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School district opts to continue with daytime custodians

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 4:14 PST, Fri January 28, 2022

Richmond School District trustees voted this week to continue with an enhanced daytime custodial plan through the end of this school year in June. The plan will cost $170,000, which can be funded by a small budget surplus.

Ian Hillman, the president of CUPE Local 716 which represents school board employees including custodians, emphasized the importance of enhanced cleaning and daytime custodians.

“If there was money, continuing with the status quo (of 20 custodians) might be my first choice, getting through to the end of June,” agreed trustee Donna Sargent. “$420,000 we just can’t afford, but do think we need a transition plan.”

This program was originally scheduled to end in February 2022. At this week’s board meeting, trustees were presented with four options ranging in cost depending on the number of custodians proposed. The option they approved will see a total of 13 custodians working in 39 elementary schools, with each assigned to three schools. Secondary schools will return to having one day custodian per school.

Frank Geyer, the district’s executive director of facilities services, said his team was confident that it could maintain sufficient cleaning and disinfection even with a pre-COVID level of service. But both Geyer and superintendent Scott Robinson said people’s perceptions of safety are also important at this point in the pandemic.

“I think this is a way of helping people feel comfortable, as comfortable as they can,” said trustee Heather Larson.

Trustee Debbie Tablotney agreed, saying the district should “still be erring on the side of caution.”

B.C. Centre for Disease Control guidelines for schools initially included additional cleaning, particularly disinfection of surfaces. In Richmond, 45 custodians were added for the 2020-2021 school year thanks to one-time federal funding. One custodian was assigned to each elementary school and a second was added at each secondary school for that school year.

Provincial guidelines on cleaning and disinfection changed in August 2021. Following stakeholder input and discussion the district opted to continue with some additional custodians, but not as many as the previous year—20 were added, with each one assigned to two elementary schools. The $625,000 cost came from accumulated operating surplus rather than government funding.

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