Highland’s Custodian Workload At an All Time High


Lela Howard, Staff Writer

The echo of skittering claws is a common one in Highland’s halls. Rats race from door to door to make their homes in every classroom. They drag their tiny paws over teacher’s chairs, papers, and personal possessions. They thrive on all 4 floors of the school despite the traps attempting to detain them.


The cause of this infestation?


Highland (and the Salt Lake City school district in general) is suffering from a shortage of custodial staff. With dozens of classrooms, a lunchroom, and lengthy halls to clean, the few custodians the school does have struggle to get everything done in a day.


A reason for this could be the low wages the Salt Lake District pays. An hourly worker only makes $7.50, just 25 cents over minimum wage, for back breaking, and dedicated work. Even the higher level custodians only make a starting salary of $25,849 a year, when the state average is over twice that at $55,026.


That means that they can’t offer sustainable living wages, so  a lot of schools open the custodial positions to their students, hoping to get a helping hand from demographic that knows the area and is looking for low paying, entry level jobs in the first place.


“At 14 there’s really no jobs you can get. That was pretty much my only offer and I went into it thinking you don’t really do much as a janitor. That’s false. It took me hours to get classrooms cleaned and teachers wouldn’t let me into their rooms until later after they left so I had to stay later than what was normally allowed, and that’s not uncommon for janitors.” Mikayla Reinicke, a student at Highland and an ex-custodian, says.


Janitorial jobs involve messy and taxing duties, which aren’t well compensated at minimum wage. With such poor treatment, the district struggles to find people willing to accept this job over an easier, more lucrative position.


Now teens are beginning their working lives in retail, food service and other jobs that can afford to pay over minimum wage, places that pay based off of profits not taxes. This means the school is losing one of its biggest sources of staff.


“[At Chick-Fil-A] I get paid 9 dollars and hour, I get awesome hours, I get to customize my schedule to my time, I have time for school and I have time to hang out and do awesome things with friends,” Reinicke said.


She left her position as a janitor for a job at Chick-Fil-A, just down the street from Highland, where she’s making more money and still living a normal high school life. It’s a winning deal for her, and for many like her.


That’s become the apparent issue for Highland’s janitorial team.


A custodian is one of those undervalued professions. Being a custodian is seen as a lesser occupation, uneducated, dirty and the lowest on the totem pole of achievement. Nobody says I want to be a custodian when I grow up. And because of those reasons we don’t have a line of people waiting at the door to get a job.” Mathew Lilly, head custodian at Highland, said.


So what can students at Highland do?


While the school keeps searching for more willing applicants, our hard working custodians need our help.


Highland High School is a home away from home for all the students here and I hope that they would treat it as such. Take pride in keeping the school clean as you would keep your room clean at home. Make a good impression on everyone that walks through that door.” Lilly said.


It’s easy for kids to get caught up in school and social lives and not think about the big picture of what leaving a half eaten lunch on your table does. However, Lilly wants Highland kids to respect our hard working Rams and realize that having less custodians means we need less messes.