Maintenance, operations key to school systemWhen you...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maintenance, operations key to school system

When you first mention the words "school system," people generally think in terms of students in classrooms participating in a wide array of instructional activities. That is, after all, what we are about. But what people often overlook are the many support services provided day after day that make that classroom instruction possible.

Two essential departments that provide such services are Plant Maintenance and Plant Operations. Without these two departments, it would be impossible for the school system to function.

The Maintenance Department is responsible for maintaining grounds, buildings, and equipment and for keeping them in their original condition. This includes managing and supervising all maintenance contract services, such as energy management and state-mandated inspections. This also includes scheduled and preventive maintenance of building property, service vehicles and equipment. The department's priority is to keep schools, buildings and grounds safe and in excellent working condition.

The Maintenance Department is run on an annual operating budget of approximately $4 million. It consists of 60 maintenance employees that include electricians; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians; plumbers; carpenters; electronic technicians; and grounds keepers. They complete approximately 7,000 maintenance work orders annually and maintain over 4 million square feet of buildings and grounds. These employees are routinely called in during their off-duty hours for emergency repairs such as a water main break or utility repairs.

The goals of the Maintenance Department are to focus on school environmental issues in keeping with the safe learning/teaching environment, to provide timely and efficient maintenance of all buildings and grounds, to provide the means to save energy and approve the operating efficiency of all school facilities, and to ensure proper air quality controls throughout the school system.

Plant Operations is responsible for all activities and costs associated with keeping facilities open, comfortable and safe for use. They are the people who physically clean and sanitize buildings and make sure students and staff have heat, air-conditioning and drinking water.

Approximately 230 custodial staff make sure that students have an environment that is clean and conducive to learning. Every school, with the exception of Gateway, has a building supervisor. The number of custodial staff may vary from school to school depending on the size of the building. For example, Westminster High School has 17 custodial staff because it is the largest school in the system. ...

During the summer months, when students are not in school, Plant Operations staff are busy "deep cleaning" buildings from top to bottom, so they are in immaculate condition when students return in the fall. Their goal is to make sure schools are always clean, safe and sanitary.

Plant Operations is responsible for a wide variety of services such as receiving, storing and distribution of supplies, furniture, equipment, materials and mail. Plant Operations is also responsible for utilities such as gas, electric and sewer. Other responsibilities include water, recycling, maintaining and inspecting playground equipment, and Integrated Pest Management. Within the department is a Coordinator of School Safety who is responsible for asbestos, hazardous waste and indoor air quality.

During the winter months, inclement weather becomes a focus for both departments. Snow removal crews may be called to begin snow removal at 4 a.m. to allow sufficient time to clear parking lots in preparation for school to open. Pavements must be shoveled and boilers must be checked. Every effort is taken to make sure that the grounds and that schools are safe for students and staff. Sometimes, employees will work a regular shift and continue well into the night, depending on the severity of the storm.

The Carroll County Public School System has a statewide reputation for well-maintained facilities. Our schools consistently receive a good, very good or superior rating when they are inspected by the state. This is due to the fact that both the Maintenance Department and Plant Operations are made up of hard-working, dedicated staff that take pride in a job well done. These employees play a crucial role in the education of our children by providing clean safe, and well-maintained buildings and by making sure that school is a safe and comfortable environment day-in and day-out.

C. Scott Stone

Hampstead

The writer is a member of the Board of Education of Carroll County.

Internet provider must be more reliable

Regarding the article ("Internet link is focus of debate," Feb. 10) on Adelphia's poor service in Carroll County, I am writing to you from the public library, since here in Carroll County, we have not had Internet service at home in over a month. Thanks to Adelphia Cable's exclusive franchising agreement with Carroll County, we are left to sit and fume, while our local FCC representative is unable to get Adelphia to even respond to inquiries as to when the problem will be fixed.

What people do not realize when we complain, is that we are not talking about simply losing chatting and the fun of the Internet, we are also unable to do our banking, bill-paying, investing, homework, shopping or business communications. And, pity the poor soul who signed up for Adelphia's service, believing that they would be able to work from home!

Internet service in this country has reached a point where it is no longer a luxury item, but a utility as important as electricity and water service.

It is time that Carroll County, its attorneys and its Federal Communications representative, recognize the Internet as an essential service for its citizens and insist that Adelphia provide the service that they contracted with the county to provide, or move over and make room for a franchise that can deliver! We need action!

Maureen Shanahan

Eldersburg

Don't blame MSPAP for the bad news

Having grown up a product of Montgomery County public schools, now living in Carroll, I was dismayed to hear the recent requests of both counties to suspend MSPAP tests. I liken this to shooting the messenger, as both school systems are in visible decline.

If Howard, Kent or Calvert counties, whose scores continue to lead the state, make this request, it certainly might carry more weight. When someone is failing in their responsibilities, they are generally unwilling to hear stinging criticism, especially when it comes in the form of irrefutable proof of their own inadequacies.

For obvious reasons, it is easier to blame the MSPAP test than to come to terms with the reasons for the poor results. In Carroll County, the reason is simple: educational funding. Carroll County is virtually dead last in the state in educational expenditures per pupil. It is completely unreasonable to expect that we can continue to spend the least and still remain competitive with other counties. Add in overcrowded schools, especially in South Carroll, and low teacher salaries and it should not be a surprise to anyone that we are clearly headed in the wrong direction.

There is little debate among educators that MSPAP is not perfect and requires improvement. However, logic dictates that having more information on how our children are doing is always better than less. Without MSPAP, officials lack a barometer for measurement and may be prone to do exactly what Carroll County has done until just recently: deny that the trend is downward.

Carroll officials and our delegation may want to blame the state for our problems, but reasons abound closer to home for our educational funding woes. The county's concurrency management program (planning) continually fails to accurately predict student enrollment. We have built schools in the wrong areas without state approval and we are now buried in debt, without the benefit of matching construction funds.

The cost of operating these new undercapacity schools adds to the drain on the educational budget. Transportation costs will soon skyrocket, as we redistrict yet again, busing kids across the county to fill empty seats in the northern part of the county. All the while, students at overcrowded schools languish in portables at schools whose building renovations or additions are again postponed and where classroom sizes are still above newer state standards.

Evidence that the situation has become critical became obvious when our Board of Education and state delegation were forced to make a special trip to Annapolis to beg the state for money to renovate North Carroll Middle School because there is barely any heat and the roof is leaking. It's hard to think of a more stinging disgrace, and as a county, we should be ashamed of allowing things to get this bad.

Having experienced School Superintendent Ecker's outstanding leadership while living in Howard County, I am confident that he can turn things around given the appropriate financial support. If we let our public schools continue to decline, we will impair both our children's future and our own property values. Questioning Dr. Ecker's budget or resisting his requests for additional funding is definitely not the way to make progress. Our elected officials need to stop shooting the messengers and start listening to what they say, even if it's not what they want to hear.

Ross Dangel

Eldersburg

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