“Classified workers tend to be the best tools in the tool box when educating a child,”

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Keeping students and teachers focused on instruction

Keeping up a school is not like maintaining a commercial property—it takes everyday experts who understand the unique needs of our schools and what it takes to keep them running smoothly. Groundskeepers (read more) keep grass areas safe for sports and other recreational activities. Skilled maintenance workers (read more) troubleshoot problems in school buildings and proactively ensure that facilities function properly.

Because of a continued decline in funds over the last several years, many school districts have reduced their maintenance and operations staff to a bare minimum. Still, these workers—many of whom are skilled in various trades, ranging from plumbing and electrical to carpentry and ventilation—handle daily emergencies and perform routine maintenance and major overhauls on aging school facilities. When the number of hours in a workday don’t allow for the completion of everything that needs attention, some tasks have to be put off.

“We have always had a skeleton maintenance crew as it was,” said Robert Rainey, a maintenance worker for Savanna Chapter 322. Rainey said that the number of staff is so limited that on any given day, he might have to take on custodial duties or have to deal with a clogged toilet, or a fallen tree and still be ready for any other emergency. “One guy can’t do it all,” he said. “It seems like everyone at the school district who is classified wears 20 hats. Even if we aren’t the ones being cut, we’re the ones who will be cleaning up the mess that remains.”

“You’ll see things like having classrooms vacuumed maybe once a week instead of twice a week,” Rainey said. “You get to a point where you’re just running around putting out fires, because there are safety issues that you have to take care of and that’s all you have time for.”

When handling emergencies and fixing what’s broken is all maintenance and operations workers can do, Kasey Oliver, a maintenance worker at State Center Community College, said it ends up costing school districts money in the long run.

“If you don’t do preventative maintenance, you’ll have to replace equipment after five years instead of after 15 years,” said Oliver, a member of State Center College Chapter 379. “Preventative maintenance is a huge part of our job.”

Ricardo Garcia, a member of Corona Norco Chapter 369, is a filter technician. His job is to maintain all of the air conditioners in the school district. He checks the equipment for damage daily and changes the filters as needed. Without this preventative maintenance, his district would probably face hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment replacement costs each year, not to mention the poor air quality that could result from not replacing filters regularly.

“The air quality would be so bad that allergies and asthma would flair up in the children and teachers,” he said. “In the past, there have been lawsuits against school districts because of mold build-up due to a lack of maintenance.”

Whether they change ventilation system filters, fix leaking faucets or remodel entire school buildings, maintenance workers all agree that their main role is to keep students and teachers focused on instruction instead of the condition of aging school facilities.

“Classified workers tend to be the best tools in the tool box when educating a child,” Rainey said. “When you take away the support system that allows the teachers to do their job, you also get to a point where you are sacrificing safety and hygiene.”

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