Feature Article - June 2021
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Trends in Schools & School Districts

A Look at Trends in Schools & School Districts


After a dramatic (and aberrant) increase to average operating expenses in 2019, school respondents, like most respondents, reported a stiff drop in their average operating cost in 2020. School respondents said their average operating expenditure in 2020 was $1,690,000—31% lower than the average for 2019 of $2,450,000. However, the average for 2020 is still 29% higher than the average in 2018 ($1,310,000).

Looking forward, school respondents projected a further decrease to their average operating expenses in 2021, reporting an expected average of $1,670,000, 1.2% lower than in 2020. In 2021, they expect to regain that lost ground and more, with a 1.8% year-over-year increase to an average of $1,700,000.

School respondents reported that they recover an average of 45.6% of their operating costs via revenue. This is up from 42.9% in 2020, and well above the average of 31.4% reported in 2019. More than one-third (34.2%) of school respondents said they recover 30% or less of their operating expenditures via revenues. Another 6.1% earn back between 31% and 50% of their revenues, while 7.9% recover between 51% and 70%. More than one-fifth (26.3%) of school respondents said they recover at least 71% of their operating costs via revenues.

School respondents were much less likely than non-school respondents to report that they had taken any action to reduce their operating costs, and in fact, were among the only respondents who were less likely in 2021 than in 2020 to report that they had done so. Just 71.4% of school respondents in 2021 said they had acted to reduce their operating costs, down from 76.3% in 2020. This compares with 91.8% of non-school respondents in 2021 who had taken action to reduce their operating costs (up from 81.8%). More than one-third of school respondents said they had reduced staff (34.8%) or cut programs and services (33.9%). Another 32.1% said they had worked to improve their energy efficiency, while 30.4% said they had temporarily closed facilities and 25% said they had reduced their hours of operation.

School Facilities

As with revenues, school respondents departed from their relatively steady norm in 2020, and don't expect things to settle back to normal until 2022, when it comes to the number of people using their facilities. In most years, a majority of schools tend to report steady numbers of people using their facilities. In 2020, however, just 40.9% reported that the number of people using their facilities remained the same. Another 39.1% reported a decrease, and 20% said the number of people using their facilities had risen.

This trend begins to reverse somewhat in 2021, with 56.9% reporting no change to the number of people using their facilities, while 25.7% expect a decrease and 17.4% expect an increase. Looking forward, 2022 sees a return to normal expectations, with 54% of school respondents expecting no change to the number of people using their facilities, while 35% expect to see an increase and 11% are expecting a decrease. (See Figure 54.)

After increasing steadily for a number of years, the percentage of school respondents who report that they have plans for construction dropped in 2021 to 58.3%, from 69.3% in 2020. The numbers for 2021 are nearly identical to the numbers reported in 2018. In 2021, 40% of school respondents said they were planning renovations to their existing facilities (down from 50.4% in 2020), while 22.6% were planning additions (down from 34.3%), and 20% were planning new construction (down from 32.1%). (See Figure 55.)