Comptroller Susan Combs releases analysis on school construction costs

(AUSTIN) — An analysis of new school construction costs released by the Texas Comptroller’s office today shows the cost for some campuses varied by nearly $200 per square foot. And though there were different factors for the variances, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is making policy recommendations to help school districts and taxpayers monitor construction efficiency and compare costs.

“Currently there is no required standard for reporting school construction costs, so it is extremely difficult for taxpayers to determine how their tax dollars are being spent,” Combs said. “Unfortunately, we encountered numerous obstacles in our efforts to collect consistent, comparable school construction data and taxpayers are entitled to this information.”

In Public School Construction Costs, which can be found at, the Comptroller’s office analyzed data from 835 new campuses opened in Texas since 2007.

The Comptroller’s analysis shows there are practices school districts can implement to save taxpayer dollars. For example, the fast-growing suburban Houston school district Cypress-Fairbanks ISD uses architectural prototypes that suit elementary, middle or high schools, saving months of construction time and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We are honored to be recognized in the Comptroller’s report as it validates what we have felt all along: Cypress-Fairbanks ISD is fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars.

These facts support the overwhelming voter approval from the historic May bond election, which will help CFISD continue to be a leader in providing facilities that meet the needs of 21st century learners,” said Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district. “We commend Comptroller Combs for her work on this issue and welcome more transparency as it relates to construction costs. Taxpayers deserve to know how we are spending their money.”

As public school districts and taxpayers consider details this summer for bond packages appearing on the ballot in November, Combs hopes this report will serve as a tool for identifying cost saving opportunities and establishing best practices.

“Schools can be built efficiently and less expensively, but districts don’t always choose to do so,” Combs said. “Our report provides taxpayers and school districts with additional information to consider when making those choices.”

Combs is making the following policy recommendations:
•The commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) should establish data collection and reporting standards concerning school construction costs to be reported through the Texas Student Data System or a successor data management system managed by the TEA. These measures should include total construction cost, cost per square foot and per student, total square footage and total student capacity.
•The TEA commissioner should direct each school district and charter school operator to prepare an inventory of all of its existing facilities for inclusion in TEA’s data system. This inventory should include age, purpose, capacity, current enrollment (for instructional facilities) and anticipated replacement date.
•When TEA’s data system is complete, the agency should report regional cost averages so that districts and their taxpayers can compare projected construction projects with other districts.
•The Texas Legislature should require all public and charter school districts and campuses to provide a direct, readily accessible link to TEA’s school facilities data on their websites.

Though TEA has the authority to collect data, it may need additional resources to implement these recommendations.

This report accompanies the Texas Public Schools Construction database, which the Comptroller’s office released in April. For comparison purposes, the Comptroller’s office adjusted the reported construction costs for inflation and for regional differences in the price of materials and labor.


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