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School Board to Consider Revised Proposal for Air Quality Testing at Washington Elementary

Members are also expected to vote on an across-the-board 2 percent bonus for members of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association

The issue of air quality at Washington Elementary School has resulted in five tests in the past six years, and members of an advocacy group hope to settle this question once and for all: Do the portable classrooms pose a health risk?

The Parents for Excellence in Public Schools Indoor Air Quality Committee has been dissatisfied with prior testing results and urged the Santa Barbara school board to contract with Panacea Inc. Some people expressed concern that not enough portables were going to be tested, as five were to be tested to start, and permanent structures were to be tested for comparison.

The proposal was revised after a five-hour December meeting between stakeholders and the consultants, and board members will vote Tuesday whether to approve it.

The project’s time line and cost remain up in the air, though the initial proposal’s estimate was more than $20,000. Funds will have to come from the unrestricted general fund, according to Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith.

In the testing process, the company’s two certified industrial hygienists will look for mold and water damage, test for moisture inside the portables and interview affected parties. If any potential hazards are found, they could recommend repairs be made even before sampling, according to their proposal.

They’ll take samples and test for HVAC noise, airborne particles, airborne fungi and mold, and formaldehyde in some of the campus’ 13 portable classrooms and portable library.

Washington’s portables were tested in 2005, 2006, twice in 2007 and once in 2008.

Also on Tuesday, the school board will vote on an across-the-board 2 percent bonus for members of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, covered by one-time Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act of 2010 funding.

The $976,758 allocated to the districts can be used by September 2012 for hiring, rehiring or compensation for employees, Smith said. There are 849.22 represented employees, and the bonuses would be 2 percent of their base salary. The tentative agreement was reached months ago but it’s just now making it to the school board.

Some board members questioned the use of funds at last week’s meetings, asking why the money hadn’t instead gone to hiring extra teachers even if only for a year.

Though it’s been done out of desperation, using one-time money for ongoing costs is unsustainable and bad fiscal policy, Smith said. However, 19 full-time employees were hired back with the money, and he said that’s how they’re getting paid this year.

One plan the school district is pursuing to help its fiscal future is a vote to reorganize into a single united district, an option that will be addressed again Tuesday.

The area’s four feeder elementary districts — Cold Spring, Montecito Union, Goleta Union and Hope — would be allowed to join the district but are expected to opt out.

The board will hold a public hearing on the issue of unification in hopes of eliminating the need to put it to an election, keeping the existing board members until their terms expire and making the new district effective on July 1, 2011, instead of waiting until 2012. Registered voters in the larger high school district already elect the board to govern both districts, documents show.

The school board will be at 6:30 p.m. in the district offices at 720 Santa Barbara St.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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