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.