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Mold contributes to soaring custodial overtime in Stamford schools

October 12, 2018

STAMFORD — The start of a new series of projects and a growing mold problem has already sent the city’s public schools’ custodial overtime spending over budget.

Director of Facilities Rich Lyons said the district spent $43,000 more in custodial overtime during the first two months of this fiscal year compared to last year.

Lyons told the Board of Education’s fiscal and operations committee this week the overtime was mostly attributed to custodians cleaning mold that has affected 12 of the city’s public schools and new projects started by the trades division.

In July, Lyons said the district spent about $40,000 more in custodial overtime than the $78,328 during that month last year. In August, Lyons said $3,000 more was spent than the $511,318 needed last year.

During the 2017-18 school year, the district spent more than $2 million on custodial overtime when it was budgeted for $1.4 million. At least $542,000 of the cost was due to shift coverage, particularly for part-time custodians.

Lyons did not have information on September’s spending, but Clarence Zachery, chief fiscal and operations support officer, said he expects it to exceed July’s amount.

“I’ve seen some indications it’s going to be over and it’s going to be higher based on mold and back-fill issues,” Zachery said. “I don’t want to give a number yet. It’s going to be a number that exceeds July.”

Committee member Mike Altamura was concerned that Lyons did not have an update on the district’s mold issues. Altamura said the last official update he received was at the Sept. 25 Board of Education meeting. Altamura said he’s since received information from parents complaining about their children switching classrooms due to the mold.

Altamura also questioned whether Lyons, who is employed by the district’s facilities management company, ABM, could effectively do his job after missing about a month due to an injury.

“How can you run a district of 21 schools when there’s no one here?” Altamura asked. “When you evacuate or relocate five classrooms in school...I would think that you’d get back to the Board of Ed and say, ‘we relocated five classrooms due to mold issues’ instead of me having to hear it from five different parents.”

The school district hired specialists to help control the mold issues and had been billed $266,000 with that amount expected to continue to rise.

In a memo Lyons sent to Zachery, he also attributed the high custodial overtime to the trades division starting projects, vacation time and labor shortages.

Altamura complained after the meeting that ABM should be more focused on the district’s schools considering the amount of issues.

“ABM is not impressing me,” he said. “I’m very, very dissatisfied with what’s going on and their lack of interest in our district and lack of response. I think this mold issue is an emergency. When it’s an emergency, you have people giving 150 percent. This is the time I’d expect them to show us ‘we’re here to help’ and ‘we’re here to provide you assistance,’ and they did not give us any assistance in the past month.”

Altamura also criticized Lyons for not properly eliminating the mold issues in the district’s portable classrooms.

Calls to Lyons and Zachery for more information were not returned. An ABM spokesman also could not be reached by phone or email.

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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