Custodian shortage - Rick Biche

Rick Biche (right), principal of Kennett Middle School, which is down three full-time custodians, told the Conway School Board on Jan. 10 how proud he is off his staff for stepping up in a time of need. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)

CONWAY — With a janitorial shortage plaguing the district, the Conway School Board voted to raise hourly pay of substitute custodians to $20 an hour. The high school principal also suggested students might find filling in as janitors a good way to make some extra money.

Kennett High Principal Kevin Carpenter told the board at its Jan. 10 he has seen educators filling the void by picking up trash and emptying wastebaskets.

“We’ve got some staff members that have said they’re willing to help out and chip in,” he said during his regular principal’s report.

“We have people that are willing to help out and do whatever,” Carpenter continued, adding, “We may even potentially see if that’s something that we could bring students in for part-time. So we can talk about that and see if there are any issues around that.”

While the school board had no immediate response to that idea, it does currently have five open custodian positions, and filling these vacancies is “proving to be extremely difficult,” said Superintendent Kevin Richard.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, Richard recommended raising the pay for substitute custodians.

“Due to the critical shortage of qualified candidates and the ever-pressing need for substitutes, we are recommending an increase in the hourly custodian substitute pay,” he said.

“Our full-time custodians receive a very substantial benefits package which offsets their hourly wage. Substitute custodians receive no benefits.”

“Fifteen dollars per hour is gaining no interest whatsoever,” Richard told the board. “These folks are critical to keeping the buildings open.

“The administrators are taking down trash, cleaning, doing all kinds of pieces. So is this going to cost a lot more money? No, because these are vacant positions, we aren’t hiring custodians, in addition to holding staff here.”

Each of the elementary schools typically has two full-time custodians. Kennett Middle generally has five but is down to two full-timers; and Kennett High is short two full-time custodians.

“Being down five custodians is quite a hefty chunk,” said board member Randy Davison. “The people who are in the positions now are pretty strained.”

Richard said full-time custodians are enrolled in the New Hampshire retirement system and receive health benefits. “There are a number of roof benefits which put them well over $24-$25 per hour,” he said. “To try to get people in the door, I recommend moving (substitute custodian pay) to $20 per hour.

“We are in a pretty tough situation,” he said.

Board member Ryan Wallace asked if full-time custodians are allowed to work overtime and perhaps pick up a second shift at another school.

“They can and some do a lot,” Richard replied.

“Have you ever explored the route of a private company to supplement this?” Wallace asked.

“I would recommend against that for a number of reasons,” said Richard. “One is, I know what custodians do when they’re fully staffed, and they’re integral to the operations. Outsourcing, you’re talking about leaving people after hours unsupervised”

“I think Ryan brings up a good point about outsourcing,” Davison said. “I know the town does that.”

Board member Michelle Capozzoli felt “the quality isn’t there” with outsourcing.

“It’s worth a conversation because we’re in crisis, but I wouldn’t support it long term,” she said.

Richard hopes the increased rate might attract retired folks or current staff in different roles who may be interested in picking up extra pay.

“The discussion about bringing in contracted employees, how would that be versus the (Collective Bargaining Agreement) that we have? Is that allowable?” asked board member Joe Mosca.

“Not right now,” Richard replied.

Rick Biche, principal of Kennett Middle School, praised his staff for stepping up in a time of need. “You’ll occasionally see staff members helping, especially on days when you’ve got all the sand and salt coming in, and they’ll volunteer just to go down and clean out the rugs,” he said.

“They’re doing some of those little pieces helping out in the hallway so that the custodians can stay focused on more of the health-safety pieces and do those things.”

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