As the nation's school buildings age and deteriorate, spending on maintenance and operations (M&O) remains paltry, especially when compared with historical figures.

According to American School & University's 35th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, the median school district spends 7.58 percent of total district expenditures (TDE) on M&O. The amount is about even with what was allocated last year, and more than 2 percent lower than the 9.59 percent of budget spent 10 years ago— reflecting the rather low priority many school districts place on the condition of facilities where children learn.

Compiling the numbers

To arrive at data for the latest M&O Cost Study, a detailed questionnaire was mailed in October 2005 to chief business officials at the nation's public school districts asking them to document their institutions' 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 additional maintenance practices.

Data for the report is broken out on a national level and by district enrollment, with budgeted expenditures for M&O identified per student and per square foot for the 2005-06 school year. Categories used in the survey questionnaire:

  • Per student: Based on total district enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 2005).

  • 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 2005-06 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 insurance, clerical costs, equipment repair and rental, and travel.

As you compare data, keep in mind that all costs are affected greatly by numerous factors including age and overall building condition, climate, the labor market in your area, as well as other aspects over which school administrators have limited control. In addition, the figures provided are not intended to be “ideal” amounts for M&O allocations; they are only reflections of actual spending by institutions.