The Disease and the Cure: Dealing With Budget Concerns

February 16, 2004
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In the past four years, South Carolina public school students have made dramatic improvements in their SAT scores. As a matter of fact, the 30-point rise in the state's scores since 1999 is the best in the nation, according to South Carolina College Board Vice President Lee Fails.

Today however, the school system's future doesn't look as rosy because of severe, ongoing budget cuts. In fact, the state's K-12 schools have had five mid-year budget cuts since May 2001, and the budget in 2004 will be nearly 25 percent less than it was just two years ago.

"At the same time when we are being ordered to meet the mandates of sweeping new education laws passed by the State General Assembly and the U.S. Congress," says Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina's superintendent of education, "many or our schools are barely surviving...in fact they are in ‘survival mode,' focusing more on paying bills than educational excellence."

Floor Maintenance in Survival Mode
Looking for ways to do more with less and stretch their remaining dollars, state education officials have decided to re-evaluate all aspects of school operation, from teachers and bus drivers to school custodians and their cleaning methods.

With 80 percent to 90 percent of all floor maintenance costs attributable to labor, facility managers are evaluating tools, equipment, and new technologies in search of the most efficient and productive ways to do every floor care task without jeopardizing cleaning standards or the health of the facility.

One initial, relatively inexpensive step in reducing floor care costs involves preventive maintenance, reducing or eliminating soil at its source by preventing it from entering a facility in the first place. The best way to do this is with matting systems, both indoors and out.

Matting systems should be selected based on the specific needs of the facility in relation to traffic levels, weather, wind, and the facility's immediate environment. By reducing the amount of walk-in dirt and grit entering the building, properly placed mats can extend the life of the floor finish, reducing the cost attributed to scrubbing, stripping and recoating a floor. This can save hours of labor and will also keep floors safer and looking better for a longer period of time.

However, the most effective way to shrink floor care costs and keep floors looking good - if not better than they were before - is to review every aspect of the facility's floor care maintenance needs, and based on this information, mechanize as many floor cleaning tasks as possible.

Collecting the Data
To do more with reduced funding, facility managers need a clear picture of current floor care costs. To get the picture, they must collect floor care data on items such as:

  • The specific areas to be cleaned
  • The size of the areas maintained
  • The equipment used to perform the job
  • The amount of chemical needed for the task
  • The time required to complete floor care tasks
  • The number of workers needed for the job
  • The hourly wages paid the employees

    Based on this analysis, facility managers can "punch in the numbers" and see what possible savings can be derived by upgrading to more-mechanized floor care equipment, such as auto/scrubbers and other advanced floor machine technology.

    Calculated Savings
    To see how dramatic the savings can be, let's compare two very similar schools using two very different systems to maintain their floors.* Both schools have 30,000 square feet of floor space that must be mopped five times per week, 260 times per year.

    School "A" uses buckets and wringers costing about $50 per set to clean their floors. This allows one custodian to clean approximately 3,600 square feet of hallway and classroom space in about an hour. To complete the task requires two custodians working about 4.5 hours each, costing the school system $26,000 per year.

    School "B" uses one cylindrical brush auto-scrubber floor machine with an 18-inch cleaning path. The machine costs about $3,500 and can clean approximately 8,500 square feet per hour. The total time required to clean the 30,000 square feet of floor space is just over 3.5 hours and costs the school system about $11,000 per year in labor costs.

    Tabulating the data including the purchase of equipment and the cost of labor, the annual floor care costs can fluctuate greatly.

    Decisions Based on the Data
    Most facilities have stringent guidelines that must be satisfied before the purchase of any equipment costing more than a set amount, for example $2,500 or more. To justify the purchase, the facility manager must prove one of two things: that the equipment will pay for itself within a specific time frame, such as one to three years, or that the equipment will save employee time, thereby reducing labor costs.

    As the chart shows, even with the initial investment for the auto-scrubber, the machine pays for itself in less than two months and labor costs have been cut by about 55 percent because the time required to clean the floors has been reduced from just over 9 hours to 3.5.

    Finding the Cure
    There is an old Latin expression that says, "The first step toward a cure is to find out what the disease is." For the South Carolina schools, as with most school systems in the United States today, the problem is finding ways to do more with less. The cure is information and mechanization - employing floor care equipment that can do the job more effectively and efficiently.

    Though there are some floor variables that can affect costs, such as non-cleaning activities related to floor care like moving furniture, or small areas where an auto-scrubber or similar floor machine may find difficulty maneuvering, the overall cost savings are so dramatic that the conclusion is still the same: evaluate and calculate, then mechanize to reduce floor care costs.

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