Reflecting ever-growing financial difficulties faced by school districts across the nation, percentage spending on maintenance and operations (M&O) continues to hover around historic lows.

Although more attention has been focused on such things as indoor environmental quality and cleanliness of schools, adequate funding to provide effective M&O services remains elusive. According to American School & University's 33rd annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, the median school district spends 7.7 percent of total district expenditures (TDE) on M&O. While a slight uptick from the all-time-low 7.4 percent allocated last year, the small percentage amount remains a stark reminder of how difficult it continues to be to upkeep and operate America's aging education infrastructure on a shoestring budget.

About the study

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

Results 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 2003-04 school year. Categories used in the survey questionnaire:

  • Per student: Based on enrollment (average daily attendance as of October 2003).

  • 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 2003-04 school year.

  • 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, trash removal, travel expenses, equipment repair and rental, and insurance.

As you compare data, 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.