by: Trent Allen
original article: LinkedIn
Every district probably accepts that there’s a little friends pickup basketball going on during the weekend somewhere at the district. Seems harmless enough, and maybe as a district official, you don’t even really want to know.
But it raises a question: how many “pickup games” or other free or off-the-record activities are happening on your buildings and grounds? What are the risks and most importantly, what do a few events here and there add up to in costs for the district?
Take this real-life and very typical example: An internal event (meaning school-related) called simply “basketball practice” at the main gym of a district high school is listed on the Facilitron scheduling calendar occurring every Sunday for 14 weeks. Looking at the details, the 5-hour reservation was entered by the high school athletic director who also requests lights and HVAC.
A 5-hour school event on Sunday evenings at the gym?
After the Facilitron account manager alerted the district facilities director of the unusual entry (in truth, often times these entries are simply entered incorrectly), an ad hoc investigation revealed that this particular activity was actually an informal group of adults playing a little pickup basketball.
Now while Facilitron can’t uncover every passing of keys to a group of friends, our experience in the process of implementing a well-managed facility use program allows us to see the very clear patterns that emerge. Because Facilitron PARTNERS with districts to create and develop these facility use programs, the results are starkly different than from simply licensing software.
Of the patterns we have identified when working with districts to develop facility use programs is the initial stage when schools are slowly accepting the new rules of the program and beginning, though inconsistently, to enter events and activities. Very quickly, districts are able to realize processes that need to be created, and policies that need to be defined to accommodate scaling a new system.
It’s also the stage where those notoriously nebulous exceptions to district policy become exposed. Well-meaning school admins attempt to figure out how to enter the events that represent those long-standing historical arrangements, those nothing-to-hide quid pro quo’s. This was such an event. The AD entered the event as internal to avoid district policy for cost. Nothing nefarious here, just a group of community men getting together for exercise on Sundays as they’d been doing for years. Perhaps the AD plays as well. Again, nothing too unethical in this behavior.
But what are the risks and the cost?
Revisiting this reservation as if it were an external request, we find that district policy for recovering utility costs alone is $58/hour for lights and air conditioning. Five hours of utilities costs the district $290. Multiply that times the fourteen uses in the request and the district is looking at over $4000 in costs over just a few months to open and run the gym on the weekend.
This event represents just one arrangement at one high school. With seven high schools in the district, if two such events were occurring just at the high schools, the district would incur over $16,000 per month in expense to cover costs—and that’s limited to utilities, not custodial, restroom supplies, wear and tear or other considerations.
Perhaps even more importantly, because the event was actually a community event entered as a school event, no insurance was required or provided, violating district policy and exposing the district to additional liabilities.
What about equity issues? If this group of men gets to play basketball on weekends for free, does any other group of men get to play for free at other times or locations in the district?
Another issue not taken into account is regarding the laws governing the gifting of public funds.
As you can see, the potential for problems can escalate quickly and arguably the failure to recover revenue could pale in comparison to other liabilities.
While the district remains the decision-maker about whether such events are acceptable or whether new rules and procedures need to be implemented, providing the visibility into such events and unlocking the aggregated utilization and cost data is what Facilitron is all about.
Facilitron’s mission isn’t simply ferreting out abuses and liabilities in the system, it’s to use tools and expertise to create a well-run facility use program, one that collects and tracks data on all uses, provides the analysis needed to understand the data along with carefully considered policy recommendations intended to take the program to the next level—towards a equitable, sustainable and fiscally responsible facility use program.
Now ask yourself, how many events like these are going on in my district? Should we as a district feel comfortable accepting the status quo knowing these activities are conducted outside of district policy? Is it fiscally responsible to our taxpayers to allow groups with special access or connections to benefit above others?
With tightening budgets and a technology-driven climate demanding more transparency and fiscal responsibility, facility use accountability is on its way, and forward thinking districts are getting out ahead of it.