) $1.02 $0.96 $0.98 $1.10
  Other Fuels $0.07 $0.21 $0.08 $0.01
  Other Utilities $0.19 $0.22 $0.17 $0.19
  Trash Collection/Disposal $0.05 $0.05 $0.05 $0.04
Total Equipment & Supplies $0.27 $0.33 $0.25 $0.25
  Custodial/Maint. Equip. & Supplies** $0.21 $0.25 $0.19 $0.20
  Grounds Equip. & Supplies** $0.06 $0.08 $0.06 $0.06
Other $0.19 $0.22 $0.11 $0.14
Total M&O Budget* $3.84 $3.75 $3.94 $4.29
Total District Expenditures $49.47 $41.63 $53.18 $60.87
*Calculated from subtotals (in green).
**Based on fewer responses than the total due to schools that combine some of these categories.

Detailing square footage

Median amount of square feet (SF) and acreage maintained at school districts:

  Nat'l Median <1,000 students 1,000-3,499 students >3,500 students
SF maintained per full-time custodial worker 25,444 32,074 29,805 20,311
SF maintained per full-time maintenance worker 87,931 67,073 100,000 85,572
Acres maintained per full-time grounds worker 41 20 48 50
SF maintained per building 50,000 26,276 52,733 73,121

Privatizing M&O

The percentage of school districts contracting out maintenance and operations services:

Nat'l Median <1,000 students 1,000-3,499 students >3,500 students
16.8% 19.2% 18.2% 11.4%

Payroll stats

Median salary for custodial, maintenance and grounds personnel at school districts:

  Nat'l Median <1,000 students 1,000-3,499 students >3,500 students
Custodial $25,595 $23,865 $27,169 $25,745
Maintenance $35,000 $30,000 $35,000 $40,172
Grounds $29,894 $26,457 $30,656 $30,000

Personnel data

Average number of full-time custodial, maintenance and grounds personnel at school districts:

  Nat'l Mean <1,000 students 1,000-3,499 students >3,500 students
Custodial 37 4 14 105
Maintenance 10 3 3 27
Grounds 5 1 2 12

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

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