THE STATE'S MAINTENANCE ROLE

A group working to improve urban school facilities says that states should assume a greater role in evaluating how districts are maintaining school buildings.

The Building Educational Success Together (BEST) initiative, led by the 21st Century Fund, has released a report that seeks to improve school facilities management and funding. One element needed, the report says, is having state departments of education establish “criteria or indicators for evaluating the condition and level of maintenance of school facilities.

“Routine maintenance is the key to cost-effective long-term utilization of buildings, (yet) few states have legislation that assures the protection of the public's investment in public school facilities,” the report says.

The group recommends that states develop on-site survey procedures for evaluating the condition of every public school and conduct periodic reviews of educational facilities to determine if they are being maintained properly.

“States should have the authority to take appropriate action when the necessary funding for maintenance of schools is not provided,” the report recommends.

MAINTENANCE SCAMS LEAD TO PRISON

Defendants in Michigan and Maryland have received prison sentences for defrauding school districts in bogus repair schemes.

Gilbert Sapperstein, the owner of a boiler company, has been ordered to reimburse the Baltimore city school district more than $3 million after he was convicted of bilking the school system for phony repair claims for more than a decade.

Sapperstein, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison, has admitted that he paid kickbacks to district employees for boiler repairs and services his company overstated or did not perform. Prosecutors allege that Rajiv Dixit, a former facilities and maintenance supervisor in the school district, helped Sapperstein cheat the system in exchange for a third of the stolen funds.

Dixit has not been charged in the case, but is charged in a separate case with embezzling district funds.

In the East Detroit, Mich., district, Frank Brasza, former maintenance director, was ordered to serve 12 months and one day in prison and pay $225,000 in restitution for his role in a bribery and embezzlement scheme. Prosecutors say Brasza approved overbilling on behalf of companies that paid kickbacks to him.

GRADE IS BETTER, BUT NOT GOOD

The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 2005 “Report Card for America's Infrastructure” has good and bad news for schools.

The grade for the nation's school infrastructure has risen since a 2001 report. But the 2005 grade is a lowly D, up from a D-minus.

“ASCE strongly believes that governments at all levels should make primary and secondary education a priority, and should provide the resources to support the necessary infrastructure,” the report card says.

“The first step in addressing the condition of the nation's schools is a realistic and ongoing needs evaluation,” the ASCE says.

SEEKING BETTER FACILITIES

The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2005 “Report Card for America's Infrastructure” offers these recommendations for improving the infrastructure of the nation's schools:

  • Expand federal tax credits to support greater use of school construction bonds.

  • Increase federal grants for high-poverty, high-need districts.

  • Encourage districts to explore alternative financing, such as lease financing, to facilitate construction.

  • Have districts adopt regular, comprehensive construction and maintenance programs.

  • Increase emphasis on research and development for design and construction to address changing instructional needs.

  • Establish a federal, multi-year capital budget for public works infrastructure construction and rehabilitation, similar to those used by state and local governments.

  • Encourage the use of life-cycle cost analysis principles to evaluate the total costs of projects.

  • Consider direct federal funding for school construction.