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Status Quo: 26th Annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study for Schools

No one will argue that decades of deferred maintenance and budget cuts are major reasons why many of America's school facilities are in deplorable condition. Overall, school maintenance and operations (M&O) budgets have been on a downward trend for quite some time, helping contribute to the current education infrastructure crisis.

Nationally, 9.59 percent of a school district's net current expenditure (NCE) was appropriated for M&O in the 1996-97 school year, up slightly from 9.55 percent last year, according to American School & University's 26th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. The relatively small rise makes five consecutive years that M&O spending as a percent of NCE remained relatively flat.

Behind the survey

To arrive at the figures for the 26th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, an in-depth survey was sent to approximately 5,000 chief business officers at public school districts with enrollment of more than 600 students. Administrators were asked to document a variety of M&O costs, including payroll, energy, maintenance equipment and supplies, grounds expenditures and overall spending. Surveys returned without pupil enrollment data or gross area of district buildings were not used, accounting for a usable response rate of 6 percent.

Surveys were analyzed, and the median number for each category (i.e., payroll, outside contract labor, gas, electricity, equipment and supplies, etc.) was determined 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. Keep in mind that the number of responses received from each region will directly affect final figures reported from year to year.

Due to the popularity and mass use of the survey, AS&U does its best to continually improve upon the information offered. For example, the "fuel" category was broken down this year to better identify "gas" and "other fuel" expenditures. In addition, an "other" category was added to help the majority of districts with similar expenses better compare results. (Those items most often identified under the "other" category include equipment repair and rental, trash removal, clerical costs, insurance and travel expenses.)

Defining the categories

All survey data reported in AS&U's 26th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study identify budgeted expenditures for M&O per student and per square foot for the 1996-97 school year. Below is the terminology used on the survey questionnaire:

-Budgeted: Amounts for the 1996-97 school year, reported as of the November 1996 survey deadline.

-Per student: Based on enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 1996).

-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, outside contracts, equipment and supplies, energy, utilities, etc., for maintenance, custodial and grounds.

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

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

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

-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: Primarily equipment repair and rental, trash removal, clerical costs, insurance and travel expenses.

As you compare your 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 physical plant managers have limited control. In addition, 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 2,513), large systems will need to take this into consideration when reviewing results.

A sampling of highlights

In addition to the results presented in the charts and graphs that follow, a variety of additional information is available. For example, at the national level, the median public school district has 17 full-time custodial, four full-time maintenance and two full-time grounds personnel maintaining 375,349 square feet of buildings on 80 acres.

For the 1996-97 school year, more is being spent by school systems on transportation. The median district spends 4.16 percent of its total annual expenditures on transportation ($246.06 per pupil). These costs are up slightly from last year's, and represent additional expenditures many school districts are incurring in transporting more special-needs students and a rapidly escalating school-age population.

All three salary positions surveyed-custodial, maintenance and grounds-increased over what was reported last year. The national median salary for custodial personnel is $20,990 (up 5 percent); for maintenance staff it is $27,528 (up 6 percent); and for grounds personnel it is $22,726 (up 4 percent).

The amount of square feet maintained per custodian is roughly the same as what was reported in last year's survey. On the national level, 20,936 square feet of building space is maintained per custodian.

The regional breakdown

Region 2 reported the highest costs in a majority of per-student and per-square-foot categories. It posted the highest per-student expenditures for custodial and maintenance payroll, electricity, total M&O, total NCE, transportation, and maintenance and grounds salaries. It had the highest per-square-foot costs for custodial payroll, outside contract labor, total M&O and total NCE.

Region 5 and Region 9 posted the highest expenditures in a number of categories. Region 5 had the most expensive costs per student for outside contract labor and gas, and per square foot for gas, maintenance equipment and supplies, and other expenses. Region 9 reported the highest expenditures per student for grounds payroll, and the highest costs per square foot for maintenance and grounds payroll, electricity and other utilities.

Per-student costs were the highest for other fuel, other expenses and custodial salary in Region 1, as well as per-square-foot cost for other fuel. Other highs are reported in Region 4 (per-student and per-square-foot costs for grounds equipment and supplies, and electricity per student), Region 8 (per-student cost for maintenance equipment and supplies, and the amount of square feet maintained per custodian), Region 3 (M&O as a percent of NCE and transportation costs as a percent of total district expenditures) and Region 10 (per-student cost for other utilities).

Two regions reported the lowest expenditures in a majority of categories. Region 6 had the lowest per-square-foot costs for custodial payroll and maintenance equipment and supplies, and per-student cost for other fuel. It also posted the lowest custodial, maintenance and grounds salaries. Region 7 had the lowest per-student cost for other utilities, and per-square-foot costs for maintenance payroll, other utilities, grounds equipment and supplies, other costs and total M&O.

Region 4 reported the lowest expenditures for grounds payroll per student and per square foot, and per-student costs for custodial payroll, other costs and total M&O. Region 8 had the lowest per-square-foot costs for electricity and total NCE. It also posted lows for per-student costs for maintenance payroll and electricity, and transportation as a percent of total district expenditures. Region 9 posted lows in per-student costs for maintenance equipment and supplies, transportation, grounds equipment and supplies, and total NCE, and per-square-foot cost for maintenance equipment and supplies.

Other lows are reported in Region 10 (outside contract labor cost per student and per square foot, per-square-foot cost for grounds equipment and supplies, and M&O as a percent of NCE), Region 1 (per-student and per-square-foot costs for gas) and Region 5 (per-square-foot cost for other fuel).

Taking care of business

The importance of M&O in preserving America's education infrastructure cannot be questioned. But ensuring that appropriate dollars are provided on a regular basis-and strategically allocated-often is difficult.

As more attention is focused on the poor condition of many of the nation's schools, will districts find it easier to secure needed funding for the maintenance, repair and upkeep of facilities? Probably not; which is why physical plant directors will continually search for innovative ways to maintain and operate buildings more efficiently and less expensively.

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