Custodial positions open up to students

Data from Institute of Educational Sciences shows that 51% of public schools found it very difficult to hire custodians for this school year.

After the pandemic, schools all over the country have had troubles filling their custodial positions. An August study from the Institute of Educational Sciences found that 50 percent of public schools were short on custodians for this school year. Rockwood’s Chief Communications Officer Mary Lapak said that the district and, consequently, the school have been affected by these nationwide shortages.

“As a district, we have 201 custodial positions and we are currently short 67 custodians. At RSHS, we should have 13 custodians to cover the school, which is just over 300,000 square feet. At this time we have three day custodians and four night custodians, so RSHS is short six custodians,” LaPak said.

Head custodian Don Jessen said that the shortages make it so that the school’s custodial needs are unable to be fulfilled.

“We’re not getting things cleaned like we used to. We used to clean every room, every night, and dust, detail sanitize. With how short we are now, it’s just trying to keep up with trash and bathrooms. The main goal is to try and vacuum as well,” Jessen said.

To fill these critical vacancies, Rockwood has opened up a part time custodial position to students ages 16 and up. Rockwood Director of Facilities Services Chris Freund said that the district implemented the system to help with simpler tasks.

“Due to the current staffing challenges with our full-time staff, this was an idea that was pursued to potentially assist with current cleaning needs,” Freund said. “The intent is to have these part time employees perform basic custodial duties [like] vacuuming, emptying trash, etc. This allows our full-time staff to focus on more intensive cleaning operations.”

The district is not the first to implement a student hiring system: Northwest began offering positions to students in fall of 2021, and larger districts such as Parkway and Francis Howell have followed suit. In spite of this, Jessen still said that he initially found the idea of hiring students shocking, but overall thinks that the system will bring a positive change.

I’ve been in Rockwood for 15 years, and I never thought I would’ve seen the day when kids would be the ones to come and help us. It took a little time to adjust to it, but I think it’s a great idea.

— Head custodian Don Jessen

“I think it’s going to bring a lot more admiration for the building and a lot more respect,” Jessen said.

For $14.91 an hour, students can work after school for a maximum of 20 hours a week. Principal Dr. Emily McCown said that one of the advantages of the position is that it takes place entirely on the school campus, including on-site job training.

“I think it’s good in that it can help students who want to find employment but maybe have trouble with transportation or going to a location to do the whole job application. Here, a kid could work for a couple of hours and then get on the six o’clock bus,” McCown said.

Applications are available now on the “Work @ RSD” page of Rockwood’s website. In order to land an interview, students must receive a reference letter from a building administrator. No other credentials are necessary. Though the position has been available since December, no students at Summit have applied for the position. However, Lapak siad the district has been able to increase their number of custodians through other means, including hiring retirees and current staff members.

“The district has opened up the hiring process to prior retirees that can work a maximum of 550 hours per year. This has resulted in an additional two part time employees. The district has also opened up part-time positions for employees that are currently employed in other roles throughout the district. This has resulted in an additional nine part-time employees,” Lapak said.

Secretary Pam Wiseman is one of the staff members who’s taken the position, and says that she recommends the job because of its convenience and pay, but thinks less people have taken the job because they just don’t want to work.

“The only thing I do is empty trash. The pay is good, and if you work in this building, it’s convenient, because it’s all in this building,” Wiseman said. “[People] just don’t want to work more hours.”

While the student custodian position is a good idea to fix shortages, McCown agrees with Wiseman and said that it has little effect on the core issue.

“I think one of the reasons you see shortages just in general is that [people], whether it be teens or others, just don’t want to work those hourly positions, so I don’t know if it’ll solve the bigger picture,” McCown said.