Facing custodian shortage, SMSD uses pandemic relief funds to hire replacement staff

SMSD officials say they are dealing with a shortage of custodial staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and current staff are being asked to clean and disinfect more than in the past, raising fears of burnout. File photo of Lenexa Hills Elementary.

Shawnee Mission Schools has begun hiring replacement custodians as the district faces a shortage of regular custodial and maintenance staff amid the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Johnson County.

Why it matters: It’s another sign that the pandemic is stretching the district’s resources. SMSD says at least 9 custodians have resigned or retired since the start of September, and there are currently 18 vacancies for full-time custodian positions in the district.

In addition, since the start of the academic year, 34 custodians have missed time in order to be put in quarantine or isolation after a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure to a positive case.

The details: The board of education earlier this month approved an amount not to exceed $510,000 to contract with Olathe-based Pinnacle Staffing Group to hire replacement custodians through the rest of the school year.

District officials say the funds will be paid for out of the roughly $2.6 million in federal pandemic relief funds allocated to the district this semester. A district spokespersons said, so far, the district has budgeted about $1.8 million of those funds.

At least two staffers hired through Pinnacle began this week, the district said.

What was said: “We’re having trouble recruiting and retaining custodians and maintenance staff,” deputy superintendent Rick Atha told the board of education at its Nov. 16 meeting. “At the same time, we’re requiring more of our custodial staff, asking them to disinfect buildings and deep clean more.”

Bob Robinson, the district’s executive director of facilities, said they have been paying some current staffers overtime to pick up the slack and have also used some cafeteria workers to help clean school buildings, but there are concerns those workers will get burnt out with the extra duties.

“This is another avenue to be able to pick up some additional manpower,” Robinson said, referring to the Pinnacle contract.

Go deeper: Also, this week, middle and high school students in SMSD returned to remote learning, as the district deals with shortages of certified staff and substitutes to teach in-person classes.