Schools & School Districts

A Look at Trends in Schools & School Districts

While many facility types have started to see signs of the economic recovery taking hold, schools and school districts are still deeply mired in ongoing fallout from the downturn. According to a recent study from the American Association of School Administrators, school districts are already operating in their fourth consecutive year of budget cuts, and do not anticipate returning to pre-recession funding levels for several years.

Respondents to the AASA survey projected new budget cuts coming in the 2013-14 school year, though not as deep as in earlier years. More than three-quarters (81.4 percent) of districts described their district as inadequately funded, and nearly three-quarters (71.2 percent) reported a cut in state/local revenues between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. Two-thirds (68.2 percent) of respondents had eliminated positions in 2011-12, and 65.5 percent anticipated doing so in 2012-13.

"The recession continues to have a long-term impact on learning and achievement for today's students," said Daniel A. Domenech, AASA executive director, in a press release about the report. "I look forward to, one day, releasing a survey that talks about the end of the recession and the refunding of the nation's public schools."

(Learn more about the AASA study at

Recreation Management's survey results from schools and school districts bear much of the same difficult news: continuing struggles with revenues and budgets.

Respondents from schools and school districts made up the third largest cohort in the State of the Industry Survey, with 10.5 percent of the response. This is up from 7.4 percent in 2011.

School respondents were most likely to be from the Midwest, and were far more likely to be from this region than the general survey population. While 28.7 percent of all respondents were from the Midwest, some 44.1 percent of schools respondents call this region home. They were also more likely than general respondents to be from the Northeast (18.5 percent vs. 17.8 percent). They were less likely than the general survey population to be from the South Atlantic (10 percent vs. 18.8 percent), the South Central region (13.3 percent vs. 13.6 percent) or the West (13.7 percent vs. 20.6 percent).

School respondents also were far more likely to be from rural communities than many other survey respondents. While around a third (33.5 percent) of the entire survey population call rural communities home, more than half (51.2 percent) of school respondents are from rural communities. The next largest group—around a third, at 35.1 percent—are from suburban communities. School respondents were least likely to be from urban communities, with just 13.7 percent of the response.

The schools represented by our respondents were overwhelmingly public, with 92.4 percent of respondents indicating they work for public organizations. Another 4.7 percent said they worked for private nonprofit schools, while the remainder work for private for-profit schools.

Respondents from schools were far less likely to manage three or fewer facilities, when compared with the general survey population. While 58.8 percent of all facility types manage three or fewer, that number falls to 35.5 percent for schools and school districts. They were most likely to report that they managed between four and nine facilities (39.8 percent), and nearly a quarter said they managed 10 or more facilities (24.6 percent).

In an effort to determine which types of schools—primary, secondary or something else—are covered in the survey, we asked respondents to tell us the primary audience served by their main facility. Slightly more than half (51.7 percent) of school respondents said their primary audience was teenagers between 13 and 18 years old. Another quarter (24.9 percent) said their primary audience was all ages, perhaps reflecting a tendency of some communities to develop joint-use agreements or otherwise allow community members to use their facilities. Some 14.4 percent named 4-to-12-year-olds as their primary audience, while 6.2 percent said adults 19 to 64 were their audience, and 2.4 percent named college students.

Some 88 percent of schools respondents said they formed partnerships with organizations outside of their own. In addition, local schools are the most common partner selected for facilities of all types. More than half (56.2 percent) of all respondents said they partner with local schools. Local schools are also the most common partner for school respondents, with 62.2 percent indicating they partnered with other local schools. They were followed by local government (54.5 percent), state government (45.5 percent), nonprofit organizations (25.8 percent) and federal government (25.4 percent).

Revenues & Expenditures

Respondents from schools and school districts were more likely than others to report that their revenues were falling from one year to the next. In 2011, one-third (33.6 percent) of school respondents said their revenues decreased from 2009 to 2010. That number rose to 36.6 percent for 2010 to 2011, and 38.6 percent expect to see further decreases in 2012. Even in 2013, when many other respondents begin projecting much more positive revenues, 35 percent of schools respondents are expecting revenues to drop. (See Figure 47.)

At the same time, while this year's school respondents saw a slight rise in operating expenditures for fiscal 2011 over fiscal 2010, they are projecting decreases over the next couple of years. Ultimately, schools respondents projected their operating budgets to fall 5.1 percent from $1,303,000 in fiscal 2011 to $1,236,000 in fiscal 2013.

At the same time, schools respondents expect the number of people using their facility to either remain the same or increase. More than half (57.1 percent) said they saw no change in users from 2010 to 2011, while a little more than one-third (35.2 percent) saw an increase in that time frame. More expect an increase (37.1 percent) from 2011 to 2012, while 54.1 percent expect no change in that time period. From 2012 to 2013, expectations are similar to 2011, with 35.8 percent projecting an increase in the number of people using their facility, and 57.5 percent expecting no change. (See Figure 48.)

