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Mt. Diablo school district does about-face on new drinking water requirement

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, July 7th, 2011 at 7:24 pm in Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

Several Ygnacio Valley HS students said they would prefer water dispensers in the cafeteria because drinking fountains are sometimes dirty or inoperable and dispense warm water that doesn't taste good.

Several Ygnacio Valley HS students said they would prefer water dispensers in the cafeteria because drinking fountains are sometimes dirty or inoperable and dispense warm water that doesn't taste good.

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?

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  • g

    How they’re going about it is pretty bass-ackward. This is, yet once again, something they have decided to implement, and will “vote” on it after the fact. Oops! Have we had another “not secret” meeting?

  • Doctor J

    HYPOCRISY
    HYPOCRITES
    How can they not afford it last week, and this week afford it ?
    Damn liars.

  • Theresa Harrington

    It’s not clear if the board knew there were less expensive alternatives.
    No trustee asked about other options and staff didn’t provide any, despite clear guidance from the CDE.
    I asked General Counsel Greg Rolen in an e-mail if the board would rescind its previous resolution, but he didn’t respond to that question.

  • g

    They didn’t ask because they didn’t care-and they depend too much on others to think for them! More expensive or less expensive–they sold the people on a bond promising to promote the health and safety of the children, then figured sprinklers and light fixtures were more important than drinking water.

    That whole pound of bologna about deprogramming for drinking fountains based on what the Principals of the schools wanted needs some help too. The District does not listen to the people that they know will be shuffled around like a deck of 52 pickup every year or two!

  • Linda L

    This week I pulled out the Measure C flyers that were sent last May/June during the campaign, I have three. Not one of them mentions solar or anything remotely close to solar. Instead, prominently displayed at the top of one of the glossy brochures is the follow:

    “Leaky roofs, broken windows and old wiring top the list of repairs needed at our neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools. Aging, deteriorated classrooms distract kids from learning and make it harder for teachers to teach.”

    TOP OF WHAT LIST?

    2002 Measure C and Measure A both still have a balance and have been funding projects for years. These claims are political rhetoric used to pass a bond measure that was intended to finance solar from day one.

  • Just J

    and yet we keep voting for more money for them. I wish people would hold them accountable before we give them more money. It is time people wake up and study before we give them any more.

  • Confused

    Glenbrook? Did they forget that they closed the school in February? Contractors were in the office in early March to measure for solar panels and had to be told by office staff of the closure. Oooops!

  • g

    Per Gary Eberhart: “By way of background, the district started looking at going solar about five years ago. We did a small solar project at Northgate in 2008 and quickly realized that we should be looking at a larger scale project. In the Spring of 2009 we went out for an RFQ (Request for Quotation). Chevron was one of the respondents to that RFQ…”

    I have not been able to locate records of that particular RFQ, or records of it being passed by the Open Board.

    Looking at Northgate’s Solar today, it shows it was last monitored in March, and the system status shows “off” today???

    Side Note: Mr. Hunter commented on his site back in 2009:
    “This morning I made an early start by going to Northgate High School to check on our solar panels and do a little house cleaning. It is a really big job to clean an area that big and I will have to return to do more.”

    Really big job keeping those roof mounted panels clean? Wait till they’re all down at street dirt level!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Confused: Since Glenbrook will be used by a special education program, it would still need to comply with the drinking water law.
    And regarding solar, Board President Gary Eberhart has said he would like to proceed with solar on the closed sites to generate power for the new uses and possibly generate excess power for the district.
    Linda L: Pete Pedersen compiled a very general list of program improvements to be funded by Measure C. However, this list — including costs — was never shared at a board meeting.
    It is comprised of nearly $70 million for “resource conservation” including solar panels, $41.6 million for HVAC, $28.6 million for “new facilities,” $19.9 million for technology, $15.5 million for electrical upgrades, $13 million for “building shell integrity” including roofing, $10.7 million for “interior finish upgrades” such as restrooms, $3 million for site improvements such as pavement repairs and nearly $735,000 for “interim housing” while new facilities are being built. This totals nearly $202.2 million.
    Another $130.4 million is designated for estimated contingency, construction CO allowance, escalation and “soft cost estimate,” bringing the total to nearly $332.6 million.
    Nearly $14.4 million is budgeted for “debt retirement,” bringing the grand total to just under $347 million. This still leaves another $1 million to spare.
    Given this budget, do you agree with the unanimous board resolution that the district is “fiscally unable to comply with SB1413″?

