Public Comment

Commentary: BUSD Maintenance Department Misconceptions

By Ann Aoyagi
Tuesday May 30, 2006

Readers of the May 5-9 issue of the Daily Planet risk having some serious misperceptions of the Berkeley Unified School District’s Maintenance Department. I know that bad news is generally more exciting than good or okay news, but when a news article presents a misleading picture, those who know the true picture need to speak up. Since I was one of the persons quoted and since, after working here for almost four years, I know the department pretty well, I’d like to set the record straight.  

Let me say first that the Maintenance Department is working: maintenance is getting done, repairs are getting made. Four years ago, I, too, heard that this department was “in disarray,” only to find when I began working here that this was not the case. Moreover, the department improved, slowly and surely, under Director of Maintenance Rhonda Bacot, who was also new at that time and who brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in maintenance as well as a friendly, can-do, service-oriented outlook. I credit her organization and training of staff for the fact that the department did not collapse when our a.m. shift supervisor died unexpectedly at the beginning of December, when our p.m. supervisor retired at the end of December, and when we lost Rhonda herself to another school district at the beginning of March. 

I also give great credit to Pedro Reynosa, our acting supervisor for both a.m. and p.m. shifts—also a very capable and can-do person. The weight of seeing that work actually gets done has fallen on his shoulders. He is the busiest man I know. Credit is also due to other capable and hard-working maintenance employees—too many to list here. 

Now for a few specifics:  

• The work order system. Work orders come in from the schools and district offices through a user-friendly system and are immediately assigned. While some workers are much better than others at completing work, work orders are not left incomplete. They are dealt with in various ways and closed out electronically. Could the system be improved? Most certainly. It has the potential to be used in additional ways and to provide all kinds of reports. Additional office help would provide this. 

• Rent. Rent due to the district is being collected, thanks to my colleague Sally Reed, who has taken on what used to be a full-time job—property management, along with most of another formerly full-time job—that of Custodial Supervisor, along with her regular work in the Maintenance Department. Needless to say, Sally does not have much time to chase after deadbeats, so yes, there are a few rental payments slow to come in. Additional office help would benefit this situation. 

• Contract work. Under Rhonda Bacot’s administration, employees were trained and encouraged to develop their talents and interests, with the effect that contracted work was cut back considerably. I personally witnessed a reduction in payments (which had been large!) to companies repairing heating systems, security and fire systems and play yard equipment—to name a few. 

To sum up: The Maintenance Department is working! In 1990 Berkeley taxpayers very generously voted $4 million to ensure decent maintenance in the BUSD. This funding enabled the district to hire additional workers and to, at long last, have enough money to purchase much-needed equipment and supplies. As one there in the thick of it all, I’d like to let people know: your tax dollars are being spent as you intended!  


Ann Aoyagi is Administrative Coordinator, Maintenance Department in the Berkeley Unified School District.