GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay County School District is doing well in many areas according to state rankings and assessments, but one area that’s falling under the curve is maintenance.
The district is struggling more now than in previous years to keep its maintenance department staffed. This hasn’t led to a decline in work quality because that department said it refuses to let that happen. But it has led to slower response times and longer days. Director of Maintenance for the district, Philip Hans, said the main factor behind this struggle is simple: CCSD isn’t competitive.
“We have trouble recruiting and maintaining talent,” Hans said. “We really do. I can’t keep somebody that has seniority that’s been in the trade for 15 to 20 years. They come in here and work until a job opening on the outside comes up and then they leave.”
Hans said one of the only competitive things about the district is the benefits, but benefits only go so far when a job on the outside pays enough to cover the pricier benefits outside of the district and then some. Apprenticeships used to be a reliable source of work, Hans said, but instead of students sticking with the district after graduation, their talent is being picked up by companies on the outside with better pay.
The solution is simple according to Hans: money. The district needs to pay its employees more. Across districts of similar size, Clay pays roughly $4 less an hour on average in maintenance positions like electrician, plumbing and carpentry.
CCSD electricians make a starting wage of $12.36 whereas in similarly-sized districts like Escambia, the starting wage is $14.29, for example. In St. Johns, the starting wage jumps to $17.33.
This has been the case for some time, but it’s come to a head because not only is talent leaving for better jobs, but top talent is reaching the point of retirement so the maintenance department is in a fall.
“The industry’s changed and our ability to have the capacity to support or retain talent is becoming tougher and it’s not just in all of the maintenance areas that require professional licensing and examination,” Assistant Superintendent for Operations Michael Kemp said. “We’re just trying to shoot the flare across the bow. Our concern is that our top guys are in drop. All of the knowledge of everything going on in schools is leaving.”
Even the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability agrees, citing a need to increase the district’s maintenance staffing size in order to align with state staffing guidelines for a district the size of CCSD.
Hans said it’s not as simple as hiring just anybody. The jobs require an intense knowledge of the district’s schools or at least a focused dedication to learn such things. A higher wage would encourage that kind of talent, according to Hans.
“We don’t just want bodies,” Hans said. “We want the right bodies.”
The quickest solution to the problem, according to Hans, would be better pay. The financial impact of that solution is roughly $550,000. Whether or not that happens is up to the school board and it likely hinges on the upcoming November ballot where voters will decide if they want to pay for a sales tax to yield the school district additional funds for millions and millions in maintenance repairs and needs.