Google Find us on Google+

Austin ISD going the California way

Apr 25, 2013 by

Austin ISDThe Austin school district’s ambitious plans for an $892 million school bond package include setting aside $10 million for a solar energy project.

The proposal — for a solar farm on an old landfill — might not even be possible.

The project could eventually save the district millions in energy costs, officials said. But the plan — which has yet to be fleshed out — would require cooperation from Austin Energy and the city.

“Please hear: It’s a concept at this point,” said Paul Turner, the district’s director of facilities. “There’s still a lot of work to do on it to find out if it’s going to be feasible.”

The solar field is included in Proposition 1, the smallest of four bond proposals the district is putting before voters on May 11. District officials and supporters say it would pay for technology upgrades that are overdue. Technology has become an integral part of the classroom, they argue, and the bonds will help the district acquire rapidly evolving teaching tools.

“There’s a level of planned obsolescence in tech — that’s a reality we have to deal with in education,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, a labor group that represents district employees. “We have to anticipate what kids are going to need in the future. We want to be able to look forward technology-wise, environmentally. We have to have the dollars set aside. But we want to have flexibility.”

Critics, however, say with technology progressing so quickly, the bulk of the bond is as speculative as the solar field idea.

“These are not wise investments because they don’t have the staying power that outlasts the bonds,” said Roger Falk, a member of the Travis County Taxpayers Union. “Why would you borrow long term — even five years — to buy computer and technology that’s going to be obsolete before the debt is paid? It is not smart purchasing and planning to use those funds for very short-term applications like that.”

Tech in the classroom

At Sanchez Elementary School, the 4- and 5-year-olds in Gail Laubenthal’s pre-kindergarten class spend hours a day sliding, swiping and poking their fingers all over iPad screens. They play simple games that teach them to count and recognize patterns. Laubenthal’s students also draw, write and drag shapes across a virtual whiteboard, learning their ABCs.

Laubenthal said technology has become a key part of teaching.

“It’s not like we use it exclusively. It’s integrated in,” said Laubenthal, who trains other teachers in the district to incorporate technology.

The bulk of Prop. 1 — $81 million — is aimed at continuing that incorporation. A major chunk of the technology money — about $34 million — would replace and upgrade existing computers, laptops, projection systems, printers and networks.

Another $18 million would go toward completing a roll-out of “Innovation Stations,” a hub with a document camera, computer, wireless mouse and keyboard and more. The 2004 bonds put millions toward installing the stations in about 2,000classrooms, but the district ran out of money before completing the roll-out. These bonds would fund almost 3,800 more.

Laubenthal said she uses the station in her classroom every day.

Solar plan A, plan B

If the solar field project falls flat, the district would have to spread the bond money out to install solar at as many campuses as it could afford. The district has 122 campuses, and panels likely would only reach a portion of them.

Currently the district has 35 solar arrays and outdoor solar learning centers at four campuses, producing 310 kilowatts of energy.

The proposed solar field could produce 3.5 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 500 homes, or 4 percent of the annual energy used by the district.

But so far it’s unclear how that will jell with Austin Energy and the city, which owns the landfill where the district would plant its panels.

Only initial discussions have taken place between the entities, Turner said, but the district hopes the city might rent the landfill to the district for the solar field.

Austin Energy runs the distribution system and would also have to sign off on the deal.

Plan B — installing panels on individual campuses — is also tricky. The campuses can’t be too shady and must have space for the panels, which can be expensive. It recently cost about $1 million to place panels at the four campuses that currently have solar, Turner said.

“One way or another, it’s a commitment to look for alternative energy,” said Curt Shaw, the district’s retired director of construction management, who is working with the staff on the bond package.

In addition to the $10 million for the solar field, Prop. 1 calls for another $10 million for more traditional energy projects, such as upgrading roofs, air conditioning units and other equipment to more energy-efficient models. That money would only be spent as those needs arise, Turner said.

Proposition 3 also includes more than $300 million for replacing similar equipment, addressing what the district has described as a massive deferred maintenance bill.

via Schools’ Prop. 1 asks for $140.6 million for solar field, tech… | www.statesman.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts

Tags

Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

UA-24036587-1