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Charles Branch doesn't have to worry about being late for work, and he never battles a long commute. In fact, he walks only a few steps out his front door to reach his workplace: John S. Armstrong Elementary School near Dallas.

Mr. Branch is one of four custodial employees for the Highland Park Independent School District who can find little distinction between home and work. All four men receive rent-free housing on school grounds as a job perk.

For eight years, Mr. Branch has lived in an apartment within the elementary school where he works. Though the location is convenient, he said, some days he was working more than 10 hours.

"It was hard for me to go home and disconnect," he said.

The 6,000-student Highland Park district has been offering free housing to a few custodial employees for decades, said spokeswoman Linda Adkins.

"Because housing is very expensive here, the majority of employees within the public school system would not be able to live within the community, and they don't," she said of the affluent, 2.2- square-mile enclave surrounded by the city of Dallas.

As part of the deal, employees are on call 24 hours a day to open the schools for events or act as security. If a burglar alarm goes off in the middle of the night, they are the ones who respond first.

"It can be a burden, because our community is real tight-knit," said Jon Polando, a facilities-service manager who lives in a modest brick district-owned house next to Robert S. Hyer Elementary School. "We have a lot of events. There's a lot of weekend activities."

Despite constantly being on the job, Mr. Polando said, living near a school has its advantages, including being able to send his two children to Highland Park schools.

"Being close by was a really good deal," he said.

—Hattie Brown

Vol. 22, Issue 26, Page 3

Published in Print: March 12, 2003, as Take Note

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