School District 20’s new standard of “moderately dingy” is becoming a reality as the district grapples with lack of custodial coverage, according to CUPE president Roger Smith.
The representative of Local 1285 members (including school bus drivers, custodians, clericals and maintenance) said a lot has changed since he started as a custodian 24 years ago.
At times he finds himself pulling two jobs in one shift because casual employees are unavailable due to long-term illness or injury coverage and in some instances balancing another job to make ends meet.
“The way this is being handled right now, you’re burning out the ones who are still working, you’re bringing down the standards of other areas because people are trying to do two areas in one shift because there is no coverage,” he said.
“There has been a lack of custodial coverage and I’m not laying all the blame on the school board, it’s because people are off on long-term leave.”
Custodians are not the only employees feeling the pinch. There was a need for direct student support staff (education assistants, child care workers, child and youth care workers) and as a result 17 casuals were added to the call-out list by last September.
The range of absences this fall was as low as one to as high as 13, according to a support staff replacements report presented to the board this December.
For example on Dec. 11, 2013, there were 13 support staff away, which works out to about 20 per cent absent. Though there were enough people on the call-out list to cover the 13 positions, the availability of the casual workers was another story.
The substitute budget (which covers sick leave, vacation, bereavement and family emergency) was on the rise but has somewhat stabilized since it was hit in the 2010/2011 school year with about a half a million dollar increase to approximately $1.5 million from the year prior.
Last year, about $1.4 million was spent on substitutes, which is far greater than the approximate $900,000 spent in 2007/2008.
Superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach admits the district is feeling pressure with coverage in custodial and bus driving but assured that the district is working hard to recruit casual employees.
“We just ran ads for drivers and we are looking for casual custodians too,” he said. “We offer very competitive wages ($21.49 an hour for custodial work and $24.22 per hour for bus driving).”
It’s a fine balancing act to keep enough people on the callout list to replace when needed but not too many so the casuals get enough work and don’t become discouraged.
Beyond working shorthanded, Smith has watched work quality and employee morale diminish as budgets were slashed.
He can speak directly to the custodial department, which he said has been cut down to 11 months. Deep ceiling to floor sanitization is no longer done and staff no longer goes in at Christmas or during the first week of spring break to maintain conditions.
“There could be a direct correlation between not disinfecting the schools to the standards that we used to, to (the number of absentees) and here is the trade off,” he said. “The sick time will increase because you’ve got an ageing workforce and you’ve got a lot more stress due to cutbacks.”