By John Dufay, Executive Director of Maintenance and Support Operations
As mentioned in last year’s Year End Report, I had the privilege of serving on national 27-member Deferred Maintenance Task Force (DMTF) — under the direction of the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) — charged with compiling research regarding the serious and troubling depreciation of the nation’s schools and summarizing our findings. Reversing the Cycle of Deterioration in the Nation’s Public School Buildings was published by the CGCS and presented at the organization’s national annual conference held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin October 22-24, 2014. The DMTF was represented by executive level management of CGCS member large urban school districts nationwide, SchoolDude, and national educational consulting companies
The DMTF confirmed through research results what we felt we already knew and grapple with every day in preserving our aged schools with limited and dwindling funds to do so. The Report precisely outlines how large urban school districts that have been financially squeezed over many years are pressed to make unfortunate economic decisions today that only perpetuate deterioration and increase repair or replacement costs exponentially later. Findings repeatedly stress the importance of school districts making economically prudent preventive and predictive facilities maintenance decisions that ultimately reduce the cost of the maintenance while improving and extending the performance of systems. A study conducted by the Pacific Partners Consulting Group found that for every dollar of maintenance deferred to a later date — when more funds are available — results in $4 of capital renewal. It is sadly ironic that an effort to save money today costs many times more money tomorrow.
But because districts are in the education, not facilities, business, and financial resources are more scarce with every passing year (note illustration below), executive management deem it sensible to make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. While total per student spending has remained essentially flat nationally since the economic crisis that began in 2008, funding for capital repairs and improvements has nose dived over 26% since the all-time peak in 2008 according to the Public Education Finances Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Considering that conditions vary by state, this national trend reflects the understandable focus on curriculum and operational funding to the detriment of capital and planned maintenance investments in public school facilities.
Well maintained schools advance learning
Numerous studies understandably and unequivocally support the importance of well-maintained school facilities in the advancement of student performance. Neither teaching nor learning is improved while taking place in decaying and distressed buildings. Research reveals that student achievement is measurably improved by adequate indoor air quality; comfortable temperature; proper lighting; appropriate acoustical conditions; and adequate classroom size to accommodate students comfortably. In addition, researchers have discovered that teacher satisfaction and performance is influenced by the condition of the school building and is an important predictor of their decision to remain or resign. (Reversing the Cycle of Deterioration in the Nation’s Public School Buildings can be viewed at
APS’ Old schools are cherished and preserved
None of our team’s findings came as a surprise to me or thankfully, to other APS leadership. What I was surprised and equally gratified to learn, however, is how well APS schools fare in relation to buildings of similar districts nationwide, as APS certainly also has its share of old schools. Eugene Field Elementary was built in 1927 and four other elementary schools were built in the 1930s. The oldest middle school, Jefferson, was erected in 1938 and the original Albuquerque High School was built in 1914 (rebuilt in 1975). The average age the District’s schools is 44.7 years – quite amazing considering that this number was greatly lowered by the eleven new schools built since 2006. Our 2012 M&O Year End Report entitled, Renewal of Old Quality for 21st Century Learning, featured and honored the beautiful buildings that have stood the test of time for hundreds of thousands of APS students (that include me, my wife, our kids, and our kid’s kids). Whereas so many school districts from coast to coast are struggling with crumbling and deteriorating buildings, APS’ old schools are gems — standing straight and sturdy — not by accident, not easily, and not unnoticed.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card regarding the condition of the nations’ public schools (http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/schools/ overview), 76% of America’s school districts need to invest money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to bring their schools up to good overall condition. I am confident that APS falls in the 24% of school districts that are most definitely up to date and not falling behind. Is every building in perfect condition? Certainly not. But the condition of every school is certainly known, in minute detail in most cases. M&O prioritizes these facilities in routine maintenance and fights for a piece of the capital pie to tend to their high dollar needs.
APS’ preventive maintenance program is serving as a blueprint for other school districts. In addition, I serve on CGCS’s Strategic Support Team to conduct performance peer reviews of facilities operations for member school districts. And I continue to learn from other CGCS member schools’ facilities management teams in making improvements to our M&O program in addition to wrestling with vexing on-going and new challenges. Just as other districts are asking what APS is doing that they can implement in the districts, we’re requesting their input in applying their successes to APS. As we all learned in drafting Reversing the Cycle of Deterioration in the Nation’s Public School Buildings, no one needs to re-invent the wheel.
The following bar graph accurately illustrates that we service APS schools with fewer dollars every year,
consistent with national figures, but fails to signify that we’ve done so whilst adding 54% more square
footage and losing 20% full time employees between 2007 and 2014!
M&O Expenses 2007-2014
(school sites only, excludes administrative facilities)
A great deal of credit goes to the taxpayers who more often than not vote in favor of tax levies (69% last bond election) that provide the capital dollars, however declining, that M&O depends on. And M&O manages the tight budget with scrupulous care and frugality with a strategy and mentality of invest rather than spend. Our conscientious fiscal management is transparent and readily available to taxpayers on the APS website. (See Cluster Summary on page 15 and individual School Cluster Reports in the Appendices beginning on page 89.)
