By Phillip Steinmetz & Kyle Sanders
A dozen pieces of Tuesday’s homework balled up, a few spots of crushed cheddar Goldfish from two days ago and a milk carton from first period’s breakfast on Monday.
That’s what the floor might look like in an average Jeff High classroom at the end of the week.
However the mess is not the fault of the janitors slacking on their job. Instead, it’s a culmination of being understaffed, and not having enough qualified applicants to fill those positions.
“We are just trying to get the stuff done that needs to get done,” said janitor Chris Schwinn. “It all comes down to time management, working extra hours on the weekend and overtime to get stuff that must be completed done. We can’t pay attention to things like washing every window in the school. We’ve got to take care of other things that are more important: cleaning the bathrooms, taking out the trash, sweeping up the hallways, stuff like that.”
On a normal school year, JHS would expect to have three day-shift and eight night-shift janitors each weekday. This year, it has gotten as low as two in the day, and only two at night.
Also adding to the chaos is the illness of veteran custodian William (Willie) Thornton, who has been out since the beginning of the school year. Thornton, who has worked within Jeff High for over 29 years, has experienced health issues that has prevented him from attending work, where he is the lead custodian.
“We had our two-day custodians, Chris and Bridget, step up and have done everything we asked them to do and more in Willie’s absence,” said assistant principal Timothy LaGrange. “The building is in great shape. At times, we’ve had a sub for that third spot, but not consistently. I don’t know when we will get that third position filled. In Willie’s situation, if he came back, we want what’s best for Willie.”
According to LaGrange, there are a few obstacles that have made it challenging to hire custodians this year. The biggest challenge is that other businesses, like Amazon and the newly-erected River Ridge, are offering more money for employment, which is cutting the application pool.
“The pay is probably more important than anything else and that’s one thing we can’t compete with Amazon,” said math teacher Jim Spears. “The school corporation could spend more money on that or anyone’s position. Everyone deserves to make more than they are making, so how do you do that? Right now, we are in dire need of custodians, so how do you do that? It’s not an easily solvable work problem.”
Despite the hiring difficulties, the school isn’t far away from being back to full staff. At the time of print, LaGrange says JHS is two custodians away from full strength.
To make up for the less hands on board, some weekends or long breaks require JHS to bring in multiple custodians from other schools for a “blitz.” The blitz lasts one or two days, and the entire school is cleaned.
“It’s a challenge to meet our standards,” LaGrange said. “(It’s) not because of the people we have aren’t doing a great job because they are doing a great job. They are great workers, dedicated and do a great job.
“But we are understaffed and some of that is a larger, economic issue,” LaGrange continued. “There are a lot of jobs available, like River Ridge, (which) has created a little bit of competition for us.”
A creative way in which Greater Clark County Schools has tackled this challenge is by offering custodial job opportunities to high school students. The position offers $9 per hour to work up to three hours after school, everyday.
The hope for the hires is to give the custodians an extra hand while they are still filling in the other main positions.
“We’ve had a few people who have applied, we are going to hire a pool of high school students very soon to fill in and help us out as well,” said LaGrange. “I am excited for that and we’ve got some good candidates by the people I’ve talked to, we could use some more good people and high school students that want to work. It’s a very good part-time job for high school kids.”