l. Industry Overview
Public school construction is a multibillion-dollar industry; over $10.7 billion was spent in 1992 by school districts for construction of new buildings, additions, and modernization (not including interest payments on previous construction debt). (See Table 4). This continues an eight-year trend of increasing school-construction spending. There are roughly 83,000 public school buildings in the United States, with that number expected to increase as K-12 enrollment in public schools grows throughout the decade of the 1990s, from 41 million students in 1990 to 46.5 million students in the year 2000.
On average, over three-quarters of the cost of a new school comes from construction, with site purchase and development typically accounting for about 10 percent of total cost. Table 5 details these new school costs.
Today's public schools are old: more than half the buildings now in use were built during the enrollment boom of the 1950s and 1960s. A report by the Education Writers Association characterizes those decades as "a time of rapid and cheap [school] construction .... Many construction experts say the buildings were intended to last only about 30 years. If so, their time is up." In addition to age, new technology requirements for computers and telecommunications equipment must be accommodated. State regulations for smaller class sizes, special-education classrooms, and accommodations for students with disabilities exacerbate overcrowding problems.
To meet these demands, some school officials have adopted creative methods of accommodating students without building new schools. Alternative schedules, such as year-round, multi-track schools, can increase the effective utility of existing structures. The Los
Angeles Unified School District, for example, staggers year-round attendance to deal with overcrowding. Steve Walters, administrator for year-round programs, estimates multi-tracking has avoided $1.1 billion of new construction costs for LAUSD.
Other strategies include lengthened class periods, flexible staffing arrangements, and multi-age groupings to help maximize classroom utilization. In addition, some districts are experimenting with shared-use facilities in which resources such as libraries or cafeterias are used by both school children and other organizations, such as community groups or senior centers. In such cases, maintenance and operations costs may be shared among users.
2. Satellite Schools: The Private Provision of Facilities
The 1990s witnessed a new form of public-private partnership that can expand much-needed school infrastructure: satellite schools. Satellite schools are public schools located at business worksites. Businesses typically provide the infrastructure (land and building) free of charge to the local public school district. In return, the school agrees to enroll the children of the host-businesses' employees, enabling the business to offer a childcare benefit to its workforce. About a dozen partnerships of this type exist in three states, Florida, Minnesota, and California. (See Table 6).
Faced with overcrowded classrooms, the Dade County School District, the nation's fourth largest, approached the business community with a plan to set up public schools at corporate work-sites. American Bankers Insurance Group (ABIG) responded by establishing a school in 1987, enrolling roughly 60 K-2 children of employees of ABIG. The company contributes about $50,000 a year to the school to cover the cost of maintenance, security, utilities, landscaping, and insurance. The school district supplies everything else: teachers, curriculum, administration, and supplies. Because students commute to school (and work) with their parents, the district also reduces busing costs. The Dade County School District annually saves roughly $65,000 in transportation costs as a result of the satellite schools.
ABIG reports that employee turnover fell 9.5 percent and absenteeism dropped 30 percent among employees with children enrolled in the on-site school. The school district estimates it saved taxpayers $2 million in construction costs alone with the first three satellite schools built at private expense. In addition to the insurance company, the Dade County School District now operates satellite schools at an airport, a hospital, a community college, and a nuclear energy facility. Says Deputy Superintendent Thomas Cerra, "It's been very, very successful in every place.
Satellite schools, because their enrollment is based on the demographics of the workplace, not the neighborhood, have also fostered desegregation. "I have the melting pot classroom," says Betsy Hogenough, kindergarten teacher at a satellite school located at Martin-Marietta in Florida. "We draw parents of all races so we have children of all races. We don't have to bus to get an integrated classroom," she says.