“It’s an enormous campus and just one custodian.”
When his eldest daughter was little and attending Cheremoya Elementary School in Hollywood, Torres High School custodian Julio Avendano got talking to the Principal. As they talked, the Principal became impressed with Julio, a custodial worker for Alaska Airlines, and invited him to apply for a position at the school that had just opened up.
“I already felt connected to LAUSD. I went to school as a kid at Dayton Heights Elementary, Virgil Middle School and Marshall High School. And because I had custodial experience, I was able to take the test and I immediately passed. Within just a few weeks, I was working at Cheremoya,” says Julio. “I really have a sense of pride for this work. I like working hard and I enjoyed my custodial work for the airline, but my work took on more meaning at the school because I knew I was helping students learn
Julio has worked for the District for more than 13 years. His voice changes a little when he talks about how much it means to him when students and other staff members notice that he consistently puts extra effort into his work.
“I like my work to speak for itself and I love when people can see the difference,” he says.
Julio and his wife have a 5-year-old son who has just started kindergarten at Evergreen Elementary in Boyle Heights.
“I used to have more energy for my kids when I got home from work. Having hours that more closely matched my children’s time at home was one of the main reasons I took the school job,” says Julio. “But ever since the cuts to custodial staff, each of us is doing work that used to be done by two or even three custodians. And there’s the added pressure of knowing that some things are just not getting done the way I’d like.”
Currently, Julio is the only morning custodian on duty at the Torres campus, which is made up of five small, independently operated high schools serving a total of more than 2,000 high school students. Each school has its own three-story building and its own courtyard. He starts his day by opening up the school and ensuring that the exteriors of the larger campus and each school look nice. He uses a blower, removes debris and empties trash cans. Then he cleans and sanitizes 15 restroom stalls, 14 sinks and 5 urinals. “And those new waterless urinals, well they’re another story. To avoid build up and odor, you have to give them special attention several times each week.”
As he crosses the campus he empties other trash cans, assists with deliveries, picks up debris and cleans the athletic fields.
“And that’s not even counting all the calls asking for my attention all over campus—maybe there’s graffiti that I need to remove, or a spill somewhere that needs immediate attention. What about a clogged toilet? Sometimes I’m in one corner of the campus, but I’m asked to run over to open the gym in the other corner,” says Julio. “There are constant calls. It’s an enormous campus and just one custodian.”
After his lunch break, Julio starts setting up for the student lunch periods at each of the five schools. Finally, Julio cleans up after the 2,000-plus students, emptying all the trash and making all the areas presentable. “It’s a constant hustle,” says Julio. “You have to keep up with the trash because in a matter of seconds it can become extremely overwhelming.”
Julio has watched the staffing cuts for years. After the first round of cuts several years ago, the District expected custodial staff to complete the same amount of work with less personnel. “That was challenging,” says Julio. Then the second round of cuts came. “I really felt it when I went from Mendez High to Torres. It was an enormous difference. Mendez was already understaffed, but Torres was even more understaffed. I could immediately see the difference. So many complaints from teachers and other staff. It was hard to hear all of their concerns. It really took a toll, because even when you went above and beyond, your hard work wasn’t always noticed.”
When Julio gets home, he’s worn out. His first child got the advantage of having a stay-at-home mom. Now, in an economy that is vastly different, both he and his wife work full time.
“I take a half-hour power nap so that I can spend time with him. He’s so full of energy. I wish I could be as hands-on as I was with my daughter,” says Julio. “I look for ways to find energy. I take the same approach that I take at work: I push myself. “
As Julio observes, his is just one of many stories from custodians across the district. Every custodian at every campus is overworked.
“If I had help, maybe it would give me that extra bit of energy I need to spend time with my son and focus on his education.”