A Look at Trends in Schools and School Districts


ccording to a recent survey of school administrators released in April 2010 by the American Association of School Administrators, schools are facing a difficult situation as stimulus funds begin to dwindle and grant programs experience new changes proposed by President Obama's administration. The study showed that school districts are lagging far behind the stability that has begun to take hold, and, in fact, budget cuts are likely to be more significant for 2010-11 than they were in 2008-09 or 2009-10.

More than two-thirds of respondents to this survey said they had cut personnel in 2009-10, and 90 percent were anticipating having to make cuts in 2010-11.

The impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly referred to as the Stimulus Bill) was widely felt, saving an average of 20 personnel positions per school in the AASA survey. According to Recreation Management's Industry Report survey, more school respondents received help due to the legislation than any other type of facility. That said, only 35.8 percent of schools respondents said that the Stimulus Bill had helped them.

What's more, dollars allocated by the Act will cease, and when you combine this with the budgetary dilemma faced in many states and local governments, fiscal 2011 will be a very difficult year for schools. According to the AASA study, this will likely translate into budget cuts, job cuts and fewer resources for school programs and personnel.

It is understandable, then, that respondents to Recreation Management's survey from schools and school districts were highly concerned about the impact the downturn is having on their facilities. In fact, these respondents were the most likely to indicate that they are "extremely concerned." Just under half (45.9 percent) said they were extremely concerned about the impact of the economic downturn.

Budgets and Staff

Despite the affect of the downturn, respondents from schools tended to be more likely to expect stability in terms of their revenues, as well as the number of people using their facilities, than other respondents. From 2008 to 2009, 57.7 percent of schools respondents said that their revenues held steady, compared to 38.3 percent of the general survey population. That said, more than a quarter (27 percent) saw their revenues fall in this same time frame.

This performance is expected to grow worse this year, with well over a third (38.2 percent) expecting to see revenues decrease from 2009 to 2010; and even worse in 2011, when 40.4 percent are projecting a decrease. (See Figure 48.)

At the same time, around a third of schools respondents expect the number of people using their facilities to increase in 2009, 2010 and 2011. More than half expect those numbers to hold steady in those years. (See Figure 49.) But with falling revenues and increasing usage, there is every reason to expect that these respondents' ability to maintain current service levels and maintenance schedules will be extremely challenged.

Respondents from schools and school districts actually saw an increase of 5.1 percent to their operating budgets in 2009, from an average of $2,343,000 in fiscal 2008 to $2,463,000 in 2009. They are expecting the sharpest decrease to operating costs of any facility type in 2010, of 8.5 percent.

Notably, respondents from schools and school districts were the least likely to have taken action to reduce their operating costs. That said, 86.2 percent said they had taken some measures. The most common measure taken was to improve energy efficiency. More than 60 percent of schools respondents said they had improved energy efficiency in order to reduce their costs. Around a third also said they had cut staff (35.3 percent), put construction plans on hold (32.8 percent), or cut programs and services (30.6 percent). More than one-quarter (26.3 percent) said they had increased fees. And, more than one in 10 (12.1 percent) also said they had cut operating hours, and nearly one in 10 (9.9 percent) said they had closed facilities.

In the AASA survey, school administrators discussed a variety of measures taken in reaction to the increasing intenssity of budget cuts for the 2010-11 school year. More than a quarter (26 percent) said they had increased class size in 2009-10, and 62 percent were planning to increase class size in 2010-11. A surprising 13 percent are considering reducing operations to a four-day school week. And, more than one-third (34 percent) are considering eliminating summer school for the 2010-11 school year.

With lower budgets, shortened school weeks or larger class sizes, is there any reason to suspect that students' ability to get involved in extracurricular sports, to engage in recess or take part in other activities will not be affected?

School Construction

Respondents from schools and school districts this year were more likely than 2009 respondents to report that they had plans for construction over the next three years. Last year, less than half (49.5 percent) said they had plans in place. This year, that number rose to 55.4 percent. (See Figure 50.) Those who were planning construction were less likely, however, to be planning new buildings. Last year, 23.6 percent of school respondents were planning to build new, compared with 18.2 percent this year. They were more likely to be planning additions (26.4 percent this year, vs. 23.6 percent last year) or renovations (39 percent this year vs. 36.5 percent last year).

In addition, school respondents were planning to spend less on construction in the next few years. Among those who do have plans to build, the average amount planned for construction was $7,426,000—2.5 percent lower than last year.

