4 ways to save money on your facilities budget

School finance is a hot topic on campuses and in school board meetings across the country as districts are being forced to make tough decisions about what to cut or how to spread funding to cover more programs.

As other spending priorities have encroached on state and local dollars, education funding has taken a big hit. In fact, according to a recent Education Week analysis looking at how much U.S. states spend on education, more than half received an F grade – and just seven states earned an A or A-. (You can find a breakdown of the state grades here.)

So, what can be done? The answer might be in your support services budget.

In nearly 50 years of serving educational institutions across the country, SSC has found several places schools can look to save money that can be put straight back into the classroom.

1. Benefit and retirement costs

Outsourcing is a scary word to some people, but contracting your support services can keep employees in their jobs while also helping schools save money – a win-win. You keep your valued employees, but we take the HR responsibilities off your plate by handling retirement, benefit and workers’ comp costs.

Outsourcing custodial services “helped save us significant dollars and eliminated all personnel headaches in that department,” said Darrell G. Floyd, a superintendent in Texas. “The end result is cleaner buildings for our students and teachers. That’s what we’re after.”

2. Labor

Eighty percent of a support service’s department budget is labor. But there are ways to trim that cost without letting go of employees.

Our programs leverage technology to make each employee more productive, and we use safety training to curb accidents, which results in schools that are cleaner, safer and more efficient – saving time and money.

3. Deferred maintenance

Putting off maintenance can cost you dearly in the long run. It’s estimated that every $1 not spent on preventive maintenance results in $4 in repairs and replacements down the road.

We use a computerized maintenance management system to monitor all of our systems and improve our work order efficiency and the PM process.

A robust preventive maintenance program helps schools extend the life expectancy of equipment and minimize untimely and expensive system failures.

4. Analytics

You know the phrase “work smarter, not harder?” It pays off. Compass Group’s analytics team, E15, helps companies and school districts across the country make data-based decisions about everything from energy usage to the right time to propose a bond referendum, all based on market research.

There’s no easy answer to school funding problems, but we can help you save on support services so you can worry about what matters most: educating your students.


Want to learn more about how we’ve helped schools save money on support services? Click here or get in touch with us here.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Does your district have a plan to keep schools running smoothly?

Maintenance. It’s not exciting nor flashy. It’s not new and shiny. It doesn’t get a lot of attention. But deferred maintenance can have dire consequences.

Case in point: U.S. school facilities received a D+ in the most recent Infrastructure Report Card, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017. The report also found that 24 percent of public school buildings are in poor or fair condition, and 4 in 10 schools don’t have a long-term facilities plan to address operations and maintenance.

Putting off repairs may seem like a good way to save money now, but it leads to years of neglect in school buildings and usually ends up costing way more money down the road. 

Industry reports have shown that $1 not spent on preventative maintenance equals $4 in repairs and replacements in the future.

“Facing tight budgets, school districts’ ability to fund maintenance has been constricted, contributing to the accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling and lighting systems,” the ASCE said in its report. “Deferred maintenance and decisions to choose less expensive temporary fixes are ultimately costing school districts in the long term.”

How did we get here?

Maintenance may not be exciting, but innovation is. And, during the 20th century, innovation became a “dominant ideology of our era, embraced by Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the Washington, D.C., political elite,” wrote SUNY Polytechnic Institute College of Arts & Sciences Dean Andrew Russell and assistant professor of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology Lee Vinsel in their essay “Hail the maintainers,” published in Aeon.

Sure, innovation is important and has led to countless new technologies and breakthroughs, but what happens after innovation is just as important.

“Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labor that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations,” Russell and Vinsel wrote.

The popular podcast Freakonomics also dove into this subject in its episode, “In Praise of Maintenance.”

“People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained,” said former Harvard University president and former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers. “It leads to a constant trap where we underinvest in old things, then old things disappoint us, then we feel a need for new things, then – to satisfy that need for new things – we underinvest more in old things, and the cycle goes on.”

So how do we fix it?

Two words: Preventive maintenance.

A successful preventive maintenance program ensures that a school continues to run smoothly. It involves cataloging and keeping track of each piece of equipment (using software such as Maintenance Connection) to make sure all systems are getting the routine service that will keep them functioning well.

And it pays off. Proper preventive maintenance will:

  • Extend the life expectancy of equipment, delaying the need for costly replacements.
  • Minimize untimely (and often expensive) system failures.
  • Enable the facilities department to plan, purchase materials and schedule workloads efficiently, which means saving time, money and labor.

