Steamboat Springs 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.
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