Pinelands Superintendent Wants New Supervisor for Evening Custodians

Bathroom ‘Sabotage’ Due to Staff ‘Morale Problem’?
By RICK MELLERUP | Sep 26, 2018

Restrooms were the main topic of discussion at the Sept. 19 meeting of the Pinelands Regional School District Board of Education. They were first mentioned during Melissa McCooley’s Superintendent’s Report, which was delivered early in the meeting. She responded to a number of inquiries that had been posted on the district website’s new “Questions for the Board of Education” feature.

Someone had asked about the restroom situation, possibly brought about by a notice that appeared on the district website in the week before school opened for the 2018-19 year. It advised people, if possible, to avoid the junior high building because asbestos was found in grout underneath some toilets as they were replaced during renovation of “selective” restrooms.

The asbestos situation was resolved before opening day, and, by all reports, that day went smoothly. But some people were wondering if there were enough restrooms with junior and senior high students now sharing the building while the high school building is closed the entire school year for renovations.

“That’s been a hot topic,” McCooley said of the restrooms.

She said maps had been posted on Facebook showing the location of available restrooms, and principals reviewed those locations with students on the very first day of school. She also said that in the 2017-18 school year and for “many years prior,” four sets of “gang” restrooms (those with more than one stall) had been closed and used for storage. They have now been re-opened for their intended use, said McCooley. So even with two gang restrooms and two faculty restrooms being renovated (in the evening, not disrupting students and teachers), there are actually more facilities available than before the renovation.

“So we have a lot more bathrooms open this year, even with the renovation being done, than we’ve ever had in this building,” said the superintendent.

But about 25 minutes later, after John Bellone, the district’s facilities manager, and Brian Moore of Epic Construction Management gave an update on ongoing construction and renovation projects within the district, McCooley brought up the subject of restrooms once again.

She said Bellone, who has been on the job for about two months, had been evaluating his department and had “many” conversations with McCooley about how to “work smarter and more efficiently.” McCooley said she had done an analysis of the last three years and looked at some of the overtime that had been paid out.

“It was really in the after-hours, it was at night, at very early in the morning,” said the superintendent. “Just one example, in ’17-’18, one individual was paid – this is just in overtime – over $18,000. Another individual was paid close to $30,000 – this is just in overtime. I know that the budget committee eliminated that, but issues still come up.

“It seems as if during the evening hours – and John can’t always be here, although he’s on call – we’re having some concerns, and I’ll just bring up a recent one. We’ve had Roto Rooter here a couple times, and we were unaware and concerned with what was happening with the septic and what was happening with the sump pump. The first time they came out for the girls bathroom, somehow a mop head got put into a toilet, and that toilet had to be removed and fixed. This morning, when John called me at 5 a.m., the septic pump – and I’m probably saying it wrong, the sump pump, some kind of a pump – broke and we didn’t know why. We had to call Roto Rooter again, and we had to call another company to come to fix that, so we’re talking almost $5,000 for just this issue today. Somehow cleaning rags wound up in this pump, and a broken broom handle. For whatever reason, we don’t know how or why, it seems to be that some more supervision may be needed, some more direction, during the evening hours.”

McCooley recommended creating a job position of evening supervisor, someone who could oversee the work not only at the junior high, but at the high school next year. In fact, that person would be eventually responsible for four buildings because she suggested a shared services agreement with the Little Egg Harbor School District, which she also serves as superintendent.

“They are also in need of this type of person that would oversee their night crew, and this person would also oversee this night crew. So, for the money we were spending in overtime and to fix things, we could use that money and spend a portion of that on someone’s salary to oversee the night custodial, maintenance and grounds crew.”

After being questioned by a board member, McCooley said it wouldn’t be a “night” position, but a “second shift” job. It would be a full-time job with benefits.

Sabotage was suspected by some board members. One asked if cameras could have caught the act and was told there were none in the “custodial closets.” (Obviously there could be no cameras in restrooms).

McCooley said, “These are not routine things that are breaking. There’s an issue here, and we’re looking into that on our end, but I just foresee additional issues in the future if we don’t have this type of role. And we have put a lot of money in this department, but I don’t think we’re putting it in the right direction.”

Board Vice President Patricia Chambers asked if supervision wasn’t the job of already-existing foremen, who receive a stipend. McCooley said this was the perfect time to be discussing personnel because they were in negotiation.

Board member Betti Anne McVey wondered if one person popping in and out of four schools would be able to eliminate problems at all of them. Stuffing a mop into a toilet or a broomstick into a slop sink, she said, takes five seconds, and one person overseeing four buildings can’t be everywhere at once.

“It sounds like we might have some kind of a morale problem here,” said McVey. “This has not been an issue in the past. I’m going to suspect that we suspect somebody here in our staff that is doing this, or that we have somebody coming in at night running around doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing. Maybe we need to speak to the morale issue; maybe we need to figure out why somebody here is so disgruntled that they want to sabotage the school.”

Custodians are dealing with a new administration, and cuts in overtime while probably working harder than ever, considering the junior high is bursting at the seams with students with the high school students also squeezed in. Plus five custodians were laid off just a couple of months ago because the high school building would be closed for a yearlong renovation.

But there could be suspects other than custodians, perhaps a student playing pranks, or another staff member unhappy with the course of current contract negotiations.

But McCooley kept pressing for the new job position, saying it wasn’t just a matter of sabotage.

“I’m bringing up one specific thing that happened today,” she said, “but there have been many times in the evening where not much is getting done. I mean, that’s another piece of it, too.

“In terms of the morale, the staff really has been on board with everything; everyone has a positive attitude,” she asserted. “Perhaps now there are new expectations, and some of the staff has been here for quite some time, and perhaps they’re not used to new expectations. So I’m not really sure if it’s a morale issue, or people are not being accountable to doing their job.”

But board member Jeffrey Bonicky didn’t think a supervisor should be hired to catch somebody shoving a broken broom handle down a toilet.

“I think the reason is to have someone here like John that is here in the second shift that can manage and oversee and can assist and direct and make that second shift as efficient as the first shift is,” answered McCooley. “In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer.”

The board members asked many questions and wanted to see a cost analysis. But eventually the consensus was that McCooley would prepare a job description and the board would vote on the issue at its next meeting.

Still the issue wouldn’t go away.

When members of the public were allowed to speak, one man said the police should be called to investigate the sabotage, saying it was costing taxpayers a pretty penny. And a woman said her eighth-grade daughter had complained to her about a lack of restrooms.

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