PPS Face Custodial Staffing Crisis

Photo caption: Pictured above is custodian Marcus Rouse, who has been working at Franklin for a year now. Marcus is one of 8 full-time custodians at Franklin. Photo by Jack McArthur

Custodians at Franklin High School are working their hardest to keep buildings clean despite a severe custodial shortage within PPS. Because of this shortage, Franklin is currently operating with only 2 custodians during the day, and 6.5 (including part time) custodians at night. In total, Franklin has 8 full time custodians, and 1 part-time. This custodial shortage has been an issue within PPS for a while, and began 5 to 6 years ago due to ongoing pay issues, including budget cuts within the district.

“This is a district wide issue that is not isolated to just custodial,” said Frank Leavitt, Sr. Manager of Facilities Services and Operations for PPS. Franklin is not the only PPS school that suffers from this critical custodial shortage. According to Leavitt, other schools are staffed approximately at the same ratio. “The problem that PPS is facing is that sometimes a high school is short a custodian when there’s an absent custodian at a middle or elementary school. Due to the fact that they [the custodial district] doesn’t have a substitute pool like teachers do, there’s no person who can fill that temporary spot,” said Leavitt. “This is why they have to pull from the pool of high school custodians to cover elementary and middle school absences.” 

To help solve this ongoing issue, the district is currently recruiting heavily for these open positions in the community via print, online, and job fairs. PPS hired a new recruiter position to assist in recruiting for Facilities, Nutrition Services and Transportation, all of which suffer from the same staffing shortages as Custodial and Maintenance. Leavitt believes that the record low employment and possibly the rising cost of living in the Portland Metro area help contribute to this custodial shortage. The situation is currently so dire, that PPS now has 26 full time custodial vacancies and 17 part time vacancies. To make a long story short, Portland Public Schools needs to fill vacancies with custodians that they do not currently have.

“Janitors and custodians would love to strike but we can’t afford to,” said Robert Cavil, first year Franklin custodian. He described the job as very tiring, but it is more stressful than anything. According to Cavil, one attempt from PPS to support custodians is using the extra money laying around (that is not currently being used, because there are so many custodial vacancies) to buy robot floor cleaners. 

“The funny thing is, all of this can be changed with a simple pay raise. If you have happy paid custodians, you’ll have a happy clean school, period. It’s simple,” said Cavil. PPS custodians are currently paid a starting hourly wage of only $14.95 an hour, which is more than two dollars less than what Gresham-Barlow pays. “I like the job and the people that I work with, it’s just the pay. That’s it—it’s the pay,” said Cavil. “For a high school there should be a bare minimum of eight janitors,” Cavil explained. The custodians at PPS are a part of the SEIU(Service Employees International Union) local 49 labor union. Franklin custodians Robert Cavil and Marcus Rouse both believe that this ongoing custodial shortage could be solved by a pay increase. “I think it’s a district problem to be honest. If they up that pay, I think that more people will come and more people will help,” said Rouse. “On my end, it’s stressful. [I’ve] gotta cover so much ground, in [a] certain little bit of time. Eight hours is not gonna get this whole school done with three people. It’s hectic at times, it can get pretty bad,” Rouse explained. The main reason that this current situation is tough for Rouse is because this is the first time that he has ever been short-staffed, so this has been a challenge. Rouse was a custodian at Woodstock middle school and Marysville (K-8) before working as a full-time custodian at Franklin. Rouse, Cavil, and others believe that not only are Franklin and PPS custodians underpaid, but they’re heavily underappreciated. “I think some of our work goes unnoticed too,” said Rouse. If the income opportunities for custodians were better, then a majority of the problem would be solved. Although we may not see an immediate impact with an increase in the number of janitors within PPS, the district is trying their best to solve this custodial shortage by heavily recruiting via print, on-line, and job fairs. The hard work that PPS custodians put in goes almost unnoticed; as the heroes of the school, they are asking for one thing: higher pay.

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