The features included in school respondents' facilities are what one might expect from schools. The 10 most common features among these respondents were:

  1. Bleachers and seating (included by 91.7 percent of those who reported having features of any kind)
  2. Locker rooms (87.6 percent)
  3. Indoor sports courts (83 percent)
  4. Concession areas (79.8 percent)
  5. Natural turf sports fields (78.4 percent)
  6. Outdoor running tracks (75.7 percent)
  7. Outdoor sports courts (67 percent)
  8. Fitness centers (63.3 percent)
  9. Playgrounds (62.8 percent)
  10. Open spaces, like gardens and natural areas (31.2 percent)

Just under one-third (31.1 percent) of schools respondents indicated that they were planning to add additional features to their facilities over the next three years. Among these respondents, the most common features planned for addition include: fitness centers (34.2 percent of those planning to add features are planning to add fitness centers); bleachers and seating (32.9 percent); synthetic turf sports fields (31.5 percent); outdoor running tracks (24.7 percent); playgrounds (23.3 percent); locker rooms (23.3 percent); concession areas (21.9 percent); exercise studios (20.5 percent); natural turf sports fields (17.8 percent); and outdoor and indoor sports courts (13.7 percent).

About Schools Respondents

Respondents from schools and school districts differed significantly in many ways from the trends among the general survey population. A much larger proportion of school respondents were from the Midwest, and from rural communities. In fact, nearly half (48.1 percent) of schools respondents reported in from the Midwest. They were far less likely to be from the South Central states (18 percent); the Northeast (14.6 percent); the West (12.9 percent); or the South Atlantic (6.4 percent). Likewise, a greater number of schools respondents were from rural communities—46.4 percent. Just over a third (36.5 percent) were from suburban communities, and less than a fifth (17.2 percent) were from urban areas.


Programming options among schools and school districts differ greatly from those among other facility types, with a heavier emphasis on sports, in particular.

The top 10 programs currently included by schools respondents included:

  1. Youth sports teams
  2. Educational programs
  3. Fitness programs
  4. Sports tournaments or races
  5. Swimming programming (swim teams, swim lessons, etc.)
  6. Performing arts (dance, theater, music)
  7. Sport training (lessons and instruction)
  8. Individual sports activities (running club, swim club, etc.)
  9. Special needs programs
  10. Adult sports teams

Just 14 percent of schools respondents said they had plans to add more programs to their lineup over the next three years. The most popular choices among these respondents included:

  1. Fitness programs (also No. 1 last year)
  2. Educational programs (up from No. 3)
  3. Youth sports teams (down from No. 2)
  4. Mind-body/balance programs like yoga, tai chi and pilates (up from No. 5)
  5. Day camps and summer camps (not included by last year's respondents)
  6. Sports tournaments or races (down from No. 4)
  7. Arts and crafts (not included by last year's respondents)
  8. Swimming programs (also No. 8 last year)
  9. Adult sports teams (down from No. 6)
  10. Special needs programs (not included by last year'srespondents)

A recent report from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) highlighted the importance of providing sports activities to children. The report states that while fitness leads the way in terms of participation among Americans age 6 and older, the "gateway" to physically active lives is found in team sports. "Many Americans initially get introduced to athletic activities through team sports organized by local recreation centers or by their schools," the association stated.

The top sports for Americans age 6 and older in 2009 included: basketball (24 million participants), outdoor soccer (13.8 million), baseball (13.7 million), touch football (nearly 9 million), and slow-pitch softball (8.5 million).

Getting Active

The prevalence of schools respondents who plan to add fitness centers, as well as the dominance of fitness programs among the planned program additions, suggest that these professionals place a high priority on activity for their students. And, in fact, 32.6 percent of schools respondents said that youth fitness and wellness was one of their top concerns.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The State Indicator Report on Physical Activity 2010, highlighted the ways physical features and policies can either make it easier or harder to be physically active. Among other things, the report looks at community access to parks or playgrounds, community centers, and sidewalks or walking paths.

The report notes that only 17 percent of the nation's high school students say they get at least an hour of physical activity each day, the minimum recommended for this age group.

The report also found that schools and childcare centers cannot be counted on as a place where young people get the activity they need during the week. Only eight states require children to be engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity in licensed, regulated childcare centers, and only 20 states require or recommend scheduled recess for elementary students, while 37 states require elementary, middle and high schools to teach physical education.

The report shows that "…too many kids are spending too much time in front of a computer or a TV or a videogame or have limited access to physical activity because they live in neighborhoods that aren't safe, go to schools where P.E. classes have been cut or live in communities where there are no sports leagues or afterschool activity programs," said First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been championing efforts to reduce child obesity. "We need parents and teachers, business and community leaders and the public and private sectors to come together to create more opportunities for our kids to be active so they can lead happy healthy lives."

"The places where we live, work, learn and play affect the choices we make, and in turn, our health," said William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. "As chronic diseases place an increasing burden on the nation's health care system, the need for improving policies and environments for physical activity is more important than ever. This report can help states, communities and others work together to increase the number of Americans who live healthier lives by creating communities that support and encourage physical activity."

To learn more and read the report, visit

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