Rightsizing the Pittsburgh School District

At last count-at least at the point in time of the last audited statement-the Pittsburgh Public School District had 71 buildingstotaling 7,343k square feet. That was down from 100 buildings and 9,527k square feet in 2000. The building count is expected to decrease in the 2012-13 school year is another realignment plan is approved. All told, five buildings will be shuttered completely after certain schools are closed and programs and operations move to buildings in a new arrangement.

The majority-over 90% in fact-of the District’s square footage is related to elementary, middle, special and secondary education. In 2000, the District had 4 buildings with 287k of square feet used for administrative and financial support (2), operation and maintenance of plant (1), and food service (1). The combined 287k of those buildings represented 3% of all square footage. By 2009 the District had added another building counted as administrative and financial support (with 261k of square feet) and the resulting square footage of "back office" space rose to 548k. With total square footage in the District standing at 7,343k, the District’s share of square footage for administration, maintenance, and food rose to 7%.

We have written a lot about the headcount related to "teachers" and "non-teachers" in the District and the ratio of those classifications to enrollment. In short, the relative size of non-teachers has risen tremendously while the teacher ratio has remained flat. It is no surprise that square footage has exhibited a similar trend and that, in the latest round of cuts, no administrative space is disappearing.

Pittsburgh’s School Buildings to Go Under the Microscope

The Pittsburgh Public Schools has seating capacity for 36k students, but it only utilizing 25k of it, roughly 70%. That means another round of school closures, the first since 2006 when the public school count went from 86 in 2005 to 65 in 2006. In the decade from 2000-09, enrollment fell from 38k to 27k (28%) while the number of schools decreased from 96 to 66 (31%).

Seeing this imbalance, the superintendent noted that "every dollar we spend on underutilized bricks and mortar is one less dollar we have available to spend towards improving the life prospects of our students". Note that the District’s per-pupil cost in 2009 was $19,963, up 11% from where it stood in 2006.

The process in 2011 will use data like student achievement, enrollment, facility condition, racial balance, transportation costs, etc. to decide what to shutter and what to keep open.

Here’s how the overall facility inventory for the District looks: In 2000, the District had 100 buildings (96 schools, 2 administration buildings, 1 operations/maintenance building, and 1 food service building) with 9.5 million square feet (about 247 square feet per student). In 2009, the District had 71 buildings (66 schools, 3 administration buildings, 1 operations/maintenance building and 1 food service building) totaling 7.3 million square feet (263 square feet per student). We have noted the growth in administrative employees (non-teachers) so it is no surprise that more space was needed to house them. Whereas the District carried about 129k of square footage for administration during most of the decade; that amount tripled to 390k in 2008.