It has been said that first impressions are the ones most remembered. As with a lot of things in life, first impressions are also important for schools. When someone visits a school and the outside is well maintained — free of trash and grafitti — the perception is that the school personnel care about the environment in which the students spend one-third of their day. Likewise, upon entering the school, a clean, well-maintained building creates the perception that there is an effective learning environment for those students. Creating that all-important first impression is not easy, and requires a commitment by the district to a quality cleaning program.
As I have emphasized in earlier articles and columns, a quality program will do the following.
1. Increase indoor air quality.
2. Prolong the life of building components and equipment.
3. Increase attendance by creating sanitary environments, thereby eliminating conditions that cause illnesses.
4. Reinforce the perception that the building is well maintained by keeping grafitti removed, paper and trash removed, and providing an environment conducive to learning.
5. Include preventive maintenance, like changing filters that increase operating efficiency of building systems, and contribute to better indoor air quality.
Whether a district uses its own personnel or contracts for its cleaning operation, there are common characteristics to a quality custodial program.
The scope is clearly defined. All space to be cleaned has been measured and quantified. The types of spaces to be cleaned are known, and clear descriptions of how to clean each, the frequency of cleaning, and the materials to do the job appropriately have been identified and detailed.
Job descriptions for each type of personnel are clearly defined, and appropriate training programs for each have been developed and used on an on-going basis in addition to the initial training period.
Appropriate supervision and assessment of each type of position is present, and work rules are clearly articulated and enforced.
The program coordinates activities with the district maintenance activities and includes Integrated Pest Management and Product Review teams.
The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), in Milwaukee, is an example of a nationally recognized high quality custodial program using district personnel. The program is successful, not only because the district has made it an integral part of the overall maintenance program, but also because it has supported the program financially since 1923. It is one of the only school districts, nationally, to earn the Integrated Pest Management STAR certification. I discussed the program with Michael R. Gutierrez, project manager in the Buildings, Grounds, and Fleet Section of the Division of Facilities and Maintenance Services at MPS. Mike is a certified executive housekeeper and has been with the district for 31 years.
Like other districts, MPS uses a variety of cleaning types.
1. Daily cleaning — these activities occur each day and involve the main areas of the school (classrooms, toilets, stairs and corridor.)
2. Emergency cleaning — these activities occur when an employee is ill or injured and no substitute is available. The work of that employee is then equally distributed to the remaining staff. In these cases only essential activities are conducted (emptying trash, sweeping floors, cleaning toilets.) Dusting, cleaning of door glass, spot mopping, washing chalkboards, etc., are omitted.
3. Summer cleaning — these activities occur during summer recess and involve major cleaning of walls, floors (including stripping and recoating), cleaning of classroom furniture, etc. This type is conducted only in buildings not used for summer school or on a year-round calendar.
4. Progressive cleaning — this type of activity occurs when the buildings are not available during the summer recess to conduct normal summer cleaning activities. The summer cleaning activities are now conducted throughout the school year so they occur during Christmas holidays, Easter/spring break, intersessions, or other gaps in the school calendar. Schools with extensive summer programs or year-round calendars normally use this type of cleaning.
MPS has developed detailed descriptions for each type of cleaning that includes needed supplies and equipment and step-by-step procedures to be followed. Every employee is trained and evaluated on these descriptions and procedures.
Cleaning standards in the district are based on nationally recognized cleaning standards from the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA447 Cleaning Times) and the Building Owners Management Association (BOMA). These have been adapted to the district’s economic conditions, and generally result in district employees being responsible for cleaning nearly twice the square footage of their private sector counterparts. Obviously, this ratio will vary from one part of the country to another, based on the philosophical approach and financial conditions. Most districts’ needs will be met using either of these sets of standards.
Types of Employees and Staffing
The program is organized around five categories of employees.
1. Building Service Helper I — performs entry-level housekeeping duties, usually on second or third shift. Their hours vary between two to eight, depending on building size and program.
2. Building Service Helper II — assists the school engineer and boiler attendant at the middle and high school levels with high work, heavy lifting, shop cleaning and grounds maintenance, in addition to their assigned cleaning duties. Duties are split 80 percent custodial, 20 percent maintenance.
3. Boiler Attendant/(trainee) — assists the school engineer in mechanical, building, and grounds maintenance and cleaning. Oversees the work of the building service helpers. Duties are split 50 percent custodial, 50 percent maintenance.
4. School Engineer I, II, III, IV (Head Custodian) — responsible for overseeing all building and grounds maintenance and cleaning. Is the licensed boiler operation for the building and performs preventative and minor maintenance to mechanical equipment. Duties are split 90 percent supervision, maintenance, and grounds work, and 10 percent custodial. Classification depends on school size using the following formula.
