Cuts to janitorial staff budget create campus problems


Georgina Munoz-Villanueva

Two full trashcans on the De Anza College campus show the impacts of having a small custodial staff.

As of 2022, De Anza College’s custodial staff is made up of 29 members, ranging from custodial managers to grounds maintenance workers. In addition to losing 14 staff members in the last 15 years, some positions – including custodial supervisors, temporary custodians to cover absences, grounds supervisors and lead grounds – are currently non-existent. 

A De Anza custodian, who asked to remain anonymous, said that when they started, the school was already understaffed. Although the workload has gotten lighter post-COVID lockdowns, they and their teammates have always had to take on extra tasks to account for those who take PTO, are out sick or have retired. 

“There’s people that have (heavier) workloads and we try to help each other,” they said. “I’ve never experienced a normal workday. I’ve always had to go and cover another building because we’re short of staff.”

The custodian said the staff has raised their concerns to management. In response, they have been told that the district is actively hiring, yet either “nobody applies” or applicants are “no-shows” to job interviews. 

Jennifer Mahato, the director of College Operations, confirmed the district is looking for applicants, but said that they have been unsuccessful so far. She explained the factors contributing to the understaffing.

“Custodians have become essential service workers and there is rising demand for them nationwide after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mahato said. “Also, the school is allocating a smaller budget to custodial staff.” 

Mahato explained that she requested more money during the school’s program review, yet no additional budget was allocated to the custodial staff. 

She said the understaffing has contributed to the school’s inability to reach the minimum level of cleanliness established by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators. 

De Anza’s campus is now considered below Level 5: unkempt neglect, a state described by the association’s website as ranging from “floors and carpets (that) are dull, dingy and/or matted” to “trash containers and pencil sharpeners overflowing.” 

“Not being able to meet even that lowest level of cleanliness is frustrating for us, because we know that it directly impacts the students,” Mahato said.

Alan Nguyen, a custodian who has been working at De Anza for about six months, echoed that sentiment.

“We want students to have nice facilities and nice places, but we just don’t have the resources,” Nguyen said. “Our area is not as pristine as we would like to present it because we all have to divert our time to cover other locations.” 

Nguyen said that while he has a good position at De Anza with retirement benefits, being a custodian can be a “mentally and physically draining” job. 

“It is a strain because you’re running to cover somebody else and you get tired,” Nguyen said. “After a long duration of time, it takes a toll on your mental health and you become more snappy. You’re stressing to get (work) done and you have a shorter fuse.” 

Though De Anza is still understaffed, administration has been able to hire one more custodian to the morning crew as of this time.