Testimony of Dr. David Aderhold
Joint Committee on Public Schools Hearing, May 8, 2018
To members of the Joint Committee, it is my pleasure to provide written testimony to the Committee regarding the need to fund monies for regular operating school districts to address school facility needs. I have had the pleasure of serving as a school administrator for the past sixteen years, the last five as the Superintendent of Schools in the West Windsor Plainsboro Regional School District. Further, I offer my testimony as an officer of the Garden State Coalition of Schools representing more than 90 school districts throughout NJ.
Providing funding for school security and Vo-Tech schools is important and serves a need for students in NJ. However, there are tremendous challenges for regular operating school districts as well and I would ask the committees indulgence in focusing on the an aging educational infrastructure, deferred maintenance, and expanding populations anticipated in NJ based upon the NJ Supreme Court’s ruling on Affordable Housing obligations.
Each of these challenges brings with it the need for capital projects dollars allocated within school district budgets. There is an inevitable financial strain on communities when school districts need to be expanded or repair facilities that could be considerably lessened if ROD grants became available once again for regular operating school districts.
Under prior ROD funding formulas, school facilities projects had been determined by the Department to be placed in one of three prioritization “levels” based on the proposed scope of work.
Level 1 school facilities projects address the most critical operational building needs, including health and safety issues, and program mandates. Examples including essential building systems upgrades such as repairing or replacement of structural, mechanical/heating and cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems; roofs, windows, masonry, ADA upgrades, hazardous material abatement, security and communications systems.
Level 2 school facilities projects focus on the renewal of existing buildings, overcrowding, and/or improving the quality of existing instructional spaces. Level 2 allowed for existing site upgrades including upgrades to sidewalks, paving, fencing, and security lighting.
Level 3 included major school facilities projects that involve the renovation and/or expansion of existing schools or the construction of new schools. These projects included district-wide unhoused students and overcrowding and early childhood programs accommodations.
Deferred maintenance in K-12 schools has become a $271 billion problem, according to the 2016 State of our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities report released by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, the 21st Century School Fund and the National Council on School Facilities.
West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School District has approximately 240 million dollars in depreciable assets. Assuming a replacement cycle of 40 years for major facility repairs; roofs (20 years); boilers (25-30 years); replace chiller (20 years); replace lavatory (35 – 40 years); paving (10 years), carpets/tile (8 years), etc. This would require a capital outlay budget of $6 million dollars per year. This does not include technology purchasing and hardware (servers, switches, wiring, and devices). WWP has allocated $3.6 million in capital outlay for the 18-19 school year, including $1.2 million for technology. This leaves approximately $2.4 million for capital project improvements or approximately 1% annual replacement value of the 240 million dollars’ worth of depreciable assets.
Most school districts struggle to allocate the appropriate amount of capital outlay necessary to keep up with maintenance repairs. As such the deferred maintenance list loom large for most school districts. As school districts have encountered monetary challenges, school districts have worked to stay away from the classroom by protecting teacher/student ratios and classroom supplies. As a result, the facilities usually bear the brunt of funding cuts.
Unfortunately, due to competing dollars, inadequate funding, and the 2% cap and allowances on the local tax levy once dollars once allocated toward capital projects are eliminated they are virtually impossible to reinsert into the subsequent budget. Other costs continue to escalate far in excess of 2%, such as out of district special education tuition costs and health insurance. Further, reserve accounts have shrunk for school districts as budgets become tighter each year. While some districts still maintain reserve balances to offset capital outlay dollars to maintain facilities, many school districts do not have this tool available to address facility and infrastructure needs.
In an effort to rectify shortchanging maintenance programs over time, school districts often request referendums in order to dig out from large deferred-maintenance.
All districts are required to have a Comprehensive Maintenance Planning document which is required by N.J.S.A.18A:7G-3 and N.J.A.C. 6:24 for district facilities. The Commissioner of Education requires that districts make appropriate investments in the maintenance of school facilities. All buildings operated by the school district are required to plan for routine maintenance requirements including preventive, corrective, and predictive maintenance of equipment and facilities.
Due to the general age of the District School Buildings, it requires effective planning to be able to spend funds to maintain an infrastructure that may be slated for replacement in the future and an infrastructure that is in some cases well beyond its useful life cycle.
Building and Grounds Departments play a significant role in achieving an environment conducive to learning for all students and staff. Clean, safe, and well maintained facilities contribute to our students learning outcomes.
Challenges that school districts are facing:
a. Aging schools and facilities
b. Increasing enrollments
c. Lack of open space for future school sites.
d. Budget constraints and reductions
e. Increasing energy costs.
f. Aging equipment – HVAC, roofs, fire alarm upgrades, communication technologies
g. Code changes requiring upgrades
h. Security enhancements
The purpose of an effective maintenance plan is to achieve the following five key goals:
• Preserve taxpayers’ investments in public buildings. Preventive maintenance can extend the life of building components, thus sustaining buildings’ value and the significant tax dollars they represent.
• Help buildings function as they were intended and operate at peak efficiency, including minimizing energy consumption.
• Prevent failures of building systems that would interrupt occupants’ activities and the delivery of public services.
• Sustain a safe and healthful environment by keeping buildings and their components in good repair and structurally sound. Protecting the physical integrity of building components through preventive maintenance preserves a safe environment for employees and the public.
• Provide maintenance in ways that are cost-effective. Increasing preventive maintenance can reduce time spent reacting to crises, which is a more cost-effective way to operate buildings.
The impact of the 2016 NJ Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Housing has the potential to add over 150,000 housing units to NJ over the next decade. Townships and school districts must be proactive in shaping the impact to rapid residential growth.
In WWP the Superior Court Judge ruled that West Windsor owes 1500 Affordable Housing Units. The township is in the process of determining its plan to submit to the judge. However, the impact will be much greater than 1500 as communities will design integrated affordable housing communities. Preliminary numbers estimate an impact of approximately 4000 total units over the next decade.
While we prepare for referendum in WWP to address residential growth and current facility needs there are many projects that will continue to be unaddressed.
ROD grants for regular operating districts must be a component of the school facility solution in NJ. The first four rounds of ROD were highly successful. The legislature should leverage the success of this program to provide a fifth round of funding in an effort to support communities address facility needs and mitigate an increasing tax impact.
Garden State Coalition of Schools