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Maximizing Your Facilities Budget: A 4-Step Guide for School Facilities Managers

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School administrators and facilities managers have to handle many stressful aspects of school system operations, and financial management ranks high on the list. Leaders not only have to find school funding for staffing, supplies, and important initiatives, but also for maintenance processes, which are essential to creating a safe and productive environment for students and teachers. When facilities managers examine their to-do lists, it might seem impossible to achieve all of the necessary maintenance tasks without breaking the year’s budget.

The concern about school budgeting is widespread. Across the country, school districts are struggling under the weight of budget deficits. In March 2023, the board members of Seattle Public Schools revealed that they were considering staff cuts to cope with a $131 million budget deficit. Other cities, including Denver and Hartford, are facing similar financial crises.

To cope with ever-shrinking funds and never-ending maintenance needs, facilities managers need a logical and organized budgeting process that ensures money will not be misspent. It’s critical to approach school budget planning with an open, intentional, and creative mind, recognizing that changes will be necessary throughout the school year and that data tracking is a key step toward effective management. Keep reading to learn more about how the best facility directors manage their school budgets, where schools can find more funding, and how you can get the most out of available funding for your school district.

1. Secure Your Annual Budget

Securing your budget for the year is the first step toward maximizing funds for your department, and it’s the foundation on which every other part of the budgeting process is built. In many districts, the school board and administrators develop a budget and hand it down to various departments. In these cases, facilities managers may not have much control over the budget itself and must find ways to best use the funds they have been given.

In other school systems, facilities managers have the opportunity to submit a total budget request. In doing so, managers can articulate exactly how much money they need and how it will be used. Providing details about why certain funds are necessary is essential to making the case for your budget, and including data from prior years helps to reinforce your point. Submitting a vague or unclear budget request is unlikely to grant you access to the funds that you need.

Before submitting a request, be mindful of the school district’s budget priorities and how they align with your maintenance needs. For example, if the school is focused on improving student achievement and test scores, upgrades to heating and air systems are a compelling choice because of the proven correlation between classroom temperature and academic performance.

Secure Grants, Donations, & Financial Partnerships

Public schools rely on many different sources of money each year, and facilities managers and administrators should be fully aware of all possible avenues that they can pursue. Much of the money for public schools comes from government sources. According to the Education Data Initiative, the federal government provides 7.9% of the necessary funding for K-12 public schools, with state and local governments contributing much of the remaining money.

However, the school funding contributed by government agencies is often inadequate in comparison to school district budgets, particularly those in low-income communities that need significant repairs and upgrades. In these situations, facilities managers can seek external funding opportunities to help fill the gaps in their school budgets.

In addition to making budget requests to school boards, facilities managers can seek funds from other providers, including:

  • Grants: School districts can apply for federal and state funding in the form of grants. For instance, the United States Department of Energy currently has a grant program for school districts hoping to lower their energy costs, and the Department of Education sometimes makes grant funds available for schools with diverse demographics and the greatest need for structural improvements.
  • Partnerships: Another means of seeking school resources is building partnerships with external organizations, including private businesses. The allocation of this funding generally depends on the specific terms of the partnership, but it’s common to use the money for renovations, repairs, and upkeep in school facilities.
  • Fundraisers: Fundraising efforts are a key component of school finance in many districts. PTO-driven donations and drives, as well as athletic sponsorships by local businesses, help supplement budgets for schools and ensure that all students’ needs are met.

School principals, superintendents, PTO heads, and facilities managers often work together to seek outside sources of funding. The money earned through partnerships, grants, and fundraisers could mean the difference between making a vital school improvement or deferring it for another year.

2. Evaluate & Prioritize Facility Needs

The next step of the budgeting process is to take stock of the condition of each aspect of the school’s facilities. Ideally, this assessment will proceed naturally from an existing system of regular facility inspections, which allows staff to identify maintenance needs and track the condition of equipment over time. You may also want to conduct a more thorough inspection after school has let out for winter or summer break, when you can access every area of each building without interfering with the teaching process.

When evaluating the condition of school facilities, maintenance team members should consider a broad scope of elements, including:

  • Safety equipment, such as locks, alarms, and sprinklers
  • Heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems
  • Lighting
  • Structural features such as roofs
  • Plumbing and electrical systems

Once the inspections are complete, the maintenance department can categorize items by condition, flagging those that currently or will soon need to be updated, renovated, or replaced. Pay special attention to issues that could potentially pose a danger, interrupt school operations, or interfere with teachers’ ability to meet their instructional goals. For instance, when a high school has malfunctioning classroom technology, it makes it more difficult for teachers to use interactive projects and learning activities. Likewise, special education teachers often rely on assistive technology to teach diverse student populations. If this equipment fails, it becomes difficult to offer the support services that students need, and it may violate state laws ensuring that students receive equal access to education.

Certain environmental conditions also have a direct effect on student engagement and academic outcomes and should thus receive higher priority on a yearly budget. These include:

  • Room temperature
  • Light
  • Acoustics
  • Class size
  • Air quality
  • Building design features, including accessibility

Your budget should, as much as possible, try to address these specific areas in order to avoid negative impacts on student learning. Thus, if the current HVAC system is not operating correctly, repairs or replacement should receive focus in your budget so that an overly warm or poorly ventilated classroom does not distract students or cause illnesses.

