Getting Little Respect: 29th Annual M&O Cost Study for Schools

School districts are spending more to maintain and operate their buildings. However, when it comes to getting its share of the total budget, M&O continues to receive a smaller piece of the available pie.

For the 1999-00 school year, school districts nationally allocated slightly more than nine percent of their net current expenditures (NCE) to M&O, according to American School & University's 29th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. This is the third consecutive year that schools are dedicating a smaller percentage of their budgets to maintain and operate their facilities. In fact, the percentage is down considerably from the more than 11 percent of NCE school districts earmarked for M&O in 1990.

Getting results

To arrive at the results for the annual study, a detailed survey was mailed to more than 6,000 chief business officials at public school districts with enrollment of more than 600 students. Administrators were asked to document various M&O costs, including salary/payroll, maintenance equipment and supplies, energy, utilities and outside contract labor.

The median number for each category (i.e., payroll, equipment and supplies, gas, electricity, outside contract labor, etc.) was identified on a national and regional level. In no case were regional medians added or averaged to arrive at national figures. National medians were calculated by analyzing every survey in each category and identifying the median number. 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 1999-00 school year. Following are the categories used on the survey questionnaire:

-Budgeted: Amounts for the 1999-00 school year, reported as of the November 1999 survey deadline.

-Per student: Based on enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 1999).

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

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

-Total maintenance and operations (M&O) expenditures: Including salaries, fringes, overhead, equipment and supplies, energy, utilities, outside contracts, etc., for custodial, maintenance 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, trash removal, travel expenses, equipment repair and rental, and insurance.

As you compare 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, climate, the labor market in your area, as well as other factors over which school administrators have limited control.

In addition, because the study uses medians, and the majority of the nation's school districts-and respondents to the survey-are small- to medium-size (median student enrollment of 2,267), costs may vary if you are from a very large or very small institution.

Just the facts

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 dropped slightly to 21,156 from 21,429 square feet last year. Square feet maintained per maintenance worker decreased as well, falling to 87,500 from 93,255 square feet last year. (Use caution when comparing this figure, because job responsibilities for maintenance professionals vary significantly from district to district.) Acreage maintained per grounds worker, however, increased to 41 from 40 last year.

Median salaries for custodial, maintenance and grounds personnel were mixed. While custodial salaries rose ($22,574, up 10 percent), maintenance salaries remained flat ($27,942) and salaries for grounds personnel dropped ($23,100, down 4 percent). More school districts also are contracting out M&O to private firms. Nineteen percent of school districts report that they contract out building M&O services, while 20 percent use privatized grounds services (16 and 18 percent, respectively, last year).

The cost of transporting students to school rose for the 1999-00 school year, as well. The median district spends 4.2 percent of its total budget and $293.39 per pupil on transportation (3.8 percent and $261.62 per pupil last year).

Regional figures

Two regions of the country continually report the highest maintenance and operations costs. The first, Region 2, which consists of just two states, reported the highest per-student expenditures for custodial payroll, outside contract labor, gas, other fuel, total M&O, total NCE and transportation. It had the highest per-square-foot costs for custodial payroll, gas, other fuel and total NCE.

The second, Region 9, had the highest per-student costs for maintenance and grounds payroll, and grounds equipment and supplies. It spent the most per square foot for maintenance and grounds payroll, electricity, other utilities, grounds equipment and supplies, and total M&O.

Other regions reporting the highest expenditures per category include Region 5 (per-student cost for maintenance equipment and supplies, per-square-foot cost for outside contract labor, and amount of square feet maintained per custodian and per maintenance worker), Region 10 (per-student costs for other utilities, other, M&O as a percentage of NCE, and per-square-foot cost for other), Region 1 (custodial, maintenance and grounds salaries), Region 3 (maintenance equipment and supplies, acres maintained per grounds worker, and transportation cost as a percentage of total district expenditures), and Region 1 (per-student cost for electricity).

Among regions reporting the lowest expenditures per category include Region 8 (per-student costs for maintenance and grounds payroll, electricity, other, total M&O, total NCE, and per-square-foot costs for maintenance and grounds payroll, electricity, other and total NCE), and Region 9 (per-student costs for outside contract labor, maintenance equipment and supplies, transportation, square feet maintained per custodian and acres maintained per grounds worker). Region 4 posted the lowest per-student cost for custodial payroll, per-square-foot costs for outside contract labor, maintenance equipment and supplies, transportation cost as a percentage of total district expenditures, and per-square-foot costs (tied) for custodial payroll and other fuel. Region 6 (per-square-foot costs for total M&O and custodial payroll (tied), and salary for custodial, maintenance and grounds personnel), and Region 7 (per-student and per-square-foot costs for other fuel, other utilities, and grounds equipment and supplies) also reported lows.

Other lows are reported in Region 1 (per-student and per-square-foot costs for gas, and per-square-foot cost for other utilities [tied]) and Region 2 (M&O as % NCE and square feet maintained per custodian).

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

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