March 30, 2019
As Arizona continues to put more money back into our public schools, we must also ensure that all education resources are maximized for the classroom.
One area of particular risk for diversion of classroom dollars is the upkeep and maintenance of empty or under capacity buildings. The potential savings are substantial. For example, 2012 Arizona Auditor General report found that the Scottsdale Unified School District could pay teachers $3.8 million more if they made better use of their school facilities.
New research shows that Arizona has nearly 1.4 million square feet of unused school building space.
Poorly utilized school space is expensive and restricts the ability to focus resources on students and teachers, and the impacts are only amplified in traditionally underserved areas.
Between fiscal years 2004 and 2017, Arizona school districts added 22.6 million square feet of building space – a 19 percent increase. Yet, during that same time frame student enrollment increased by only 6 percent. Imagine what could happen if these empty or partially-utilized buildings were used in a way that created resources for their host districts. It’s been done in other places such as Georgia, California, and New York. Here in Arizona the savings for school districts could reach $21 million to $38 million per year. Imagine what this could mean for teacher pay and classroom resources!
Fortunately, there is a solution in play to maximize use of this publicly built space to expand opportunities for families to attend high demand district and charter programs, while allowing more resources to be directed into classrooms.
A bill moving in the state legislature, Senate Bill 1161, gives school districts additional tools to manage empty and partially used buildings and to support voluntary and innovative school partnerships to use this space. Some partnerships already in the pipeline are with other district partners, a military base, or public charter schools. If we want to relieve budgetary pressures, secure facility cost savings, and free up resources for teachers and other educational resources, we must empower districts with the authority to manage these expensive assets.
To continue our groundbreaking academic gains, we must look at all policy barriers – including empty facilities – to drive available dollars to teacher pay and provide more families with access to an exceptional education.