Mar 19, 2008
People are willing to invest in education, as long you go about it in a logical manner
The economy is not without its challenges; it’s understandable that school districts balk at the idea of spending money to update their facilities. It means asking the public for money at a time when everyone’s struggling to do more with less. Ironically, however, it’s this investment in facilities that will help in reversing the current economic situation. We’re an information-based society, and educating and retaining top talent is key to improving our economy. Moreover, people are more than willing to invest in education, as long you present the information in a logical manner.
Population, Facilities, and Budget
When school districts think about updating facilities, there are three considerations: student population, the facilities themselves, and the project budget.
To begin, it’s important to conduct a pupil projection.* Whereas many approaches look primarily at historical trends and extraplate accordingly, we recommend taking additional variables into account to afford a more accurate projection. This includes birth and death data within the district, housing prices and demographics, and the retention rate between first and third grade within the district. This approach not only determines the number of students, but also helps you determine where facilities should be located, based on grade level.
Outside of salaries, facilities are the largest costs for school districts. Based on our survey of schools in Michigan, the average age of facilities is around 42 years old; the average useful life for which a facility is intended is 25-30 years—quite a disparity. The key here is to develop a prioritized plan. What needs to be improved immediately? What’s necessary but can wait a year? What’s merely “nice to have?” This sort of strategic plan helps districts allocate funds going forward.
In reviewing a 20-year history of state bond funds, we found that bond issues passed about 50 percent of the time. In May 2007, 58 percent passed. The point is that this is no better or worse time to ask the public for money. The key is to identify the discretionary household income of residents in your district. It’s important to conduct the appropriate market research to arrive at the correct amount. In addition, you’ll want to determine whether to select a bond issue or a sinking fund.
The Importance of an Independent Project Manager
When planning a facility improvement, it’s important to partner with an independent project manager—someone who’s your advocate and exists solely to represent you and your interests.