Custodian Christine Bark vacuums a classroom at the Steamboat Springs Middle School on Tuesday afternoon. The Steamboat Springs School District is facing a shortage of custodial staff in many of the schools. As a result, the district has hired students and teachers to fill the void in the after-school hours.

Photo by John F. Russell

Custodian Christine Bark vacuums a classroom at the Steamboat Springs Middle School on Tuesday afternoon. The Steamboat Springs School District is facing a shortage of custodial staff in many of the schools. As a result, the district has hired students and teachers to fill the void in the after-school hours.

No clean solution

School district's janitor situation a mess; principals use Band-Aid solutions


— Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version. The starting and top-end wages for school district custodians was inaccurate in the original version.

A janitor shortage at some Steamboat Springs School District schools has reached the critical level, so much so that two building principals have enlisted the help of volunteers and students.

"It has gotten to the point where we are offering hours to teachers and high school students to come in or stay after school," Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal Brenda Barr told the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday.

Strawberry Park has one full-time custodian, Bill Hebrank, who works the morning shift, but the school currently relies on volunteers and part-time workers to take care of the school after Hebrank goes home at 2 p.m.

"We've had a Band-Aid on the dam since I got here," Barr said.

Christine Bark travels more than 80 miles round trip each day from her home in Craig to her job as a janitor at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

"It's tough year-round," she said. "We lost a (co-worker) this year because she got better pay at another job."

Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said the school is looking for an additional full-time custodian to work with Bark and Jeff Greene.

"I currently have one of my paraprofessionals working four hours in the evenings as a temporary solution," he said. "We have been short-handed for a couple of months."

Bishop said he has had little success in hiring professional cleaning services to work the afternoon custodial shift.

"We got down to the dollars, but both called the day (they were) to start and said they had people quit and they had to cancel our agreement," he said.

Bishop has allowed eighth-graders to fulfill their community service requirements by volunteering their time to help straighten up after school at Strawberry Park.

"It's a wonderful help to us," Barr said. "They vacuum and do some other tasks that are easy, but essential. They are always supervised, and teachers and parents often chip in, too."

At Soda Creek Elementary School - the only district school with a full custodial staff - Principal Judy Harris said she is fortunate not to have any vacancies.

"We have been in that situation at different times in the past, so we understand the other schools' needs," she said. "It's a vital position in our school. I can't say how very important our support staff are."

Greene, who has worked as a custodian at the middle school for four years, said attracting and retaining support staff is simple - better pay.

The districts pays custodians $11.85 per hour in the first-step of a 10-step pay schedule. Custodians currently max out at $17.17 per hour in step 10. Lead custodians are paid higher wages.

"Attracting and retaining goes to this important position as well," School Board member John DeVincentis said Monday night. "Maybe it is time to address the salary schedule for that position because our salary schedule is not working in attracting anybody."

Greene, who lends a hand when he can at other district schools, said custodial shortages are nothing new to Steamboat, but the problem is worse this year.

"It's an ongoing thing all summer," he said. "As soon as the school year ended, we lost a bunch of staff. The labor situation is really bad."

Bishop noted there is only so far a school district can proceed with temporary custodial help and that a solution must be found soon to fill the vacancies.

"All evening shifts are 1 to 9 p.m., and so there is a lot of time where they are not supervised by anyone," he said. "So we definitely have to be careful of who we place in our buildings during that period of time. We still have to screen them and make sure their background is clean, which makes it more difficult to fill."

To retain Bark, who is in her third year as a custodian at the middle school, she said a travel allowance would be a good first step.

"For me, it's because of the gas situation," she said. "It's more expensive for me to come, but I enjoy my job. I like the people, and my own concern is the gas price from here to Craig."

Bark and Greene said they don't mind continuing to lend a hand when they have some free time, but the stress of extra work in an already taxing job could soon take a toll.

"We don't mind helping, but to lose staff and then not knowing you are going to get outside help coming in is very difficult," Bark said.

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail


thecondoguy1 9 years, 5 months ago

in Japan, the kids clean the schools.................


nxoby36 9 years, 5 months ago

Thirty years to get to what should be a starting wage in this Valley . Does anybody hear the wake up call ? If you want to keep good workers you need to pay them a decent wage . It's time all the employers in this valley woke up .


id04sp 9 years, 5 months ago


Employers are not sitting around in the cold, cackling over their pots of gold.

Most of the "new" high costs in our area come from (1) land values and (2) energy prices. The income to support the increased land prices does not come from Routt County in most cases; it's imported by outsiders moving in who already have the money or who make enough money elsewhere to buy a second home in the Rockies. Money spent on inflated land values simply does not make it into the pockets of local employers. Much of the money tied up in inflated land values exists only on paper, as debt secured by the high prices paid for land.

We're not producing much oil around here either, which means that wages and business income derived from higher-priced energy pretty much all go to other people who live in other places.

Local employers are not taking in the extra money that we have to spend to live here. That extra money is going to lending institutions and oil producers, including pass-along energy prices reflected in the cost of goods that have to be trucked in (like, pretty much everything).

Our fundamental problem is a huge disconnect between the money required to live here, and the income available to support the population. A guy who spends $1,000,000 for a house still only pays $5 for a box of cereal and $3.25 for a gallon of gas. There's nothing in place here in Steamboat or Routt County that can separate a lot more money from the rich home owners than from the average people. In fact, part-year residents reduce the amount of business in the area because they have replaced former full-time residents who sold out and moved away.

