By BOB GRAEFF, Ramona Unified School District Superintendent
(Following is the first of a short series of articles about fiscal issues related to Ramona Unified School District.)
Questions continue to emerge about how the school district uses the annual funding it receives for routine school maintenance. Many employees and community members often ask why our local facilities — some of which are more than 70 years old — are not maintained in better condition and appear to be declining in appearance.
So here are the numbers. Since the 2005-06 school year, the district has received between $222,000 and $272,000 per year for the maintenance of our schools and offices. This resource has never been even close to the amount needed to adequately maintain our facilities and is not intended by the state to support districts in the upgrade, renovation, and modernization of schools.
Our local maintenance expenses for last year were typical. The district spent $630,000 for salaries and benefits of our maintenance employees. We spent more than $200,000 on supplies to repair our facilities, $25,000 on new maintenance equipment, and more than $130,000 on general maintenance expenses. All together, we spent more than $985,000 on the maintenance of our schools — far more than the funding we receive.
Examples of general maintenance expenses include pool maintenance at Ramona High, plumbing, light bulbs and lighting repairs, air conditioning and heating repairs, electrical supplies, repair and maintenance of fire alarms, maintenance and repairs of our cooling towers, and the servicing of hundreds of routine work orders submitted by the various school sites.
Larger maintenance projects targeted last year were the purchase and installation of multiple HVAC units, wood fiber for a school playground at Mt. Woodson, repair of a sewer pit at Ramona High, construction and repair of a well tank and related pumps at Barnett, purchase of new water heaters at James Dukes, repair of a large transformer at Ramona Elementary, and the refinishing of gym floors at Ramona High and Olive Peirce.
A conversation with any teacher or principal at any of our schools will reveal instantly that our maintenance staff is overwhelmed by the volume of day-to-day issues related to sticking doors and locks, vandalized walls and broken windows, leaking roofs during the rainy season, patches for asphalt, restroom repairs, installation of ceiling-mounted projectors, playground equipment, cafeteria kitchen repairs, fence repairs, and more.
Some observers may recall that our school board has routinely “flexed” or absorbed the entire maintenance budget into the General Fund for the past five years — along with dozens of other restricted funding accounts. Prior to 2008-09 and “flexibility,” the district was also required to commit 3 percent of its General Fund towards maintenance. For Ramona, this requirement was roughly equal to an additional $1.5 million. By flexing the state’s meager contribution of $250,000, the district was exempted from making the larger 3 percent match. While it is true, then, that all of the state’s maintenance funds still go toward district maintenance support, the district no longer allocates an additional $1.5 million.
Even though we spent $700,000 more than we received for routine school maintenance issues last year, we were not able to purchase a single new roof, resurface a playground, replace aging carpeting, paint a school, add energy-efficient windows, replace aging relocatable classrooms, upgrade science classrooms, or modernize facilities.
Do our facilities need additional maintenance and repair? Absolutely. Could we improve the general appearance of our schools and improve the exterior of the district office? Of course. But the funding we receive from Sacramento for maintenance is already spent three times over and we hesitate to reduce more staffing and cut employee salaries further to pay for the additional upkeep of our buildings. Clearly, additional funding sources are needed to maintain our local schools.