Study finds failure to meet maintenance-spending standards in state schools

Zainab Ali/Staff

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A study released Monday by the UC Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools found that more than half of the state’s school districts fail to meet industry standards for maintenance spending.

The findings showed that 57 percent of the 879 state school districts surveyed in the study fail to meet benchmarks in capital improvement spending, or spending for major constructional improvements, and 62 percent fail to reach the spending standards for basic maintenance and operation.

According to Jeffrey Vincent, author of the study and deputy director of the center, districts’ funds for school facilities’ maintenance and renovation largely originated from the state government for years.

Vincent said his study sought to answer the question of whether districts could satisfy their own maintenance spending requirements to make campuses “minimally healthy and safe” for students in the absence of state funding.

According to Timothy White, Berkeley Unified School District’s executive director of facilities, the district currently has a general fund of approximately $135 million. Under the state guidelines, school districts must fund routine maintenance at an amount equal to 3 percent of this fund, which BUSD successfully does, White said.

In the school district, White is responsible for understanding the district’s maintenance needs and for advocating new funding formulas. The district currently funds its maintenance needs through a parcel tax, granted by Measure H, which allocates the district $5 million per year.

Prior to working for the district, White spent 14 years at Oakland Unified School District, which he said does not meet the 3 percent maintenance funding requirement. Although White did not notice any effects of this deficiency during his time working there, he said the inability of a district to support maintenance has a long-term, negative impact on students’ productivity.

“If a school district has to make a cut, cuts will always be in these areas — custodial services, maintenance, further away from the classroom,” White said.

With an El Nino on California’s horizon, Vincent believes that school districts whose buildings remain in poor condition because of a lack of funding are at a disadvantage.

“The water could get into walls,” Vincent said. “Today’s roof problem could become tomorrow’s mold problem.”

But Vincent maintains that the objective of the center’s study was not to disparage school districts for not spending enough but to examine the consequences of decreasing state funding for facilities.

According to Vincent, funding for maintenance is often disproportionately distributed among different communities, as some are more willing than others to fund education-related taxes and programs.

“We as Californians need to have a conversation about how to adequately fund these buildings,” Vincent said. “Six million students sit in these buildings every day. They need to be, at minimum, healthy and safe for all students.”

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.