No one will argue that decades of deferred maintenance and budget cuts are major reasons why many of America's school facilities are in deplorable condition. Overall, school maintenance and operations (M&O) budgets have been on a downward trend for quite some time, helping contribute to the current education infrastructure crisis.

Nationally, 9.59 percent of a school district's net current expenditure (NCE) was appropriated for M&O in the 1996-97 school year, up slightly from 9.55 percent last year, according to American School & University's 26th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. The relatively small rise makes five consecutive years that M&O spending as a percent of NCE remained relatively flat.

Behind the survey

To arrive at the figures for the 26th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, an in-depth survey was sent to approximately 5,000 chief business officers at public school districts with enrollment of more than 600 students. Administrators were asked to document a variety of M&O costs, including payroll, energy, maintenance equipment and supplies, grounds expenditures and overall spending. Surveys returned without pupil enrollment data or gross area of district buildings were not used, accounting for a usable response rate of 6 percent.

Surveys were analyzed, and the median number for each category (i.e., payroll, outside contract labor, gas, electricity, equipment and supplies, etc.) was determined 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. Keep in mind that the number of responses received from each region will directly affect final figures reported from year to year.

Due to the popularity and mass use of the survey, AS&U does its best to continually improve upon the information offered. For example, the "fuel" category was broken down this year to better identify "gas" and "other fuel" expenditures. In addition, an "other" category was added to help the majority of districts with similar expenses better compare results. (Those items most often identified under the "other" category include equipment repair and rental, trash removal, clerical costs, insurance and travel expenses.)