Lessons in Labor: Data Helps Alaska School District Manager Make Tough Cuts
When told to cut $2 million in custodial expenses from his department’s $20 million 2013-14 budget, Darin Hargraves tried his best to remove emotion from the process. He learned that is easier said than done.
“My obligation, ultimately, is to ensure we do what’s best for the school district and do what’s best for the department overall,” says Hargraves, director of maintenance and operations for the Anchorage (Alaska) School District, which includes almost 90 schools and about 8 million square feet. “Being able to look at things less emotionally — I don’t think you can completely eliminate the emotion of the issue — but you need to be able to temper it, control it, and make decisions that are predicated on good judgment, sound judgment, sound principles and, in my case, we developed KPIs.”
To analyze data that helped the district reduce the workforce by 37 employees from a staff of 325, Hargraves used four key performance indicators (KPIs). The process resulted in almost $2.2 million in labor savings and helped the school district earn a 2014 Facility Maintenance Decisions Achievement Award. Click here for a link to the Anchorage School District's entry.
Areas of focus
One KPI that Hargraves chose when needing to cut $2 million from his custodial budget assessed current performance levels, data gathered through surveys of principals, teachers, and operations managers. Hargraves also used KPIs that assessed cost per square foot, custodial workload, and cost per student.
“When we first approached this issue, the first thought was to look where we have the most ability to make those cuts,” Hargraves says. “High schools and middle schools, they obviously have more personnel in them, so if you cut in an elementary, you’ve got fewer employees, and you’re eliminating a huge chunk of the resources for that particular facility. In middle schools or high schools, you’ve got 10 or 11 people, so when you eliminate one, it’s less impactful.”
During previous staffing cuts, the school district avoided norming (balancing cuts and resources equally among the schools), and some buildings had more cuts than others, which created productivity and staffing issues.
“Our first cut (during the recent budget process) was to norm the schools, make them all the same,” Hargraves says. “We did that on square footage, and where we saw a case of where somebody was on the upper end of what we thought was acceptable in terms of square footage, we’d look at how many students were in the classroom, or the occupancy of the facility, and make a decision to whether (the proposed cuts) were too much. It was a multi-dimensional approach to assessing our problem.”
With a new staffing plan established, Hargraves met with the workers’ representatives “to figure out how to accomplish it per the union contracts,” he says.
Hargraves worked with the school’s labor relations department and union representatives to discuss seniority, relocation of employees, and bumping rights of the union members.
“We knew how many resources we wanted in certain buildings,” he says. “The union contracts, the negotiations, and the administration talked with us, and we figured out where people went. The union was very supportive. They worked with us.”