  • Linda L

    Of course not.
    Do they have these improvements broken down by school site? Is there a reason it has not been made public? What if they are unable to sell the rest of the bonds, do they have a priority list?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, they are broken down by schools in the very general categories. These are posted on the district’s Measure C website. For example, here’s the link to Northgate High School’s planned improvements: http://169.199.90.240/MDUSDFacilities/northgate.html.
    However, the list doesn’t include any detail or costs. Pedersen told me before the Measure C election that Superintendent Steven Lawrence asked him not to post his thick bound document, entitled “2010 Facilities Master Plan Update/Proposed Bond Program File: 2010 Facilities Improvement Plan” online because it was too voluminous. However, I suggested that the district should at least include the costs for each proposed project, along with the total for each school, on the site lists. The district apparently decided not to do this. The costs could, however, still be added at any time.
    For example, Northgate’s nearly $6 million plan includes almost $4.4 million for the solar project, $658,000 for unspecified “technology classroom enhancements,” $440,000 for a security system, $212,442 for network cabling and upgrades and $100,000 for telecommunications. Less than $100,000 is designated for each of the other items.
    Based on this budget, it’s unclear what the board’s recently approved $1.5 million high school facility enhancement allocation from Measure C will pay for.
    Trustees prioritize projects based on the what they approve as bonds are sold. So, right now, solar projects, HVAC and the high school improvements are top priorities. As far as I know, no work has begun on “leaky roofs.”
    I believe the project timelines for each school were supposed to reflect the board’s priorities. At Northgate, solar, irrigation and technology were designated as top priorities, followed by modernization.
    However, Pedersen told the Measure C Oversight Committee he is holding off on the planned irrigation because he didn’t think he could adequately verify the expected savings, after seeing the RFPs.
    “We’re going to wait a year for appropriate technology where it’s a little bit easier to evaluate,” he said. “We have shared meters…Right now, it is really loose and it’s a lot of anecdotal evidence.”
    The modernization has been moved up, based on the board’s recent decision to allocate $1.5 million to each of the district’s six comprehensive high schools.

  • Linda L

    Theresa,
    Yes,this is the same list from back before the election. This is a list that was not developed with input from the school site.
    As a site council member, and a fairly regular attendee at the PFC meetings, I have not ever heard a discussion about parking lot repairs however now that I have seen the work being undertaken for solar are these repairs due to the solar intallation? If yes, shouldn’t they be part of the solar project costs?
    NHS already has a security system paid for by the PFC and supplimented by the District probably about three or four years ago. Is this security system to protect and monitor the solar project? If yes, should it be included in the cost of solar?
    New exterior doors and hardware were installed three years ago when Mr. McMorris came on board.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, some other schools also told me that items such as door hardware had already been installed. Since the Measure C lists are not detailed, it’s impossible to know specifically what is planned.
    Northgate is slated for $10,908 in parking lot repairs. Having been to the school yesterday, I can attest to the fact that the solar project is tearing the parking lot up. I don’t know if that’s why the repairs were built into the plan, but I can ask.
    Regarding security, Pedersen told me it is not related to the solar panels. Apparently, the district plans to implement a better security system, which will cost $8.1 million districtwide. However, I haven’t heard this explained to the board or the public.
    On a side note: some members of the Measure C Oversight Committee asked Pedersen to put up signs at schools where solar construction is happening, to inform the public about what is going on. Pedersen said his crews had started working on signs, but didn’t have time to finish them and put them up. There were no signs outside Northgate yesterday, as far as I could see.
    In contrast, the San Ramon Valley school district is also installing solar panels this summer. Outside Monte Vista HS in Danville, there are two very attractive banners: one touts SunPower and the other explains the districtwide project to the voters.

  • Linda L

    SRVUSD also provided the community a comprehensive year by year financial analysis with responsible and clear assumptions. They spent over a year planning their project including community meetings for each solar site. Their project will pay for itself through the use of low interest energy bonds. Their bonds are similar to the $59 mil being used by MDUSD, just how they pay them back is different.

    I was with a family last night who live in the NHS attendance area and pass by NHS daily. They were shocked to hear that the construction was for solar and are convinced that it will be an eyesore. Did you really believe those signs were in process when he said that?

  • Theresa Harrington

    In looking though the bound 2010 Measure C document I referenced earlier, here’s the description of the security system: “Upgrade/replace existing security system to digital/web based system including terminal devices, wiring, conduit, control panels, software, keypads.”
    Regarding signs, I have no way to know whether they were in process or not. I just know they haven’t shown up at Northgate yet.
    Here’s the description of parking lot repairs: “Demotion and installation of 2″ AC overlay, slurry seal, restriping, wheelstops and signage. Allowance of 5 percent asphalt sf included for sawcutting, removal and patchback.” The district is planning to spend nearly $460,000 on this districtwide.
    On another note: I noticed the multiuse room at Bancroft Elementary is being repaired. The exterior is ripped off in several areas, with interior beams exposed and insulation piled in front. Some of the wood looks either rotted or burned. Not sure what that’s all about.

