The economy has taken its toll on school district budgets, and it has been especially hard on maintenance and operations (M&O) funding.

As states and local governments experience severe revenue shortfalls, school districts are finding they are not immune to the budget-cutting ax. And one of the first areas targeted for cuts is M&O, even as deferred maintenance and the effects of inadequate upkeep — such as mold and indoor environmental quality — continue to plague more and more institutions.

M&O spending as a percentage of district net current expenditure (NCE) sank to 7.4 percent in the 2002-03 school year, down from 7.8 percent the year before, according to American School & University's 32nd annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. This is the sixth consecutive year districts have apportioned a smaller percentage of expenditures to M&O, and it is the lowest percentage amount since this survey's inception.

Methodology

In October, chief business officials at the nation's public school districts were mailed a detailed questionnaire asking them to document various M&O costs, including salary/payroll, gas, electricity, utilities, maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies, outside contract labor and other costs, as well as maintenance practices.

The results that follow are listed not only by median, which is how data have been presented in the past, but also by mean (average) to offer an additional benchmarking tool. Data are listed on a national level and by district enrollment, and identify budgeted expenditures for M&O per student and per square foot for the 2002-03 school year.

Categories used in the survey questionnaire:

  • Budgeted: Amounts for the 2002-03 school year.

  • Per student: Based on enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 2002).

  • 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, debt service and transportation.

  • Total maintenance and operations (M&O) expenditures: Including salaries, benefits, gas, electricity, utilities, equipment and supplies, 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, electrical 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 clerical costs, travel expenses, equipment repair and rental, and insurance.

When using these figures as a benchmark, keep in mind that all costs are greatly affected by a number of factors, including the age and overall condition of buildings, climate, the labor market in your area, as well as other aspects over which school administrators have limited control.