A Wish List For the New Administration

By the time this issue is in your hand, the nation will have inaugurated its 44th President, Barack Obama. Prior to being sworn into office, he announced that he would implement an economic stimulus package that, among a number of other things, would include funding for education and school facilities. The staff of School Planning & Management decided that this was the perfect opportunity to modify the annual Trends in Education article into one that presents a “Wish List” from our diverse panel of experts regarding what they hope this change in administration will do for school facilities, and education in general. What follows are the reflections of six of those experts.

What Is in Store for Education?

With change and transformation as the major themes of president-elect Obama’s campaign, what will be different in how the U.S. Department of Education conducts its business; what policies and practices will change; and how will education be encouraged to be reformed or transformed?

What do I expect will happen in education during the first two years of an Obama Administration, with Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education? Some issues are obvious while others are not. During the first few months, I expect the following to be addressed.

First, a Second Economic Stimulus Package will include funding for school construction, early childhood education, and technology. Second, the new Secretary of Education will either postpone or overturn the newly issued regulations on graduation rate and related items. And fourth, there will be a review and reformatting of negotiated rulemaking mandated in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

While all of the above is being addressed, discussions and development of a legislative proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) will be in progress. Initial work was begun during the transition and it will be continued. Another key policy issue to be addressed at the outset will be the expansion and reauthorization of State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The education agenda will be comprehensive and cutting-edge during the first 18 to 24 months of the Obama administration. It will include work on:
discussing teacher pay for performance;
redefining teacher quality;
  • developing and supporting strategies and policies to improve teacher recruitment, retention, and support;
  • improving the use of technology in teaching and learning;
  • expanding the role of charter schools and their incorporation into the public school system;
  • establishing a social entrepreneurship initiative to help transform education;
  • rethinking the structure of student financial aid and its system of delivery;
  • reviving the discussion on national education standards and national assessments;
  • linking career and technical education with college focused programs;
  • addressing controversial issues in special education;
  • extending and expanding school construction funding; and
  • creating partnerships with other agencies to address education issues and problems such as the environment, energy, job training and workforce development, and healthcare for students.

One can expect a diverse and long education agenda. The list above is not a comprehensive one. And I have only addressed the first 18 to 24 months.

Fritz Edelstein is a principal in the PublicPrivate Action consulting group. His daily reports from inside the Beltway, Fritzwire, can be subscribed to by contacting him at [email protected]

Use the Funding Wisely

Today's schools have significant needs. First and foremost, we must invest in school infrastructure equitably and promptly. Our nation's students deserve to be in healthful, high-performing, safe, sustainable, productive learning environments that enhance student achievement and community vitality. Funding for school modernization — not just repairs and new construction — can bring enormous benefits in school environmental health, including indoor air quality and student safety, while improving energy efficiency and saving school districts’ dollars. The school facility can serve as an economic engine to help fuel the economy. School construction and renovation will create new jobs and will improve learning and teaching conditions, particularly in underserved districts. The dollars would be well spent on technology that is seamless and pervasive for today's digital natives, and on creating community schools that increase the effectiveness of public funding. The administration should seek accountability in facility investment to ensure that our students, who will shape the future, develop the knowledge and skills to become better environmental stewards and competitive citizens in their communities and in the global workplace.

Sue Robertson, REFP, is president of Planning Alliance, a corporation that provides facility planning services for K-12, higher education, and business clients. She is a columnist for this magazine and the co-author of Creating Connections - The CEFPI Guide for Educational Facility Planning, and currently serves as president CEFPI (Council for Educational Facility Planners International).

New Administrations — New Opportunities?

At a time when new administrations are taking office at all levels — national, state, and local, the school administrators and facilities managers that I have visited with want to address two issues. First, to borrow from the medical profession, do no harm — no more unfunded mandates. Secondly, address school infrastructure needs from the federal level, ensuring an equitable distribution of funds.

For many years, nearly all government entities, including the judicial system, have placed requirements on school districts that have varied from salary increases for teachers (rarely do they mention support personnel), class size limitations, testing requirements, OSHA requirements, equal facility mandates, and many others. These requirements rarely, if ever, come with adequate funding. Funding inadequacy seems to impact school facilities and maintenance the greatest, as districts are forced to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Schools across this country have many needs that can vary significantly from district to district. From a school facilities perspective, an infusion of money to support the infrastructure needs of all districts would be of great benefit. The questions loom though — how much and how to distribute?

When the promised infusion of money to meet school infrastructure needs does come, it is absolutely critical that districts of all types are allowed to participate. The school infrastructure needs are not just found in the largest of our cities, they exist in the suburbs and rural areas as well. In some cases, the rural needs may be even greater.

The members of the National School Plant Management Association would welcome being invited to the table to discuss school district needs and the methodology used to distribute funds so that they reach as many districts as possible without unnecessary restrictions. Our members have felt the burden of unfunded mandates, and welcome an opportunity to improve the facilities used by the students and communities they serve. Grants available for energy efficiency modifications, technology improvements, and major repairs to schools would be an excellent start.

Art Bode is the executive director of NSPMA (National School Plant Management Association).

