The quality of indoor air and cleanliness of frequently touched surfaces are critical issues for all educational facilities, from the smallest K-12 schools to the largest universities. Unsanitary conditions can lead to the spread of germs and illness among students and teachers. This has multiple negative effects on a school and can even cause costly major outbreaks.
Schools have a difficult mission dedicating the necessary resources to maintenance and janitorial functions at a time when public budgets are tight and competition is increasing in the academic world. However, investing in cleaner facilities can create substantial value for schools—without requiring a large increase in operational costs.
How Illness and Absenteeism Cost Texas Schools Millions
Funding for all public schools is affected by student attendance, although several different methods are used to determine the impact. Texas and many other states use average daily attendance as a factor in determining funding for local school districts. Under this formula, each student absence results in the loss of a certain amount of state funding.
Although health is only one of many reasons that students miss school, illness is a major contributor to absenteeism. Germs can spread rapidly in schools when the proper cleaning and disinfection practices are not followed. The cost of lost funding can add up just as rapidly.
Schools in the Central Texas region lose almost $100 million annually due to student absenteeism, according to an analysis of local data by the E3 Alliance. The group examined 35 school districts and 15 charter schools in Central Texas and found that the region’s 307,000 students accrued 2.4 million absences during a single school year—causing more than $91 million in lost funding at an average cost of $38 per student absence.
The Austin Independent School District, which lost $45 for each absence in the E3 analysis, saved about $2 million by increasing student attendance less than 1%. If the district achieved perfect attendance, its annual funding would increase by at least $50 million.
In the event of a major school-based disease outbreak, schools can incur significant additional costs for clean-up. A recent outbreak of norovirus caused hundreds of student absences at a single Texas elementary school, and at least nine schools in the state were closed for cleaning due to influenza outbreaks earlier in the year.
Closing schools for disinfection after an outbreak is far more disruptive and expensive than taking preventive measures to reduce the risk. For example, a 2015 norovirus outbreak that affected nearly 2,000 students and staff at 19 schools in Washoe County, Nevada resulted in approximately $180,000 in excess cleaning costs.
Cleaner Facilities Help Prevent the Spread of Illness
“Cleaning” doesn’t necessarily always mean the same thing as “disinfecting” or “sanitizing”—and the difference is significant when you’re talking about a classroom or cafeteria that is used hundreds or thousands of students every day. What we all think of as conventional cleaning methods—mopping the floors, washing surfaces with soap and water—are important, but they’re also very labor intensive and can leave germs behind.
Schools can take additional steps to prevent illness, such as implementing a surface disinfection system, without significantly increasing their operating costs. Without the right technology, most districts simply don’t have sufficient janitorial resources to disinfect all of the surfaces in their schools on a regular basis.
There also other smart preventive measures administrators can use to reduce the cost of keeping facilities cleaner. For example, proper air filtration is essential to preventing contaminants from spreading in schools.
The EPA offers tips, resources, and other “Tools for Schools” to improve indoor air quality. The agency recommends using filters with a MERV rating in the 8-13 range. The Texas Department of State Health Services recommends MERV 9 or higher as part of its Building Operation and Maintenance Guidelines (§297.5. of the Voluntary Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for Government Buildings).
The National Air Filtration Association recommends that schools aim higher and use filters rated at least MERV 13—both to protect student health and to prevent costly HVAC maintenance issues. It’s also important to note that a filter’s MERV rating is only one factor that affects its efficiency. Filters are only fully effective when they are the right quantity and size, and when they are properly installed and sealed to prevent air bypass.
Joe W. Fly Co. uses a two-pronged approach to supporting healthy schools: improving indoor air quality with filtration systems and providing electrostatic surface disinfection targeting critical “touch points” such as desks, doors, and tables.
The experts at Joe W. Fly Co. frequently recommend improvements that increase filtration efficiency while saving labor and material costs. Our frame and media system is highly efficient for schools’ maintenance or janitorial teams, and helps guard against dangerous mold growth. Mold thrives in dark, damp conditions whenever it has a food source—which makes disposable filters with cardboard frames highly vulnerable.
Our galvanized steel frames and completely synthetic filters are hydrophobic and antimicrobial—making it extremely difficult for mold to grow. We also offer just-in-time delivery of pre-cut filter media to minimize the amount of labor related to changing out air filters in schools.