Air conditioning schools in the eastern stretches of San Diego Unified is one of the most popular promises of Proposition S, the $2.1 billion school facilities bond slated for the November ballot, according to public feedback and polls. But it could cost schools in the long run.

Although the bond would pay to purchase and install air conditioning systems, the school district’s energy bills would eventually rise by roughly $2.5 million annually to pay for the added power those systems consume.

That’s an 18 percent jump over the school district’s current annual bill of nearly $13.5 million. The existing number was obtained through a Public Records Act request by City Heights attorney John Stump, who opposes Proposition S and has said he may sue the school district over the specificity of its project list.

“My biggest question is how many teachers will have to be laid off” to pay the increased energy bill, Stump wrote in an e-mail. While the bond will pay to install air conditioning, the cost of running it each year will come from the same fund that pays for teachers, custodians and other employees. “… Voters need to know how education will have to pay for these costs.”

San Diego Earth Times editor Carolyn Chase echoed his concerns about air conditioning schools in a letter to school board member Mitz Lee.

“It’s a really, really bad idea to invest the power and money to air condition schools when you could have passive ventilation or daylighting,” Chase said in an interview. “It’s a no brainer.”

Cooling classrooms was a popular idea among principals and parents who gave their input on the Proposition S list earlier this year. Overheated schools were among the complaints of teachers at Knox Elementary, which we highlighted earlier this summer.

Air conditioning is also popular with voters, said Larry Remer, political consultant for Education and Children First, a committee outside the school district that is campaigning for the bond. Seventy-three percent of likely voters surveyed by Remer supported adding air conditioning to schools where temperatures “frequently exceed” 90 degrees.

And San Diego Unified facilities spokesperson Cynthia Reed-Porter said the district already made a commitment to air condition the eastern schools when the money was available. A 2001 study recommended that the school district “install cost-effective passive measures and air-conditioning at existing classroom spaces at a future date when funding allows.” The same study found that passive measures, such as the changes Chase cited, would not be sufficient to cool off schools in the eastern area now targeted for air conditioning.

Reed-Porter stressed that while energy consumption may increase due to air conditioning, the school district is pursuing energy savings through other avenues. For nearly a decade it has generated solar energy from photovoltaic cells on elementary school roofs, in what its website calls the largest photovoltaic installation project in any school district in the nation. San Diego Unified has been recognized repeatedly for its efforts, winning a 2006 Green Power Award from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Stump is part of a Proposition S opposition group led by blogger and real estate broker Pat Flannery, which has filed this argument against the bond.


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