The Infrastructure Report Card pointed specifically at preventive maintenance as a solution for the problems facing school buildings today: “Continue to encourage school districts to adopt regular, comprehensive major maintenance, renewal and construction programs, and implement preventative maintenance programs to extend the life of school facilities.”

What’s your district’s plan to keep schools running smoothly?


Want to learn more about how SSC’s Plant Operations & Maintenance services can help your school save money and run smoothly? Click here or get in touch with us here.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

3 simple ways to make your campus stand out

Think back to your first college visit, or the first time you interviewed for a job at a school. What was your first impression?

Did the school feel welcoming and bright, or a little shabby and disorganized?

Whatever your reaction – positive or negative – it likely hinged on the school’s grounds.

“People remember the first and last thing they see when they’re visiting any kind of campus,” said SSC Regional Vice President of Grounds George Bernardon.

Whether you’re fighting to attract and retain students or hoping to lure top teachers, grounds management goes a long way in how people perceive your school. We asked Bernardon to share three ways his team works to help schools make the right first impression.

1. Curb appeal matters

If you’ve ever been house hunting, you know the importance of curb appeal. People form their first impressions of a home long before they ever step inside.

You wouldn’t list your house without mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and making the outside look nice and tidy, right? You should treat your school the same way – because it’s always on the market.

Prospective students, faculty and staff could be visiting your school for the first time any time of year, and they’re going to notice if the curb appeal is lacking. Most students decide if a college will stay on their list after just 10 minutes of being on campus, and 62 percent “reported basing their college decision on buildings and landscape,” according to a Washington State University survey.

With school choice becoming more widespread, it’s the appearance of a campus can have a large impact on a family’s decision.

“When parents go to enroll their child into school and the grounds look shabby, already they’ve formulated in their mind an opinion of how that school is run,” Bernardon said. “Immediately they start thinking, what is going on with this institution? Is the infrastructure crumbling around it? Just based on the curb appeal.”

Treat the outside of your school with the same pride you approach what goes on inside, and people will notice.

2. Little changes make a huge difference

Bernardon’s team features a mix of certified professionals in every aspect of grounds, athletic field and playground management. They do research, test the soil and study the irrigation system in order to create a custom plan that ensures a school’s landscape will be managed with sound horticultural and agronomic practices.

But when Bernardon first starts working with a school he focuses on doing the little things that make a huge – and immediate – difference (if you work in your yard at home, this list probably sounds familiar):

  • Weed plant beds
  • Add mulch
  • Start a consistent mow, edge and trim schedule for the grass

It sounds simple, but it makes a huge difference, especially when those little things are done in high-traffic areas like playgrounds, the parent pick-up line and the front entrance.

“If you do that, the campus appears to be manicured,” Bernardon said. “That elevates the appearance of the facility tenfold.”

After that, Bernardon and his team can dig deep and fix the big problems to put the grounds over the top.

3. Don’t forget the athletic fields

Think about all of the people filing into the stands for a Friday night football game or a Tuesday afternoon softball game. Their impression of your school has a lot to do with how green, lush and perfectly manicured those fields look.

And it’s not just your own students and parents you’re trying to impress, but also those from the visiting teams. For colleges, beautiful fields can help recruit athletes.

Visitors will form their first impressions based on the areas they visit the most. So even if that baseball field is tucked way back in the rear part of campus, a patchy outfield could color how people see the school.

“All schools now are fighting for the same students,” Bernardon said.

Give your school an edge by making the right first impression.


Want to learn more about how SSC’s Grounds Management program can transform the curb appeal of your school? Click here or get in touch with us here.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Tarleton State breaks ground on new Fort Worth campus

Tarleton State University broke ground on its new campus in Fort Worth, Texas, and SSC was there.

Regional Director of Operations Aaron Wand, Regional Vice President John Lane and President Seth Ferriell were on hand to support our expanding partnership with Tarleton State.

Tarleton State groundbreaking

The new campus, on 80 donated acres, will initially add an expected 2,500 students with additional growth opportunities already planned through 2026.

Read more on Tarleton State’s website here.


SSC is 100 percent dedicated to support services for education. This means we’re well-versed in the challenges facing education today, and – most importantly – we know how to overcome them. Want to learn more? Get in touch with us.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Outsourcing helps schools save money without cutting jobs

Outsourcing. When you see that word, you probably think about jobs being shipped overseas, or longtime employees being cut to hire younger – and cheaper – workers.

But outsourcing doesn’t have to be a dirty word, and it can actually help schools and districts save money without laying off existing staff.

