When reflecting on our school years, we often have fond memories of teachers, friends, and the schools we attended. Everyone will agree that excellent teachers and positive role models are critical in meeting our core mission of providing a high-quality education for our community’s children. We also remember the places where our learning occurred; Brainerd Public Schools physical spaces play an important role in student learning.
The district currently maintains approximately 1.2 million square feet across 12 buildings. Operating and maintaining all of our buildings with unlimited flexibility is no longer possible, even though taking good care of our assets is important as ever. Recent enrollment decline, a trend in many outstate communities, forces us to use a higher percentage of our budget to maintain our facilities. When much of our revenue is tied to enrollment, we must consistently review opportunities to best match the amount of physical space we maintain to appropriate and sustainable levels. This ‘match’ is a difficult balance. Of course, all of this is done with the overarching goal of maximizing how district funds directly impact individual student learning.
In recent years, we have prioritized the capital improvement needs of our buildings, grounds, and fields. We have formalized the on-going review of projects in terms of cost and immediacy of need. We work to stretch our maintenance dollars as best we can. On average, we receive and spend approximately 75 cents per square foot to maintain our sites. By comparison, if you owned a 2,000 square foot home, this would mean you would spend approximately $1,500 per year in maintaining it, spending on things such as painting, landscaping, new windows, updated flooring, a new roof, or furnace replacement. Realistically, we know most home improvement projects rarely come in nicely bundled $1,500 increments. Rather, they tend to be larger projects requiring planning; project planning often includes using one’s savings, obtaining a home improvement loan, or a combination of both.
How we manage our school buildings is not much different. We prioritize our annual projects, while saving and planning for those projects looming in our future. Recent school board action to continue investment in some of our school buildings includes funds we have saved as well as cost-effectively borrowing funds at historically low interest rates, producing minimal impact in our budget. The plan is guided by our core mission of effectively serving students, searching for efficiencies, demonstrating our commitment to fiscal responsibility, and in doing so taking care of what we have.
Maintaining and improving the physical places where learning and programming occur is a high-priority challenge for our schools and a key element of our approved strategic plan. In the weeks and months ahead we will discuss additional project possibilities with the school board and with our community.
Steve Razidlo is the Brainerd District 181 superintendent of schools.