The Challenges of Managing School Maintenance Funds

Posted on Categories School Business

Over the last year, we’ve recognized through conversations with administrators that managing school maintenance department funds is just as complex as classroom funds, which has been ClassWallet’s area of focus to date. As a result, we decided to conduct a national survey with school maintenance heads to really get some insight into their processes, here is what we found:

The wow: 1 out of 5 of school maintenance departments don’t reconcile purchase payments to work orders

Responses as to why ranged from it not being part of procedure i.e. “we never have” and “it’s not required” to resource constraints like “lack of time and people”. Irrespective of the reason, 20% of districts have no insight into the actual cost of their work orders on a per building basis (or any other granular measurement).

Less surprising: those that do reconcile work order payments reconcile the data by hand, with 77% responding that they reconcile manually.

Graph of school district maintenance work order reconciliation processes

77% reconcile purchases to work orders manually

The expected: they’re spending a lot of time on those manual processes

Graph of how many hours maintenance staff spend on maintenance purchase paperwork

Almost 1 in 5 districts spend over 20 hours each month reconciling work orders and purchases

Things break on school campuses, and it’s impossible to have every item in inventory to fix them. Day-to-day issues that require attention from the maintenance department often require some sort of immediate purchase to correct them. Maintenance heads tell us that they’re spending a significant amount of time manually dealing with the paperwork attached to these purchases. 71% are spending more than an hour each week and almost 1 in 5 (18%) are spending more than 20 hours each month trying to reconcile paperwork to generate reliable numbers on maintenance costs.

The standard: supply purchases are made most frequently with purchase orders

Graph of what processes maintenance crews use for purchases

Purchase orders are the most frequently used purchase method

Individual and open purchases orders were the most popular method of tracking day-to-day maintenance purchases, followed by purchase cards. (note: respondents could choose multiple answers for the question) From this perspective, maintenance purchase processes mimic those of purchasing classroom supplies. Given that maintenance departments typically have between 5 to 20 stores their crews shop at (and 6% have more than 50!!) it’s understandable why so much paperwork has to be reconciled.

The result: generating accurate, actionable maintenance data is resource intensive

Currently, school districts have a lot of maintenance staff responsible for a lot of receipts and paperwork. Maintaining school facilities requires the flexibility to purchase a lot of different items from a lot of different places (note the trend here). We get it, because it’s the same story we hear from finance officers about their classroom supply purchase process.

Each week, maintenance staff are using between 2 and 10 percent of their time to manage that paperwork, and which would otherwise be spent on their primary job responsibility of keeping schools’ facilities functioning. It’s understandable why 20% of maintenance departments don’t do it at all. In addition, district and school finance administrators contribute their time and effort to complete the financials and analytics.

We value the school maintenance community’s insight into this topic and will continue to track their trends and experiences as part of the k-12 financial landscape.