By bringing in a support services firm like SSC, schools can:

  • Keep the current, knowledgeable staff already in-house
  • Increase productivity
  • Stop worrying about workers’ compensation, skyrocketing fringe costs, and free up human resources to focus on other responsibilities
  • Save money – 15-20 percent – which can then go to other critical needs, like arts programs and teacher pay
  • Most importantly, improve the look of your schools and make your district more competitive in recruitment and retention

How?

We have developed a detailed transition plan honed through the successful onboarding of hundreds of thousands of associates over many years. This experience has taught us that honest, open, continuous communication is the key to taking employees from a place of fear and resistance to embracing the positive new reality our solutions bring and delivering a new, higher level of performance.

SSC leverages its expertise and resources to achieve significantly higher productivity levels using technology, training and management resources that are beyond the reach of in-house operations.

Eighty percent of a support service’s department budget is labor. Higher productivity means fewer workers – and a lower cost – but an increased quality in facilities management.

But wait, you’re thinking, you said we could save money without cutting a bunch of jobs.

You’re right. That’s where attrition comes in.

Gradual employee transition happens naturally, at a rate around 10 percent annually. As worker productivity increases, vacant positions can be eliminated while maintaining a high standard of work. Staffing levels go down without forcing employees out of their jobs and without breaking promises with the school community.

In this structure, cost-savings are attained in a way that’s sustainable and respectful of existing employees, and that maintains good morale and a spirit of teamwork.

When Lake Travis Independent School District in Texas transitioned custodial services to SSC in 2015, 92 percent of staff members also decided to make the transition, and the district was able to save 18 percent of its prior year’s custodial budget.

“The positive feedback has been overwhelming,” said Johnny W. Hill, assistant superintendent for business, financial and auxiliary services at Lake Travis ISD.

“In my opinion, the three main factors that set SSC apart from the rest of the crowd (are) their level of commitment to employees during the transition period, their commitment to providing the highest level of services to the educational entity and, finally, their commitment to providing a cost-effective solution to their clients.”


Want to learn more? Get in touch with us to see if outsourcing support services makes sense for your facilities.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

As state school funding declines dramatically, districts look for new ways to save money

Hiring quality teachers. Cutting class sizes. Modernizing classrooms. Renovating facilities. All of these go a long way in boosting student achievement. They also require sufficient funding.

But school districts around the country are struggling with financial shortfalls as states continue to devote significantly less money to K-12 education.

In 29 states, total state funding per K-12 student is lower than it was during the 2007-08 school year, before the Great Recession, according to analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 17 states, that percentage drop in total state funding was 10 percent or more, largely because states cut funding and didn’t increase revenue. And in 19 states, local funding fell over the same period.

Arizona saw the biggest state funding change from 2008-2015 (-36.6 percent) followed by Florida (-22 percent), Alabama (-21.6 percent) and Idaho (-18 percent).

On average, 47 percent of school funding comes from the state. State-level K-12 cuts have a negative impact on school districts and students. Financial shortfalls undermine education reform and force school districts to scale back, leading to:

  • Cuts in academic and student programs
  • Reduction in staff
  • Deferred building maintenance and poor learning environments

But there are ways to maintain and even enhance learning environments for students – and save money without cutting staff. Contracting facilities services can save up to 20 percent on facilities’ operating budgets. Those savings could be used to enhance student programs, hire quality teachers and revamp facilities.

Bentonville Public Schools in Arkansas has saved an estimated $300,000 each year on housekeeping expenses since contracting with SSC in 2008.  At Richland Two in South Carolina, SSC helped the district become more environmentally friendly and supported three buildings in attaining LEED certification, while saving the district an estimated $12,000 per employee per year.

Outsourcing custodial services to SSC “helped save us significant dollars and eliminated all personnel headaches in that department,” said former Stephenville (Texas) Independent School District Superintendent Darrell Floyd. “The end result is cleaner buildings for our students and teachers. That’s what we’re after.”

Learn more about contracting your facilities services here, or get in touch with us to schedule a meeting and see if it’s the right choice for your school or district.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Why do teachers quit, and what can school districts do about it?

About 8 percent of teachers in the U.S. leave the profession each year, and another 8 percent choose to move to a different school, according to research from the Learning Policy Institute.

Sure, retirement accounts for some of that turnover, but two-thirds of teachers who leave the profession each year are doing so for other reasons, according to LPI. This comes as states across the country face growing teacher shortages. More than 100,000 classrooms had underprepared teachers last year, LPI found in its study, “Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It.”

