Gloria Mares has worked for the school system for 28 years. She said most custodians leave because they cannot adjust to the once-a-month pay. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
Adriana Corrales has gotten used to the screaming, the kicking and the obscenities.
The booking clerk at the Curry County Adult Detention Center works about 30 feet from the detox tank and about 20 feet from two holding cells.
When she first started, the mentally ill patients bothered her. They couldn’t always control their bladders and needed to be watched closely so they wouldn’t harm themselves.
“We get screamed at all the time,” she said. “When I first started, yeah, the inmates would get to me, but now I’ve learned to tune them out.”
Corrales makes $8.66 an hour in a job that includes processing inmates in and out of jail from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.
After seven years working in the detention center, Corrales is a rarity. County manager Geneva Cooper said the turnover rate — especially for detention center guards — is the highest in the county.
“It’s a very stressful job,” Cooper said.
Cooper wishes she could provide better pay for the county’s lowest-paid employees, as they are vital to the county’s operation.
“I think everybody is under that opinion — right now we’re just strapped,” she said. “I think all positions in the county are crucial to the makeup of the county. It takes everybody doing the job to make the whole team work.”
For someone who works in the booking department, Corrales said the money is not bad, but it’s not enough either.
With a 9-year-old daughter and no husband, Corrales recently decided to get a second job working at a local gym four hours every night during the work week. She took the job because she can bring her daughter to work.
Twelve-hour work days can be tough though, Corrales said.
“It’s overwhelming sometimes,” she said.
Don Burdine, detention center administrator, said he appreciates Corrales staying as long as she has in her current role. But he wishes the turnover rate wasn’t so high in his guard unit.
“You’ll be full for a little while then you’ll have four or five leave all at once,” Burdine said. “You certainly can’t blame them for moving on to better pay, better situations. It’s difficult to have a trained and efficient staff when the turnover rate is so high.”
Like Corrales, Clovis Municipal Schools employee Gloria Mares has outlasted the typical life span of a custodian, having worked for 18 years in her position and 28 years for Clovis schools.
She said most custodians work less than 18 months because they have a difficult time adjusting to the once-a-month pay schedule.
“You work all month, then when you get your check it’s gone to bills,” said Mares, who makes $12.01 an hour.
She said she keeps her employer happy by trying to always be one step ahead of schedule. In five years she can retire with the full benefits of being an employee of the state’s public school system.
“I can retire without someone saying ‘She was a custodian — she was worthless,’” she said. “I’m well respected, probably because I’m the oldest. I’m part of the furniture here.”