Public school buildings are aging across the country, but APS has fortunately been able to stay ahead of the eight ball in maintaining and thus preserving older schools. APS has no boarded up, rusted out, or fallen beyond repair school structures as do many other urban school districts. It is a reflection of the city’s support and M&O’s attitude/culture, commitment, and understanding of what the prize is — kids’ success — and everyone understanding what their role is in seizing that prize. That’s the same commitment we need from our outside contractors and suppliers and we’re striving for that. APS’ needs cannot just be another job for them, and if they can’t buy into that sense of partnership, they are not the right fit to partner with APS. They have to “get it.”
Contract partners play vital role
While we are honored at APS to be recognized as good examples of facilities maintenance management, it certainly doesn’t water down or de-emphasize all that we need to improve upon and correct, as this Year End Report testifies.
One of the challenges we definitely have is utilizing contract partners discriminatingly in creating high performance environments that support children’s equally high performance and success. Accurately balancing the distribution of duties between in-house personnel and contract partners is required in meeting our goals. Contractor costs are deceiving, sometimes appearing excessive compared to in-house personnel salaries. These partners, however, have the resources available on demand to respond to calamity and emergency situations with 100% focus as well as tackle large projects, sometimes with unique expertise that is not routinely needed. They maintain the staff and industrial machinery needed for large and/or specialized jobs and, of course, the overhead that the District doesn’t have to cover every day. Because the education process is not impeded at APS, emergency work is top priority and often best handled by contractors working in unison with M&O in resolving issues now and quickly. However, all M&O techs can’t be pulled away from completing daily maintenance work orders to address an emergency. Work orders piling up due to a main water line break isn’t responsive and faithful customer service. It would then be near impossible to tackle a backlog of work orders due to an unanticipated crisis as incoming new work is ceaseless. And the smaller daily repairs and PM work handled by in-house technicians averts emergency work!
Contract partners are also instrumental in performing seasonal work such as cooling and heating prep and start-ups. The M&O HVAC technicians couldn’t possibly service the District’s thousands of systems within the short window of opportunity before hot or cold weather hits. It is a thorny balancing act that shifts with the tide of ever present unexpected events and circumstances.
M&O is comprised of valued rock stars, and they know it
Volumes have been published regarding the required attributes of a competent leader, and each author’s definition and compulsory list of qualities are fitting. I absolutely subscribe to the need to be flexible, patient, humble when necessary, tenacious, and the array of the boundless other characterizations that management experts deem indispensable for a leader. The formula that most echoes me and my nature, however, is Dave Ramsey’s (EntreLeadership.com) five characteristics of great leaders: Love Your Team; Give Praise; Seldom Use Your Power; Surround Yourself with Rock Stars; and Cast Your Vision.
It is only in respecting every team member as a valued and talented member of M&O that results in their desire to perform at their highest possible level with a sense of gratification and pride. Giving praise spins off my sincere regard for the team as they need to know that they are valued. There is little point in my feeling appreciative but not expressing it, as if it’s not demonstrated by me, it’s not received by them. And while I fully recognize that every leader possess power, I more importantly recognize that it does little good to demand unquestionable deference from those under my charge. I much prefer to lead by example and communicate clearly and directly versus using intimidation and coercion. It is important that Department Managers under me and technicians under them understand the “whys” of work strategies and procedures and want to “do it right” rather than follow protocol out of fear. They were all selected, after all, because they are proven rock stars. M&O work is demanding. Precision, accuracy, efficiency, creativity and ingenuity, and quickness are the orders of the day, every day. Lastly, casting leadership’s vision throughout M&O reinforces our mission and purpose. I and everyone else understand that our collective role is bigger than each of us individually. Though our functions are plumbing and painting and electrical wiring and cooling and heating and hundreds of other jobs, our purpose is the support of education excellence to the 88,000 plus students of APS
We’re all in this together
This Report underscores the importance of “the village” that first erects and then preserves the buildings that constitute APS. The Facilities Design + Construction Division leads the charge in creating the structures and M&O inherits them indefinitely in preserving the real estate assets and protecting the occupants and users of the real estate. M&O’s range and depth of responsibilities is immense but made easier due to preventive maintenance driving the force. PM keeps the lights on, the water running, the heating and cooling humming, the roof durable, the walls standing, the technology powered, the air clean, and the grounds safe and attractive throughout the District. None of it would be possible without PM which wouldn’t be possible without competent maintenance technicians. PM carried out by expert technicians is a large facet of sustainability. A building’s potential for sustainability only begins with its design and construction. Sustainability survives throughout the building’s lifespan from the care and attention executed by preventive and routine maintenance..