Corey Rosenlee talks about HSTA’s Plan for Air Conditioning

Message from President Corey Rosenlee

Aloha Colleagues,

Yes, it is very hot; and temperatures have been rising in our classrooms. I want you to know that HSTA is working to give our members and our students better teaching and learning environments; and cooling our classrooms is an important element.  The heat impacts learning by taking away the opportunity for students to make every day in school count.  This is where the power of a union can make a difference.  We are meeting with the Department of Education and State Legislators to gather a workgroup of key stakeholders to address this important issue.

Work Toward Solutions Other Than Chasing the $1.7 billion Price Tag

The Department of Education estimates it will cost $1.7 billion to air condition our classrooms.  That’s over $100,000 for one classroom.  The Legislature currently is allocating just a limited amount of funding to education each year, and this means the state averages air conditioning just one school every other year. If we don’t bring down the cost of air conditioning, then our schools will still be suffering through this problem into the next century.

Our Suggestion:  We need to throw out the $1.7 billion dollar plan, because it is never going to happen.  We want to bring together stakeholders and rethink the problem and bring down the cost so we actually address the issue of hot classrooms.

1.  Survey. We need to think about the problem not as a school problem, but a classroom problem. Even in a school without air conditioning, there are some classrooms that do have air conditioning.  In 2007, the Honolulu Advertiser stated that there were 7000 public school classrooms without AC. The DOE is working on a survey this month trying to assess how many classrooms have air conditioning. Note that even if they find 7000 classrooms at $100,000, the price tag would be $700 million, not $1.7 billion.

2. Alternatives and Solutions. Next we need to bring down the cost per room. The biggest expense in putting air conditioning in our classrooms is electrical. Hawaii’s public classrooms are on average over 65 years old, and the electrical infrastructure can’t handle the load of air conditioning. In order to put in air conditioning, the DOE needs to upgrade the electrical system and insulate the rooms to prevent higher electrical costs. Recently Pohakea Elementary put in air conditioning and that cost was $110,000 per room.
In order to solve this problem, HSTA is suggesting the DOE use a solar air conditioning instead. The DOE is already experimenting with an on-the-grid air conditioning system at Waianae High.

We are also asking the DOE to experiment with an off-the-grid air conditioning system, that doesn’t require electrical upgrades or future costs. These. systems can bring down the cost to $20,000 or less per room. While they may not work for every classroom, they could bring down the costs for an entire school. At $20,000 per class for 7000 classrooms we can bring down the cost from $1.7 billion to $140 million. This price becomes more manageable to ask the Legislature to fund. Even at $25 million a year, we could solve this problem in less than 6 years.

3. What can you do now to solve the problem? There are some schools that have the electrical system that can support air conditioning now. Teachers, parents, and community members can donate air conditioning for these classrooms, if your principal approves. Here’s how:

4. In the meantime, we are also looking at pursuing the option of “heat days” where school would be cancelled with the heat and humidity create a dangerous and unhealthy teaching and learning environment.

We will keep you updated about the results of our meetings with decision makers and community leaders as we work toward solutions to enhance teaching and learning conditions in our public schools.

You are HSTA.  We look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions. Please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Corey Rosenlee

September 10, 2015
Hawaii Public Radio - The Conversation

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No one needs to tell you it’s really hot. Nor does anyone need to tell kids and teachers in sweltering classrooms. Stories of kids fatigued and dehydrated pepper the news and earlier this month a teacher took herself to the ER. Parents have been trying to help the situation by donating fans or AC units and the Department of Education even has a policy for that, though the electrical capacity of each school may thwart the thoughtful actions. At 9 AM this morning and again at 3 PM, the Cool Our Keiki Facebook group is holding a rally to support students and teachers. Although he applauds all the community support, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee says it isn’t a long-term solution.

