Custodial staff operates despite being short-staffed

KRISTEN SALEM I SUMMER KENT STATER Ted Click, a custodian at Kent State University, cleans the Liquid Crystal Building on the morning of July 5th. Ted has been a custodian for 3 years, working from 4 a.m. to noon.

KRISTEN SALEM I SUMMER KENT STATER Ted Click, a custodian at Kent State University, cleans the Liquid Crystal Building on the morning of July 5th. Ted has been a custodian for 3 years, working from 4 a.m. to noon.

Simon Husted

Like every workday, Ted Click woke up Tuesday, July 5 two hours before his 4 a.m. shift.

Although summer sessions are full of annual assignments like carpet cleaning or floor waxing, Tuesday was the traditional clean and sanitize routine for the custodian. He wouldn’t have had time for a big assignment anyway.

Like countless workdays before, Custodial Services was understaffed, and Click needed to cover more building ground than usual. During his “usual” routine, Click covers one-half of the Liquid Crystals Materials Science Building and the Science Research Building. On July 5, he needed to add the second half of LCM to his routine.

“We’re always covering for someone else,” said Click, who at 57-years-old has been a custodian for three years, from 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to present.

After years of holding different management positions at a local steel plant, Click said working as a custodian is a post-retirement job that pays for his twin sons’ education at Kent State.

Since the national recession began, Kent State has sought various ways to reduce expenditures to buffer against state cuts, President Lester Lefton said at the June 2 Board of Trustees meeting.

On June 30, Gov. John Kasich signed Ohio’s budget for the current year, which cut $12.4 million from Kent State’s main campus. One way the university has prepped for the blow is a hiring freeze that began in mid-December.

The freeze only impedes job openings that President Lester Lefton deems non-“mission critical,” or of lesser importance to the university’s overall goals. During the Board of Trustees meeting, Lefton said every job position or applicant must first receive his approval before anyone is hired.

“We’ve got such great staff,” Lefton said. “I’m so proud of our staff and our faculty who have stepped up and said we recognize the shared sacrifice we all have to make, and everybody is doing a little bit more with less — this isn’t something we want to do, this is something we need to do.”

Although the university learned how much state funding they will receive for the 2012-2013 financial year more than a week ago, no announcement has been made on when the hiring freeze may end.

Roy Christian, the director for University Facilities Management—previously known as Campus Environment and Operations—said the hiring freeze prevented his department from filling vacancies until the later part of spring semester.

“It probably peaked late March, early April,” Christian said, adding the department had “cropped up 20 vacancies” at that time. The Department has filled most of the vacant positions since then and is trying to get the administration to approve its last six vacant positions.

The vacancies are made up of workers who retired or are out on leave for medical or family reasons. Five workers retired during late March and early April, Christian said. The high volume wasn’t merely a coincidence either, he added.

“People felt uncomfortable with the recession, the budget conditions and Kasich cutting back on support to the universities,” Christian said. “Everybody got concerned about that. I think we’re still concerned about that but a little less now.”

While University Facilities Management has to tighten its belt during the hiring freeze, one of its main divisions, Custodial Services, which has no relation to Residence Services’ housekeeping staff, has historically been lean.

“We are understaffed—that’s for sure,” Click said.

Christian said he believes Kent State is lean on the amount of cleaning services staffers. Before coming to Kent State in September, he managed maintenance departments at George Mason University and University of Michigan. “They can benefit from additional staffing.”

A recent report comparing the expenditures of University Facilities Management to 11 other universities reflects a remarkably lean operation at Custodial Services, Christian said.

Sightlines, a data analysis group that gathers and analyzes finance data for 290 college campuses, compared Kent State’s custodian staff over total building square feet against Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown University, Miami University, Ohio University, Ohio State University, University of Akron, University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth, University of Missouri – St. Louis, University of Rhode Island, West Chester University and Wright State University.

When averaged together, a full-time custodian handles close to 31,000 square feet of building. Of Kent State’s 88 custodians, each handles close to 11,000 more square building feet on average. Those numbers may have changed since June 2010, the last month in which data was collected for the annual report.

The staff is spread more widely in part because a decade ago University Facilities Management increased its landmass by 41 percent and only increased its staff by 5 percent, Christian said.

Before University Facilities Management became responsible for cleaning and sanitizing every academic and administrative building, a portion of custodian work was contracted to a private company. The department ended its contract in 2001 when building occupants reported dissatisfaction in the company’s service.

“We increased our square footage without getting all of the positions that went along with all of that square footage,” Christian said.

Although 2001 was a dramatic turn around for the custodial staff, Click said custodians today are even more short-staffed than they were back in 2002 when he cleaned and sanitized Rockwell Hall with a colleague.

More ground to cover means more priorities added to Click’s 8-hour shift. His biggest priority, he said, is to clean and sanitize the faculty offices and bathrooms before the workday begins and students, professors, staff and visitors occupy the rooms.

Though the most enjoyable part of his job, Click said, is finding one or more international students in the LCM building or Research Science Building working late into the morning on an important research project.

“They’re so nice,” Click said, adding that the international students have invited him many times to eat donuts.

Contact Summer Kent Stater reporter Simon Husted at [email protected].