C.K. McClatchy varsity baseball coach Mike de Necochea sat down for an interview with the Land Park News to discuss maintenance issues on campus, including problems with the sprinkler system, dog waste and litter.
Because the school doesn’t have a gardener on staff and because the Sacramento City Unified School District has had to cut janitorial and maintenance services by nearly 50 percent over the last two years, it recommends coaches and staff fill out and submit a work order form to the maintenance department.
“Just turn in the forms into to Tommy they would always tell me, but no one knew he retired,” de Necochea said.
District spokesman Gabe Ross said the district prioritizes what the work is. “If there is a fire sprinkler that goes out, that may get to the top of the list,” he said, adding that SCUSD Landscape/Labor Supervisor said Tommy Greer has been using vacation up until he retires and there has been a temp in for him. “Given limited resources, it’s an all automated system. Somebody may have called, but it’s all prioritized by need,” he said.
Just in the 2011-12 school year, the district had 209 custodians and plant managers, compared to the 125 on staff today. Meanwhile district-wide maintenance staff (service repairs and gardeners) has seen a 42 percent decrease since the 2010-11 school year, amounting to a cut of about 90 people.
Regardless many of the maintenance problems have gone by the wayside. For instance, problems with the sprinklers have been going since at least before school started at around the same time the previous batting cages were torn down.
“It’s been since at least August when I noticed (the sprinklers) turned off. I think it was due to the construction,” de Necochea said. More recently, he said after district staff installed the new batting cage, they happened to put in a workable sprinkler system for a small plot of sod around the structure, but failed to fix the sprinklers through out the rest of the baseball field, resulting in very dry grass.
“While the City (of Sacramento) has required residents to reduce water usage by 20 percent, we’ve been conserving since summer,” de Necochea quipped.
As part of the cuts the district has to make to the maintenance department, they’ve eliminated gardeners at individual school sites and have instead consolidated and have created district wide work crews that visit various schools on set days each week. Gardening crews man the lawns and most of the watering is automated.
“We now have a crew that works at several schools and I guess the front yard is a priority,” de Necochea said.
Undoubtedly this has affected the appearance and general cleanliness of the campus – dirtier locker rooms, irrigation problems with the fields and pool maintenance.
While the district does have an employee drive a large mower to cut all the grass on campus each Tuesday, de Necochea said the worker drives over the trash, which exacerbates the garbage clean up problem – one that he said the baseball team has to clean up. On the bright side, de Necochea said this encourages players to take pride in what they have, adding that he’s used trash clean up as a punishment for being late to practice.
“It is important for the boys to help with the upkeep. But at the end of the day, we’re the ones paying for it, using it,” he said.
So, as the new baseball season gets underway, he and his team have taken other gardening and maintenance matters into their own hands. With a hose and a lawn mower, they’ve sometimes done the watering and the trimming themselves, side skirting the bureaucracy of filling the necessary forms, which some have argued can backfire.“I’ve had people tell me, ‘if you don’t do anything, you’re just allowing (the district) to get away with it’, but I just couldn’t let (the grounds) get that bad,” de Necochea said.
The head baseball coach said he has been mowing the grass twice a week, even though staff mows the lawns once a week. Also, to help out with the manual labor, de Necochea said the team twice has solicited help from Sacramento County Sheriff’s Work Project, where certain sentenced inmates can be recommended by the sentencing judge to be assigned to one of more than 25 work sites throughout the county.
De Necochea said they did a great job. “They cut out around the bases. They trimmed and weeded. They picked up trash and helped build a mound. We just filled out a form and got work done twice. The district could be requesting those guys. It’s free. I asked them (the inmates): do you like coming to schools? They said they felt like they were making a difference compared to just raking leaves at a park, which could be pretty tedious.”
But are the team’s Good Samaritan efforts to keep the fields clean taking away from contracted union jobs?
“It’s always hard,” Ross said. “We never want to discourage parents from volunteering at school sites. We also know we have less staff than we need. Have a system in the district where community members fill out ’special projects process’ for the school site and district to participate in. Generally it’s not about violating union contract, it’s about protecting parents and students from harm,” he said.
Prior to the massive budget cuts that have plagued the district for years now, the campus had a gardener Terry Stowers, who de Necochea said worked together with the team to keep the field looking its best. “It was great. They were out there with us, supervising us to make sure it’s right.”
While it may seem like de Necochea is at odds with the district, it’s not the case at all. He wants to work with the district to brainstorm solutions on making the fields and the school, by extension a more inviting place.
To that end, he’s started to connect with alumni who might want to give back to their alma mater. He argues that the Booster program is not his preferred avenue. “We’re putting band aids on a big project. We need to reach out to alumni and get Boosters for life,” he said. De Necochea, who lives near the school, added: “I look at my neighborhood, parents have to have funds available.”
Asked how the community can work with the district to create a better environment, Ross said in a variety of ways. “We want to make the right process. We want parents to find solutions. Hopefully in a few years, we will be back to the funding areas and help supplement what is going on at the schools. For the sports fields and at the school, it’s critical we are all involved.”
He said as a result of new funding from an accountability measure known as LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan), the community will have a larger voice in terms of how to spend and allocate resources. There will be a survey on the website