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Hot topic: Would a later start to school year really save money? LAUSD data are mixed

Mike Szymanski | August 18, 2016

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Despite temperatures hovering in the 90s for the rest of the week for many LA Unified schools, calls for air-conditioning repairs haven’t gotten out of hand.

Yet a proposal being introduced by three LA Unified School board members next week could change the start of the school year until after Labor Day, and one of the biggest reasons given for that change is because many believe it costs too much to cool the 30,000 classrooms in the summer heat. But is that really the case?

For the past three years when school started in early to mid-August, service repairs for school air-conditioning HVAC units cost more in September than they did in August, according to a report from LA Unified facilities made last year.

For September in both 2014 and 2015 the costs for repairs were about $1.4 million, while the cost for repairs in August were far less: $987,000 in 2014 and $1.2 million in 2015.

And some of the most dangerous heat waves over the past few years have taken place during September, including last year when some schools recorded 112 degrees and in 2014 when outdoor athletic activities were canceled both in September and early October due to triple-digit heat waves.

The facilities report notes that when “more occupants are on campuses this will cause more service calls to be generated.” So, for example, when the school year was first moved to an August start date in 2012, the district experienced its highest costs for service over a six-year period at $4.3 million, while the second-highest year was when school last started in September, which was in 2011.

Another facilities report by the district reported electricity consumption costs in June and August. That report showed that electricity costs rose after the school start was moved to August.

Considering both the reduction of school days in June and the additional days in August, electricity costs increased about $772,000 in 2013 and $1.9 million in 2014 compared to 2010, before the early start was introduced. The report notes that the temperatures were unusually excessive in both 2012 and 2014.

After an intense study and requests for input, the school board in January agreed to approve the calendar for only one year, against the recommendations of Superintendent Michelle King, who wanted a three-year commitment.

In an unofficial poll with more than 750 people responding, LA School Report found that most respondents preferred a more traditional schedule, with school starting after Labor Day. Although many respondents wanted to start the school year later, they didn’t want the fall semester to finish after winter break.

Meanwhile, by the second day of school this week, when temperatures hit 93 in the San Fernando Valley, the district got 304 service call requests, and by Thursday morning 181 of those calls were completed, according to Elvia Perez Cano of Communications and Media Relations for Facilities. There were 1,427 units outstanding that still required some sort of service, which is about the average amount of outstanding calls. (Last year, during a heatwave, 2,600 repair orders were launched.)

When the HVAC units need repair, the district has 160 portable air-conditioning units available to put into classrooms, or they move students to cooler spaces, Cano said. The more than 80 facilities workers will work overtime to fix serious immediate problems, she added.

The district has set aside $1 billion for a Critical Repair Fund, and over the past three years about $300 million has been used for air conditioners. The district uses about 68,000 air-control venting devices, and most of the units are more than 30 years old.

The resolution to change the school start date made by Richard Vladovic, Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna calls for school to start after Labor Day beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. The resolution notes botched phone surveys and other outreach attempts made by former Superintendent Ramon Cortines to get community input, pointing out “the surveys of preferred start dates conducted by staff have not achieved sufficient outreach and consideration of public opinion.”

The debate will occur on Tuesday afternoon at the first school board meeting of the year.

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