It is well documented that children are most susceptible to environmental hazards in their
environment. Under current policy, our children are potentially exposed in school to
environmental hazards such as pesticides, commercial cleaning products, lead, mold, poor indoor
air quality (especially in portable classrooms), and industrial emissions at and around school. As
more is learned about the effect on student health of these hazards, school systems nationwide
are seeking alternatives to pesticides, herbicides and toxic cleaning materials whenever possible
and seeking to use the least-toxic alternatives when constructing new schools.
1. Do you support the creation of an interdepartmental task force to review and revise
maintenance practices and materials policies to improve the health and safety of our students?
Environmental Hazards Comments:
The knee-jerk answer to the question you pose would be “Yes, of course that’s a good idea, who could be against that?” But you asked us to be honest, and having attended and participated in over 100 Finance Committee meetings since joining the School Board and having actually worked in great detail with all LCPS department for the past five years, I know and can honestly say that an interdepartmental task force would not be necessary. That is because, under our current structure, every one of these items – pesticides, cleaning products, indoor air quality, etc. – already falls solely within the purview of one department, the Department of Support Services. The other departments (Business & Finance, Planning, Pupil Services, Personnel, Public Information and Curriculum & Instruction) simply have no responsibility over such matters and their involvement would not be needed. And they certainly have other responsibilities. It is the Department of Support Services that is responsible for the construction and the maintenance of every aspect of our school campuses, including the driveways, parking lots, stormwater management, the buildings themselves, the lawns, the playgrounds, the competition playing fields -- everything.
The Finance, Construction & Site Acquisition Committee, which I chaired for two years and on which I have served for four years, regularly looks into these types of issues. In fact, three years ago, we did a comprehensive overview of our school facilities.
The Assistant Superintendent for Support Services has professionals who report to him on all of the issues raised in this preamble, and they are very sensitive to the need to protect our children from environmental hazards. They already do, as you suggest, regularly review and revise maintenance practices and materials policies in order to improve the health and safety of our students. So an interdepartmental task force to do this would be redundant. Should the Department of Support Services ever be divided and some of its functions split, then I would expect an interdepartmental effort would be needed and should occur.
Regarding some of your specific concerns, our school playgrounds already are not treated with herbicides (although high school competition playing fields are fertilized to ensure their suitability for competition). LCPS also strives to avoid if at all possible any kind of chemical pesticides and to eliminate the use of toxic cleaning products. Our Support Services personnel work to prevent mold from ever appearing through a strict inspection and maintenance program and regularly scheduled replacement of roofs, windows, ceiling tiles, carpets, etc. that might promote mold – if a section of ceiling shows moisture, not only is that section supposed to be replaced but the cause of the moisture is supposed to be found and corrected. And when we replace items, we generally look to see if we can do so using even more environmentally friendly products, such as with respect to our carpeting we now buy which does not pose nearly the environmental issues that carpeting did fifteen years ago.
Finally, I have opposed suggestions by some supervisors/board members that, rather than building new facilities, we should simply use more portable classrooms, and my opposition to portables is in part due to the very thing you mentioned – their susceptibility to environmental hazards. It is my hope we can not only avoid installing any more portables but that we can ultimately phase out the use of the portables we have now, but this will not be easy given the continued explosive growth we must deal with.
Research shows that efforts to improve school health and nutrition have significant impact on
school performance. Childhood obesity and other chronic diseases are at epidemic levels;
research shows that this is very closely linked to poor nutritional intake in children. Loudoun
County, with our good soil and rural farms has the unique opportunity to initiate reforms to
improve the health of our children through food policies and education. Please rank the following
initiatives according to your priorities (#1 through 8):
3 Restrict sale of candy, soda, sweets at/through the school
6 Adopt a “Healthy snacks” and “Healthy Parties” policy
1 Upgrade the nutritional quality of food offered in school lunches
8 Initiate partnerships between local farms and school food-service
7 Incorporate in-school kitchen gardens and local food economy education
2 Provide meal preparation and food selection workshops
4 Teach the significance of packaging and processed foods to ecological and personal health
5 Reinforce learned concepts by extending education to parents
2. As a school board member, will you show your commitment to student health by initiating an
initial review and follow-up trial programs to improve food service offerings (lunches, vending
machines, extra-curricular fund-raising food sales) YES NO
(see comments below)
3. The first step in changing practices is educating. Will you support the creation and adoption
of food selection curriculum for students and parents guided by sustainability and personal health
concepts? YES NO
(see comments below)
Healthy Schools Comments:
Since I joined the School Board five years ago, we have worked to significantly improve the nutritional content of meals and eliminate access where possible to items deemed to be less healthy than other alternatives. So the answers to your questions are not only yes, but we have already been doing this and will continue to do so. With my support, the School Board adopted a goal that “LCPS will address student obesity through programs developed to improve nutrition and promote physical fitness through lifetime activities.” In keeping with this, we have worked to utilize the Scorecard for Healthy Kids to assess and improve our offerings, and to reduce our transfat content significantly below the limits imposed by the federal government, eliminate fried foods and give students additional, healthier items to choose from such as fruits and vegetables. To promote greater awareness among parents and students of this issue, LCPS is now publishing a list of the nutritional content and ingredients for every item on our menus.
My own children have been in our schools for eighteen years, and I have observed first-hand the dramatic improvements in the content of their meals and reduction in their exposure to unhealthy foods. Our principals, who have the direct, day-to-day responsibility for running their schools, have taken our direction and worked to develop their own plans and procedures to promote more nutritional choices for children outside of the lunchroom. Finally, our health classes have increasingly emphasized the importance of good nutritional habits, and I will urge the educational professionals in our Instruction Department to continue considering ways of further improving our curriculum in this area.
