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Sound Funding Foundation

School Buildings Don’t Stay Sound Without a Sound Funding Foundation

by Dave Arnold

A friend of mine who races stock cars once told me, “Cars run on gas, trucks run on diesel, but stock cars run on money” and, after having been a school custodian and maintenance man for nearly 30 years, I would say the same is true for school buildings. The problem seems to be that we tend to think that after we build a new school it will stay new for decades to come. However, The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its 2009 infrastructure report, gave our country’s school buildings a grade of “D”.

The report went on to point out that about one-fourth of all public schools were built before 1950, and 45 percent of all public schools were built between 1950 and 1969. That means nearly three-quarters of our school buildings are more than 42 years old. This is right on target with what I see every day in my area.

Our high school in Brownstown, Illinois, was built, with my father’s help, in 1945 and then added on to in 1970. Our elementary school building was built in 1955 and added on to in 1970 and again in 2000. The buildings do not take care of themselves. You can’t build one and then put it on autopilot. From the time the doors are open to the public, the building starts to deteriorate. It is only because of dedicated maintenance employees and school boards that have the understanding to budget money for building maintenance that the buildings last as long as they do.

While the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) focused on providing qualified teachers and instructors, it ignored the educational atmosphere and the students’ learning environment. 

  • But, how can a child receive an adequate education in a poorly heated building?
  • How can a child study when the classroom lacks proper illumination?
  • How can a student study when the roof leaks in their classroom every time it rains?
  • How can we expect a child to perform at his or her peak when the classroom’s temperature hits triple digits because of the lack of air conditioning?

These examples might sound extreme to most, but I’ve seen each one in my experience and each example has taken place because of the lack of funding. Most of the time, school maintenance personnel fight the battle of trying to keep things running without the proper equipment or necessary funds. Apparently President Obama also has seen his share of examples of deteriorating schools. He has announced his plan to modernize at least 35,000 public schools across the country as part of his proposed American Jobs Act.

President Obama said, “There are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every student deserves a great school – and we can give it to them, if we act now.”  I couldn’t agree more!     

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Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.