On a larger scale, if school enrollment has significantly increased, it may be necessary to allocate funding for expanding existing spaces or constructing new ones. These types of changes are often expensive, which is why it’s important to monitor them and allow your school enough time to secure the proper funding.

In addition to tending to the needs of equipment and structures within the school, it’s also important to include a line item for employee concerns. Maintenance can’t occur without a well-trained team, so a facilities budget should include funding for issues related to human resources, including required staffing, professional development, and training. This helps ensure that maintenance employees work more effectively and efficiently.

Once you have determined what areas within the school need attention, you can develop timelines and mark items in terms of urgency. Determine which issues should be corrected right away and which ones can wait for future funding. This stage of the planning process is one of the most difficult because it requires looking closely at the nuances of the accounting system and what tasks are central to providing the best possible education services.

Make Cost-Effective Decisions

Although failing or damaged equipment often receives the highest priority for funding, it’s also important to consider long-term cost savings. If you’re working on the annual budget in the winter, an outdated air conditioning unit is unlikely to receive the most focus because it’s not currently in use. However, when warmer weather arrives in the spring and summer, a high-efficiency air conditioning system would significantly reduce energy expenditures. Rather than prioritizing based on present needs, it makes sense for a facilities manager in this situation to budget for an air conditioning upgrade that will save money for the foreseeable future.

In some cases, the most cost-effective decisions require a larger upfront cost. While it seems counterintuitive to manage your budget by spending more money, investing in high-quality technology usually pays off in the long run.

Pro Tip: Consider “Smart,” Energy-Efficient, and Sustainable Solutions

When upgrading or replacing equipment in your school, look for modern solutions that cut long-term costs. Energy-efficient technology, such as HVAC systems, cafeteria appliances, and even efficient light bulbs lower operating costs by reducing energy use. “Smart” tech, including classroom technology, combines functionalities, allowing you to buy and maintain fewer individual tools. Finally, sustainable measures like solar panels reduce a school’s climate impact and save money over time.

3. Track Expenditures Throughout the Year

Creating an annual budget is a big task, but the work doesn’t stop there. Data and analytics that you collect over the course of the fiscal year play a major role in adjusting your current budget and planning for the future. The facilities manager and maintenance team should track:

  • Every maintenance task performed on each piece of equipment
  • Any noticeable signs that suggest equipment will require maintenance or replacement in the near future
  • Expenditures spent on maintenance, including buying or replacing items, repairs, and upkeep

Tracking this information will help you notice trends in equipment performance, and will guide your decision-making and improve your financial accounting systems.

Reassess Budgets & Priorities

A good manager knows to prepare for the unexpected… and in this case, that means equipment failures, damaged facilities, or worse. While none of this want to happen, it’s best to assume that at some point in the school year, you’ll have to reprioritize the year’s budget in response to unplanned spending. Luckily, by keeping those equipment maintenance records and data up-to-date all year long, you’ll know exactly what initiatives can hold off for a bit, and where you can free up funding at a moment’s notice, should it become necessary.

On the other hand, if your mid-year budgetary review shows you’re in a budget surplus, you may decide that you’re able to address issues that you had previously determined would be impossible in the current year. The same detailed records your team has been collecting will help you decide which additional priorities will be targeted for the end of the year.

Inform Future Budget Plans with Actual Spending Data

There’s no better time for your maintenance and spending data to shine than when preparing for the next annual budget planning session. When reviewing the budget reports from the previous year, take a close look at how your planned spending and actual spending worked out, and what priorities were addressed vs which had been left on the back burner. This way, you’ll see a clear picture of what expenses you can expect for the upcoming year and where you might be able to cut costs.

4. Keep Stakeholders Informed of Budgetary Decisions

As every school principal knows, clear communication and transparency are essential to building successful and productive relationships with school board members. This is especially true when it comes to budget planning and financial decision-making.

Rather than hiding unplanned expenses or shifting priorities in an end-of-the-year report, facilities managers should keep school administration, staff, stakeholders, and community members apprised of budget changes and the school district’s funding status throughout the year. This helps build trust and confidence and reduces the likelihood that there will be pushback on future budget requests.

Using Facilities Management Software to Stay on Track

From asset management to day-to-day maintenance, facilities managers for elementary and secondary schools have lengthy lists of responsibilities, and it’s easy to get bogged down by a cumbersome process like budget planning. However, managers are more likely to achieve successful budget management when they follow facilities management tips and focus on the key steps of securing funding, prioritizing needs, tracking tasks and expenditures, and clearly communicating.

Developing and managing an effective financial plan for each school year isn’t a quick or easy task, but using the right tools and resources can simplify your budgeting process and alleviate some of the stress of financial management. Incident IQ’s facilities management software allows facilities managers to track expenses, monitor active maintenance jobs, and review completed work, all within a single platform. It also ensures that your budget and spending data is as accurate as possible, which is beneficial to both present and long-term planning.

If you want to learn more about what exactly facility management software is and how it can improve your budgeting process, the team at Incident IQ is happy to help. Reach out with your questions or to book a free software demo that allows you to fully explore everything that Incident IQ can do for your school.