School Maintenance

Summary

The Grand Jury reviewed Amador Unified School District’s (ACUSD) school maintenance program. During its review, the Grand Jury visited all elementary schools. All schools exhibited some significant degree of deterioration. Deterioration at some schools posed health or safety hazards for the faculty and students. This deterioration extended to equipment used in classrooms.

The School District does not have a comprehensive plan to address these problems. Its Maintenance Department is poorly structured, equipped, and funded. Because of insufficient funding, district maintenance personnel move from one crisis to another. Planned preventative maintenance is secondary.

The Grand Jury concluded that the district needs to make significant changes in how it operates its school maintenance program. No funds are budgeted for training and development of the maintenance staff.

Findings

  1. Several schools contain unused boiler room equipment. Restrooms at most schools are in poor condition. Storms caused leaks in roofs and stained ceiling tiles at many schools. Pioneer Elementary School experienced flooding of its school grounds.
  2. Some Jackson Elementary classrooms experience power failures when teachers in rooms next to one another plug in a computer or other equipment at the same time. Some rooms use converted light fixtures as sockets for extension cords.
  3. There is no maintenance program for classroom computer equipment.
  4. A handicapped ramp providing access to a portable special education building at Jackson Elementary has a loose railing, the slope is too steep, and the initial access is too high.
  5. Most schools are used for extra community activities. Jackson Elementary, due to its central location, is used most often.
  6. Response time to repair requests varies between schools.
  7. Most schools experience traffic congestion during high use periods. Parking space is limited at most school sites.
  8. One administrator oversees all school support services. These services are located in three different cities.
  1. There are ninety-two temporary buildings in the District. Some are over thirty years in age.
  2. The District does not have a preventative maintenance program. There is no comprehensive plan to address chronic maintenance problems. Volunteers and parent groups are doing work normally funded and performed by the District.
  3. The Maintenance Department has six full-time employees to service fourteen sites.
  4. Maintenance workers have difficulty contacting each other when in the field.
  5. When major systems, such as heating, malfunction, maintenance personnel cannot provide temporary service during repairs.
  6. Maintenance Department’s vehicles average 27.7 years in age. The District does not have a vehicle replacement plan. The 1996/97 Grand Jury identified this as a problem.
  7. District funds are not budgeted for staff development and training of maintenance workers.
  8. There are seven substitute custodians available to fill in for the District’s regular staff of thirty-three custodians.
  9. Job descriptions prevent Maintenance Level II workers from performing many repairs without direct supervision from higher-level maintenance workers.
  10. Each elementary school administrator hires custodians (Maintenance Level I) for their school.
  11. Work-order records were not organized.
  12. Recent legislation mandates a 20 to 1 student teacher ratio in grades K-3.

Conclusions

  1. The physical separation of support functions and facilities makes it difficult for a single administrator to manage effectively.
  2. Obsolete non-functioning boilers occupy space needed for other uses.
  3. Some classroom computers are unusable for instructional purposes because schools lack a computer maintenance program.
  4. The handicap ramp to a portable building at Jackson Elementary is not safe.
  5. Additional meetings, classes, and activities held at Jackson Elementary place an added strain on the custodial staff.
  6. Work order repair time and maintenance attention is inconsistent between schools.
  7. Congested traffic patterns and limited parking space create dangerous situations at most school sites.
  8. Poor maintenance of restrooms, inadequate wiring, underrated electrical services, and other visible deterioration result from a lack of a preventative maintenance plan, poor managerial organization structure, and inadequate budget allocations.
  9. The Maintenance Department does not have equipment to meet general needs and emergencies.
  10. Lack of communication equipment hinders the Maintenance Department’s effectiveness.
  11. The number of maintenance staff available is not adequate to serve the District’s maintenance needs.
  12. There is a shortage of maintenance workers and substitute custodians.
  13. Maintenance job descriptions are outdated, and impose unnecessary restrictions on workers.
  14. The practice of having individual school administrators hire custodians (Maintenance Level I) does not provide workers with equal levels of competency.
  15. Maintenance workers lack knowledge of current laws and repair methods because the District does not allocate specific funds for staff development and training of maintenance workers.
  16. Lack of access to, and organization of, past work orders does not provide for historical data on recurring problems for individual school sites. This information would be beneficial in maintenance planning.

