POLICY (Data & Management)
The State Department of Education should develop and annually update a statewide facility inventory of all public schools in the State (including Charter Schools) that includes basic building data and information, the condition of the facility, and expenditures for significant capital improvements.
Very few states have developed a statewide inventory of public school facilities. The states that do have this information ultimately have a much better understanding of the school buildings and sites utilized by their school districts. In some instances, the information and data are used when requests are submitted for state funding. It also helps states respond to inquiries from private citizens and the media. The facility inventory in some states is accessible on-line, although the type and depth of information varies among states. Updating the information is an ongoing task and, in some states, it is the responsibility of the school district to enter the data annually. Information pertaining to the condition of the facility as well as previous expenditures can provide valuable information as decisions are being made for future projects at the school.
A statewide database is not useful unless the data elements, the collection methodology, the accuracy, and the timeliness of the information are maintained. In order for the information to be consistent, it needs centralized direction, training for data entry, and funding to maintain the system. States can collect the data themselves, hire contractors to collect it, or utilize staff at local school district levels. The latter may be the cost effective approach, and relies on those who have the most internal knowledge of the facilities. However, using local districts does require that the state provide training and funding, when necessary, so that the information reported is consistent from area to area and so that local districts are not burdened by data collection requirements.
Establishing a set of data elements for a survey is a difficult task. It requires consistent collection and processing of data as well as data sufficient to present a true and complete picture of school facility conditions. A minimum number of elements with simple and explicit directions will result in the most reliable data. Attempting to serve too many purposes or too many programs with the same survey may present problems. Testing the forms and procedures with a small sample group is a cost-effective way to avoid problems and pitfalls, debug the system, and make required adjustments.
Standards for consistent and comparable data require a centralized process and a clear definition of terms, particularly as they relates to the condition rating of the building. There is also the need for training, testing, and verification prior to full implementation.
The development of detailed guidelines for completing the facility inventory, including some examples, is recommended. As a means of follow-up, a procedure included in the process for the state to verify the data and information on a periodic basis should be established.
Making information about school facility conditions public has a three-fold purpose. First, it informs parents and children about the condition of structures in their community. Secondly, it provides valuable information to the community about the condition of public assets that are taxpayer supported. And thirdly, it holds public officials accountable for their management and maintenance of the public school facilities.