September 17, 2007

RALEIGH – A Wake County school facilities study group has ignored research data that could help taxpayers save millions of dollars while building new schools more efficiently. The John Locke Foundation is highlighting that research in a new Spotlight report.

Click here to view and here to listen to Terry Stoops discussing this Spotlight report.

The same information had been rejected as a minority report for the Wake County Citizens’ Facilities Advisory Committee, said committee member Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. That committee plans to release its majority report Wednesday.

“It’s unfortunate that our committee chairs would end 14 months of work by rejecting this minority report,” Stoops said. “Chairs John Mabe and Billie Redmond denied my request to have this report included with the final committee report. Since the committee report does not do an adequate job of addressing ways to bring Wake’s school construction costs in line with comparable school systems, I felt compelled to share the minority report in another way.”

Stoops’ minority report highlights a key finding overlooked in the full committee’s assessment of Wake’s future school construction plans, he said. “The Wake County Public School System spends considerably more, on average, to build new schools than its peers,” he said. “That finding is clear if you study construction cost data provided by DeJong and Summit Consulting, the same data the committee had pledged to use as the factual basis for its work.”

The DeJong/Summit analysis found that the typical Wake County elementary school costs 21 percent more than the average cost per square foot of schools in comparable districts, Stoops said. New Wake high schools cost 15 percent more than the average high school in the survey.

“If you look at the numbers in another way — cost per student — the picture is even worse for Wake County,” he said. “Cost per student figures reveal as much as a 55 percent difference between the cost of a Wake County elementary school and schools in peer districts. Even a Wake County Public School System analysis of the data agreed that school construction costs in Wake County are higher than construction costs in benchmark districts.”

The majority report also disregards consultants’ data that allow for district-to-district comparisons of costs for items such as mechanical and electrical systems, site development, and materials. “The report does not adequately address the finding that Wake County Schools has comparatively high costs for masonry, roofing, and heating and air conditioning.”

Stoops credits the committee with developing some worthwhile recommendations. They include: maximizing the efficiency of new and existing school sites; using urban school designs with small sites; and reducing the numbers of parking spaces at all school sites.

Despite those strong points, the majority report has too many weaknesses that must be addressed, Stoops said. “If the Wake County Public School System is facing a ‘crisis’ about how to accommodate student enrollment growth, then increasing the number of seats in a cost-efficient manner must be the school system’s first priority,” he said. “Reducing construction costs to the average of benchmark districts would free up money to build new schools or expand capacity at existing schools.

“A modest 10 percent cut in the cost of the 11 new elementary schools in the school system’s current plans would generate enough money to build another elementary,” he added. “Millions of dollars saved by bringing middle and high school construction costs in line with comparable school systems would further ease overcrowding.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight, “Minority Report: From a Member of the Wake County Citizens’ Facilities Advisory Committee,” will be available this afternoon at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].