District to restructure facilities department

The Newhall School District Office. Dan Watson/The Signal
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As the Newhall School District bid an emotional farewell to its director and assistant director of facilities this week, governing board members agreed to move forward with the restructuring of its facilities department, meaning a vital position may soon be cut, according to the multiple office managers, teachers and classified employees in attendance.

Back in September, the board directed staff to conduct a comprehensive review of the facilities department in light of the departure of its two directors, board president Phil Ellis said. As part of the analysis, each position was evaluated to determine its function and efficiency when providing services to the school sites.

“Cost was also a part of the analysis,” according to Tuesday’s resolution.

Following the completion of the study, the Board approved the addition of three new night custodians , and on Tuesday, it confirmed the addition of a Grounds and Maintenance Supervisor and a Custodial Supervisor.

“We’re going to replace the director (position) with two new ones,” Ellis said. “One will oversee the night custodians and the other will be in charge of facilities.”

With the approval of the two positions, the district also agreed it was best to cut the secretary to the director of facilities, which is currently held by Mayra Cuellar, a co-chair of the Newhall Educational Support Professionals union.

“We really don’t need a full-time office manager,” Ellis said. “We don’t have coverage 24/7 with Mayra there, so the board thought the needs could be handled with only 6 hours a day.”

“We’re also trying to update our system so things can be automated,” he added. “We are supposed to get a lot more bang for our buck,” and the proposed restructure creates new career opportunities for both internal and external candidates and will result in better customer service to our schools.

However, Mayra Cuellar, the district’s current secretary to the director of facilities, isn’t sold on the belief that the benefits outweigh the costs to the district.

“They think the director will be able to hang in the office, cover my workload and the department,” but the district isn’t considering that the nature of the job is to be out of the office, Cuellar said. “It’s not practical. There’s days where I don’t see them at all.”

Many of the employees present at Tuesday’s meeting agreed that the Cuellar’s position is crucial to the stability of the department.

It’s the only job of its kind in the district, Cuellar said. “There’s no other assistants in the facilities department. I am the only one, so I support the whole department.”

Once word spread that the district was going to vote on the facilities reorganization and potentially cut the secretary position, custodial staff members immediately headed to the district to protest and share their opinions.

Cuellar said, “The first person they call is me when they get in and need something,” which was echoed by leaders of the Newhall Teachers Association during Tuesday’s meeting.

Hilary Hall and Melanie Musella said at the meeting that they thought the district would focus on the needs of its certificated and classified staff before bolstering its facilities department.

Board member Brian Walters retorted that the district has taken care of its certificated staff and paid them well, so he was comfortable moving forward with a vote.

“You’re setting them up for failure,” Cuellar said. “Basically, the new supervisor will come in and leave their guys alone all day in order to focus on my tasks, or vice-versa — they’ll leave my tasks to do what they usually do,” which is work out at school sites.

“Something has got to give. You can’t have it both ways,” she said, citing tasks, such as payroll, that might be skipped over. “The scenario that plays out in my head is you have a director who has more responsibilities,” but no time or support to complete them.

NESP co-chair Dee-Dee Jensen said, “Early in the meeting, (the board) talked about how they didn’t like cutting a position and bringing it back,” so after the board unanimously voted to cut the position, both Cuellar and Jensen are skeptical that the board will reconsider its decision prior to Dec. 8 — the official termination date of the position.

“I also don’t know why they couldn’t keep me at 6 hours,” Cuellar said. “Why wouldn’t you just take my hours and turn it to 6 hours,” which is something she presented to Superintendent Jeff Pelzel..

“I wasn’t given an answer,” Cuellar said. Instead, she’ll have to apply for the staff office assistant position that will replace the one she currently holds.

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