School Construction Work Group: Pause Using Facility Assessments until FY 25

The Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities centered its November 3 meeting on the experience of local education agencies (LEAs) that underwent a 2021 school facilities assessment. In the end, it approved a recommendation to postpone using school facility assessment data to prioritize construction projects until FY 2025.

Currently, the School Facilities Assessment data is not set to be used to make prioritization decisions until FY 2023. After hearing from LEAs and stakeholders about the preliminary assessment experience and concerns about data, it decided to postpone using assessment data to make State priority decisions on school construction projects to FY 2025 in order to give improve data collection and assessment processes.

At the November 3 meeting, the work group repeatedly heard concerns over the same themes: universally, stakeholders agree that facilities assessments are needed; however, inconsistent processes and inefficient timelines to complete assessments have resulted in less-than-accurate data collection, and any future work group decisions must take those concerns into consideration.

DLS staff recommended that the work group extend its work before using assessment data to decide how to move forward and which projects to prioritize

The November 3 meeting opened with a presentation from staff on the statutory charge of the School Facilities Assessment and on staff analysis of the assessment data, which was finally submitted to staff on Friday, October 30. Staff explained several outstanding concerns relating to the assessment data and how that data differed from the standards set out in the request for proposals. (These portions of staff presentations start around 15 minutes).

LEAs expressed concern about processes, time, and function

Next, the work group heard from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), which expressed further concerns that comes down to a “lack of preparation and communication” between the contracted assessor and LEAs on how to best use the time granted (which MABE noted was not enough) to conduct high-quality facility assessment.

MABE’s John Woolums particularly expressed concern that assessors were not about to talk directly with school facility directors on the functioning of critical infrastructure, which he called a “critical, if not fatal flaw” to the quality of assessments. He also expressed concern about the assessments not being able to access and utilize accurate enrollment data and projections. (MABE’s comments start around the 18 minute mark of the video).

Staff from the City of Baltimore reiterated the importance on having the full scope of information available to the assessors and to the LEAs in order to delineate between facility systems (like HVACs, roofs, etc.) and to what extent current systems may be past their lifespan and in need of upgrade/replacement. With the current assessments and data, it simply rates these systems as either within or outside of their lifespan.

Additionally, the current assessment does not rate systems that do not exist, for example, if City schools do not have air conditioning, that was not reflected in the assessments.

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (the county representative on the work group) shared insight on Frederick county’s experience with the assessment

County Executive Gardner noted that it didn’t appear to be a consistent approach to each school’s assessment and visit. She noted differences in assessing portable facilities, for example, in which some schools had their portable facilities (like trailers) assessed, while others did not have theirs assessed at all. She also highlighted a great variation in site visits, with some assessors spending only an hour at schools while others spent upwards of four hours. (Comments start around 40 minutes).

The work group closed out today’s meeting with a presentation from the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC) on  its outreach and engagement with LEAs during the assessment process. Chair Maggie McIntosh invited the IAC to respond to any LEA feedback from today’s meeting at the next gathering of the work group, details of which are not published.

She also noted that “this is something we have to get right for our LEAs and our members of the House and Senate to have confidence in the data.” Treasurer and work group member Nancy Kopp emphasized the need to “work together” to execute the assessments and inform future construction decisions.

Chair McIntosh closed out the November 3 meeting motioning for the group to recommend implementing prioritization decisions based on assessment data from FY 23 to FY 25 in order to give the IAC more time to streamline and improve the assessment processes and data collection.

The meeting materials and agenda are available on the General Assembly’s website.

The video of the meeting is available on the General Assembly’s YouTube site.

Read prior Conduit Street Blog coverage of the workgroup:

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