Slightly more school respondents in 2012 reported that they had taken measures to reduce their operating expenditures. While 87.9 percent of 2011 school respondents had done so, in 2012, 88.1 percent of schools respondents had acted to reduce operating costs. The most common measures adopted included improving energy efficiency (53.8 percent had taken this action); reducing staff (50 percent); cutting programs or services (33.8 percent); putting construction or renovation plans on hold (30.5 percent); and increasing fees (27.1 percent). Reducing staff was a much more common action among school respondents in 2012 than in 2011, when 38.9 percent said they had done so.

Over the course of 2012, more schools report that they plan to reduce staff than respondents from other facilities. Still, a clear majority (88.2 percent) said they plan to maintain current staff levels or even increase staff. Some 11.8 percent had plans to reduce staff.

Among the 4.2 percent of schools respondents with plans to add staff over the course of the year, they planned to add four employees, on average: three full-time employees and one part-time employee.

Building Plans

Schools respondents were more likely to have plans for construction, whether new facilities, additions or renovations, in the 2012 survey, compared with 2010. While 53.7 percent of school respondents in 2011 said they had no current construction plans, this year that number fell to 46.2 percent. Renovations are by far the most common plan, with more than one-third (35.8 percent) of schools respondents reporting they have renovation plans in the works. Another 22.6 percent said they will be adding to existing facilities, and 17.9 percent intend to build new facilities. (See Figure 49.)

While respondents from schools and school districts plan to spend 32.7 percent more than respondents from all facility types, construction budgets for schools have been falling over the past three years. Schools respondents in 2012 reported that they plan to spend an average of $5,607,000 on construction over the next three years. This is down 15.9 percent from 2011, when schools planned to spend $6,671,000 on construction, and it is down 29.2 percent from the average construction budget reported in 2010.

There was no change in the features and amenities most commonly found at schools respondents' facilities in 2012. The features most commonly found include: locker rooms; indoor sports courts for sports such as basketball, volleyball, etc.; bleachers and seating; concession areas; natural turf sports fields for sports such as football, soccer and baseball; classrooms and meeting rooms; outdoor running tracks; outdoor sports courts for sports such as basketball and tennis; fitness centers; and playgrounds.

As might be expected, given the continuing fiscal struggles at schools and school districts across the country, respondents from schools were less likely than others to have plans to add features and amenities at their facilities. Less than one-third (29.7 percent) of schools respondents said they had such plans, down from 32.9 percent last year. The most common features they planned to add included:

  1. Synthetic turf sports fields (41.3 percent of those with plans to make additions)
  2. Bleachers and seating (28.6 percent)
  3. Playgrounds (15.9 percent)
  4. Fitness centers (15.9 percent)
  5. Classrooms and meeting rooms (15.9 percent)
  6. Locker rooms (14.3 percent)
  7. Outdoor sports courts (12.7 percent)
  8. Concession areas (12.7 percent)
  9. Outdoor running tracks (9.5 percent)
  10. Exercise studio rooms (9.5 percent)

Most areas show a significant decrease in the number of respondents who plan to add them. The exception is synthetic turf sports fields, which saw an increase from 37.5 percent of schools respondents with plans to add synthetic turf in 2011 to 41.3 percent in 2012.


Once again, youth sports teams were the most common type of program found at schools respondents' facilities. Some 78 percent said they currently have youth sports teams (though this is down from 84 percent in the 2011 survey). Other common programs among school respondents include: educational programs (71.5 percent); sports tournaments and races (57.5 percent); fitness programs (52.5 percent); individual sports activities (45.5 percent); sport-specific training (42.5 percent); holiday events and other special events (42 percent); performing arts, such as dance, theater and music (40.5 percent); swimming (37 percent); special needs programs (36 percent); and day camps and summer camps (35 percent). Programs that saw an increase from 2011 include educational programs (up from 70.2 percent); sports tournaments and races (up from 56.5 percent); individual sports activities (up from 41.2 percent); sport-specific training (up from 38.2 percent); and holiday events (up from 35.9 percent).

Just 12.3 percent of school respondents said they had plans to add more programs at their facilities over the next three years, down from 16.8 percent in 2011. Their top planned programs include:

  1. Fitness programs (showing no change from last year's survey)
  2. Educational programs (no change)
  3. Mind-body/balance programs such as yoga, tai chi, Pilates and martial arts (did not appear on the top 10 programs for schools in 2011)
  4. Programs for active older adults (did not appear in 2011)
  5. Aquatic exercise programs (did not appear in 2011)
  6. Swimming programs (up from No. 9)
  7. Sports tournaments and races (down from No. 3)
  8. Individual sports activities (down from No. 5)
  9. Day camps and summer camps (did not appear in 2011)
  10. Holiday events and other special events (down from No. 6)

While the top two programs remain the same from 2011, there are many programs in the top 10 planned for the next three years that did not appear on this list in 2011. They include mind-body/balance programs, programs for active older adults, aquatic exercise programs, and day camps and summer camps.

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