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Richmond schools' daytime custodians could be phased out by fall

School district will spend $170,000 this spring on extra cleaning, but this will reduce daytime custodians
James Whiteside elementary in Richmond
James Whiteside elementary in Richmond

The Richmond School District could be ramping down its custodial services to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the school year.

In the meantime, after spending $650,000 extra this fall on cleaning, the Richmond Board of Education decided Wednesday to use another $170,000 from March to June to allow eight extra custodians to continue daytime cleaning.

This down from 20 additional temporary custodians that are currently working in Richmond schools - in addition, five other custodians will remain working.

Ian Hillman, president of CUPE loc. 716 that represents custodians, educational assistants and other non-teaching staff at the school district, asked the board of education on Wednesday to keep daytime custodians, calling them the “unsung protectors of everyone in the K-12 sector.”

“They are integral to keep our schools safe and clean,” Hillman said in a report to the board. “Custodians have been cleaning and disinfecting our schools on a continual basis keeping the virus in check.”

When schools were back to in-person learning in September 2020 after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district added 45 full-time temporary daytime custodians, using a federal grant.

This was to clean high-touch areas twice a day, as per BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) guidelines.

The number was supposed to be reduced, however, to 13 custodians for September 2021 to February 2022 – at an extra cost of $250,000 – after which time, custodial services were supposed to revert to pre-pandemic levels.

However, after concerns were raised by stakeholders, the budget was increased to $625,000 in 2021/22 and 20 daytime custodians were kept, one for every two elementary schools – this was supposed to end in February.

The board was presented with a few options - from spending $420,000 to keep the 20 current daytime custodians to eliminating all extra pandemic-related custodians.

In the end, they chose to keep 13 daytime custodians, which means there will be one custodian for every three elementary schools and one dedicated to each secondary school.

The report to the board notes that, despite being clean, “deferred maintenance in our buildings (due primarily to insufficient annual capital funding) resulted in old floor, wall and ceiling finishes not being renewed or replaced, which was easily mistaken for a lack of cleaning.”

While having daytime custodians are good "optics," it is expensive – about $1.1 million per year – and the cleaning that takes place while the building is occupied is “very limited,” the report explains, “compared to cleaning an unoccupied building outside school hours.”

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