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Another shock to the LAUSD budget: DWP rate hike will cost $24 million over 5 years

Mike Szymanski | April 19, 2016

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DWP Rate IncreasesThe recent utility increases approved by the city will sock LA Unified with $24.2 million more in costs, but the school district is already working on ways to save money.

Solar panels, water recycling, light bulb replacements and other programs will help off-set some of the extra costs of water and power, said District Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter.

“We will try to encourage less consumption, but if we use the same amount now, our costs will go up $24 million in five years,” Hovatter told the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee meeting on Tuesday. The committee had asked how LA Department of Water and Power increases approved in March by the Los Angeles City Council will impact the school district.

The new cost challenge comes as the district’s deficit is expected to be about $100 million by the 2017-2018 school year and hit $450 million in three years.

Electricity makes up about 80 percent of the district’s utility bill, which is about $128 million this year, Hovatter said. And those costs are increasing with the earlier start to the school year, as well as the expansion of summer school programs, he said.

“Parents love summer school, everybody loves summer school and we want that to continue, but do we need to tell them there are 14 days that might have rolling blackouts and do we have plans for when that happens?” said budget committee chair Monica Ratliff as she looked over Hovatter’s report. He said some schools have generators, and principals of summer schools are trained for such events.

Hovatter said the district already tried to mitigate some of the energy cost increases by starting a solar program a few years ago. They have installed 66 of the planned 68 solar panels in 64 school sites that will generate $5.7 million in energy cost savings this year, he said.

“We are well under way with the solar program,” he said. “We also are getting a big bang for our return when investing in efficient lights.”

The district is replacing most light bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs so that an 18-watt bulb will light the same area that once took 100 watts.

Mark Hovatter Chief Facilities Executive

Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive

Although the cost savings are modest, the district received honors for saving about 40 million gallons of water through its plumbing retrofit.The district is saving $200,000 a year as a result. The DWP awarded the district with a Sustainability Award for being one of the “top five water management customers” last year.

So far 13 district schools have purple pipes, carrying recycled non-potable water for use in irrigation. Van Nuys High School was the first school in the expanding program.

Schools have also replaced pipes, so they no longer need to be flushed for lead, saving about $2 million, and they also have underground cisterns and retention basins to collect and save water at schools. Some of the underground collection wells help recharge the stormwater run-off and funnel out oil from the groundwater.

School board member Scott Schmerelson noted one way to save on the electric bill: “I see all the time when I go to schools the doors wide open and air conditioning blowing out to cool off the whole Los Angeles area. We need someone to tell them to close the doors.”

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