Trash Piles Up and Administrators Pitch In

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Alice Dreger for ELi

East Lansing High School in October 2021.

East Lansing Public Schools’ dwindling janitorial staff and the severing of its contract with its longtime service provider was a top issue of concern for participants at the district’s Board of Education meeting Monday, Sept. 12.

“I have heard that we are experiencing trouble with our janitorial staff,” said student representative Gabriel Benavides. “I’d like to give a thanks to the staff downstairs who have been taking out trash…I saw Superintendent [Dori] Leyko taking out trash and I’d like to thank her on behalf of the students. Students haven’t [been affected] and I’d really like to thank you guys for that.”

Leyko acknowledged the situation in her own report, offering thanks to her staff and others who have helped “fill in some gaps” while the district transitions from a contracted janitorial service to in-house custodians. 

Raymond Holt for ELi

ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko at the Sept. 9, 2019, School Board meeting.

East Lansing High School (ELHS) resource teacher Erin Hansen has only seen the situation worsen.

“Last spring was awful, too,” said the 16-year classroom veteran. “ELHS did have several custodians walk-out near the end of summer. Classrooms are filthy. Carpet literally never gets vacuumed and desks don’t get wiped down.”

However, Hansen was hopeful the situation will improve.

“The district is trying to remedy the situation by ending our contract with Jani-King in December rather than next summer.”

The school district entered into a contract with Jani-King, International Inc., in 2003, securing privatized janitorial services. The move was made to cut costs and help eliminate an anticipated budget deficit of $4.2 million.

In an email to district employees sent Thursday, Sept. 8, Leyko announced the severing of the Jani-King contract, saying it will end at the end of the year instead of the previously agreed-upon June 30, 2023. This decision was reached, said Leyko, due to Jani-King’s inability to hire and employ enough staff.

“We are currently short five to eight custodians across the district daily,” she wrote. “Some of our current folks are working the day shift at one building and then covering another building’s night shift. They may be working from 7 a.m.–11 p.m. on these days. Central office folks are supplementing cleaning as we are available – emptying trash, vacuuming, cleaning student tables and desks, etc. This model isn’t sustainable, though, and we’ll have to muddle through a few more months with hopes of some light at the end of the tunnel.”

In a telephone interview, Chris Martin, vice president of the board of education, mused on the situation and the early exit from the contract.

Raymond Holt for ELi

East Lansing Public Schools Vice President Chris Martin at the Jan. 27, 2020, meeting of the School Board.

“Both sides have been able to look at the situation and see that it’s not working,” he said. “I think it’s all part of the Great Resignation where people are reevaluating their careers and seeking out different opportunities. Years ago, when the district privatized the services, they were able to do so by going with the lowest bidder. Today, we’re able to revisit that, and I think it’s a good thing.”

In her email, Leyko explained the intention to “bring custodial services back in-house” and taking the next few months to allow for the transition. This will include a focus on staffing, equipment acquisition and working on contracts. She also clarified that current Jani-King employees could be hired, if the district desires.

In the meantime, Leyko offered suggestions to employees that could ease the burden on the reduced staff: putting trash cans outside office doors, putting chairs on desks and tables, and clearing off surfaces that need to be cleaned, to name a few.

Martin praised the staff who have stepped up and out of their traditional job descriptions to help keep schools clean.

“In some buildings our teachers have stepped up, knowing that it’s not their job or responsibility to help keep the buildings clean,” he said. “We owe it to them to find folks who can get the job done.”

ELi contacted Jani-King for a comment on this reporting but they have not responded to our request for comment.

At the board meeting, Leyko announced the job posting for custodians had been posted that day.

The position offers an hourly rate ranging from $16 to $19 with a full fringe benefit package that includes health, dental and vision. The scale is similar to neighboring districts – Okemos custodians will earn $16.91 an hour after 60 days and outpaces the Michigan average of $15.02, according to the employment website Indeed.

Those interested in applying or learning more can view the position (Job ID 15998) at www.inghamisd.org. 

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