California’s school facilities need an infusion of $117 billion during the next decade, with close to half of the funding needed to replace or repair existing schools, according to a report by UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities & Schools.

Oakland Unified School District’s new Downtown Educational Complex will house an elementary school, a high school, a health clinic, the district’s educational TV station, and a child development center. The first phase of the project is scheduled to open at the start of the fall 2012 school year. A construction bond approved by Oakland voters is funding the work. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Kathryn Baron)

The report, released this week, called on state leaders to develop a comprehensive school facilities master plan that will address past inequities in funding among school districts, involve districts in regional land use planning to reduce greenhouse gases, and promote partnerships with cities, nonprofits, and private firms.

Jeffrey Vincent, the lead author of the report and deputy director of the center, acknowledged that it will be difficult for the state and local school districts to set aside money for facilities in this tough economic climate. In fact, he noted, districts have been raiding their school maintenance funds to reduce the number of layoffs and keep class sizes from growing even larger.

“Admittedly it’s a ginormous, crazy number,” he said. “But now we have a benchmark out there for bringing all buildings up to some minimum standard.” It’s not, he noted, “a solid gold standard.”

Right now, he says, state leaders should focus on developing a plan “to figure out how we as a state would come up with these funds to meet the needs out there in the next decade.”

Funding could come from partnerships with cities, nonprofits, or private housing developers who understand that the success of their development can depend on the quality of local schools. But, Vincent acknowledged, state funding will still be needed. State leaders, he said, have been discussing putting a statewide school facilities bond on the ballot in 2014.

“This is a good year to get the issues on the table – determine what should be in the bond and how the pie should be divided,” Vincent said.

The report’s recommendations differ substantially from how bond money has been spent in the past when the state was growing and new construction was a priority, he said. Instead, the report calls for:

  • $53 billion for replacing and restoring schools that have exceeded their service life, including eliminating the 75,000 portables still being used throughout the state;
  • $36 billion for new construction, including $12 billion to address enrollment growth (an estimated 343,000 new students by 2020) and/or crowding;
  • $28 billion for modernization of existing facilities, which includes upgrades for modern technology use, and equipment for science classes and career and technical education programs.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, whose department commissioned the report, chose to unveil the report during a press conference at Oakland Unified’s new state-of-the-art Escuelita Elementary School, which will be part of a community center that includes a child development center, a high school, and a health clinic. The schools will also boast the latest technology.

However, Vincent said, there is a big gap between such wired schools and those with aging infrastructure. Updating technology “is an absolutely really important piece,” he said.

The report also emphasized that intergovernmental planning is key to creating schools, such as Escuelita, that can also be used as community centers. Planning should consider quality-of-life issues such as fresh water, good indoor air quality, and insulation that reduces noise levels, according to the report. Schools should be located within urban communities so they can be easily reached by walking or bicycling, in the same way that cities are now attempting to put housing and jobs near each other and near mass transportation to reduce the need for commuting, the report notes.

Besides the California Department of Education, the report was also funded by the California Endowment and the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley.

Filed under: Facilities, Reporting & Analysis, School Finance · Tags: , , , ,

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  1. el says:

    As an aside, is there a resource somewhere that discusses the process and procedures to put a school bond on the ballot?

  2. navigio says:

    Well, this one ought to generate some lively discussion. :-)

    First off, I agree that we have some real problems with infrastructure. And I happen to believe that school environment plays a much greater role in the happiness, satisfaction, success, performance and retention of our students (and parents) than most people might even hazard to guess. There is an interesting recent study from Psychology Science that touches on the nature of this relationship (albeit not directly related to schools per se), and I will followup with more specifics on that at some later point.

    I also think our extensive reliance on ‘portables’ and ‘temporaries’ is an embarrassment. We have ‘temporaries’ that are over 30 years old on our campus and Im sure this is nowhere near the record.

