By Julie Samrick
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Christmas came early for Rescue Union School District last month after utility tech Jeremy Cooper’s good detective work recouped upwards of $83,000 for the district.
For years district officials wondered why Pleasant Grove Middle School had larger water bills than the district’s other six campuses. Was there constant running water, or perhaps faulty sprinklers there? Jeremy Cooper, one of two district utility techs who manage the grounds of all the district’s schools, wouldn’t give up searching for the answer until he single handedly solved it — the district had been inadvertently overcharged by El Dorado Irrigation District since Pleasant Grove was built eight years ago.
While all the other schools had been paying the less expensive “turf rate” to water their fields, etc., Pleasant Grove had been under the “commercial rate” category until late this summer, paying twice as much the whole time. It took unearthing documents and lots of phone calls to figure it out.
“This was to no one’s fault except for a clerical error when the school was first built,” said RUSD Superintendent David Swart.
EID Director of Communications and Community Relations Mary Lynn Carlton said she’s just glad the situation has been rectified. “I’m glad we were able to do the right thing and give the money back to the school.”
While there are two custodians at each of Rescue’s seven school sites who oversee classrooms and the immediate safety and cleanliness of each school campus, only two utility techs handle the larger aesthetics of all seven sites. The utility techs are responsible for the maintenance of the larger school grounds: mowing fields, trimming trees, edging grass and sprinkler repairs, etc.
“We are understaffed and struggle to get the utility techs out to each campus once a week,” said Ron Thompson, director of district facilities, operations and maintenance.
“Especially under these conditions it’s incredible what Jeremy did,” he added. “In a lot of workplaces, workers just do their job and go home and, in Jeremy’s case, he didn’t have to give a rip about our water bill.”
At December’s district board meeting, Cooper, who humbly wishes to stay out of the spotlight, was absent but heralded as a hero.
So what about the money? “When school budgets have been slashed, it’s important to leverage any money,” said Thompson. The board approved a portion of the reimbursed funds to purchase a larger riding mower, which promises twice the efficiency of their current machine. Where the current mower can cut 72 inches at a time, taking two hours to mow a larger grass field like those at Pleasant Grove or Marina Village, the new mower cuts 132 inches at once.
The rest of the money will go into the district’s general fund for the time being.
“Jeremy just wants to get to work as normal,” said Thompson, adding that he’ll take some time to enjoy the holidays with his new bride. Jeremy and Sonia Cartwright, the lead custodian at Green Valley Elementary, wed in November.
“These people working on our school campuses are invested in the kids’ educations as much as anyone. They are ‘the salt of the earth,’” Thompson added. “They take pride that the schools look good and are as safe as they can be.”
Superintendent David Swart said, “The wonderful thing about our school district is that everyone plays an important role and contributes.”