In this session, Jon Dahlberg joined Michael Barber to discuss how to get into the right school building. They discussed charter alignment, strategic planning, rising costs, and staying mission-focused.
Welcome to Tuesday Tips. We are back live with our new season. If you’re not familiar with Tuesday Tips, we’re here every Tuesday on our YouTube channel talking all things and topics and challenges for school leaders. My name is Michael Barber and I am joined by my colleague Jon Dahlberg. Jon is our VP of Business Development and Facilities. So we aptly had him come join us as we kick off this next season of Tuesday, tips to come talk about how school leaders can access money for facilities, which has been a hot topic over the last few months and continues to be one of the biggest challenges that school leaders face. So Jon first wanna say thank you for joining us and say hi.
Yeah, we’re really pleased to have you. You have, I think, one of the deepest knowledge bases for school leaders to tap into when it comes to accessing money for their school facilities and getting into their forever homes. So I’m really pleased to have you on and join us for this first episode. I want to ask a couple of questions, but I also want to invite anyone who’s joining us today. If you’re on YouTube, if you’re on the app, we have a little comment section underneath. Feel free to ask your questions there. And if you’re on desktop, a desktop, that comment section is right below Jon and i’s beautiful faces. So feel free to pop any questions into that chat box that you may have, and we will be more than happy to answer them. But I’ve got a couple teed up that I want to ask Jon. You know, one of the biggest challenges that school leaders face, Jon, is how school leaders can gain autonomy of their school buildings. And I would just love for you, you know,, to work on that question for me and talk through that question is how can school leaders gain autonomy. And if you’ve got an example, I would love to hear one.
Yeah, thanks, Michael. I, I think autonomy for the schools should come in in two ways. First I’ll summarize it. It is, it’s all about your charter and it’s all about your kids. And if we break that down a little farther, let’s, let’s start with kids first. The challenge to, or the, the ability to have autonomy over your school comes at some tipping point where you have some economies of scale and you have enough kids in your building to create a margin where you’re serving the mission and you have reserves or excess funding that allows you to pour back into the classroom the building the curriculum program. So as I, I don’t want this the audience to take away that it’s completely clinical, but there is a reality that is you have to have a certain number of kids that fits your mission, that are attracted to your school so that you can then build the program that grows around them.
And I think secondly, the, the other aspect that I mentioned was the charter. I think many schools start on a path that is, I need to get open. We need to get open. And you’ll, you’ll take any building that is legal and where you can have kids at. There’s a place at which your charter and your, and your mission, the kids that you serve needs to take over. And you have to make intentional hard choices around this building doesn’t match my charter. You hold your charter up and you say things like, I need more performing art space, or I need a science lab, or I need fill in the blank. That ties directly back to the charter. It is okay to start in a suboptimal, but when you really want to talk about autonomy, you wanna have complete control over the size and shape the amenities and everything that that pours into your school. And that needs to be tied back to your charter and the mission that you serve.
Yeah, I think you bring up such a, a good you know, a good piece of ration there out there about tying back to the mission that these school leaders are trying to create inside of their schools. And I would love for you to you know, unpack, Hey, do you have some tips for school leaders as they think about how to, you know, dream up and come up with what their next facilities project is? You know, how do they think about what’s the lens that they think about for the next improvement? And maybe some examples you’ve seen from some of the school leaders that you’ve worked with.
Yeah. It’ll, it’ll build it goes back to the charter. It goes back to understanding where you are today and where you’re heading, and how your building fits into that. So I would say that the, it’s gonna, the, the, the, it’s critical that you plan and your board is, is leading that planning and that visionary exercise of what you wanna be and how and where you want to grow to. So I think there’s a, there’s a planning exercise, and again, that comes back to what is your charter? Who are the students and the kids that you’re serving, and what gaps might your building have? Right? That, that’s, that’s visionary. And then there’s another planning piece of it, which is how much money we need, to put the amenities that, that, that meet, that fits our vision and meets the needs of our students.
And then there’s a patience component. We are, we’re resetting the new normal, changing your facility, moving your facility. It takes more time than it did pre covid and it’s the new normal. It is, prices are, cost of construction is and changes. It’s not just new construction, but it’s also changing. Anything that has to do with modifications or building your building is gonna take time. So you need patience. And the other piece of it is just planning so that you can build momentum because it’s a long drawn-up process. You’ve got group, you’ve got constituents in your ecosystem, your board, your staff, your students, your parents, your vendors, your community, having a, if the board has a written plan of what they want to do on their facility, and they can communicate it and you can talk about it and you can share milestones and you can build that momentum. It’s an extremely powerful tool because it is, it’s, it’s a process and it’s a journey. It’s not something that you snap your fingers and it becomes a, it becomes a done deal.
Yeah. Unfortunately, I was just gonna say, I don’t, you know, none of our school leaders probably have some sort of Mary Poppins character in their life that can pull something out of a magic bag or snap their fingers and suddenly the facility of their dreams are is, is in front of ’em.
