The MCPS Adult Education Office and the MCPS Division of School Plant Operations (DSPO) have given no extra support to Blair Building Services staff to help them absorb the additional responsibilities that come with the 750 students who are currently attending the newly-relocated night school program at Blair.
"We definitely need the manpower"
Principal Phillip Gainous requested additional building services support after learning that Blair would host night school, so the county allocated more money for Blair's custodial staff in order to pay for the overtime hours needed to get the school ready for its initial opening this school year. That was the last time Blair received additional funding for building services, said Gainous.
Many staff members say that the custodial staff is thinly stretched even without night school. "With Building Services, there's no downtime. They come in [before school] running, and they go home running," night school secretary Carrie Addison said. "From Sunday to Sunday, someone is here all the time."
Blair needs more resources to effectively manage the Night School custodial situation, according to building service manager Quentin Middleton. "We definitely need the manpower," he said.
Currently, the custodial staff's last shift ends only one-and-a-half hours after night school students leave the building. This late start delays the cleaning of Blair's most labor-intensive areas, including bathrooms, hallways and the nearly 30 classrooms used by night school, too big a job for only 90 minutes of cleaning.
The administration asked that some volunteers move their shifts two hours later, according to Middleton. But because many of Blair's building services employees work more than one job, no one has volunteered to work later, said Gainous, and without any additional funds or employees from the county, it is difficult to address the repercussions of Blair's overuse.
MCPS currently gives Blair $4 per night school student each semester, an amount that PTSA Co-President Fran Rothstein called "woefully insufficient."
Gainous spoke about the situation with Dianne Jones, MCPS Director of School Plant Operations, who wrote in an e-mail to Gainous that Blair is the "best-staffed" school in the county in terms of building services workers per square foot. Custodians say that such a claim is misleading: The number of people who use a building should be a major consideration when allocating resources, they say, since people-not space-leave the messes they must clean.
Jones said that she would "study the situation," according to Gainous, who hopes the study will be fast. "I don't have a problem with them studying the situation, as long as they don't study it forever, because night school is going on now. We need help," he said.
After five calls to DSPO, Jones was unavailable for comment.
Additionally, the PTSA has pressured MCPS to further support the night school initiative. Rothstein presented testimony at a July 29 Board of Education (BOE) meeting stressing the need for more traffic control, funding for building maintenance and Night School security.
Rothstein and the PTSA spoke to Jones on Sept. 9 to request two additional building services employees to work for four hours each after night school but received no response.
The Night School program has historically been underfunded, critics say. Due to an MCPS spending freeze last year, all night school counselors were eliminated; this year, there will be counselors for only three weeks of each 20-week semester. Though the problems have become less severe, night school Principal James Short said the program is "probably still under-resourced."
"We have to stand up for our system"
The County moved Night School from Northwood High School this year in an attempt to relieve stress on Northwood's building, which is still under construction, Gainous said.
No representatives from the administration or the Blair community were involved in last July's decision to move night school to Blair, according to Rothstein. Gainous said that because of a miscommunication between MCPS and Blair, representatives from the Office of School Performance believed that Gainous had been consulted about the move. "I was pretty upset over the way I was notified-I was in a meeting, and they called me on the phone to tell me that night school was coming to Blair," Gainous said.
The administration views night school as a permanent fixture at Blair in the future and will not try to change its location. Rather, Short said that Blair will take the new responsibilities in stride. "When our number is called, we have to stand up for our system," he said. "It's here, and we need to teach the kids. We need to provide them [with] the opportunity to earn the credits they missed during the day."
The PTSA has requested more resources to mitigate the problems that accompany night school's move, including additional building services staff, funds to care for Blair, more Night School security and traffic control. "Neglecting Blair's physical plant is tantamount to neglecting Blair's students," Rothstein told the BOE. "A deteriorating facility tells Blair students that MCPS doesn't care about them."
Rothstein went on to ask why so many students must attend Night School, citing Blair's overcrowding as a cause. "We don't have people catching them when they first start to fall, and that's not Blair's fault," she said. "That's just what happens when your school has too many people."
Currently, classes take place from 6:00 p.m. to 7:40 p.m. and from 7:55 p.m. to 9:35 p.m. at Col. Zadok Magruder High School and Blair on Mondays and Wednesdays and at Wheaton High School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students may also attend four-hour class sessions from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Saturdays at Blair.
Samir Paul. <b>Samir Paul</b>, a Magnet senior, spent the better part of his junior year at Blair brooding over everyone's favorite high-school publication and wooing Room 165's menopausal printer. He prides himself in being <i>THE</i> largest member of Blair Cross Country and looks forward to one more … More »