Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
July 2013 Feature 6
classroom hallway

Surviving A Reduction Environment

Sound management strategies that managers can use to accomplish more with fewer resources.

July 1, 2013

In today’s cleaning environment, K-12s are making some drastic changes to their cleaning programs.

Many of these changes, aimed at reducing the bottom line, simply lower the level of cleaning.

Even in a reduction environment, there are some sound management strategies that can either lower cost or increase productivity using existing budget and resources without lowering quality. 

Diversify Existing Labor, Reduce Cost And Improve Quality

As an in-house cleaning manager I consistently review and weigh the services that we contract with the services we perform in-house.

We look for a service that can be brought in-house, performed with equal or improved quality and at lower cost.

We did that with gym floor refinishing.

We were spending right at $120,000 every summer for contracted gym refinishing.

All else being equal, low cost determined which contractor got the bid.

In the scenario that different contractors could and did perform gym refinishing each summer, the district began to notice bursts in the floor and general finish adherence problems.

This was the result of different contractors applying different finishes that weren’t always compatible with the finish that was applied the year prior.

Another issue was dry time.

When a second coat of finish is applied during the re-coating process, if the first coat isn’t very dry, the first coat of finish continues to gas off and bursts the second coat, sometimes months later.

Also, when a screening process is required to apply the new layers of finish the following summer, layers of different finishes come up off of the floor and result in an unacceptable appearance and can create performance issues.

We had our gym finish provider train three employees in gym refinishing processes and began refinishing floors in-house.

We had a large custodial staff and spent the next summer with the three person crew recoating gym floors.

We completed summer cleaning with 320 full-time equivalent (FTEs), rather than 323, and used the three employees to perform all of the gym refinishing.

This was a reallocation of three FTEs from the workforce that weren’t missed in general summer cleaning and floor care processes.

We completed all of the gyms using a high quality water-based gym finish and improved the quality of gym floor care in our district.

Now that labor no longer factors into cost, we order and apply a much higher quality finish for a better result at a cost savings of $60,000 every year.

Our “side effect” was reduced volatile organic compound (VOC) levels and gyms that can be played on in three days; the finish is cured to 90 percent hardness and ready for use.

As a result of the rapid finish cure rate, we quit refinishing gyms over the summer altogether.

We clean and prep gym floors on a Friday afternoon, apply finish coats on a Saturday and return the floor to use on Monday. 

Improving Appearance And Reducing Bottom Line Costs

Many K-12s reduce custodial program costs by reducing the number of days that custodial staff works.

ISSA teaches (and work loading will prove) that summer cleaning FTE requirements are less than routine cleaning requirements during the school year.

This kind of “days worked reduction” is the most efficient.

You don’t use or pay for labor when you don’t need it and can reorganize your staff to have some 260 day employees and some 190 day employees who work only during the school year.

I have always had employees who prefer to take the summer off with their children.

If you don’t fill all of the 190 day positions through employee volunteers, re-hire 190 day employees instead of 260s when attrition occurs.

Many districts continue to run 260 day cleaning programs, but there can be some compromise.

If a 260 day program is reduced to 250 days, with a 200 FTE cleaning staff, the district will save 16,000 hours of labor cost.

If average wage is $10 per FTE, that’s a $160,000 reduction to budget.

Will the 10 days be missed? They may not have to be.

Usually reducing the number of yearly days worked will coordinate extra days off for employees over Christmas or spring break, time off in conjunction with instructional staff.

Mid-year/semester project work is often performed during these breaks, such as resilient floor top scrubbing and carpet extraction.

The potential for missed work can be supplemented depending on the size of your work staff, by reducing one extra FTE.

The 260 day position can be divided by 26 and provide 10 supplemental work days for 26 of the employees who wish to work over the 10 days you reduced on your cleaning calendar.

Five days for each FTE could be absorbed during both breaks and can still allow for project work completion.

This could also add 10 days to a 190 day employee that has chosen to work only during the school year, but could provide a 200 day work option.

We currently work a 220 day year with all custodial staff.

Working Efficiently

If you have performed ISSA workloading, you notice increased efficiency in cleaning open corridors with large dust mops, auto scrubbers and wide area, cordless sweepers or vacuums.

Separate your unobstructed cleaning, including tile, carpet, gyms and cafeterias (tables folded and stored by lunch duty personnel) from your obstructed cleaning — restrooms, classrooms and offices — and assign wide area cleaning equipment to an “unobstructed cleaner.”

This unobstructed cleaning employee will clean only corridors, gyms and cafeteria areas using a 20-inch, non-propelled, pad drive only auto scrubber; a 60-inch dust mop; and a 32-inch corded or larger wide area vacuum cleaner.

My elementary schools average 35.7 percent unobstructed cleaning and 64.3 percent obstructed. 

Based on a 100,000-square-foot elementary school, the numbers work like this:

  • 35,740 square feet of unobstructed resilient hard surface
    - 35.7 x 1.8 minutes with a 60-inch dust mop = 64.25 minutes
    - 35.7 x 3.81 minutes with a 21-inch auto scrubber = 136 minutes
    - 64.25 minutes + 136 minutes = 200.25 minutes or 3.33 hours
  • 35,740 square feet of unobstructed carpet cleaning
    - 35.7 x 4 minutes with a 32-inch corded vacuum = 142.8 minutes or 2.38 hours

Carpet care in corridors and common use areas take 2.38 hours per school and resilient areas require 3.33 hours per school, and some of our schools have a combination of carpet and tile in unobstructed or common use areas.

If we estimate productive hours per FTE to be seven hours per shift we also notice that the use of wide area equipment in unobstructed areas requires about a ½ (.5) FTE.

Moving one step further, you should assign this FTE with ½ a shift of unobstructed cleaning in their school to two schools.

Travel time is available and one movement per day, per employee, does not upset the K12 balance of being assigned to a “home school.”

This provides a ½ FTE reduction at each elementary campus.

Figuring a $10.00 average wage per employee who routine cleans unobstructed areas for a 190 day school year; your savings is $15,200 per two elementary schools per budget year.

I have 26 Elementary schools, divided by two schools per employee = 13 x $ 15,200 and saves $ 197,600 for the district.

These examples highlight true cleaning value and any district can implement them without reducing their custodial program to skip cleaning levels.

Take that to the bank.


Kevin S. Harris, director of maintenance and operations for the Clear Creek ISD, Texas