Current attention being focused on the deteriorating condition of America's school facilities has put the spotlight on past practices that have contributed to the present dilemma. Poor design and construction decisions made in the 1960s and 1970s by many school districts that wanted to get buildings up "fast and cheap" to meet burgeoning enrollments is the primary culprit. However, decades of deferred maintenance, insufficient building upkeep procedures, and years of siphoning dollars from maintenance budgets have significantly contributed to the current condition of our nation's schools.

According to American School & University's annual Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Cost Study, school districts allocated 9.40 percent of their net current expenditure (NCE) to M&O in the 1997-98 school year. While down slightly from last year's figure (9.59 percent), the percentage earmarked for M&O has dropped considerably from the 12.75 percent allocated in 1988.

Conducting the survey

Data for the 27th annual M&O Cost Study were compiled from an in-depth survey sent to approximately 5,000 chief business officers at public school districts with enrollments of more than 600 students. Each administrator was asked to document various M&O costs, including salary/payroll, energy, maintenance equipment and supplies, and grounds expenditures. Surveys returned without pupil enrollment data or gross area of district buildings were not used.

All surveys were analyzed, and the median number for each category (i.e., payroll, gas, electricity, outside contract labor, equipment and supplies, etc.) was identified 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. Be aware that the number of responses received from each region will directly affect final figures reported from year to year.

Survey data reported in the cost study identify budgeted expenditures for M&O per student and per square foot for the 1997-98 school year. Below are the categories used on the survey questionnaire:

-Budgeted: Amounts for the 1997-98 school year, reported as of the November 1997 survey deadline. *Per student: Based on enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 1997).

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

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

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

-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: Most often identified as equipment repair and rental, clerical costs, trash removal, insurance and travel expenses.

In comparing your M&O expenditures with the regional and national medians reported, keep in mind that all costs are greatly affected by the labor market in an area, the age and overall condition of buildings, climate, as well as other factors over which school administrators 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 2,000), large systems will need to take this into consideration when reviewing results.