Yeah. And I, and I think, you know, in terms of examples of that, I think we work with one school in, in, in Indiana. And in addition to laying down exactly what she wanted when she first renovated, the founding executive director laid down exactly what she wanted. She asked for our help, and it was extremely practical, but it was mission-focused, and she wanted to help to renovate her lunchroom, change her storage and modify her kitchen. And in, when I talk about the planning and understanding what she wanted and why she included her kitchen staff in the planning and dreaming phase of what changes they would make and why. And something as, as small as I think that was a $50,000 project, it had a massive impact on the morale of the staff and the flow of the students. So they don’t have to be multimillion dollar grandiose changes, but it, it, it, that’s an illustration of somebody who was a leader who was very specific and very intentional in what they wanted and why. And we, we can help them. We helped them make that happen. It was, it was a fun project to be a part of, to watch the smiles on that, on those faces.
Yeah, I think you, you bring a good point up there is that involved voices of people that are gonna be utilizing your facility, right? Is if the, if the end goal is to create connections to the community, then it’s talking to the community about what would help make their your facility more attractive to the community if it’s an improvement on a specific part of the school, what are the features and needs of that particular part and, and whatnot. You mentioned something in your last answer that I wanna harp on for a couple more minutes and, and, and we’re, we’re doing eight minutes, we’re up to the eight-minute mark, but we usually try and carve out 10 to 15 for these conversations. So we’ll keep going. I wanna ask a question related to a word you mentioned, which was money. And you talk specifically about increased costs related to construction.
And I think this is something for us all to understand our, you know, is this idea of money and where we find ourselves as school leaders when we are talking about money for facilities because the cost of money has obviously increased and the cost of actually the things you need to use that money on has also increased. Can you talk just a little bit about, you know, what you’re seeing in the marketplace in terms of how school leaders need to be thinking about in terms of the amount of money for their building that they may need to be making improvements or buying versus what it was say, three to four years ago?
Yeah. you, you hit the nail on the head, and I, and, and I’ll speak to that. What I want our leaders to hear right now is this is their inflation. So the cost of money for your facility is way up. The cost to build your facility is way up. The cost of buying a facility has not normalized. We’re starting to see some research that those prices might be coming down, but you’ve got stable to increasing cost of acquisition, cost of remodeling, and cost of money. There is no way that the funding rates that the sch that the schools are receiving have kept pace with that growth. So the schools are gonna be, are gonna struggle with one of two things. They’re going to have to allocate more, a couple of things, I don’t even know if it’s two, but they’re gonna, they’re gonna have to allocate more money than they probably should or want to, to have the facilities, or they’re gonna have to make them, they’re gonna have to make hard choices about what facility changes and what amenities do we build or modify, or thirdly, which is kind of a hybrid.
You have to get really creative. You mentioned how we can build and how can we change our building that meets our mission and still is attractive to the community. So there’s, it, it’s gonna cost more than you want and more than it did. And that’s gonna be a reality. Then the question is, do you change the size and scope or do you get creative? And, you know, I, I think we have another school in Minnesota who made a hard, who made a great choice. They are a, they wanted to be a beacon in the community, and they got to the decision to put a hardwood floor on their gym because they wanted to host community activities. And they built a, a fantastic gym that is utilized by not only the school but the community. So you can, you can make those choices. Skate phasing is also an option depending on the speed at which a school wants to grow and expand.
You know, making part of the changes this year and part of the changes next year might be a way to, again, come back to enrollment, assuming that there’s some growth in enrollment that affords more growth in the building. So phasing is, is an option too, but it, it leaders have to get creative in this economic reality, which we do. We do not have any research or any of the experts are telling us that the costs are gonna come down. They’re the, the, the inflation rate of cost is going to normalize, but there will not be a step function return to pre covid levels. So it’s, it’s gonna be a challenging environment until funding catches back up with the reality of facilities costs.
Yeah. In the meantime, we’re gonna have to you know, lean on experts like yourself to you know, tell us what, how school leaders are getting creative, whether it’s the phased approach or whether it’s thinking about ways that they can, you know, for lack of a better way, monetize some of their own facilities to help serve the mm-hmm. <Affirmative> their neighborhoods and communities in more creative ways to generate revenue for making those improvements. So, you know, lots of things for school leaders to think on. I wanna be respectful of both your time as well as our audience’s time, Jon, and we’re gonna call it a hard stop. We we’re 12 minutes into our usual 10 minute Tuesday tip series. So just wanna say thank you for having for coming on and, and hopefully you’ll come back and have another conversation with us as we tackle other big facilities-related challenges in the future.
For those of you that are joining us back from last season, welcome back. We’re glad to have you. We’re gonna be tackling all sorts of challenges over the next few weeks, weeks from teacher retention, enrollment, marketing we’ll have more conversations on facilities, we’ll have more conversations on mental health and all of the major challenges that US school leaders face. So I hope you’ll come back and hear from experts like Jon and some other ones that we are inviting on to our channel over the next few weeks. But until then, thanks for joining us and we’ll see you here back next week, Tuesday 10:00 AM Pacific. 1:00 PM Eastern for Tuesday. Tips. Talk to you later.
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