HAVERHILL — On several occasions, Mayor James Fiorentini has said he is embarrassed about the unclean appearance of Haverhill High School.
"Every time I go over there it's never clean," Fiorentini recently said of the newly renovated building.
Two weeks ago, Superintendent James Scully said he was irritated by chalk on classroom walls, dirty floors and other cleanliness issues there.
"What irritates me is there are some things that, over a period of time, should have been handled," Scully said during an inspection of the building prior to the first day of classes in the new school year.
In case those remarks didn't get the attention of the custodians in charge of cleaning the building, it's likely Scully's actions last week did.
On Thursday, the high school's four custodians were transferred to other schools, and four custodians from other schools were reassigned to the high school.
"What I have been seeing at the schools is unacceptable," Scully told the School Committee at its Thursday night meeting. "So now we've moved some people around to clean up the schools. Security codes were changed and people have been redeployed to make the best use of our resources."
The high school is in the final stages of a long-running $31 million renovation. It opened this month with a remade campus, including new driveways and parking lots.
Scully said school cleanliness is ultimately his responsibility and that he doesn't want to hear any more excuses from anybody.
He brought several photographs with him to Thursday's meeting to show committee members his concerns. They included pictures of dirty equipment, messy storage closets and floors littered with trash.
In all, 10 custodians have been reassigned to new buildings.
Fred Simmons, president of the custodian's union, is one of the high school custodians on the move. He has been transferred to Nettle Middle School.
Simmons said Scully broke a "hand-shake promise" to give the custodians four more months to get the high school in shape.
"I guess four months isn't what it used to be," Simmons said. "It's disheartening and I don't think it's right because we've been doing better at the high school, which looks great right now. But as long as it's not privatization, we can't complain too much. I've told the guys we have to continue to do our best in spite of our limited resources. That's what we'll continue to do."
The custodians have blamed staffing cuts and old and broken equipment for the cleanliness problems in the school. They have been down four positions for more than a year.
School Committee members said they support Scully's decision to shake up the cleaning staff. But they also ordered Scully to fill the vacant positions to give the custodians a legitimate chance to succeed.
Fiorentini has proposed hiring a private company to clean the high school at night to assist the school custodians. Others have suggested the schools consider privatizing the entire cleaning operation.
But School Committee member Scott Wood said the committee voted last month to "discontinue for now any talk or consideration of privatizing."
"Moving the custodians around and filling at least two of the four vacant positions will give us a good idea of whether they can do the job or not," Wood said. "If we don't see better results, we can bring back the idea of privatizing again. But I think this is a good step right now."
At Thursday's meeting, the committee told the superintendent to replace two part-time custodians being paid $10-an-hour with full-time workers.
"We're not going to get the kind of workers we need at $10-an-hour because they can make that at Market Basket," Wood said. "We need to give them professional, experienced custodians to give them a real chance to do the job we expect them to do."
Scully said he heard and understood the committee's wishes relative to filling the open positions. He said two would be hired this week.
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