  • Charter new course

    These dribs and drabs of information are Stone Age! The point was to create good PR in the community by informing neighbors how their bond money is being spent. There are inexpensive ways to do this in addition to signs. Last year one of the blogs linked to Costa Mesa high school which was combined 7-12 with Costa Mesa middle school, and the web site showed a video of campus improvements set to the music of “Mustang Sally.” Now CMHS has a construction web camera so the community can witness current pool improvements. And as an aside, CMHS is a Title I school which celebrates a “Parents Graduating Wisely” program on its web page. http://cmhs.nmusd.us

    Most informative is that Newport-Mesa district’s excellent web site has a comprehensive page for “Facilities Support Services” including a 7-page “At Your Service” newsletter 3 times per year! http://web.nmusd.us/facilities. On the Facilities page is: a WeTip School Safety Program, District Energy Policy, Recycling Program, Use of School Facilities, Emergency Preparedness, conceptual drawings, and much more. And the district has posted a Master Plan for English Learners, the English Learner Advisory Committee with monthly meeting dates, and more.

    No wonder CMHS and other Newport-Mesa schools are highly rated.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I just posted on another thread that the Hayward USD website lists its English Learner Master Plan and recent Latino recognition ceremony prominently: http://www.husd.k12.ca.us/. In addition, there is a link to a Spanish translation of the superintendent’s message on the home page.
    In MDUSD, I heard many people say that parents who didn’t speak English were largely unaware of the school closure process.

  • Charter new course

    Liberty Union High School District (in nearby Brentwood) at the top of its web page has “Translate this page from…” and choice of 11 languages! http://libertyunion.schoolwires.net/libertyunion/site/default.asp

  • Charter new course

    LUHSD also has a “War On Failure” http://libertyunion.schoolwires.net/libertyunion/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=301451, and “English Learners Program Success!!!”

  • Theresa Harrington

    MDUSD’s website also have a translation feature, but it’s not prominent. It’s in the lower left-hand corner and includes about 30 languages: http://www.mdusd.org/Pages/default.aspx
    At the MDUSD meeting where the board approved the first Norm Gold contract, Trustee Lynne Dennler suggested that district staff should find out what other districts are doing to help English learners. Just by comparing district websites, it’s easy to see differences in outreach and available information.

  • Charter new course

    That is a nice feature. It should be at the TOP of the page. Along with photos of school sites, students, and even graduating classes like the other districts have prominently and proudly displayed on their web pages. And don’t forget a Facilities Support Services page with links to all the information!

  • Sue Berg

    Here is part of a comment I posted to another article on Theresa’s blog. It relates to the MDUSD website:

    “On another note, the district never had a designated ‘webmaster.’ Rather, an employee handled the task as an extra duty, responding to requests (from me and staff in district departments to post info) and performing cleanup duties. In the year before my Communications Specialist position was cut I led a team that redesigned and upgraded the website and trained staff to make it easier to navigate and update. I’ve been disappointed to see the website not being used to the potential created for it more than two years ago. I assume no one has been given the responsibility nor the time to oversee it.”

    I would add that the inattention to the website is noteworthy because of Gary Eberhart’s comments following his re-election in 2008: “Here is some of what we expect to accomplish during our first 100 days . . . ” [Item 4 of 8:]
    “Make information more available to our community, including a fundamental overhaul of the district website, providing our full agendas (including dockets and backup material) online for the community to access, and ultimately a system to permanently broadcast Board meetings .” (Note: Board agendas with dockets and backup materials were available on the website at that time; the electronic system brought on under Gary’s leadership is more easily accessible.)

  • Doctor J

    @Sue, Gary has NOT delivered on his promises — in fact he intentionally has withdrawn most of what he promised — neither in 100 days nor three years. Not all of the backup material for Board meetings is provided. Names of prospective appointments are only provided to Board members, not to the public. Minutes are not up to date on the District website. Gary pulled down his blog, including prior Board meeting recordings. The Board meetings are no longer broadcast. The Grand Jury in April 2011 blasted Gary and the Board for the Gang of Five reorganization — and other things — and the board has not publicly discussed the response to the Grand Jury which is now due with no meeting scheduled until August 9. Lawrence hasn’t issued his twice monthly newsletter since May. You should check in more often.

  • Theresa Harrington

    After reading my story, a Central San employee asked me to forward this low-cost drinking fountain suggestion to the district: http://www.flexidrinkingfountain.com/.
    I forwarded it to Jeff McDaniel, Pete Pedersen and Greg Rolen.