Monday, October 15, 2018
Opinion

Joe Henderson: School is starting, so it’s time for sweaty finger-pointing over AC woes

It happens every August.

Schools reopen in Hillsborough County, buildings fill up, and before long we start hearing about air-conditioning breakdowns and sauna-like classrooms.

Then we cut to the people in charge of the district, and they basically say they would like to solve the problem but there are too many broken cooling units and not even close to enough money to fix them.

And then they blame lawmakers in Tallahassee, who have treated public schools like a nuisance for years.

Well, here we are again and this time the district even sent out a pre-emptive strike.

As education reporter Marlene Sokol wrote in the Tampa Bay Times, the district released a list of 38 schools that need major air-conditioning work or complete replacements. The cost: a tidy $95.8 million.

Oh, and they blame the Legislature for this because of a lack of adequate funding.

Iíll promise you one thing. The problem likely is much worse than even that list lets on. This is the eighth-largest school district in the country, serving more than 200,000 students, plus teachers and administrators.

Just because a school isnít on the list doesnít mean there wonít be issues now that the new year is beginning.

School Board members had toyed with the idea of pursuing a sales-tax referendum to deal some of these issues. They say there is a $1 billion backlog of capital maintenance projects and, well, what should they do? Itís not like they can stage enough car washes and bake sales to make a dent in that.

The tax idea probably is dead, though, after the All For Transportation group had the same idea to address the countyís great needs in that area. Sensing a trend here? We have a lot of major public things to address in Hillsborough, and it might be time to rethink the whole "low tax, or no tax" image lawmakers love to project.

If we want excellent schools and a good transportation system, well, those things arenít free. And to anyone planning on responding how back in the day their classrooms werenít air-conditioned, Iíll just say this: This is 2018, not the 1960s.

Try living without cooling this time of year.

Better yet, try keeping students focused on meeting rigid state testing requirements when all they can think of is how miserable they feel. Itís not unusual for temperatures inside some classrooms to rise into the 80s.

NPR reported on a Harvard University study that showed students in rooms where the temperature was at least 80 degrees scored 13 percent lower on basic arithmetic tests and about 10 percent less in the number of correct responses per minute than those in cooler rooms.

Itís worth noting, by the way, that the cooling cost released by the district is so high because many of the schools are required to meet more rigid building code standards before the new units can be installed.

Yeah, we write this story every year because itís a problem every year.

All five Democratic candidates for governor have stressed support for public education. Mostly, they have talked about increasing pay for teachers Ė yeah, we need that too Ė but Iíd assume they would be amenable to problems like this one.

Even if there is an attitude change in Tallahassee, though, and there is no guarantee of that, it wonít help with the immediate problem.

School is starting, and classrooms will be hot.

Teachers and students will complain. Fingers, most likely dripping with sweat, will be pointed. The district will respond that it is doing the best it can with the money it has.

Tempers will be short.

Young minds will have trouble focusing.

But donít worry.

With any luck, the weather will start to cool in two or three months.

Maybe.

Comments
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

One justice on the Florida Supreme Court faces a merit retention vote in November, essentially an up-or-down vote of confidence allowing him to remain on the bench. Merit retention votes occur at least one year after the justice’s initial appo...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

The 2nd District Court of Appeal judges are on the Nov. 6 ballot for merit retention. Voters are being asked whether the appellate judges should be retained for another six-year term.Two pieces of information are helpful in deciding. First, the Flori...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

A handful of influential business leaders are understandably frustrated with Clearwater’s failure to rejuvenate its downtown and eager to duplicate the rebirth of downtowns in Tampa and St. Petersburg. But they have focused on the wrong soluti...
Published: 10/10/18
Updated: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Vote yes on St. Petersburg charter amendments

Times recommends: Vote yes on St. Petersburg charter amendments

St. Petersburg voters will see two city charter amendments on the November ballot related to leases at two city properties. Both amendments would allow for longer leases at sites where improvements are planned, and they deserve voters’ support...
Published: 10/10/18