Editor's Focus: Disconnect

April 1, 2008
The disconnect between funding and actual operating budgets.

Last month, Vista Unified (Calif.) school officials announced that a much-anticipated new high school campus originally scheduled to open for the 2008-09 school year would not open until the following year.

The inability to open is not because of construction delays, unexpected building costs or the discovery of some endangered species on the site. The $91 million Mission Vista campus will sit unopened and unused because the district does not have the money to operate the facilities.

At the Folsom Cordova district (Calif.), a new $3 million pool at Vista del Lago High School sits unused. Completed in early February as a key amenity at the new $100 million school, district officials determined it could not afford to heat or operate the facility.

As surprising as such scenarios may seem, they are happening more and more. In the midst of robust education construction activity, some communities are finding out the hard way the difference between capital funding and operating budgets.

The disconnect between capital funding for major construction projects and operating budgets once a new facility is opened continues to flourish — often with embarrassing consequences. After years of planning and spending tens of millions of dollars, a community watches as an exciting new building sits unopened and unused because adequate planning and funding to operate the facility were not secured as part of the original capital program.

Institutions often look at construction costs with little consideration for the resources required to open and operate a new facility. Even those administrators that diligently consider life-cycle costs of a building often find themselves having to forgo best practices because of pressures to keep the initial cost of a program as low as possible — which can result in no plan for funding to operate the building once it is completed.

This shortsightedness needs to stop, and we need to close the disconnect between capital costs and operating costs — embracing life-cycle costs of any and every education construction project early in the planning stage.

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

About the Author

Joe Agron Blog | Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher

Joe Agron is the editor-in-chief/associate publisher of American School & University magazine. Joe has overseen AS&U's editorial direction for more than 30 years, and has helped influence and shape national school infrastructure issues. He has been sought out for comments by publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, ABC News and CNN, and assisted with the introduction of the Education Infrastructure Act of 1994.

Joe also authors a number of industry-exclusive reports. His "Facilities Impact on Learning" series of special reports won national acclaim and helped bring the poor condition of the nation's schools to the attention of many in the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Education and the White House.

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