DeKalb County Schools has thousands of pending maintenance requests, records showPhoto provided by the DeKalb County School District.
Laurel Ridge Elementary recently made news when parents pressured the DeKalb County School District to fix a heating problem that left students and teachers chilly inside their classrooms.
But records provided by the district show there are more than 3,600 pending maintenance requests from the county’s schools. A district official says maintenance workers are working through them as quickly as they can but that the district needs more resources to get caught up. Two School Board members Decaturish spoke to were skeptical about that claim, however.
No one disputes the obvious: DeKalb County School District maintenance crews have a lot of work to do.
Dan Drake, the School District’s interim Chief Operations Officer, said the number of requests are not abnormal for a district of this size with aging facilities.
“One of the things you’ve got to look at from the bigger picture here, on average the age of our facilities is over 40 years old,” Drake said. “We’re at a disadvantage compared to a lot of school systems.”
The school district’s maintenance crews are responsible for 14 million square feet of facilities and, Drake says, the maintenance crews are understaffed.
“We have 120 facilities maintenance staff, plus we hire out an on call contractor for 45 to 50 other staff,” Drake said.
He said the county schools should have double that amount.
An open work order report for November posted on the school district’s website gives an illustration of the district’s maintenance work flow. The district started the month with 4,217 work orders and ended it with 3,629 open work orders. The county closed 2,626 work orders but that same month received 2,038 new work orders. So the county ended the month with only 588 fewer work orders than it had when the month began.
Drake said the district’s receives the most requests for carpentry work — like sticking doors and fixing handicap ramps — followed by requests for fixing heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing and electrical work.
He said the district is trying a “data driven” approach to cleaning up the backlog of work orders, but it’s not enough.
“We hope we’ll get additional staff for next school year,” he said. “We’re doing our best to optimize with our staff.”
Right now, the district’s biggest needs are in the Lakeside, Druid Hills, Tucker, MLK, Southwest DeKalb and Miller Grove high school clusters.
School Board members Stan Jester and Jim McMahan were not convinced that simply spending more on maintenance would help the district catch up on its to-do list.
“I would say we would need to fund as much as it takes to effectively address these maintenance items,” Jester said. “I’m not sure that we’re underfunded now. I’m not convinced that our funds are properly being used. All I can say is our budget has doubled in the last five years and the number of students has pretty much stayed the same, maybe even gone down a little. I highly doubt that funding is the problem.”
McMahan said there needs to be more transparency in how maintenance funds are used.
“I support a more transparent process when it comes to facility needs and I think we should have a system in place that provides accountability,” he said.
To download the full list of open work orders for DeKalb County Schools, click this link: