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Parents Volunteer for Custodial Work

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Parent volunteer Chad Simmons vacuums a classroom at Union Elementary School last week as part of of an effort to fill in the gaps left by district-wide staff shortages. Photo by Cassandra Hemenway.

In the midst of unprecedented staff shortages, Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Superintendent Libby Bonesteel is finding herself doing jobs not often in the superintendent’s purview, such as testing children for COVID-19 or preparing to sanitize classroom desks. 

The school board has responded by removing one of Bonesteel’s regular tasks (monthly reporting on policy compliance) and is coordinating volunteers to help with testing and custodial duties at Union Elementary School.

“[When] we realized the superintendent was going to start cleaning classrooms herself at the end of her extremely long days, we thought that was silly, and it made a whole lot more sense for us … to pitch in,” said board member Mia Moore, masked and gloved as she wiped down a child-sized table at the elementary school. 

At its meeting on Oct. 20, Bonesteel announced the hiring of a new custodian to a round of applause by board members. Even with the new custodian, plus a new substitute nurse, the school district still needs more food service workers, custodians, and substitute teachers, said board member Jill Remmick in an interview last week.

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In addition to a long list of open job positions, she said, “[some staff] are on maternity leave and family medical leave.”

Remmick is coordinating parent volunteers to clean the Union Elementary School from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. every week night. Volunteers get trained by custodial staff to help wipe down desks, vacuum, and mop the school. (Interested volunteers should email jillremick@mpsvt.org)

“We’re trying to build a small but mighty team that’s trained by custodial staff,” Remmick said. “In order to volunteer, you have to pass a background check, then show up, learn where the closets are, where the [cleaning] solution is, and how to do it. It’s helpful to have that knowledge so you’re not constantly training new people.”

“Most of us have full-time jobs,” she added. “But we can help clean until we get fully staffed. Hopefully it would take one thing off the plate of the superintendent.” In addition to the evening school cleaning, Remmick said parent volunteers are also directing traffic during weekly COVID surveillance testing at Montpelier High School and soon will be assisting with a new “Test to Stay” program.

It’s not only the superintendent overtaxed by staffing shortages. The understaffed custodial team is spread thin, Remmick said, with some custodians covering more than one building; some working two shifts a day, “working crazy hours,” and unable to take a lunch break. 

“Our custodians are working their behinds off right now,” Bonesteel told the school board. “That’s not how we want to treat our employees. It’s helpful if we can get them even one less hour. These are really good people. We want to make sure they stick around.”

The board voted to suspend policy monitoring on Oct. 20, an on-going task that requires Bonesteel to regularly review school policies and report compliance to the board.

“It’s a little something we can take off (Bonesteel’s) plate until we can get past this really challenging few months,” Remmick said.

“Your plate has been overflowing for a long time,” board member Emma Bay-Hanson told Bonesteel at the board meeting. “I wish we had done this sooner.”