OLR Research Report


December 23, 2008

 

2008-R-0696

PERMANENT SCHOOL BUILDING COMMITTEES
AND SCHOOL MAINTENANCE

By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst

You asked several questions about how school districts administer and fund school building maintenance. Questions and responses are listed individually below.

1. By what statute or regulation may a town turn over the continuing upkeep of school facilities by assigning a “permanent school building committee” for that purpose?

State law makes local and regional boards of education responsible for the care, maintenance, and operations of “buildings, lands, apparatus, and other property used for school purposes.” It requires boards to provide an appropriate learning environment for all students, including proper maintenance of facilities.

In addition to these general responsibilities, state law also requires each school board to (1) make a continuing study of the need for school facilities and of a long-term school building program and make recommendations to the town based on the study; (2) adopt and implement an indoor air quality program that provides for ongoing maintenance and facility reviews as necessary; and (3) annually report the commissioner on the condition of facilities and actions taken to implement the long-term facility plan and indoor air quality program. (CGS 10-220).

State statutes and regulations do not specify how local school boards must carry out their responsibility for maintaining school buildings. Nothing either requires or allows a board to, or prevents it from, establishing a permanent committee to oversee school maintenance.

2. How many towns and school districts manage and fund public education building maintenance through permanent school building committees or through the efforts of unpaid volunteers?

Since the state does not provide any funds specifically for school maintenance, it does not collect any information on how districts manage their statutory school maintenance responsibilities. We called David Wedge, head of the State Department of Education's School Facilities Unit and Sharon Bruce of the Connecticut Association of School Business Officers (CASBO) and neither could provide any information on this question.

Our own computer search found that the following towns, in addition to North Stonington, have permanent building committees: Canton, Groton, Ledyard, Milford, Rocky Hill, and Simsbury. The latter two towns' committees are established in their respective town charters. The Rocky Hill charter expressly states that committee members are not compensated. Although we have no specific information about compensation for committee members in other towns, we note that members of municipal boards and commissions, including school boards, are not usually paid.

3. What is the prevailing method by which municipalities and school districts fund, manage, and conduct school facility maintenance?

As noted above, there does not appear to be any entity that compiles this information on a statewide basis. Since school districts receive no special state grant for school maintenance, funding levels and management procedures are determined locally, with local school boards ultimately responsible for maintaining school buildings and property.

4. Are there pending or resolved court cases in Connecticut that have bolstered or denied the authority of permanent school building committees?

Computer searches of Lexis, CBA's Casemaker, and PITA for reported and unreported cases, as well as attorney general's opinions involving school building committees, found that most cases dealt with zoning or construction contract issues and not with the committee's authority.

A Superior Court decision in Fairfield Elementary School Building Committee v. Placko (Docket Number CV 02 03898162S) states that a school building committee acts as agent for the municipality and does not have separate standing to assert legal claims. To have standing, the committee must show that the town authorized it to sue or that the power to sue is within the scope of the authority the town granted to it. Citing another Superior Court decision (East Windsor Board of Selectmen v. East Windsor Planning & Zoning Commission, Docket No. CV 98 0066290, 25 Conn. L. Rptr. 69), the decision states that “while the plaintiffs may be responsible for the control and maintenance of town-owned property, this does not provide them with the ability to sue in their names rather than the town's name in action involving town property.”

5. Are there pending or resolved court cases in Connecticut or the United States where local boards of education have sued towns for not maintaining public education facilities?

There have been many lawsuits against states, usually by students who are sometimes supported by towns, alleging violations of the students' state constitutional rights to an adequate education. Such lawsuits are generally focused on state funding for schools but sometimes the complaints raise issues about the adequacy of school facilities. The defendants are states rather than local boards of education because, under many state constitutions, including Connecticut's, it is the state's responsibility to provide students with an adequate public education.

Connecticut is currently being sued by a group of students and towns called the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF). CCJEF alleges that the state is violating the plaintiffs' constitutional right to an education by its current school funding formulas. In its original complaint, CCJEF cited a “healthy, safe, and well-maintained school environment conducive to learning” as one of the requirements for an adequate education under the state constitution, although the main thrust of the lawsuit is the Education Cost Sharing funding formula. CCJEF v. Rell was filed in 2005 and argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court in April 2008. A decision is pending.

Among other states, Arizona and Arkansas are under court orders to improve their school facilities. These orders arise from lawsuits against the states for failing to provide an equal educational opportunity. We enclose a 2004 OLR report describing the two states' responses to the court orders (2004-R-0917).

6. Is there a rule or formula used to determine the proper level of funding to maintain public school buildings at an adequate level for budgetary purposes?

Connecticut has no statewide rule or formula. State law sets an explicit maintenance standard only for school heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. The law requires local school boards to ensure that such systems are maintained and operated according to prevailing maintenance standards (CGS 10-231e).

