The Berkeley Board of Education refrained from approving a resolution that would have allowed staff to move forward with the Solar Project at Washington Elementary School at the school board meeting Wednesday.
The approval would have meant an opportunity for staff to apply for $750,000 in funds from the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) and ratification of an application for $305,000 in PG&E funds.
Kyoto USA, an all-volunteer project that encourages cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), is assisting BUSD in its efforts to put together a pilot solar project at Washington. It estimates the cost of the project at $800,000.
Staff approximates the total cost of the project to be $1,250,000, which takes into account roof replacement. Measure AA would give $195,000 in construction funds.
“We were disappointed that the board did not give staff the OK,” said Tom Kelly, who represented Kyoto USA at the meeting, in an email to the Daily Planet.
“We do understand their need for more information and we intend to provide it to them over the next few days. We are confident that the Board will see the incredible financial benefits to the District of this project and the long-term environmental benefits that represent our community’s contribution to creating a healthier planet.”
Kyoto USA volunteers Greg Rosen from PowerLight and Mark Frye from Berkeley Solar Electric also showed up at the meeting to express support for the idea, which has been named the HELiOS Project (Helios Energy Lights Our Schools).
Board members discussed and debated the benefits of photovoltaic systems at Washington for a good portion of the meeting but opinions remained divided.
Staff advised that while it could result in operational savings for the district, payback could also be a lengthy process.
“It’s not a project that has been done here before,” said Director of Facilities Lew Jones. “As a result it’s important to do it in a conservative way.”
“Is this a practical purpose?” asked student director Mateo Aceves. “Are the students going to benefit and learn from it?”
School Board director Karen Hemphill said she had received several emails from the BUSD community who expressed concern about the educational benefits of the program.
“We are talking about facilities and energy use right now,” said School Board Vice President John Selawsky, who helped expedite the project with the district. “There is a huge potential for putting this in the curriculum, but that is in the future. If we don’t do this in the next six months, the $305,000 in funds is going to become $225,000. We are not inventing the project. It has been done before.”
Selawsky added that the solar panels at Washington would create all the energy that Washington needed and put an end to the $25,000 annual electricity bill.
“The assumption is that fossil fuel energy will be with us forever. But fossil fuels are going to run out soon,” he said.
“The beauty of solar energy is that it’s self-generating. I think solar is going to pay for itself. We are not going to depend on PG&E and outside facilities.”
Director Hemphill said there were many at Washington who had learned about the project a week ago. “I want to know whether it’s a project that the school has embraced or something that is being superimposed.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that they don’t know about it,” said school superintendent Michele Lawrence. “When we want to put in new flooring in the schools, we don’t solicit what kind of flooring we want from people. The $25,000 electricity bill comes to the district, not to the school.”
Director Nancy Riddle stressed that it was important to take a closer look at the payback figures and asked staff to come back with a detailed report.
The California Department of Education (CDE) recently released the statewide and similar school ranks for all schools based on the schools’ Academic Performance Index (API) scores.
This information shows where a school ranks based on its API score on a scale of one (low) to ten (high) compared with other schools statewide, as well as compared with 100 other schools that have similar demographic characteristics. Staff notes that the rankings are primarily based on student performance on one assessment: the California Standardized Tests (STAR tests).
Berkeley Technology Academy (B-Tech, formerly Berkeley Alternative School) received a score of 1 out of a possible 10 on the statewide ranking. Since the API score for B-Tech was based on fewer than 100 valid STAR test results, the school was not given a similar school ranking.
Berkeley High School (BHS) did not receive an API score at all this year because of lack of student participation on the STAR tests, which are optional.
King placed first among the three middle schools with a state rank of 7, but its similar school score was only 4, while Willard’s state score was 4 and its similar school score was 1. Longfellow’s similar school score was much higher than Willard’s at 7, though its state score was the same, 4.
John Muir and Oxford topped the list of elementary schools with a state rank of 9 out of a possible 10. John Muir’s similar school rank was 10, while Oxford’s was 4. Two schools (Rosa Parks and Longfellow) gained one level in the state rankings, and four schools—Muir, Oxford, Washington and Willard—lost one level compared to the previous year.
Three schools—Jefferson, Rosa Parks and Berkeley Arts Magnet—made gains in the similar school ranking while five schools (Cragmont, Emerson, Malcolm X, Oxford and Washington) dropped from the previous year.
“The disparity between the school state rankings and the similar schools ranking is glaring,” said Selawsky. “Half the schools have low similar school rankings.”
Hemphill said that the ranks provided only one snapshot of the big picture. “Before we start putting band-aids we need to look at each of the schools comprehensively and see what’s going on,” she said. “We need to figure out where we need to put our resources and our money.”
Riddle pointed out that the state had reshuffled the way it did similar school rankings recently. “It’s hard to know what rates were used this time,” she said. “We need to take a careful look at this.”
Academic Performance Index (API) School Rankings
Rankings are based primarily on student performance on one assessment: the California Standardized Tests (STAR tests)
School State Rank SchoolRank
1. Cragmont 7 3
2. Emerson 7 6
3. Jefferson 8 7
4. LeConte 4 1
5. Malcolm X 7 8
6. John Muir 9 10
7. Oxford 9 4
8. Rosa Parks 4 3
9. Thousand Oaks 6 3
10. Washington 6 2
11. Whittier/Arts Magnet 6 3
12. King 7 4
13. Longfellow 4 7
14. Willard 4 1
15. Berkeley High *** ***
16. B-Tech 1 N/A