Recommendations

  1. Centrally locate support functions for increased efficiency or divide them between more than one administrator.
  2. Remove obsolete boiler room equipment from school sites.
  3. Explore the possibility of providing computer maintenance to school sites by:
  1. Repair the handicap ramp to the portable building at Jackson Elementary to make it safe for use by disabled persons.
  2. Provide extra custodial staff to school sites when special events are held.
  3. Acquire an Internet account for all schools and maintenance to be connected via modem for quick work order submittal and response time. Provide equal maintenance attention to all school sites.
  4. Implement a plan to provide adequate parking space and traffic control for schools.
  5. Provide materials and tools for on-site personnel to use in making repairs.
  6. Upgrade electrical service at Jackson Elementary.
  7. Develop a facility maintenance plan that includes funding, preventive maintenance, maintenance prioritization, staffing, and organization of support services.
  8. Establish a vehicle replacement plan with the following key elements:
  1. Obtain portable equipment such as heating and air conditioning units to provide service while repairs are made.
  2. Provide reliable portable communications equipment for maintenance workers.
  3. Increase the maintenance staff so that they can better perform tasks needed by individual schools.
  4. Use high school Regional Occupational Program (R.O.P.) students to assist with maintenance projects on school campuses.
  5. Increase the pool of substitute custodians available.
  6. Revise job descriptions for maintenance workers.
  7. Standardize hiring practices for custodians (Maintenance Level I).
  8. Provide additional funds to the maintenance department budget specifically earmarked for specialized and continuing education training for all maintenance workers, including the on-site custodial staff at individual schools.
  9. Purchase software for a tracking system to manage maintenance requests and priorities.

Comment Requirements

The Grand Jury requests that the Superintendent respond within 60 days and the School Board respond within 90 days from the official filing date of this report as required by Penal Code 933(c).

Authority to Investigate

Penal Code Section 933.5 authorizes the Grand Jury to review the operation of school districts. As required by Penal Code Section 916, at least twelve Grand Jurors voted to review the facilities maintenance procedures of the ACUSD.

Method of Review

Members of the Grand Jury interviewed:

Background

The Grand Jury visited all elementary schools within ACUSD. All showed signs of disrepair and poor maintenance. While the Grand Jury investigation focused on elementary schools, it found similar maintenance problems existed throughout the school system.

Some examples are:

There are ninety-two temporary school buildings in the District. Some are over 30 years old. To determine how the school district funds and organizes maintenance of facilities, the Grand Jury interviewed school administrators, parents, teachers, and support personnel. This review included examining maintenance work orders from three schools.

The School District organizes its support services under one administrator. This person is responsible for sub-functions of transportation, facility maintenance, and food service. These services are located in three different cities. Maintenance is in Ione; transportation is in both Jackson and Sutter Creek; and food service is in Sutter Creek and Ione. Maintenance workers travel between the Ione maintenance shop and work assignments.

School officials and teachers request maintenance work using a standard district work order. The Grand Jury obtained a random sample of past work orders from three elementary schools – Sutter Creek, Jackson, and Pine Grove. After analyzing these records, the Grand Jury found a wide variation between schools in the time it takes to accomplish requested repairs. Some school officials felt this difference resulted from attitudes held over from before the district unified. Distance from the Ione maintenance facility did not appear to be a factor. Pine Grove Elementary School received requested repairs three times as quickly as Ione Elementary School.

A staff of six maintenance workers forms the core of the District’s maintenance staff. Operating out of the Ione maintenance facility, these workers must travel to schools needing repair work. The average age of the vehicles assigned to maintenance personnel is 27.7 years. Communications between maintenance personnel is either face-to-face or by telephone.

Complicating the problems faced by the maintenance staff are the job descriptions for maintenance workers. Workers cannot perform many tasks without direct supervision. At the school level, custodians (Maintenance Workers I) are hired by the school principal. Some custodians perform maintenance work while others do not. The District provides seven substitute custodians to fill in for the regular staff of thirty-three custodians. At one school, bathrooms remained locked late into the morning because no custodian was available.

School maintenance personnel identified inadequate funding, poor equipment, outdated vehicles, lack of training, aging buildings, and poor communications equipment as major contributors to the maintenance deficiencies observed by the Grand Jury. The head of maintenance lacks software to set up a maintenance tracking system. Such a system could assist in identifying chronic problems, setting priorities, justifying budget allocations, and establishing a preventive maintenance program.

Parents and citizens groups provide some maintenance services. Discussions with some parents revealed a problem motivating volunteers to do work that is normally the responsibility of the school district. Parents prefer to raise funds to enrich the students’ educational experience rather than to replace playground pavement and repair restrooms.

Recent legislation requires a ratio of one teacher to twenty students. This will only increase the District’s maintenance problems. The District lacks any long-range plan to address the current maintenance problems and future problems created by class size reduction.

By the end of the fiscal year, the district projects a budget balance of $2,000,000.

Supplementary Information

Maintenance Worker I, II, and III job descriptions

1997/98 school budget

January and May Interim Budget Reports