School districts and elected school board members are often the targets of community complaints about facility access and fee schedules. One can understand why: taxpayers shoulder the burden of school construction and maintenance through state and property taxes as well as special school bond measures – leading to a certain expectation of access by the community. But community use of school facilities brings with it a myriad of problems not the least of which are budget shortfalls, liabilities, and concerns about equal access.
But community demand is here to stay. In fact, it's increasing. Since 2010, participation in privatized sports leagues is up 55% across the U.S. This shift away from more traditional city-run sports leagues has led private organizations to look to public facilities for spaces to conduct their activities. With rising land costs and tight budgets, the trend – which isn't limited to sports but also includes performing arts and learning organizations – is putting increased pressure on school districts to make up for the shortage.
Schools have a long history of stepping up as community partners, but the confluence of new demand in an on-demand book-now society and a school district's ever-tightening fiscal responsibilities has exposed the struggle schools face embracing their role as community partners while providing the facility use required for school programs.
How do schools better leverage their most valuable assets? Data.
"This is a story of patience, persistence and a lot of humility."
That’s how Los Gatos, California Superintendent Dr Diana Abbati described her experience working with her community to change the culture of how school facilities were shared with the community.
Dr Abbati recently discussed the challenges associated with school facilities with Education Talk Radio’s Larry Jacobs.
“Going too fast too quickly is never a good idea. But having conversations (with community groups about facility use) takes a long time and without data there's nowhere to go, and that’s where Facilitron really helped us out.”
Dr Abbati, who recently presented at California’s CASH Conference in Sacramento on “Creative Solutions to Facility Use,” discussed with Jacobs the California Civic Center Act and the importance of collecting data on facility use to substantiate conversations with the community. These conversations are meant to begin a process to change historical views regarding access and the costs shouldered (or not shouldered) by the community - ultimately to prevent funds being taken out of the classroom to fund community programs.
“The school districts are community assets,” Dr Abbati says as she explains how the district worked with the city of Los Gatos to come to a joint power agreement in the 1970s which saved city recreation groups and allowed them to access school facilities at little or no charge. “We wanted to continue to do that, however we were doing it at the cost of student programs. We were not regaining enough costs - and let me just say cost neutral - amounts to maintain the facilities over time. So we were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in student programs."
Using a facility management platform like Facilitron’s scheduling and reservation system, LGUSD was able to track both internal and external use of district facilities which revealed that over 31 thousand hours of facility use was from community groups - over 45% of total use. “When Facilitron came along, their online platform allowed the school districts (to have) a mechanism to capture the usage by organization so that you can actually have constructive conversations. We didn’t have that information before.”
Tracking total utilization as well as recovery costs from community users through a real-time data system can very accurately reveal the costs per hour to operate school facilities. It also gives districts the ability to itemize the recovery revenue collected for utilities, custodial or other additional equipment and services for allocating to the correct budgets/expense accounts.
Without data, school districts will continue to struggle to meet the increasing needs of both school and community.
Hear more of the conversation by going to BlogTalkRadio at this link.