Last month, Mt. Diablo school district trustees unanimously passed a resolution stating the district couldn’t afford to comply with a new state law that requires free, fresh water for students where meals are served.
Trustees said it would cost the district more than $300,000 (or $30,000 per campus) to install drinking fountains in the 10 school multiuse rooms that don’t have them:
Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek
Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg
Diablo View Middle School in Clayton
Glenbrook Middle School in Concord
Highlands Elementary in Concord
Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton
Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point
Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill
Valley Verde Elementary in Walnut Creek
Ygnacio Valley Elementary in Concord.
Today — just nine days after the board adopted its resolution — I learned that the district has reversed itself. It will comply with SB 1413.
And, contrary to what trustees said last month — it won’t cost more than $300,000 to do it. Instead, the district will do what many other districts are doing: set up inexpensive water dispensers.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said in a statement last year, that he hoped the bill he introduced would help students make healthy decisions in the school cafeteria.
“As we all know, young people are constantly bombarded by advertisements and pressure from their peers to consume junk beverages that are high in calories and sugar,” he said. “Yet many students do not have access to free, fresh drinking water at lunch time.”
The bill was supported by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Before the new law took effect July 1, schools were only required to have one drinking fountain for every 150 people, which could be located anywhere on the campus, according to Leno.
“This is unacceptable given that studies show adequate water consumption by students improves cognitive function, boosts academic performance and fights obesity,” he said in his statement.
When trustees decided to bypass the state law last month, no one mentioned a similar federal law that goes into effect at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year: “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” which requires districts to provide free water to children in the National School Lunch Program. That law doesn’t give trustees the option of claiming they can’t afford to comply.
Ironically, the district originally planned to install drinking fountains at all the schools that are out of compliance, according to Pete Pedersen, Measure C project manager. At the Measure C Bond Oversight Committee meeting last month, Pedersen said some principals asked that drinking fountains not be included in their new multiuse rooms, because they thought water would spill onto the floor.
“When we did the programming, the site administrators at that time said, ‘We don’t want them,’” Pedersen said. “So, we deprogrammed them.”
When district officials learned of the state law, they apparently jumped to the conclusion that the only way to comply would be to install costly drinking fountains. Yet, the state lists several other options on its website, including chilled/filtered drinking stations and water dispensers.
District officials also didn’t seem to think they had an extra $300,000 in construction funding available to spend on water fountains, even though they have only spent a fraction of the $348 million Measure C bond money approved by voters in 2010.
“If your district is modernizing existing schools,” the California Department of Education wrote on its website, “work with your district facility staff early in the planning stages to identify ways to provide new drinking fountains and refurbish existing ones.”
Are you satisfied with the district’s newest plan to comply with the drinking water requirement?