By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — It won't happen quickly, but the city school district is beginning to restructure its maintenance department in hopes of increasing efficiency and improving job performance.
The district presented just a small part of a plan Thursday which administrators believe won't be fully implemented until at least the end of the current school year. But they're pushing forward with plans in hopes of realizing cost savings which could come through decentralized work schedules and more coordination.
"It's a long-term process," Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said. "We will be changing things here in the next few months. We've been working hard at it and we think we're on the right path. We're attempting to change the system without destroying the people who work in the departments."
There are a few keys to making the new system work, according to district Business Manager Timothy Hyland. First and foremost, the district, he said, needed to implement a new system to handle work orders, which would help ensure maintenance jobs are completed on time and properly, while also allowing the district to figure out which issues are common occurrences among buildings.
"Our work order system didn't have a lot of detail to it," he said. "Our new system is much more involved."
The restructuring also decentralizes the maintenance staff, assigning certain workers to groups of buildings they're personally responsible for. The new plan calls for six groups of employees covering several buildings — including those not in use anymore — made up of one each of pipe shop, electric and carpentry workers.
The fixes presented at Thursday's meeting didn't address problems involving missing workers, an issue some board members believe extends beyond maintenance and into cleaning staff as well.
Board member Russell Petrozzi questioned employee attendance, wondering whether a problem exists, especially among the cleaners. He said complaints have reached him about the high school in particular and its cleanliness.
"It's time to get serious about absenteeism," he said. "We're holding you accountable for this. I've heard the high school is filthy. You can't have four cleaners at the high school, you can't have five cleaners at the high school."
But Assistant Supervisor of Operations and Maintenance David Spacone said some of the issues have to deal with vacations and long-term injuries, which are legitimate excuses. Human Resources Director Maria Massaro added sick calls result from forcing the remaining cleaners to do more with less.
Performance by the cleaning crew at the schools will also be closely watched as part of the restructuring, as a new checklist has been developed to ensure proper work is done. The checklist, combined with the new work order system, should help save the district money, Bianco said.