Energy Management in K-12 Schools — Foundation for U.S. Energy Independence

The president-elect faces many challenges — several impacted by energy use and its cost: operating budgets, cost of goods and services, and the economy. All impact the nation’s schools and its students. To stimulate this weak economy, he has stated improving K-12 school facilities, and their efficiency, will be part of the proposed stimulus package. To sustain these improvements in energy efficiencies, he should require energy management be emphasized in the day-to-day operations of the nation’s schools and a policy of “Every School District.”

Energy management is the understanding of the relationship between how schools are used, how they use energy, the energy systems installed, and implementation of products, systems, services, and education to reduce energy use.

Energy education at all levels of the school community is essential for the success of any energy management program. The president-elect should encourage energy be incorporated into the daily classroom activities, since the students will be key to energy managements success today and in the future. Energy education in the classroom will provide the basics of energy to all students, and serve as a building block for securing a firm foundation for energy management and the sustaining the goal of energy independence. This encouragement should include incentives for students, administrators, teachers, designers, and the community, for successful energy management programs.

Energy education includes providing knowledge and benefits of new and existing technologies. These technologies include LED lighting, geo-exchange systems, T-8 and T-5 lighting systems, energy-efficient transformers (U.S. Dept of Energy’s – C-3), and high-efficiency boilers and refrigeration systems. Myths about these systems must be corrected.

The president-elect faces many challenges as he assumes office, but his support and encouragement for energy management programs in schools will serve to build a firm foundation for solving related national challenges based on energy and efficiency.

Larry Schoff is president of Energy Efficient Solutions (E2S). His 42-year career in facilities management includes 21 years working specifically with educational facilities. He currently provides consulting services to help schools nationwide improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

What School Safety Improvements Could an Obama Administration Bring?

I decided to consult with several colleagues I respect immensely to come up with a more diverse “national school safety wish list” for President Obama, his cabinet, and Congress. I consulted Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, Dr. Marleen Wong, Clarissa Snapp, Russell Bentley, and Gregory Thomas because these experts have each been innovators in more than one aspect of school safety in ways that have significantly impacted practices nationwide. Here are our suggestions.

  1. Significantly revise the school safety provisions of No Child Left Behind. (The current reporting and classification criteria is far from accurate, inconsistent, and put enormous pressure on school officials to falsify crime reporting.)
  2. Create a generously funded school safety grant program for state school safety centers. (In this way, the federal government could get a much greater return for each dollar spent.)
  3. Currently, schools must collaborate with area public safety agencies for their Readiness and Emergency Management grants. Requiring public safety agencies to conduct the same type of collaboration with schools would improve the impact of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness grants.
  4. Lower the matching fund amount for Secure Our Schools Grant to 25 percent. (Many local districts find it difficult to find the 50 percent match required by the grant.)
  5. Restore funding to Cops in Schools Grant. (This program helped many school systems dramatically and positively impact school safety.)
  6. Provide increased mental health support mechanisms to enhance mental health capabilities for early intervention. It will help address the direct connection between targeted acts of violence and the lack of early intervention, as well as more common incidents of violence in schools.

Michael Dorn has worked on dozens of school safety initiatives for the federal government and his work has taken him to Canada, Mexico, Central America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. He is executive director of Safe Havens International, Inc. and writes the security column for this magazine.

Global Economic Crisis

Excerpted from a paper entitled “Getting a Grasp on the Global Economic Crisis — Summary of Potential Issues,” which was requested of ASBO by the President-Elect Obama Transition Team.

Every day, more and more questions arise about how the global economic crisis will affect local economies and our individual school systems’ fiscal stability. Undoubtedly, school systems have thought about some of the most obvious issues, but have they considered the bigger picture: the affects our school systems nationwide could still be feeling years after the current crisis is “under control?”

While ASBO may not yet have all of the answers, we do have some of the questions and are beginning to work with leading international economists as well as some of our nation’s top business leaders to gather critical information that will help our members prepare for and deal with what lies ahead.

We have compiled a short list of potential immediate and long-range impacts on our school systems, communities, and the various business factions. We have encouraged school systems to use these items as a basis for discussions with their cities? counties? provincial, and jurisdictional leaders as they begin to analyze potential budget implications. These are discussions that cannot be held in isolation. They are complex issues that will require complex collaborations if we are to deal successfully with these turbulent times.

Potential immediate and long-range issues for discussion include:
  • reduction of property tax collection issues relative to mortgage foreclosures;
  • erosion of property tax base based on assessed valuations;
  • re-evaluation of residential and business tax assessments;
  • potential mill levy increases to accommodate long-term debt payments;
  • impact on any jurisdictional spending caps;
  • effect on credit ratings (Moody’s, S&P, Fitches, etc.);
  • capital construction;
  • Government Obligation (GO) bonds;
  • cash flow/lines of credit;
  • short- and long-term borrowing;
  • tax anticipation notes;
  • investments-erosion principal;
  • unanticipated student decline due to various economic factors;
  • increased participation in the federal free and reduced-price meal programs;
  • unanticipated expenses due to various economic issues (increases in shipping and costs of goods and services); and
  • ability or inability to enter into lease purchase agreements.

While this list is nowhere near inclusive to all issues, we hope it spurs some strategic thinking as school leaders move forward to proactively deal with these economic issues.

John D. Musso, RSBA, is the executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO).