Facility Condition and Educational Adequacy for Dynamic, Objectively-Determined Funding Priorities at New Mexico’s Public Schools

New Case Study

The Client
The New Mexico Public Schools Facilities Authority (NM-PSFA) manages the allocation of state public school facilities funding, and assists school districts and state-chartered charter schools in the planning, construction and maintenance of their facilities. Scale of overall operations includes 89 school districts and state-chartered charter schools made up of 795 separate schools with 4,700 buildings and approximately 60 million square feet of space. Schools are ranked in order of objectively-determined greatest facility needs, and funding is prioritized to projects at or near the top of the ranked list.

Prioritization by Ranking: The Standards-Based Process for School Facilities
NM-PSFA’s weighted New Mexico Condition Index (wNMCI) is the metric by which all schools are compared relatively against each other. NM-PSFA takes into consideration facility condition, educational adequacy, and key priorities such as life, health and safety. This facilities assessment model, widely regarded as a national best practice, is the primary tool by which New Mexico allocates state capital funding to school facilities needs.

The wNMCI is a ratio calculation that sums the costs of repair of building systems weighted to prioritize educational function with the provision of educational spaces to adequacy standards, and then divides by the current replacement value of the school.

There are three types of physical assets within this model: buildings (the actual school buildings), sites (such as playing fields or sidewalks), and portables (trailer classrooms). Repair and replacement costs depend on the type of structure, its systems and their installation or last renovation dates, along with associated deficiencies.

Educational adequacy standards are set by a statutory council made up of representatives from the legislature, the executive, and the educational community, in collaboration with school administrators and other stakeholders. The adequacy standards determine minimum requirements for a school’s capital assets, based on curriculum and population and are intended for use in the evaluation of existing public school facilities. Adequacy standards vary, based on the type of school (elementary, middle, or high school). One example of an educational adequacy standard would be the minimum square footage per student per classroom; another example would be the gross square footage per student for the entire facility. Elementary schools have specific adequacy standards for multi-use play areas, as well as space for students to be dropped off by parents. Student population and/or curriculum can fluctuate, and educational adequacy standards evolve in tandem with these changes.

The Challenge
Because of the dynamic nature of the underlying data, the numerous NMCI and wNMCI calculations, and the need to engage stakeholders in the process, creating a statewide list of facility needs ranked from greatest to least was a challenge for NM-PSFA. In 1999-2001, NM-PSFA initiated a statewide facilities condition assessment and created a database of all school facilities needs. The database was intended only as a simple facilities condition index (FCI) point-in-time system. With no dynamic asset management system available at the time, PSFA was obligated to develop a custom application. Systems maintenance on this application was difficult when changes took place in educational adequacy standards, population, repair costs, and facility condition, and when buildings needed to be added to the system – and these changes happened frequently.

To keep facility data current, the NM-PSFA was obligated to constantly manually update systems data, and to enter the same data in multiple locations, inevitably resulting in data entry errors. Another recurring problem: poorly-designed system formulas that failed to properly tabulate educational adequacy calculations. Two examples: the value for career education was calculated by the amount of day care space, not by the number of children in the school; and storage for science equipment was not segregated from regular storage space as required. Likewise, overhead percentages and costs for deficiencies were incorrectly calculated by the system. Some cost models were improperly assigned—like an elementary school using the model for a high school. There were instances of duplication and triplication of deficiencies. Reporting capability was limited and reports were difficult to produce. There was no easy way to analyze data and scrutinize it for accuracy, making mistakes difficult to identify.

Providing easy to understand, actionable reports to schools also proved to be a challenge. The model’s Executive Summary Report is crucial for stakeholder communication, providing detailed information about each school in the portfolio. However, the report that was produced did not provide the required level of detail and was confusing to stakeholders, both in terms of where the data originated and what it meant. Production of reports was glacial—24 hour turnaround was the norm, and the resulting output often didn’t appear credible, requiring multiple iterations that could extend for days.

In sum, neither NM-PSFA nor our stakeholders found this system to be effective or adequate for our needs.

NM-PSFA realized that a new solution was necessary—one that could correctly calculate the wNMCI, and could show the relationship between these scores and a school’s placement on the ranked list. The system needed to facilitate accurate data entry and handle frequent program changes. Most importantly, the system needed to produce reports with clearly-presented, easy to understand decision support type data for policymakers.

The Solution
NM-PSFA began by developing a standard functional requirements plan for a new system, and then asked a handful of pre-qualified vendors to propose a solution. After a vendor was selected, we began to work together, along with our stakeholders to create a detailed requirements document that demonstrated their understanding of NM-PSFA’s needs, identified the challenges inherent in the existing system, and proposed a process in detail for implementation of a solution. VFA Inc., a developer of process management systems for facilities capital planning and management, was awarded the contract because it appeared best able to address NM-PSFA’s specific needs, to resolve the issues inherent in the current system, and to demonstrate clear understanding on how to implement expected business practices and process improvements. In short, VFA best appeared to offer the resources and the capability to add value to NM-PSFA’s mission on behalf of education in New Mexico.

Within four months, NM-PSFA’s facilities assessment application, based on VFA facility capital planning and management software, was implemented and the old system was retired. The new system was configured and all data was migrated from the old system. Improved executive summary reports for stakeholders were created. The reporting functionality in VFA.facility enabled the creation of a ranked list accessible within minutes, rather than in hours or in days. NM-PSFA has also initiated use of VFA.auditor, a Web-based, self-assessment survey, to manage workflow and avoid redundant data.

Martica Casias, NM-PSFA’s Planning and Design Manager, and Chris Aguilar, NM-PSFA’s Facility Assessment Database Manger, were fully integral to the implementation and have comprehensive knowledge of the system and how it works. During systems implementation, NM-PSFA met weekly with VFA to discuss progress, current tasks, and ongoing deliverables for the following week. The joint NM-PSFA/VFA implementation team established respective responsibilities and deadlines, addressed problems, and were in near full time communication.

The Results
The NM-PSFA decision support system readily identifies ranked priorities of schools and projects that need funding assistance. Within VFA.facility, reports can be run in minutes versus hours, allowing in the facilities portfolio to be quickly and easily identified. The improved Executive Summary Report now provides all data and calculations for a particular school or district in a format that is easy to understand and interpret, with three-level drilldown that gives background detail on the NMCI and wNMCI. NM-PSFA can create its facilities ranked list, based on accurate defensible data, in less than five minutes. VFA.facility also allows the option to easily add additional fields to capture additional data points. NM-PSFA has added fields, such as historical value of a building to its database.

VFA.auditor provides NM-PSFA the ability to fully manage the workflow and to avoid double entry of data. NM-PSFA staff can now complete building surveys on their own and upload reliable, error-free data to the system, while creating and running their own building reports. In its previous system, costs and replacement values from the year 2000 could only be changed by making estimates from historical data, and only on a total system basis. VFA uses a summation of costs derived from RSMeans, the industry-standard cost data that is embedded in VFA.facility. Using consistent, defensible data enables NM-PSFA to get accurate deficiency costs and replacement values and to run available and future funding scenarios.

In initial results, The New Mexico Public Schools Facilities Authority has found that the system provided by VFA is meeting or exceeding the criteria established in its functional requirements criteria, and that the implementation process with VFA was smooth, professional, and rapid. VFA achieved all milestones and deliverables on time and on budget. NM-PSFA is confident that its new facilities assessment system will deliver a new and higher level of capability within its mission, while providing key policymakers and stakeholders with better, more actionable information as they partner with New Mexico’s communities in providing quality, sustainable school facilities for their students and educators.