School Maintenance and Operations Report

Anyone who does it knows that keeping a school in running condition is not an easy task. Multiply that by the number of schools in a district, and the job is that much more difficult. Here is a look at some districts’ custodial and maintenance standards in the categories of cleaning types and frequencies; work schedules and work order procedures; staffing, training, and supervision; and inspections and necessary licensing.

Cleaning Types and Frequencies
In this first category, there is no right or wrong approach. Rather, it is about what best fits your district in terms of consistency and economy.

“I started managing the custodial function in April 2007,” begins Keith Webb, director of Plant Services for Newport News Public Schools in Virginia. “I researched industry staffing norms and determined that I had more people than I should have to economically clean my buildings, so through attrition, I downsized the custodial staff.”

At the same time, Webb spent $500,000 on new equipment. “Given that there had not been a major investment in equipment for a number of years,” he says, “from our point of view, everything is state of the art. We moved from mops and buckets to scrubbers, large area extractors, and backpack vacuums. None of this equipment can be deemed cutting edge, but if you don’t have it, you can tell a real difference.” As a result, he is finding that his staff is cleaning more efficiently and effectively.

Webb’s district of 31,700 students in 34 schools uses zone cleaning but is researching using team cleaning in its larger schools. “I’ve also hired a training coordinator to retrain the entire staff so that we have one consistent, effective way of cleaning, instead of having 241 different ways of cleaning,” he says. “And I have just tasked her with investigating buying steam equipment.”

As you can imagine, Webb’s custodial staff was nervous when they first heard that positions would be eliminated. “I don’t believe they believed me when I said I wasn’t going to lay anyone off,” he says. “However, I felt confident that I could do so painlessly. I talked up the new equipment, which they were desirous of. With the trainer, we’re providing leadership training in the schools — training our custodians to be more professional to impart a sense that they’re more than mop pushers. And they are. My management style is to depend on other people to manage. If I’m going to empower them to be lead custodians, they have to have the tools, authority, and support that leaders have. This has been received well by both the custodians and building administrators.”

While Webb investigates team cleaning, Frisco ISD in Texas is successfully using it, with one custodian per 20,000 sq. ft. in the elementary schools. “This way, we can do the type of cleaning we’d like in all our schools,” says Mohamed Mohamed, director of Custodial Services for this district with 30,761 students in 43 schools. He is doing two things to help custodians be effective. The first is that he’s replacing carpet with a hard rubber surface, which is curtailing staffing levels and freeing existing staff to do other things.

The second thing Mohamed is doing is using more green products, now employing green air freshener, window cleaner, and degreaser. He is also excited about a new steam machine that converts hot water to steam and is used to clean floors, locker rooms, restrooms, and more, killing bacteria without the use of chemicals.

Timothy J. O'Malley, CFM, CPSI, principal of The O’Malley Group in Phoenix, which does project management, transportation, and consultation for small- to medium-sized K-12 school districts and nonprofits in Arizona, is seeing more layered cleaning than team cleaning occurring in his state. “Custodians are cleaning 20 to 50 ft. outside the building in the morning and again after lunch,” he says. “They’re keeping dirt out in the first place, and cleaning in layers as they move into the schools — from the entrance way to hallways to the cafeteria. Offices and classrooms are done on a skip-cleaning basis. Teachers put their garbage in the hallway every night and are generally taking a more active role in cleaning.”

O’Malley is also seeing a trend toward better carpet cleaning in that it’s being outsourced once or twice a year to high-quality professional carpet cleaners. “It doesn’t cost that much to outsource it when you look at the cost of the carpet machine,” he notes. “It isn’t that the custodians can’t do it, but that their resources are better used elsewhere.”

Work Schedules and Work-Order Procedures
What’s state of the industry in this category is using Computer Maintenance Management Software (CMMS), which really isn’t new at all. It seems, though, that districts prefer a Web-based system to an in-house system.