    Interestingly, I was recently in Europe and paid attention to school facility architecture. When the buildings are not the old, beautiful, traditional style (lots of that in europe) they are often more glass/window than building. Most of these facilities are a pleasure to look at (and to be inside). In contrast, in our district I recently saw a 2nd grade classroom where the few windows were 12 feet off the ground and taped over with construction paper, ostensibly to keep those pesky wandering eyes in check. Our temporaries dont even have windows that open and the ‘windows’ they have (only one) are plexiglass (scratched) with an almost completely opaque black film on them. Parents hate going in them. Wonder whether the students are much different. Not fun places to be when the A/C is on the blink (a significant portion of the time).

    That said, a few comments on some of the points made in the report.

    I am glad the report focuses somewhat on technology needs. As I’m sure El would agree with, that really should be a study unto itself. I’ve noticed the public library taking an increased focus on technology support. Perhaps there are some partnerships available there.

    Im not quite buying the assumption that one reason new facilities are needed is the projected increase in the number of students. While its true that there is an increase projected (number mentioned in story), it should be noted that this is not only a small percentage increase, but it is likely to be focused on only certain types of districts, with the rest actually losing enrollment. On the face of it, I would encourage people not to blindly accept the claim that LEAs lack the space for future enrollment. It is true all of the space may not be quality space, but thats a different issue than new construction specifically for expansion. (if we want to be trusted, our claims should be valid). The report seems to claim that the state does not really know what this level of disconnect is for individual LEAs at this point. In short, much clearer supply and demand assumptions should be generated surrounding this issue.

    I am encouraged that the report acknowledges that there is some level of distrust of the ‘education bond system’, but dismayed that the focus seems to be on the distrust within state entities and between the state and LEAs. Since this money is intended primarily as matching funds, the community trust is probably a much bigger issue. Education bonds are big business, and although they provide a required resource, they do so at a sometimes enormous collateral cost. One of the suggestions in the report is to have a state level citizens oversight committee. In my experience, the COC concept needs to be rethought or reworked. Generally speaking, these groups tend to play more the role of cheerleader than oversight. There also should be much better community engagement and education. I am always dismayed to hear commentary from the public that we shouldnt be laying teachers off because we have so many millions in facilities bond money. Bonds are locally approved and there needs to be a much better job done on the level of transparency associated with them. There is really no other way to keep these costs in check (they dont even do that currently).

    Finally, due to the level of budget problems districts are currently experiencing, we are going to start to see much more ‘partnership’ with other entities, be they public (eg municipalities) or private. While may be a necessary thing (and in some cases might even be positive), I would warn that the priorities that drive facility ‘policy’ at those levels may not always be conducive to productive communities and schools. Reimagining schools as community centers absolutely needs to happen. Maybe the first step would be to re-think the extreme limitations we have on behavior on school campuses as outlined in the business and professions code in this state (I was recently at a public school fundraiser that had to be held on a private school campus because they wanted to serve wine. Thats ridiculous, imho. ).

    There is a long history of communities ‘setting aside’ some of its land and facilities for the education of its populace. There is a very good reason this policy exists. We need to be careful that we dont lose that by adopting policies that do not keep the role of education in the forefront (though not directly related to this story, the idea of selling off district property to raise money to fill education funding gaps is one of the most egregious examples).

  3. el says:

    The modernization is really important and probably the least understood of the needs.

    The last big push for schools was during a time when you only needed power for lights and an overhead projector. Maybe you’d need one room with more outlets. Our local school does not have enough electricity to run more than one or two computers in a classroom, even if the outlets were added. It does not have air conditioning, nor does it have enough electrical infrastructure to support air conditioning. The rooms get hot in summer and chilly in winter, conditions that no adult workers would want to tolerate. The district was only able to add high speed internet a few months ago, thanks to the e-rate program.

    I love the idea of reimagining schools as community centers. Not only does this make better use of the facilities, but I think it pulls the community into an intimacy with their schools that will make it easier to understand what the schools need.