On the second day of the school year, Superintendent Cindy Marten let me tag along with her on a visit to San Diego High School.
It was still early in the day, just after 10, and already the classrooms were stifling. Marten was there for a school visit. So while she shadowed her area superintendent, who in turn shadowed the school principals, my plan was to shadow Marten.
As we dipped in and out of classrooms, sweat dripped onto my notebook and bled my writing. The air was thick and smelled like a musty gym shirt. I spent only a few minutes at a time in classrooms. I didn’t want to imagine what it was like for kids or teachers who cook in those hotboxes for an entire day.
On the one hand, weather is about the most clichéd thing to ever grumble about. On the other, lack of air conditioning in classrooms raises serious concerns for health and the ethical treatment of kids.
Earlier this month, parents posted pictures on social media showing thermometers inside classrooms that registered close to 100 degrees.
“I’m not taking [my kids to school] tomorrow,” one mom told NBC. “The district can eat it.”
Help Us Raise $100k By the End of May
Mario, In your description of your "tag along" with Supt. Marten you describe stifling classrooms that are not conducive to attendance, much less learning. I don't have air conditioning either, because I chose not to have it when I built my house near the beach. The current period has been the lengthiest heat/humidity combination I've experience in my 28 years in San Diego, largely because there's been so little breeze. Fans have been my salvation.
Tell me they at least are using fans in classrooms!
Unfortunately, our education system has been taken over by two ugly trends that don't help students learn. School board members these days are elected using campaigns primarily funded by real estate developers and construction contractors, who get them elected with the promise to divert school bond money to their financial supporters. For example, San Diego State University used to be a relatively small campus focused on educating students. Over the last two decades it has exploded with real estate projects and new buildings created more to benefit the companies who build structures than SDSU students. Building more buildings does not equate better educational opportunities for students. The second trend is skyrocketing salaries and benefit package for school district and university administrators. Once the federal government began offering student loans, the school administrators used the opportunity to jack up school expenses and costs, including lining their own pockets. They have also used various tactics to divert bond money to pay more money to teachers and keep the unions happy. In the meantime, students and the quality of their education gets ignored or paid lip service. Building new stadiums will make the contractors more money than maintaining existing buildings, even though doing so betrays voters who voted for the bonds. .
What I would like to know more about is Andy Berg, chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee.
I find his statement about ribbon cutting at stadiums being better for politicians than fixing plumbing, very offensive. If he's providing oversight, shouldn't he be thinking of the children's welfare, not the politicians?
Andy Berg...do you know any more about him? I see that he is boss of the National Electrical Contractors Association. Could there be a conflict of interest in his control of bond spending? I also see that he was on a similar bond oversight committee in Poway Unified School District. Doesn't sound that "independent" to me. Did I also see that he was doing some monkey business with Gaffen, Ursula Kroemer's former employer?
I'm not sure if any of this would affect his building of stadiums, before air conditioning....Just would like to know more about this very connected man.
Sometimes I am so disappointed in VOSD coverage of an issue like this. I donate to your journalistic enterprise, and it is unsettling to see that you have not looked under the covers of this issue. You have not examined the so-called studies alluded to by the school district suggesting that better stadiums cause better learning. You have not examined what is needed at each of the schools calling for repairs and air-conditioning. You have not gone looking for the real costs associated with loss of attendance or other consequences of inattention to essential repairs. You are providing a little list summarizing the talking points of the district and your airy questions about them, with absolutely no determination to get to the bottom of things. I thought that is what VOSD was all about. I am beginning to think I was wrong.
@FrontPorch harsh, man.
@FrontPorch For the record, I wasn't blasting Mario for not reading the report--I was blasting the district for using a report that they clearly hadn't read or not providing actual data to back their claim.
Some of what you're asking Mario to do would be exceedingly difficult because the district doesn't keep records for items such as "real costs associated with loss of attendance or other consequence of inattention to essential repairs" as there is no meaningful way to measure why a student stays home (other than if s/he is sick and the parent calls in to say that). All one could say is how much income from the state is lost for every day a student stays home (which also varies somewhat by the grade level of the student). For "what is needed at each of the schools calling for repairs and AC," the Prop S and Prop Z lists reflect (from my experience) generally what the principal has asked for, which is by no means a comprehensive list of what needs to be done at a school site. The only district-wide study conducted has been on what is needed for "safety" upgrades. But in that, we're really talking about security--like fencing and a loudspeaker system--not whether the stairs to the bathrooms have wood rot. This list will likely appear in an upcoming Board of Ed meeting for funding (I haven't looked at the board docs for Tuesday's meeting yet but it could be there). And remember, compiling any information that exists is daunting, with 230+ schools.
