How 1 Illinois School District Saves $200,000 a Year

East Aurora School District 131 uses in-house staff and partnerships to keep costs under control.

When faced with everything from broken drinking fountains to damaged security equipment, school administrators often discover that maintaining a safe school environment can be a daunting and expensive task. Luckily, many resources are available to cost-savvy administrators who are willing to establish relationships within their community and seek out local assistance.

Over the past three years, Director of Operations for East Aurora School District 131 in Illinois, Nestor Garcia, has managed to save his district more than $200,000 annually in maintenance costs while ensuring the health and happiness of its students. Garcia has developed or strengthened beneficial relationships within his community, promoted the education of his employees and used a variety of government and community resources to stretch the dollar of his district.

Keeping Maintenance Workers In-House Cuts Costs

Calling on outside companies to perform maintenance tasks is a drain on any district’s budget, Garcia discovered. Equipped with this knowledge, he was able to recognize the money-saving potential of having an internal workforce of maintenance staff attend to the district’s most fundamental needs. The East Aurora School District 131 now has a staff of 10 maintenance employees who provide valuable cost-saving input and services.

The district’s technology department has also adopted this approach. It has six full-time staff members and, like the maintenance employees, take care of many jobs that would otherwise be outsourced.

Maintenance employees receive frequent training—often at little or no cost to the district—which helps them improve their skills to better serve the needs of their employer. Topics covered range from boiler room safety to gas leaks as well as many other subjects.

“Let’s say, for instance, there is a piping issue with the drinking fountains,” explains Garcia. “Well, they now have the experience through professional development [to repair it themselves]. If they have to repair motors, instead of sending it out to a vendor, we can repair our own motors.”

Vendors of security solutions can also be a source of training. For example, through a partnership with Ingersoll Rand, the district is able to provide its maintenance staff with free training in lock installation and similar security-related tasks. They send members of their staff to acquire needed skills, and, in turn, these staff members will train their peers.

“We call it ‘train the trainers’,” says Garcia. “We don’t have to call anyone else, because [our staff] has all the information.”

Similarly, the district maintains a strong relationship with the Regional Office of Education (ROE), which provides safety/security trainings primarily to the administrative staff.

All of this employee training has paid off handsomely by cultivating a loyal, highly skilled and readily available source of manpower. The average amount of experience of a maintenance employee at the East Aurora School District 131 is 15 years.

Forging Community Partnerships Increases Resources

One of the most important money saving activities any school district can engage in is the forging of symbiotic relationships with other local agencies. These relationships can provide a multitude of valuable resources, cutting costs and saving time for both the district and its partners.

Partnerships can be successfully forged with government agencies, volunteer organizations and corporations. In the case of the East Aurora School District, good working relationships have been established with the local police and fire departments, as well as the city’s health department, the board of education, the parent advisory committee, and the city of Aurora’s volunteer committee, among others. 

Garcia invited the Aurora Police Department to conduct its training sessions on the district’s campuses as often as needed. This provides the police with a training facility and allows them to familiarize themselves with the school grounds in case of an emergency.

“I made a phone call to the Aurora Police Department and spoke to the commander,” explains Garcia. “We started a working relationship where we share information between the two of us, and it’s like the floodgates opened because [the police] wanted the same thing. Even if the personnel with the police department change, everybody who takes over is on the same page.”

Fire, Health Departments Also Play Important Roles

Garcia’s partnership with the local fire department has also paid dividends. It performs free building assessments as needed. By utilizing the expertise of the department in these inspections, Garcia has become aware of potential danger areas on the district’s campuses where lights or security cameras could improve student safety.

The district has also prepared for pandemics by allowing the health department to use school campuses as H1N1 vaccine clinic locations. Garcia laid the groundwork for this prior to the H1N1 outbreak, by engaging the department in a tabletop exercise on pandemics. As a result, the district was prepared three months in advance for the influenza.

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