The Right Kind of Cuts: Greening LAUSD
It is no secret that the Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been struggling in the face of budget cuts, layoffs, overcrowding, and numerous other problems that etch away at the foundation of L.A.’s public school system However, there is one program that seems to bring a ray of hope and vitality for the future of LAUSD. This three year old program, known since 2007 as Green LAUSD, has helped the district make cuts of the positive sort. The program has been working to reduce the green house gas emissions, water, and energy use by 10% as of 2013. Slowly but surely the program as been helping the 14,000 buildings within the growing LAUSD system upgrade decades old buildings and install 50 megawatt solar photovoltaic arrays that could save the district $20 million per year on an electricity bill that has averaged at $85 million.
This March a fleet of hundreds of buses will be upgraded to use cleaner burning propane. Schools will be retrofitted with irrigation systems that will reduce millions of gallons of imported water that is consumed per day by the district. The majority of this water is used for outdoor watering systems. In addition, it has been confirmed that 8 out of the 250 schools will have solar power installations within the next month.
After hearing of such improvements one wonders where the funding for such a program is coming from, especially in the wake of one of the largest recessions the country has ever faced. The majority of the funding has come from voter-approved state bond measures, grants, and utility incentives from companies such as Southern California Edison and the LA DWP. In order to go solar there is $120 million available in federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. This investment is one of longevity; it is keeping the financial future of the district in mind, while contributing to a healthier environment. Essentially, if it can work in a school district as large as LA in a sustainable and cost-effective way, the program may set a national precedent that can be replicated all over the country.
For schools who value such conservation efforts, a portion of the savings is returned to the particular school in order to fix leaking faucets or other such quick fixes that can eventually add up. There is a projection to build 44 more campuses by 2013, and each campus will have to comply to the standards established. This means that water and energy efficiency will be included with other aspects such as classroom acoustics, mold prevention, and natural lighting.
Use of land, quality of air and space, and a natural human comfort are all aspects that contribute to the “greening” of high energy consuming systems. If these aspects are improved, energy will be distributed and utilized in a sustainable manner. Studies have found a correlation between sustainable building practices and higher learning. As Vivian Loftness, co-chair of the 2008 National Research Council reports, insulated walls and windows (an energy saving building practice) also reduces noise pollution so students can better concentrate in class. Also, natural light flowing into rooms stimulates melatonin production that eventually contribute to enhanced viewing of colors in text books and healthier sleeping cycles. Using painting supplies without VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) will reduce exposure to harmful diseases and asthma problems.
In addition to the practical infrastructure being built, LAUSD plans to integrate knowledge of such practices and the importance of sustainability in school subjects. Core classes in English, math, history, and science will have hands-on sustainability issues infused with the regular curriculum and the students will learn of the district’s sustainability measures. The overall effect is intended to raise an environmentaly conscious generation while facilitating a healthier learning environment in which to do so.