In 2005, the Education Committee raised a bill (SB 1062, copy enclosed) that would have required, among other things, that school boards allocate 15% of their budgets each year to maintain their facilities. After a public hearing at which several witnesses opposed the bill as an unfunded mandate on towns and school districts, the committee changed its proposal to one that would offer a district a 10% state school construction grant bonus if it could show that it spent an average of at least 10% of its annual school budget on school maintenance over the five years preceding the construction grant application. The bonus provision was added to sSB 1064 (File 704), An Act Concerning Authorization of State Grant Commitments for School Building Projects. But it failed to become law when the bill died on the Senate calendar at the end of the 2005 regular session. No similar legislation was introduced in subsequent sessions.

Information on annual amounts school districts spend on maintenance is available. Connecticut school districts are required to report their annual spending in various categories to the State Department of Education (SDE). One such category is “plant services.” As SDE defines it, this category of expenditures covers activities related to “keeping the district's physical plant open, comfortable and safe for use; keeping the grounds, buildings and equipment in effective working condition for plant operations; and maintenance of buildings, grounds equipment, utilities and heat.” It also includes salaries and benefits associated with plant services. The most recent data available is for the 2006-07 school year. That data shows that, on average, Connecticut school districts spent $1,315 per pupil on plant services, with a range of $719 to $3,828. As a percentage of total spending, the average was 10.94% with a range of from 6.18% to 20.22%. We attach district-by-district figures at the end of this report (see Table 1).

National figures on school maintenance spending are available from an annual survey of school maintenance and operations costs by American School & University magazine. According to that survey, school districts spent an average of 8.35% of their budgets on maintenance and operations in 2008, down from an average of 9.19% in 2007. A copy of the full survey is enclosed.

Table 1: School District Plant Services Expenditures

2006-2007

 

%

of Total

$

Per Pupil

Ansonia

8.82

802

Avon

11.19

1,168

Berlin

12.80

1,396

Bethel

10.03

1,154

Bloomfield

12.86

2,072

Bolton

9.14

1,119

Branford

8.98

1,049

Bridgeport

10.11

1,151

Bristol

10.07

1,065

Brookfield

9.87

1,091

Canton

13.00

1,479

Cheshire

10.65

1,111

Clinton

9.11

1,164

Colchester

9.23

904

Coventry

8.90

954

Cromwell

10.73

1,243

Danbury

7.69

878

Darien

10.76

1,416

Derby

9.44

1,019

East Granby

10.07

1,220

East Haddam

13.75

1,572

East Hampton

9.72

1,009

East Hartford

9.45

1,090

East Haven

13.13

1,433

East Lyme

12.84

1,454

East Windsor

8.91

934

Ellington

11.12

1,129

Enfield

12.49

1,372

Fairfield

11.30

1,560

Farmington

12.78

1,453

Glastonbury

11.60

1,252

Granby

11.48

1,227

Greenwich

14.28

2,391

Griswold

12.10

1,262

Groton

10.55

1,377

Guilford

10.56

1,215

Hamden

9.01

1,181

Hartford

11.20

1,693

Killingly

10.53

1,237

Lebanon

11.98

1,171

Ledyard

8.63

921

Litchfield

10.89

1,327

Madison

10.69

1,092

Manchester

11.32

1,408

Meriden

12.55

1,411

Middletown

10.82

1,350

Milford

10.72

1,306

Monroe

12.16

1,265

Montville

10.97

1,253

Naugatuck

9.79

1,079

New Britain

9.06

1,000

New Canaan

13.41

2,059

New Fairfield

10.31

1,060

New Haven

11.35

1,602

Newington

12.53

1,410

New London

11.48

1,681

New Milford

11.60

1,230

Newtown

13.51

1,461

North Branford

11.71

1,234

North Haven

8.38

837

North Stonington

9.72

1,388

Norwalk

9.78

1,336

Old Saybrook

12.07

1,391

Plainfield

11.06

1,190

Plainville

10.16

1,158

Plymouth

11.94

1,298

Portland

13.90

1,596

Putnam

11.33

1,348

Ridgefield

13.42

1,644

Rocky Hill

13.23

1,410

Seymour

11.71

1,175

Shelton

11.26

1,202

Simsbury

10.43

1,175

Somers

10.10

1,007

Southington

9.57

1,007

South Windsor

8.97

968

Stafford

9.33

1,043

Stamford

9.32

1,355

Stonington

12.60

1,403

Stratford

10.96

1,211

Suffield

9.83

980

Thomaston

12.89

1,426

Thompson

10.19

977

Tolland

10.57

1,032

Torrington

11.65

1,284

Trumbull

11.13

1,230

Vernon

10.47

1,196

Wallingford

9.32

1,042

Waterbury

9.80

1,151

Waterford

12.21

1,521

Watertown

13.08

1,176

Westbrook

12.12

1,446

West Hartford

11.65

1,331

West Haven

12.22

1,367

Weston

14.07

2,173

Westport

12.81

1,920

Wethersfield

12.22

1,379

Wilton

11.39

1,562

Windham

9.36

1,150

Windsor

9.66

1,265

Windsor Locks

14.12

1,869

Wolcott

11.69

1,205

District No. 6

14.60

1,924

District No. 10

11.83

1,235

District No. 12

11.81

1,975

District No. 13

12.10

1,451

District No. 14

10.65

1,217

District No. 15

11.66

1,322

District No. 16

11.03

1,141

District No. 17

14.34

1,765

District No. 18

15.85

2,427

Source: State Department of Education

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