So cut him a little slack. At least he's highlighting the issue that many of us have been grumbling about for some time.
For the purposes of this series, The Learning Curve, I try to keep the posts light, (relatively) short, and focused on a specific question sent in by readers.
I did look at bond spending a lot more thoroughly last spring. A colleague and I found, for example that asbestos removal -- which was highlighted by bond supporters as a reason to vote for it -- wasn't being documented. In some cases, it wasn't removed at all. Workers simply covered the flooring with a layer of carpet. It's not a health concern, apparently, and never really was. http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/education/asbestos-is-no-longer-san-diego-unifieds-public-enemy-no-1/
We also looked at the work that wasn't being done at Hoover High, Mission Bay High, and other schools -- even though they got new stadiums. http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/education/with-tax-hikes-sd-schools-put-stadium-spending-above-classrooms/
@EducatedMom is right: it would take an incredible amount of work to personally inventory the work at 150 school sites. There is, however, a Facility Conditions Index which itemizes needed repairs at each school. I can find that for you if you're genuinely curious.
The only other advice I'd offer is that you don't work for FrontPorch. You have successfully raised the broad issue of the Board's spending priorities and convinced the majority of your readers that those priorities are seriously flawed. If FrontPorch needs additional convincing, or desires to delve deeper into the source documents let him do his own work. I too donate to VOSD, because I support the work you folks are doing; not because I expect VOSD to be my own personal investigative staff. To put a point on it, since I'm a contributor, would you come over and clean my windows?
Scott Barnett understands it best: Put in a stadium, a new Career and Technical Education building or a new turf field, and you have two photo-ops (the requisite "groundbreaking" shot with shovel in hand and hardhats and the ribbon cutting at completion). There's no photo-ops for air conditioning or fixing decrepit bathrooms or removal of rodent nests from building insulation. This district has aging classrooms that have been on the "whole site renovation" list for many years, only to be shoved aside to deal with something that creates better photo-ops.
Really, it's about priorities, and I wonder just how many folks on the bond oversight committee are actually parents, teachers, or administrators in schools with firsthand knowledge of what needs to be done at school sites.
I understand the equity piece, but let's start prioritizing the classrooms over the exterior. A "quality school" isn't a building with a synthetic turf field or new football stadium and a new paint job but one where the students do well academically and have the skills needed to succeed in college and career. It's challenging to do well academically in aging, cramped, hot classrooms.
Ha! I actually read the report in the link, which is reportedly the data used to justify the football stadium and other ribbon-cutting improvements. From page 1 of the report: "Among the influential features and components are those impacting temperature, lighting, acoustics, and age. Research has found a negative impact upon student performance in buildings where deficiencies in any of these features exist."
The report goes on in more detail about these components, noting that reading and mathematics skills dropped when the temperature in the classroom was above 74 degrees. Hmm...
Guess what's not in the report? Any mention of new football stadiums or turf fields and their impact on student achievement. The report was all about the state of school classroom buildings.
Another great investigative piece Mario, although it's becoming more and more obvious that SDUSD is the low hanging fruit of inept local elected Boards and senior administration.
Also, I'm curious. Do you think Cindy Marten will be allowing you to shadow her again anytime soon?
Some of our high school fields looked like **itholes. They needed to be upgraded. Nothing like stepping in a hole and tearing ligaments in your ankle or knee.
Now it is time to turf the rest of the DG fields in our middle/elementary schools. Only in SDUSD: Where prison yards look better than our schools play fields.
Air conditioners are very useful, for a few weeks of the school year at best. It is below 60...brr to cold. It is above 90...ohh to hot....we are so spoiled in SD.
We got better results where I grew up in Pennsylvania where each "cluster" was its own school district. Board members were generally parents of students in the school district, they were our neighbors and were accessible and accountable. Board meetings were easy to attend because they were in our neighborhoods. If the Board had spent money on stadiums before air conditioning, parents would not need an investigative news source to tell them and those board members would not serve long.
Anyone else feel lied to? Some time in the next five to ten years, when another bond issue is on the ballot, the successors of all the people making poor decisions will face the backlash of opposition based on "Didn't we already approve that?"
My alma mater has a nice new stadium; that's great, but that's not what I was voting for.
re the research that "better facilities correlate to higher academic performance". I skimmed the linked paper's abstract and introduction and did not see any reference to the positive effects of stadiums. It did say
"Among the influential features and components are those impacting temperature, lighting, acoustics and age."
Was the board presentation given with a straight face?