0 — 60,000 sq. ft. Engineer I
60,000 — 100,000 sq. ft. Engineer II
100,001 — 300,000 sq. ft. Engineer III
more than 300,000 sq. ft. Engineer IV
5. Operations Supervisor — district level employee(s) responsible for evaluation of the school engineer and discipline matters related to all employees. Supervisors work in conjunction with principals.
Based on its experience, the district has developed a formula to determine the staffing levels for a particular school. Full-time equivalent staffing is determined by multiplying the cleanable square footage by a cleaning factor and dividing by 2080 hours. The cleaning factor is based on the following scale:
Cleanable Square Cleaning
0 — 30,000 0.135
30,000 — 60,000 0.106
60,000 —100,000 0.084
100,000 — 250,000 0.082
Using this formula, the staffing for an elementary school with 50,000 sq. ft. of cleanable space would be 50,000 x 0.106 divided by 2080 = 2.55 FTE. Normally this would mean there would be a school engineer (head custodian) and three building service helpers (cleaning staff) each working 5.75 hours each. This will enable emergency cleaning to be covered and to ensure a single person is not in a building alone at night. For those districts that contract for cleaning services, most vendors will also use some type of formula to determine staffing levels.
Training, Evaluation, and Supervision
The heart of the MPS program is its training, evaluation, and supervision components. Training is extensive and continuous. It is customized for each category of employee, with tasks at each level supplementing previous skill sets. Each employee category requires successful completion of the previous level, thus all skills are continually reinforced as new ones are introduced.
Because cleaning is one of the primary missions in any quality custodial program, training emphasis starts with those employees who have that task as their primary duty. In Milwaukee, each building service helper training starts with a half-day orientation session. In this session, a district supervisor reviews all work rules, policies, and job benefits. Each person is given a written set of procedures on the various types of cleaning, which is followed up with viewing videos of proper cleaning techniques for classrooms, toilets, and corridors. Finally, training for blood-borne pathogens is completed, as is viewing the AHERA required asbestos awareness video.
Next, the new employees are sent to the district training facility at John Marshall High School for an intensive two-week period where they learn the following:
1. proper sweeping and mopping techniques;
2. use and care of all types of equipment related to their job (such as sprayers, vacuums, mops, etc.);
3. safety issues such as proper lifting, asbestos awareness, and product data safety sheets;
4. additional training on work rules, reporting procedures, and emergency cleaning; and
5. proper cleaning techniques.
During this two-week period each person is assessed on 60 job-related skills by the district trainer, who validates their proficiency on each task as it is successfully completed. Upon successful completion of the training regimen, the employee is assigned to a substitute crew until an opening at a school becomes available. If, at the end of the two-week training period, they have not successfully completed all the tasks, the trainer and a supervisor meet with the employee to determine if additional time will be allotted to complete the tasks, or to release the individual.
Similar intensive training occurs for prospective boiler attendants at the middle and high schools. Over the course of an entire school year boiler attendant trainees must successfully complete over 60 tasks related to operation of the boilers and fans, preventative maintenance, administrative duties and completion of incident reports and work orders, fire prevention, snow plowing, grass cutting, alarm systems, and maintenance of power equipment in addition to their cleaning duties. Boiler attendant trainees work with the school engineer on first shift. With the building service helpers, the school engineer validates successful completion of each task. Upon completion, the boiler attendant trainee stays on first shift until they can be assigned to an opening on second or third shift. All boiler attendants undergo annual performance evaluations by the school engineer.
Boiler attendants, boiler attendant trainees, and school engineers must possess Third Class Facility Operators licenses from the American Society of Power Engineers and a City of Milwaukee permit for low-pressure boilers at the time of appointment. The district provides an opportunity for all employees to get paid training to obtain these licenses, which must be renewed annually. In addition, each participates in a 32-hour minor maintenance course from the Plant and Facilities Maintenance Association, a 16-hour asbestos operations and maintenance course, and an eight-hour confined-space training course. School engineers are also required to have an IPM 7.1 Structural Pesticide Applicator license that must be renewed every five years. The district provides the 16-week training course to enable engineers to take the state test. Finally, all school engineers III and IV must have a Certified Pool Operator license from the National Swimming Pool Foundation, which also must be renewed every five years.
School engineers are evaluated quarterly by the district supervisor and at least once a year by the school principal using an excellent, good, fair, poor scale. This evaluation covers service neatness, cooperation, reliability, and organization of work. Any person receiving a grade below good is addressed by the supervisor.
A quality custodial program does not happen overnight. It requires a commitment to train and evaluate the personnel involved, provide the resources to do the job properly, commitment by the district that clean, sanitary conditions in the buildings are a priority, and financial support over an extended period of time. A successful program will not only create an environment that enhances and supports the education program, but creates that favorable first impression that we care about where our children learn.
Edward M. Mc Milin is the President of E. Mc Milin Planning Services LLC. He is the former Facilities Planner for the Milwaukee Public Schools where he served for 32 Years.