DOE’s budget to air-condition schools is paltry

By Nanea Kalani

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 2, 2015
LAST UPDATED: 1:41 a.m. HST, Sep 2, 2015

With only open windows and fans to cool the room down, students entered their non-air conditioned classroom at Campbell High School, Monday, in Ewa. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The state Department of Education expects that its budget to put air conditioning in more public schools will range from $2 million to $3 million this year — a tiny fraction of the estimated $1.7 billion the department says it will cost to cool classrooms across the state.

The department received $15 million out of a $90 million request for “equity” capital improvement funds that includes money for air conditioning, Dann Carlson, the DOE’s assistant superintendent for school facilities, told the state Board of Education on Tuesday. He said that allocation has to be split between other competing programs, such as special education and science facility upgrades, leaving about $2 million to $3 million for air conditioning.

Funding to cool classrooms has quickly become a hot-button issue again this school year — fueled by record-high summer temperatures that have students and teachers sweltering in their classrooms. The outcry has motivated communities to pitch in with donations of fans in recent weeks and a student-led crowd-funding initiative to help pay for an air-conditioning system.

The state Board of Education requested a presentation on the department’s heat abatement program at the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

“The board hears loud and clear the concern,” said Chairman Lance Mizumoto.

“My son says he can’t even focus at all in his chemistry class after lunch, it’s just so hot,” added BOE member Amy Asselbaye.

Twenty-one public schools — out of 256 schools statewide — have central air conditioning throughout their campuses. The DOE says there are 17 projects underway to air-condition individual buildings at schools, including classrooms.

With limited funds for air conditioning, Carlson said the department has been implementing other alternatives at schools, including, for example, installing ceiling fans (in 401 classrooms at 15 schools over the last three years) and solar-powered vents to draw out hot air (at a dozen schools).

The department has identified 20 schools on an air-conditioning priority list that ranks Ewa Beach Elementary, Ilima Intermediate and Campbell High — all in Ewa — in the top spots.

“We’re trying to do everything we can in an effective and sustainable manner given, again, the funding that we’ve received,” Carlson said. “We fully acknowledge that by doing these things we will still have to most likely provide mechanical cooling to some of the classrooms because it’s not going to lower it to a thermally comfortable level. But as we step through each of these schools, that might help us reduce the load of the AC that we might need.”

Carlson said the schools with central air conditioning also have some of the highest utility bills. For example, Pohakea Elementary in Ewa Beach saw its utility bill increase by 130 percent after installing air conditioning schoolwide, to $14,000 a month from $6,000. The department expects its annual electricity bill for all schools this year will cost $48 million.

Brennan Lee, a senior at Mililani High School and the student representative on the BOE, said the heat is a distraction. “I’d love to have AC,” he said, “but just the utility cost worries me.”

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and a staunch advocate for air conditioning for schools, said the DOE is not being realistic with its $1.7 billion estimate.

“On a day like today it’s really hot, and it’s getting to a point where it is unhealthy for our students and teachers,” he testified Tuesday. “But instead of just coming here and telling you about the problem — I think you’re all aware of the problem — I do really want to offer a solution. … We need to throw out the $1.7 billion plan … because that plan is never going to happen. The Legislature is never going to give us $1.7 billion.”

He suggested the DOE start by performing electrical capacity studies at schools without air conditioning and categorize them into schools with sufficient electrical capacity for air conditioning, schools with some capacity and schools with no capacity.

From there, he said the department should look at making it easier for schools with capacity to partner with community groups and businesses or allow teachers to pay for air-conditioning units. For schools with some capacity, he suggested that a pilot solar-powered air-conditioning system on a Waianae High portable classroom be expanded to a school to test its effectiveness. That system is still connected to the electrical grid for stability.

And for schools with no electrical capacity, he suggested piloting a similar solar-powered air-conditioning system that uses backup batteries and doesn’t require electricity.

“I think if we use this hybrid approach instead of this $1.7 billion approach, we’ll be able to solve it,” Rosenlee said.