If local businesses try to make up the difference in wages by raising prices, guess what? Even rich people will do without or go elsewhere. Lots of people with a million bucks to spend on a second home got that way by being frugal, hard-working and conservative for many years.

Raising wages is a real nice idea, but it's not going to happen in any meaningful manner anytime soon because the money coming in won't support it. If a business closes up due to lack of employees, that's the same as closing up due to a lack of income from sales. The money coming in has to exceed the money going out, or the business folds.


oofcboy 9 years, 5 months ago

build a new mountain ,not the solution but it will make the lift lines shorter


Matthew Stoddard 9 years, 5 months ago

Yep. A new mountain will help bring in those School Custodians.



letomayo 9 years, 5 months ago

The school teachers are being asked to work for beginning custodian wage? How bad is it that they are willing to work for what? $9 or $10 something after school? You could make that much at McDonald's and a free meal is probably included at McD's. I'd wonder if it is newer teachers who make low salaries in the schools who are working as cleaners. What is the cost of custodians in other businesses downtown and on the mountain?

Most people can get a job in the trades even as a helper for about $15 an hour and you need a custodian? How much are you willing to pay? How much do you want a custodian?

What are the teachers students and parents doing to help in the schools to keep it cleaner and lessen the need?


peteb 9 years, 5 months ago

Lack of affordable housing = Lack of working class

People in Steamboat can't live on that wage and people outside of town can't afford the commute.

I think we'll be hearing this song much more in the future.


letomayo 9 years, 5 months ago

sbvor, I assume you do not or will not take part in the social security system. Anyone so opposed to anything remotely resembling social responsibility as thus being socialism would surely out of principal refuse any dole out from the government. Not so?

You better widen our roads and improve our transportation systems to accomodate the need for commutes. We should run busses frequently to drop- off points.

Maybe developers can contribute to parking lots for commuters to park and ride for busses to run frequent routes (every 10-15 minutes) to those P&R lots as the ski mountian does with its shuttle lots and system.


freerider 9 years, 5 months ago

this ain't brain surgery,,,,try to hire a cleaning crew around will cost you $35 and hour....let's see now if I'm into doing that kinda work...I can to get a job as a custodian at the school for peanuts or get my own gig and set my own schudule for $35 an hour....well duh ... a moron could figure this one out...geeez


below_me 9 years, 5 months ago

$11.85 an hour. I doubt you could get an illegal to work for that. How many years in the position would it take one to reach the lofty plateau of $17.17 an hour? I would love to hear from people who have held that job.


bubba 9 years, 5 months ago

Freerider, you suffering the same delusion that many in this town suffer, that all businesses pocket 100% of what you pay them- if a developer sells a condo for a million dollars, they pocket a million dollars, if you buy a six pack, the owner of central park gets 8 dollars, if you pay 35 bucks to get your house cleaned, the owner gets 35 dollars.

This is not how businesses operate. To legally pay someone 12 bucks an hour costs about 20. Cleaning services need to be bonded and insured, not to mention own cleaning products, vehicles, etc... If you are a one man cleaning operation, I doubt you pocket 1/2 of the revenues of your business, so really, the gap isn't nearly as big as you would think, and you have to deal with getting customers, billing them, setting a schedule, and all of the other paperwork items that you don't get to bill to someone. Running a small business probably means at least 60 hours of work for every 40 of paid work, so it's really not as sweet as you make it sound.


dwahzner 9 years, 5 months ago

below_me, The answer to your question if years to obtain top wage of $16.00 is 10 years, not 30.

bubba, You are correct about self employment. Most folks have the misconceptions about profits and schedules when you're self employed.

To all, The problem with the school districts inability not to pay their support staff is due to the fact that they 1) are limited on what they have for a budget 2) spend 80% on budget for wages and compensations 3) the 80% that is appropriated for wages is mostly givin to teachers, because there are more of them, administration takes the next bite from that figure and their support staff gets the rest. The big issue here is fixed budgets that are figured by a finance formula that relies on a student count on October first each year. Roughly, 2500 kids, times, $7800.00, = districts yearly budget. It is up to the school districts collaborative bargaining team to negotiate who gets what dollars from that 80% of the salary. Administrators take from the 80% however; the CBT has no say in their wages. The school board collaborates with administrators wages first, and then teachers and support staff negotiate who gets what of those monies. Being that teachers have greater numbers in employees, they take a big chunk of the deserved wages. The support staff gets lesser amounts because of fewer employees to pay. In collaborations you have administrators, the teachers and their union the SSEA, and few support staff. I will let you figure out how those negotiations pan out and who gets what of the budget! It's not rocket science. I can only imagine where the school district would be without the newly passed mil levy override dedicated to wages and compensation, which by the way was divided up by CBT negotiations. The support staff that are at the school district are hard working, dedicated people who have done their jobs for little wages for a long time but, have stuck in there paying their dues to reach the top of that wage scale. Many of them hold second and third jobs! They're service and devotion to our schools and our kids is a major contribution to our schools of excellence, shadowing our teachers and administration. I personally believe the blogger entries listed hit a lot on some of Steamboats cost of living and wage battle. I would like to add just one more thing. I believe that pride and work ethic may have a lot to do with people refusing to work from the bottom up. I know, I've been here in Steamboat over a quarter century and have worked and average 60 hours a week and still do! I guess times and attitudes about work have changed. My motto has been; work hard, play hard, die hard! Like the comedian "Larry the cable guy say's" just gitter done! As far as wages go, well it's not too hard to say; pay more, get educated and make more or work a lot more! I do both. Thanks!


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