Staff turnover causing complications

Sydney Jezik, News Editor

Recent employment turnover at Waunakee High School have seen a sharp drop in custodian numbers, making the task of keeping the school clean more difficult.

The 2019-2020 school year has seen Waunakee High School reach its greatest ever number of students—currently serving 1,248 total. The teacher-to-student ratio equals about 1:14, while administration is a higher ratio. Every day of the week, the school is taken up by sports, parents visiting teachers or administration or filling up the bleachers at events, and more.  Because of the muddy shoes and the mass amount of meals and the winter precipitation, the school is a hotspot for messes. 

Even more than regular school activities, after-school events like sports practice, weight room use, clubs, dances, teacher training, Red Cross blood drives, CPR certification courses, driver’s ed classes, classrooms overflowing with artwork or math worksheets or wood shavings—or even that one life-size cutout of singer Alvaro Solver in Señora Catie Anderson’s classroom… all result in messes that have to be cleaned by the custodial staff. 

The custodial staff holds the messy tidal wave back. However, recent changes in Madison’s job climate have made their task more difficult. Keeping the school running safely, cleanly and efficiently relies not only on them, but also on the student body, the teachers and administration.

One problem includes increasing position vacancy and turnover in the high school custodial staff. Remember that teacher-to-student ratio of 1:14? Normally the custodian-to-student ratio is 1:156, with eight custodians meant to be on duty during certain shifts. Due to the turnover rate, that ratio is up to 1:312.

“Usually I work an 8-hour shift, but now I’m working 6 [a.m] to 6:30 [p.m]—12 hours a day,” said head custodian Brian Hauke. 

Custodian Bill Ripp said that he and the rest of the night shift works about eight hours too, from after school until around midnight.

Hauke and Ripp explained that the high school is divided into eight custodial zones. At night, a custodian is assigned to each zone, while during the day, several custodians cover different zones at staggered intervals. This is the ideal. However, because of the staffing shortage, five or fewer custodians generally work together at night to cover all eight zones while two or three work during the day.

“They… often work over 40 hours a week. It is difficult to fill custodial positions because of the current job market,” said Principal Brian Borowski. 

“We are often looking for additional custodial staff to replace individuals who have left… They do more than anyone thinks in an average day.”

In the brief time spent interviewing Hauke in the janitorial office, which is located by the Shipping and receiving room at the end of the 1300 hallway, many requests, ranging all the way from prepping the basketball court for the weekend recreational basketball (CYO) games to problematic bathroom facilities, came in and were discussed and covered by the four custodians working that night’s shift.

“No matter what goes on, some custodian has to be here,” said Hauke.

“There’s a lot of activities in this school, which is good… but then when there’s not a lot of coverage, things don’t get done. We have to prioritize. Typically we look at things that affect health first. So cleaning bathrooms, collecting garbage… but then maybe the classrooms don’t get clean that well, sometimes students have to pitch in and help out by maybe helping set up things themselves.”

Hauke, similarly to Borowski, credits the turnover to economic difficulty and the plethora of good jobs available. The flat rate for custodial workers at Waunakee High School is about $15/hour, the same as the minimum wage in Minnesota, $2 above what Target employees start at and $3 above what KwikTrip employees start at.

Custodians take care of more than just cleaning. Ripp explained, “If there’s a basketball game or football game, we’re the event staff. We set up and take down.”

Ripp explored the work that goes into his typical night shift, with three or four fewer custodians than is proper to the staff. 

“Here [in the LMTC] it’s basically vacuuming, wiping up the tables, emptying the trash… in a given night… it can take a couple hours. But sometimes in the science rooms they’re having pig dissections, and I have to spend more time there. They take care of it up to a point [and then we finish].”

Hauke and Ripp praised the high school for its educational system and its benefits, respectively. Hauke mentioned that his family moved to Waunakee and he took a job at the high school because of its quality of education. Ripp called the retirement plan and health insurance offered by the high school “very good.”

“[I like the Waunakee] students, the faculty, the staff… very friendly, very helpful, everybody works as a team,” said Hauke. “They’re always cutting-edge… trying to be innovative.”

The high school custodial staff comprises not only of Hauke, Ripp, Jeff Breunig, Pauline Hignett, Geri Williams, Jason Walder and Ricardo Miranda as well as substitute custodians, but also a district-contracted electrician and grounds workers who care for outdoor facilities like the baseball fields and the track.

Everyone interviewed agreed on one question posed to them: that the high school could use some help cleaning.

“I see this place as my home away from home,” said Hauke. 

“I like to make sure I’m taking care of it, and [the other custodians] help take care of it… sometimes I wish the students would be more proactive in that aspect. Sometimes it’s not always [the custodians’] responsibility to take care of things.”

“[The janitorial staff] is incredible. They work really hard and are always willing to help everyone out… I am saddened when students leave a mess behind or make a mess on purpose,” said Principal Borowski.

“I think they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have,” said Social Studies instructor Bryan Barfknecht. “I have respect for them, because they have the type of job that people… notice when it isn’t done properly… and students would do better to more proactively notice those behind-the-scenes people.”

“They do a good job and they do a lot of work for us. They seem under-appreciated, because we [the students] don’t really think about it,” said freshman Abby Truscott.

“Occasionally you see things [messes] and kind of scratch your head,” said Ripp.

Employment shortages have made keeping the school clean difficult for the custodial staff, but students may pitch in and lighten the load by cleaning up after themselves.