In the follow-up to testing the air quality of Washington Elementary School’s portable classrooms, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved thousands of dollars in deep-cleaning costs to remove mold.

Panacea Inc. was hired to do air quality testing after a parent advocacy group’s continued dissatisfaction with test results from prior years. Many classrooms showed visible mold and water damage, and some failed to meet criteria for carbon dioxide and heating and cooling system performance, prompting the district to hire an architecture firm to oversee HVAC replacement.

While working on that and replacing siding on some portables, crews found that mold and air sampling indicated that the deep cleaning should be repeated at the other portables.

With the board voting Tuesday to bypass a bidding process, the cleaning can begin as soon as Wednesday, said Carl Mayrose, project manager for the district.

The deep cleaning will cost about $8,500 per classroom, which will come from maintenance funds.

The trustees also discussed the issue of attendance and asked that staff come back with more district-specific information.

A Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report outlined the need for a countywide truancy program, and the district agreed with all but one of its recommendations, saying it’s not feasible for the district to divert money from the classroom and provide a share of the money needed to fund the program.

Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith noted that many other secondary South Coast districts are Basic Aid funded, meaning they would have no financial incentive to increase attendance and get more state funding, so it’s unlikely they would voluntarily fund the truancy program.

The district’s official response agreed that the county’s educational entities should develop a truancy program and that the District Attorney’s Office should begin sending letters home to parents of truant students and report the results quarterly.

According to state Department of Education statistics, Santa Barbara County truancy rates were at 31 percent, out of 65,382 students, for the 2009-10 school year. Those numbers include all students who were absent or tardy without a valid excuse three times or more in the school year. California’s truancy rate was 28 percent last year. The Santa Barbara Secondary District had a 35.7 percent truancy rate in 2009-10, an increase from 30.8 percent in 2004-05, the earliest year with available data.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at