Teacher turnover is costly. It hurts student achievement and leads to shortages, and it can cost up to $21,000 to replace a new teacher in an urban school district, according to Education Week.

What causes teachers to quit? Here’s what the LPI found:

  • “Dissatisfaction with testing and accountability pressure” (25 percent of those who left): Teachers in low-performing schools felt pressure to “teach to the test” and were worried about losing their jobs if test scores didn’t improve enough.
  • “Lack of administrative support” (21 percent): If teachers don’t feel like their administration is supportive, they’re more likely to leave.
  • “Dissatisfaction with the teaching career” (21 percent): Specifically, teaching assignments and lack of opportunities to provide feedback or advance in their career.
  • “Dissatisfaction with working conditions,” like large class sizes (10 percent) and lack of resources and facilities (9 percent).

Addressing the last issue on that list – bad working conditions – could lead to improvements in other aspects of the profession. SSC has found that when districts outsource their facility services, not only can working conditions improve, but it allows principals to focus more of their time and energy on their teachers and students.

SSC, with the backing of Compass Group, the world’s largest foodservice and support services company, invests in new equipment for schools, while also providing training on best practices to current staff. And, by making operations more efficient, SSC helps districts save money – up to 20 percent on the facilities operating budget – without cutting staff.

Durham Public Schools in North Carolina, for example, has saved an estimated $2 million altogether since it partnered with SSC in 2005.

“Any money that we save goes directly into teaching and learning,” said Minnie Forte-Brown, a member of the Durham Board of Education. “The bottom line is that all goes to help the district accomplish its one goal, which is student achievement and making sure that students are ready for the 21st century.”

Want to learn more? Get in touch with SSC to find out how we can help you spend more time on the people who matter most.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Don’t get stuck out in the cold: 8 tips for winter weather driving

When winter weather strikes, drivers face out-of-the-ordinary challenges when they get behind the wheel. Snow, slush or icy roads are involved in nearly 1 in 4 weather-related vehicle crashes. These conditions can make it harder for drivers to see, slow down and stop – all factors that can increase the chances of an accident.

If you must travel during winter weather, preparing your car in advance, knowing the forecast and slowing down are three key ways to help you drive more safely.

Here are some winter driving safety tips to help you prepare for the elements – before you face them – on the road.

Preparing your vehicle

  • Make sure your car is stocked with a winter driving survival kit, including an ice scraper, a snow shovel and sand or salt.
  • Check your tires to determine whether it’s time to replace them or whether you need snow tires.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full so you can run your engine and stay warm if you get stuck or stranded.
  • Keep your windshield wipers in good condition and your windshield fluid reservoir filled so you can clear snow and ice from your windshield.

Driving in winter conditions

  • Take time to clear snow and ice off your car, including your windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk BEFORE leaving your parking space.
  • Drive with your headlights on, and be sure to keep them clean to improve visibility.
  • Remember that speed limits are meant for dry roads, not roads covered in snow and ice. You should reduce your speed and increase your following distance as road conditions and visibility worsen.
  • Be cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are commonly the first areas to become icy.

Remember, driving in winter weather can be challenging, even for experienced drivers. Slowing down, allowing increased time to come to a stop, wearing your seatbelt, devoting your full attention to the road and being aware of changing conditions can help you drive more safely.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

5 strategies for keeping your school flu-free

This flu season has been a doozy – one of the worst in the past decade – and the virus has caused schools to close in at least 12 states.

Even for schools that don’t close, the flu can be disruptive, with students coughing and sniffling in class, or falling behind while home sick.

Between 5 and 20 percent of people in the United States get the flu each fall and winter, according to the National Institutes of Health. Moreover, the flu accounted for 39 percent of illness episodes and led to more than 1,075 missed school days over three flu seasons according to a study of more than 1,000 school-aged children published earlier this year in the Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses journal.

Those missed school days can have a huge effect on student outcomes – and the budget.

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How SSC helped Texas A&M weather Hurricane Harvey

In late summer 2017, the areas surrounding Texas A&M saw considerable winds and rain from Hurricane Harvey. The weather event caused massive devastation, leaving in its path leveled homes, businesses, schools, nursing homes, churches and stores, and injuring or killing many. In situations such as this, our SSC team knows it is vital to be prepared, responsive and proactive to ensure the safety of everyone in our communities and get our clients up and running again as soon as possible.

Rather than waiting to see what Harvey would leave behind, our team performed a significant amount of pre-storm work. The team laid out sandbags in problematic areas and prepared the campus for the predicted rainfall. Sump pumps were checked to ensure each was in good working order.

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