The Baker School Board is on the right track insisting that the district budget money for maintenance of its buildings.

Rather than just carry unspent maintenance money from this year forward to next year, the board insisted the district budget even more on top of that amount.

The money is intended to finish roofing one elementary school and abate asbestos in another, as well as fund a facilities analysis of the middle school and other buildings.

It isn't the specific projects, however, that make this shift in policy important.

Budgeting for maintenance means that money is easier to defend as andquot;off limitsandquot; in contract negotiations with unions out to get the best deal for their members.

You couldn't fault a union rep for looking at unattached general-fund dollars as possible compensation for his or her union members. We suspect it would be politically perilous, however, to propose raiding a building maintenance fund to pay for raises or health care.

There's also an increased scrutiny of the district's physical plant. Members of the Baker Middle School Task Force recently asked for a copy of the district's facilities plan for all the district's buildings. The answer from top district staff: It's coming.

That's unsettling that the district has been budgeting and operating without a clear picture of what it is going to take to maintain the public's investment in the physical plant assets of the district. After all, Baker students attend school in a number of buildings other than the Helen M. Stack and Central buildings.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And preventative maintenance is almost always going to be cheaper than responding to a catastrophic failure or replacing a dilapidated building.

However, we suspect the district maintenance staff actually knows what needs to be done. But that message hadn't been getting through to budget writers as loud and clear as necessary.

The school board and middle school task force seem interested in turning up the volume on that discussion.