By Jennifer Wohlleb
School districts have assets worth millions of dollars in the form of their buildings, but the employees whose job it is to take care of those assets are not required by the state to have any specific training.
“In Laurel County, I think our buildings are valued at $260 million and there’s no state training available,” said Jim Kennedy, facilities director for Laurel County Schools. “Unless the district takes over, unless the board emphasizes it, we’ve got a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar investment that we need to train our people to maintain. That can be a terrible investment wasted if you don’t maintain that property.”
Kennedy and three other facilities directors participated in a panel discussion at KSBA’s annual Winter Symposium geared toward helping board members learn more about facilities management and the Kentucky School Plant Management Association, which has formed a partnership with KSBA. KSPMA offers several levels of training and certification for facilities directors and maintenance staff.
The panel also focused on why the school buildings exist: the students.
“There have been studies that show the correlation between the building and academic performance,” said Kennedy, who is KSPMA president. “The question you might want to ask is: Can a good teacher teach in a bad environment? The answer is absolutely, yes, but could they do a better job in a better environment?”
He said students who get sick because of a poorly maintained building don’t come to school, hurting the district’s average daily attendance.
Zan Rexroat, Scott County Schools’ director of facilities, said the condition of facilities sends a message.
“My first administration class in college, (the professor) emphasized the importance of clean bathrooms and how important that is to a facility,” he said. “The students, staff, they take more pride in a facility; to me their attitude, the culture of the school is a lot better. It’s important that facilities be kept in good order because they are a source of pride to the community.”
Planning and training
Training and having a plan also go a long way to mitigating problems that could affect any given school day.
“The more we educate our classified people, the more experience we can get them, the better job they’re going to do, the more confidence they’re going to have,” said Jim Fegenbush, grounds manager for Jefferson County Schools. “If we have a plan, a power outage or broken waterline can be a non-issue day at school, not one where you need to send the kids home … the kitchen automatically goes to some type of sandwich preparation, and the same way with water. We provide water to flush the toilet and we provide drinking water and school goes on.”
Brett Beaverson, facilities director for Spencer County Schools and KSPMA president elect, said the group’s Facility Officer Training Course consists of two, 1 ½-day courses that cover everything from school safety to annual requirements and culminates in the certification test at the group’s annual conference.
“Having that, I believe, starts to give some consistency to what we’re doing across the state,” Beaverson said.
Rexroat said facilities training helped him identify what was causing the red paint on his district’s doors to turn pink.
“One of the sessions I attended in the certification program was on paint,” he said. “The reason it was turning pink was because the wrong kind of paint was used. If you use oil-based paint outside, over time the linseed oil oxidizes. That was good information to know. There may be topics that are not specific to that person’s daily job but it helps them a little bit here and a little bit there.”
He said with shrinking school budgets, KSPMA, which has been around for 22 years, has a variety of experts and knowledge that districts can tap.
“You as board members, administrators, new facilities directors, who are you going to call when you need something in this area?” he asked. “KDE is getting smaller and that’s shrinking as a resource; this will be a good resource for school board members, superintendents, facilities directors, whoever needs something in this particular area, a place to call to get answers … we may be the best-kept secret in Kentucky.”
Kennedy encouraged board members to ask their facilities staffers to go through this training. After that, he said he hopes board members will rarely hear from facilities employees.
“What is a good job in facilities? From a board member standpoint it’s if you never hear from us,” he said. “If the lights come on and the HVAC works, and the bathroom and plumbing works, we’re never mentioned, and that’s what a good job in facilities is. But let that classroom get cold and a child come home and say they had to wear their coat all day, you will hear about that.”