What's the deal with AC at LT?

Opinion: Columns

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By Ricardo Martinez Jr.

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Why isn't LT fully air conditioned? We've all heard the rumors – It's expensive (true) or the school is too old to have full AC (false). This issue partially motivated me to run for school board in the recent April election. 

Since I was not elected and cannot advocate for this resource as a sitting board member, I'd like to share with you my research on this issue. I submitted two FOIA requests that the district complied with, and spoke to more than 1,000 residents and I'm excited to share it with your readers. Full disclosure: my wife teaches at the school, she loves working there, and none of this information came from her – it's all publicly available. 

LT is not fully air conditioned, but can be. The issue came up as recently as November 14, 2018 in the Facilities Committee meeting. On the table was the possibility to fund AC for the remaining classrooms in C Wing and eventually B Wing for a cost of up to $3.1 million (plus $400k to replace old AC units). Citing various financial concerns, the committee agreed the project should be delayed for at least one year. So let's talk financials:

At the close of last year's budget, the board had $38.1 million in reserves, which is up $700,000 against the close of previous year. This is 53 percent above what it is projected to cost to fund the school for one year. The board is comfortable when that budget closes with 33 percent over projections. 

The district received an estimate in October of 2016 to approximate the costs of AC for both campuses. To add full air conditioning, the study estimated the costs at $5.75 million for South Campus and $3.05 million for North. An additional $4.35 million is recommended to replace the existing AC which are from the 1950s and '60s. This would all be done over the course of several years, allowing for the ability to halt in case of need.

LT is limiting the aptitude of its students by delaying this investment. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a working paper recently that stated "each 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by 1 percent" and "each additional school day with temperature in the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit) reduces achievement by one-sixth of a percent of [a] year's worth of learning." 

Let that sink in. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Public Health recommends classroom temperatures not to exceed 79 degrees. This goes beyond perceived comfort, although this is also a factor. I spoke with residents whose kids would bring an extra shirt because they'd sweat through the first. I spoke with a parent whose child passed out at LT. 

The most important responsibility of school boards is to work with their communities to improve student achievement in their local public schools. The community has provided the necessary funding to improve student achievement in the hotter months – my open question is why isn't the district publicly committing to fund any portion of this project which will promote learning equity in the hotter months?

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