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San Diego Unified is projecting that it will spend nearly $4 million more on gas, electricity, water and sewer charges this school year than last. The budgeted increase in utility bills comes as the school district faces another year of state budget cuts, pressuring it to find more savings outside the classroom.

School officials say their budget just reflects the worst case scenario. They hope schools and district offices will ultimately conserve and spend less than budgeted. Several factors led the school district to plan for higher bills, said Jay Naish, energy management supervisor for the schools.

One was technology. San Diego Unified is installing digital whiteboards in classrooms through its $2.1 billion bond for school renovation and construction. The boards allow teachers to pull up lessons online and set up interactive presentations. Naish estimates that each costs $1.60 a day in electricity to run and that overall, the new technology would add at least $500,000 to power bills.

Air conditioning for some inland schools is also in the works under the new bond, which will add more costs. Naish said those cool classrooms could ultimately cost another $5 million a year in electricity, even though the school district is also trying to add insulation and new windows to ensure that energy is conserved.

Carolyn Chase, who leads the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said environmentalists like her are concerned San Diego Unified is turning to air conditioning instead of retrofitting buildings with green roofs or other natural cooling techniques.

“It would save them money in the long run,” Chase said. “But we don’t see real evidence of them doing that. And this forecast just shows that they’re not.”

San Diego Unified has taken steps to go green: It is adding solar power to 20 sites in the school district, at a cost of roughly $35 million. It has also added more efficient lighting and created a program to allow school sites to share supplies. Landfill costs, unlike electricity or water bills, are expected to drop by more than $36,000, largely because of more extensive recycling, Naish said.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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