Tracy Dickinson was shocked by stories of the shape of some of Palm Beach County’s schools as she sat on the school district’s volunteer Budget Advisory Committee.
She and other committee members heard principals and district staff tell of broken equipment, peeling paint, unusable playing courts and other problems — the result of maintenance and upkeep being put off because of budget concerns.
She decided that, if the district couldn’t do the maintenance, the children deserved to have volunteers who would.
Dickinson formulated a plan: a one-weekend maintenance blitz to clean up, repaint and spruce up a couple of schools that could use some cosmetic rejuvenation.
“Listening to those maintenance guys, it’s so depressing,” Dickinson said. “I said, there has to be some way to do it that’s not monetary. … Why don’t we get the community to come together?”
With the help of the district, Dickinson identified two schools in need of some TLC: Roosevelt Middle in West Palm Beach and Indian Pines Elementary in suburban Lake Worth.
Now she’s searching for corporate sponsors to donate money and supplies to beautify them, and for 200 volunteers to spend the weekend of July 19 painting, mulching, weeding and cleaning.
“We don’t want to paint the picture that the school system doesn’t want to put the resources to these schools,” Dickinson said. “We’re in dire straits; there’s no capital budget (to do this maintenance). As a mother, I could not sit here and do nothing.”
Dickinson said she needs about $10,000 in donations for each school to buy paint and other supplies. The Education Foundation of Palm Beach County has set up an online donation link on their website. Meanwhile, Dickinson has enlisted committees at each of the schools to try to find volunteers, and she’s reaching out herself to churches, businesses and community groups.
Dickinson said that she’s already secured volunteers from FPL, the South Florida Water Management District, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and others.
“They’re looking to really complete a lot of work over the course of a weekend,” said district Chief Operating Officer Mike Burke. He said individual schools have had volunteer efforts to clean up the building and grounds, but “this is a little more comprehensive.”
The district for years has been deferring certain maintenance in order to keep its budget under control.
In 2011, the district laid off dozens of the custodians, repairmen and forepersons who help to maintain district schools in order to balance the operating budget. Included in the cuts were about 35 painters.
The district later hired some of the painters back because losing them was taking too much of a toll on schools, but district officials say it’s still not enough.
“When you have 29 million square feet of space, eight painters can only do so much,” Burke said.
Meanwhile, the district faced a $56 million capital budget shortfall as it started planning its budget for the 2013-14 school year. It has now tentatively balanced next year’s capital improvement budget, but did so in part by putting off about $10.5 million of its basic maintenance needs.
“Our maintenance budget, it’s something we’re going through now to make sure we’re using our resources in the most efficient manner,” Burke said.
The district has gotten behind the volunteer project, and will have maintenance and other staff on hand that weekend to manage the volunteers and ensure work is done correctly and safely.