In 2017, seeking a one-year contract extension renewal, officials said the maintenance collaboration with SSC Service Solutions resulted in nearly 18,000 completed work orders. It also allowed the district to launch a web-based computerized maintenance system, develop and implement new standard operating procedures and document the conditions of more than 19,300 facility assets and equipment.
Still, the arrangement has done little to clear the backlog, records show. In 2018, officials say they made progress as 41,208 work orders were generated, with 38,941 being resolved, at a completion rate of 94.5 percent. In recent months, however, the district appears to have taken a step back. DeKalb Schools received 13,120 active maintenance requests from September 2018 to January 2019, according to its online maintenance report. But system records show 3,320 requests still outstanding, for a completion rate of about 74.7 percent during those five months.
Interim Chief Operations Officer Dan Drake said last fall he was working on a decentralized maintenance process to better handle requests as they come in, as well as increased accountability when maintenance requests are assigned.
He said the district has a multi-year plan to hire more skilled maintenance employees, which should help speed up the response when schools report something needs fixed.
“Our desire is to get as close to zero as possible,” he said.
Part of the problem is the district isn’t sure of the accuracy of its own maintenance request list. Drake said a significant number the requests may be resolved but still listed as “active” in the system. A pilot program has helped clear up more than 1,000 completed work orders that were listed as open. Officials plan to expand the program across the district with hopes cleaning up its maintenance list and “focusing our limited maintenance staff on open work orders,” he said.
Some have complained hiring outside vendors to address the district’s facilities issues was never the right decision.
DeKalb County Board of Education member Joyce Morley said vendors don't have the investment in the district to perform exceptional work or address concerns in a timely manner. SSC Service Solutions, she said, has too much control of the district's maintenance management processes without enough oversight from district officials.
“We have turned our maintenance people over to them,” she said. “We’re housing them and they’re basically in charge of our computers and systems. They’re managing the workload. I don’t think (the operations divisions) has a handle on things at all.”
One former DeKalb County School District teacher posted pictures of various maintenance issues she said have gone on for years, adding she was fed up for parents whose children have to try and receive an education in deplorable conditions.
Rebekah Cohen Morris, whose children still attend DeKalb schools, posted several dozen photos on Facebook this week of conditions at Cary Reynolds and Montclair elementary schools. She said she wanted to highlight conditions that include missing ceiling tiles, leaking roofs and stall doors missing in a girls bathroom.
“Something immediate has to be done,” she said. “It angers me that parents have to send their babies to sit in schools like Cary Reynolds or Montclair. As a mother, this breaks my heart.”
WHY IT MATTERS
The DeKalb County School District spends millions of dollars each year on vendors to help address maintenance issues at its 137 schools, but the district still cannot keep up with the number of requests it receives. Parents and teachers and school board members have been vocal about how the money is spent, saying they see little progress in their schools or that the district hiring additional staff would be more efficient.