O’Malley sees a lot of Arizona schools using SchoolDude. “Districts pay a per-student count fee,” he notes. “Teachers can put in work requests, and they’re sorted by whoever’s in charge of the system. Any order can be tracked from inception until it closes, and maintenance personnel can log in the amount of time they spend on an order.”

Frisco ISD also uses SchoolDude. “We bought into it while we were small,” says Blake Vaughn, Frisco’s director of Maintenance, “and we’re glad we did. It allows us to set up schedules and tweak them to fit our district’s needs. It’s user friendly. It allows us to train within a day. We can get more done and more quickly. That has been a huge benefit to us. It also serves as a good proving ground for training and evaluating potential staff for promotion to day crew.”

Webb is currently shopping for new CMMS and notes he’d prefer one that is Web-based. “We’ve got an older system,” he explains, “and I’m unable to get any depth of meaningful reporting from it. I have more questions than Carter’s has liver pills. I’m a report data chewing sort of guy, and I’m being stymied in my ability to query. A new system will allow for better decision making and more requestors.”

Work orders in this district are submitted via the Web. “We have purchased requestor seats sufficient for one at every elementary school and two at every middle and high school,” Webb notes. Because there’s a high premium attached to requestors, he hasn’t been able to expand requestors.

All requests are electronically approved and electronically routed. While most orders are completed on a first-in, first-out system, there are always exceptions to the rule. Webb’s approach is to empower supervisors by allowing them to make necessary exceptions. “The shop supervisors know better how they want their folks to be utilized than do the front office folks. It’s a micromanagement function that I don’t want my upper-level managers to get into. I want my trade foremen to manage their crews and not have them expecting someone higher up the food chain to do it for them.”

Staffing, Training, and Supervision
In this category, two things are apparent. The first is noted by Vaughn, who says that there are a lot of staffing standards, but not a lot for maintenance staffing. His district’s approach is one person per facility: “It’s not real scientific, but it works for us.”

The second thing that is apparent is that state-of-the-industry training is what Webb has: a trainer whose job it is to ensure that work is completed with consistency for efficiency.

Webb’s new trainer is devoted to the custodial side of the operation right now, and another person is responsible for maintenance training, with additional responsibilities. “This person does safety-based maintenance training,” he says, “like everything OSHA requires because you have to keep yourself right with the authorities. We predominantly use videos, covering a specific topic every month.” Custodial training, once it’s fully operational, will cover such topics as what products to use for what applications, how to use them, and an order of cleaning. Ultimately, Webb would like custodial work to be more ordered than haphazard, and his hope is that his crew will be more effective, efficient, and consistent.

Inspections and Necessary Licensing
Two factors are noticeable in this category. The first is that every district must meet minimum state standards for licensing. For example, Frisco ISD uses licensed trades people in such areas as electrical, plumbing, HVAC, backflow, playground safety, pest control, and IAQ.

In Virginia, trades people are governed by the state and must have a license, but Webb lends a helping hand. “The onus of having their license initially is on them,” he explains. “But the state requires continuing education to keep your license, and I provide that training and pay the renewal cost because they’re at the bottom of the pay scale. The cost of licensing is a disproportionate value to their paycheck.”

The second noticeable factor in this category is that some inspections are state-required, and those that aren’t but still need to be done are generally built into the work order system. All are designed to reduce problems before they occur. At Webb’s district, inspections are expected of trade supervisors, of which there are eight.

Webb also notes that, within his state, his district is unique in that it has a roofing crew, whose job it is to inspect roofs. “The city was not supporting the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) program well 15 years ago when I took on the job,” he explains. So he did it himself. Along the way, he hired a firm to inspect every roof, which was done through such techniques as thermal imaging and nuclear testing, and submit a report complete with a CIP spending plan. “We’re working through that right now.”

Staying abreast of industry changes allows administrators to keep schools in running condition. Moreover, if it allows for greater efficiency, effectiveness, cost savings, and cleanliness, then everyone comes out on top.