11-11 In Conversation With

11-11 In Conversation With

In conversation with ... John Oualline and Ed Humble

Q. The physical condition portion of this new system is self-explanatory. But could you explain the concept of the educational suitability factor and how it works within this whole system?

Ed Humble:  What the thought process is, is that traditionally we’ve always assessed schools on their physical condition – does the roof leak, do the mechanical systems work.  All those things are extremely important – that’s always been the traditional kind of thing. The other side that started becoming a factor the more we looked at schools is how we can make schools really work for the programs that the state had set as priorities, that sometimes you didn’t really get at. Sometimes you’d have a science room that really is OK – the floors are in good shape and the roof doesn’t leak and the mechanical systems work, but it really doesn’t work very well as a science room. It didn’t have the kind of labs and kind of equipment we need to do the science and the instruction the way it is. You can do the same thing for music, for art, for vocational programs and even for general classrooms, especially with all the technology that’s involved in our classrooms.

Not to say the (physical) condition is not important, because it certainly is – but it’s also important to know whether this school has the facilities that it needs to support the educational program. It really has become a standard now all over the country. Some states call it educational suitability, some states call it educational adequacy but it’s become a standard to look at that as well.

Q. Why did you break off the technology element of it into a third category?

Humble: Because it’s such a unique thing. It’s easy to say it’s part of educational suitability, but this gets to the infrastructure of the building. Is there a wireless network throughout the building? Smart Boards are very popular but it doesn’t do you any good to bring in new Smart Boards if you don’t have the infrastructure in that building to support that technology.

Q. To what extent is this whole facilities classification system subjective?

Humble: From John’s side of it, it is clearly objective. On the educational suitability side, I won’t shy away from saying there is some subjectiveness to it. Now, what we’ve done to take that out to the highest degree possible is, we sit down before we ever go out and visit a building and we agree on what the standards are and we agreed on that for Kentucky.

John Oualline: We try to take the human factor that’s prevalent in everything that we do and try to quantify each aspect of it and identify baseline conditions that we can measure against so the subjectivity is slowly squeezed out of the process by all the measurements and all the judgments we’re making.  So we can be specifically incorrect on any little, tiny judgment along the way but it aggregates into generally being correct about the overall facility.

We wrapped ourselves in standards established by various (national) trade organizations, and by owners and managers of some organizations such as the Building Owners and Managers association. The Uniformat is another standard we used that established a way of categorizing information about buildings into systems that are defined and specified. We still have people who have to go out and make a judgment as to whether or not a system or a component is within its useful life or beyond its useful life. We try to automate most of that using the technology that we’ve set up. It will make a lot of the decisions for you and so we’re in the position of verifying the results. That’s primarily what we do when we walk out into the field and we look at the facilities – we’re verifying the conditions and what we would expect to find.

 We try to use the software as a tool to help guide our opinion. It’s like the car battery that we have in our cars: If your car battery is getting close to five years old, you had better think about replacing it or you will find out the hard way that it’s no longer working and it’s usually at the most inopportune time. The same thing with buildings; almost every component that we measure – over 65 different systems in a typical building – any of those can fail. Some are critical when they fail. So we try to establish what we think are useful life parameters.

Q. Assuming we get all our schools evaluated eventually, how often do you recommend re-evaluating?

Oualline: I would recommend re-evaluating on an ongoing basis and the system that we’re setting up could be a cyclical system. The way we’ve set it up is each school can report on their conditions independently of the facility director at the district office or all this can be aggregated to the facility director and that’s incorporated as part of their master planning efforts on what to fix and what not to fix in a prioritized way. Then that data is refreshed on a periodic basis –it could be monthly, quarterly, annually. Some of our clients have elected to do it continuously; it makes sense – they stay on top of it that way.

Humble: What’s more critical than how often is that you have a process in place, that the state determines how we’re going to keep this data up to date.  To have this all done — and it will be very good information that will allow you to prioritize needs — it will allow you to really see where there are some things you need to maybe  change standards on in the state of Kentucky.  For example, if you find out that all of the schools don’t have appropriate music rooms or whatever it is, does that then say we need to be looking at what our standards are for that? So it will allow you to make all those kinds of decisions based on the data.

But having said that, if it just sits there, in three, four, five years, it’s going to become out-of-date. So the important thing is that a plan be in place for how it gets refreshed so you never get back to where you have to start all over again.

Q. What are some of the issues other school entities have run into after this is up and running?

Humble: The first thing that comes to my mind is having the money available to fund the needs that are identified. That’s always the big issue that comes up. Also, you’ll find out where the worst school is. You’ll find out the schools that are the highest percentile of need in the state of Kentucky for their condition. There’ll be some concern that one community will say, ‘But you’re punishing us because we’ve taxed ourselves over the years and kept our schools up and we’ve maintained them well, and so we get punished for that.’ Do you reward people that have let their schools fall into disrepair? That’s an issue that you sometimes face. Almost all of those issues are solved if there’s enough money.

Oualline: The assessment and what we’re doing is just one of the tools that KDE or the state will use to evaluate need. There are always differences of opinion on what’s the most important – typically we try to squeeze out and prioritize based on the urgency that we saw of the need. At the end of the day, we end up with a whole slug of stuff that needs to be fixed. It’s overwhelming – it’ll be in the billions of dollars when you count in all the systems that are still working but are beyond their useful life.

Our priority that we establish inside this database, inside this tool, is one set of priorities; the district in their master planning will have a completely different set of priorities based on their community needs.  And then the state legislators, they’re going to have their own set of priorities based on where the money’s going to come from and how it’s going to get applied. So the big issues at the end of the day are how to put your arms around all of this information and fairly and equitably disburse the money. All we’re doing is giving them another tool to help, hopefully, make those decisions.

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