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Despite ‘Herculean efforts’ to conserve, LAUSD’s utility bill could jump $36 million

Mike Szymanski | February 8, 2017

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Sustainable gardens like this help the district save water. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

Last year LA Unified board members were shocked to learn that higher utility rates could jack up the district’s utility bill by $24 million. So they swung into action with energy-saving measures. But on Tuesday they learned they could be facing even steeper increases — up to 50 percent more.

Even with a 13 percent reduction in water consumption since 2014, the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee was told Tuesday that the district’s utility bill could jump as much as $36 million over four years.

In a report presented Tuesday morning, Christos Chrysiliou, the district’s director of Architectural and Engineering Services, described ways the district is trying to save on utility costs in order to keep the increase to about $10 million.

But even $10 million more would be hard to find, he was told.

“This is not a great thing,” said board member Mónica Ratliff, interrupting the report. “What you are saying is that if we do not do these cost-avoidance measures, we would be paying $36 million (in additional utility costs)? We were told over and over by DWP that the rate increase won’t be as bad. I just think it’s problematic because we can’t raise that money.”

The Los Angeles City Council approved the LA Department of Water and Power increases last March.

Ratliff pointed out that declining enrollment and a looming budget deficit make the utility increase a potential disaster.

One of the water systems installed at Garfield High. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

“Our facilities team has made Herculean efforts and that is greatly appreciated,” Ratliff said. “But we cannot continue to function in this situation. Even if we bring down the utility cost (increase) to $10 million, we can’t meet these costs without doing drastic draconian cuts.”

Former board member Bennett Kayser had called on DWP to give the district a discount, and in 2008, the DWP was ordered to pay back the district $67.7 million in cost overcharges. Last year, Ratliff passed a resolution asking the district to discuss the rate hike impact with city and utility officials.

That was when the increase was estimated at $22.4 million, an amount that could fund 211 classroom teachers or 364 building and grounds workers, Ratliff said.

“I appreciate you being honest with us,” Ratliff said to Chrysiliou, who tried to explain the district’s cost-saving measures.

In the 2015-16 school year, the district saved $3 million in utility costs by fixing pipes, adding solar energy and taking other measures, he said. The DWP gave the district $3 million to help schools capture more groundwater to use for gardens, and it helped with an education program to conserve, Chrysiliou said.

An additional $2.7 million was saved by reducing water consumption 13 percent through plumbing fixture upgrades. LA Unified Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter said the district continues to replace lighting fixtures and get rid of bungalows to help energy costs.

ElDoradoElementaryGARDEN“Our solar program is tapped out, and we only saved $6 million and that does not close the gap,” Hovatter said. “The elimination of bungalows will help, so you don’t have five walls exposed to the outside elements. We spent $670,000 on overtime just for air conditioning. Getting rid of old antiquated systems can offset a lot of that spending.”

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said, “We don’t have the ability to raise a lot of dollars, and in my mind the utility costs seem like fixed costs.”

Chrysiliou said 140 schools have storm water devices and 20 more are in planning stages. They have completed 42 school projects that collect ground water and recycle the water for gardens.

“We are expanding the program and figuring out how to go through all our schools,” Chrysiliou said.

Hovatter pointed out that collecting the water from the recent rains will help restore school playgrounds and gardens.

“At least there is something we get out of that immediately,” Hovatter said. “But realistically, even if we close the gap we still have $10 million (more in utilities) to pay.”


(Courtesy: LAUSD)

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