“Green building” is a loosely defined collection of land-use, building design, and construction
strategies that reduce the environmental impacts that buildings have on their surroundings.
Conventionally constructed buildings consume more of our resources than necessary, generate
large amounts of waste, and expose inhabitants to environmental hazards through their materials
and design. In addition to consideration of materials and architecture, building location &
transportation are considered in designing a green building
Loudoun County Schools is poised to follow the lead of Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery
Counties in adopting school construction & maintenance standards and policies that improve
school performance, save money in life-cycle costs, and provide a model for other Loudoun
industries to follow.
4. Would you support changes to the school building standards to accommodate sustainable
features that would provide a healthier environment for our children, use resources sustainably
and generate life cycle cost savings for the taxpayers? YES NO
Green Schools Comments:
In fact, at the beginning of this year, as Chairman of the School Board it was my idea to ask Mrs. Godfrey, the chairman of the Finance, Construction & Site Acquisition Committee, to schedule time later in the spring to initiate discussions with the environmental community and our Department of Support Services on how we can make our facilities even more environmentally friendly. She subsequently held a meeting of the committee at which time our architects and staff explained what we were already doing. While I was pleased with that report, I believe we should look for ways to do more, and I urged that the advocates of green building meet separately with our architects and construction department to further identify in greater detail not only what was already being done but what more could be done.
However, as everyone knows, we are dependent upon the Board of Supervisors for our funding, and this year they arbitrarily imposed a 10 percent cut on future constructions costs without any advance discussion with the School Board or any, in my view, defensible rationale for this cut. It is my hope that the School Board will have the opportunity to have a discussion with the new Board of Supervisors and make them aware that we are already building schools that are, by every measure, cost-competitive with other jurisdictions in Virginia. They need to know that, if we are to explore ways of further reducing our long-term costs by incorporating even more environmentally friendly features, we will need to have the flexibility to be able to spend a little bit more in initial outlays if that is needed to generate life cycle savings. Building green can be cost-efficient in the long-run and thus good for the taxpayers, but we need the support of the Board of Supervisors. I was also very disappointed that some supervisors complained about the projected construction cost of our proposed new Monroe Advanced Technology Academy, which incorporated a campus design and LEEDS certification per the direction of the Urban Land Institute report the supervisors were urging us to follow. This is another issue we hope to revisit with the new Board of Supervisors. If they will not give us the money to build a more green facility for the new Monroe, that opportunity will be lost forever.
We recognize that the changes we have proposed will require time to plan and execute. We
intend to support school board members who provide the guidance and vision to promote the
necessary policies and initiatives with wisdom and determination.
LCPS currently maintains an Energy Education Program whose mission has been "to reduce the
use of energy throughout the school system". LCPS could expand the mission and personnel of
this office to develop resources that will embed sustainable development principles in school
buildings, the curriculum and the community.
A school-wide Sustainable Schools initiative would encompass evaluation of current practices
and recommendations with respect to global warming emissions, waste streams, and natural
resource depletion in the facilities construction, maintenance and operation systems. It would
emphasize problem solving and respect for the interdependent web of life, and foster commitment
to sustainable development within the curriculum. School staff could make use of the resources
that already exist for these types of evaluations and programs.
5) Would you support the creation of a school system-wide Sustainable Schools initiative? YES
Yes, but much of what you seek we are already doing. We just need to continue our efforts and find ways to do even more. The LCPS Energy Education Program has already saved an estimated $22 million in the past fifteen years, money which we have then been able to direct toward instruction. Since I have been on the board, we have, as you suggest, expanded the number of personnel devoted to this effort, and I know our energy experts do work with the construction and building operations folks to achieve further savings for buildings under construction and currently in operation. Much like your suggestion for the role of an interdepartmental task force, this is already being done within the Department of Support Services. Also, as you requested, our energy experts are already working with individual schools to inform school staff and students of what they can all do to reduce energy consumption. That is why we call it our Energy Education Program – we seek to educate our students on the importance of energy conservation.
The mission of our energy program is, in fact, broader than simply “to reduce the use of energy” as described in the preamble to this question. Our mission also includes ensuring efficient and effective stewardship of public resources, and notes that the Energy Education Department already works to: Develop energy savings habits within all levels of facility users; Implement energy saving programs and practices; Evaluate and utilize the most effective energy providers and rates; Review and authenticate energy usage and billing; Facilitate timely processing of all utility bills; Research and recommend energy efficient methods and materials; Generate an attitude and culture of energy savings; Represent LCPS interests in committees and organizations; Provide data and counsel regarding energy usage and cost; Observe and report areas for energy use reduction; Coordinate energy savings efforts with all departments within LCPS; Incorporate energy accounting software to maintain clear and accurate records; and develop and maintain professional and industry contacts; Seek program improvement through staff development. I am sure the energy professionals in this department would welcome additional input as to how they can further promote energy savings and sustainable schools, and would be pleased to pass along any suggestions.
Finally, throughout many of the schools I visit I consistently see signs, posters and other materials reminding staff and students about saving energy. As a parent I know that these matters are discussed in the classroom as well. We also provide a checklist for students and staff on “Things Anyone Can Do To Save Energy.” Finally, there are recycling programs and other energy conservation goals established for our schools and employees, and we are constantly looking for further improvements in this area.
6) Initiatives that support sustainability have positive effects beyond their environmental focus:
cost savings, improved school performance, student and staff health, etc. However, there may
also be obstacles to pursuing sustainable strategies in our school system. What impediments do
you foresee and how would you deal with them?
Sustainable Schools Initiative Comments:
The biggest single obstacle I see is the previously mentioned, ill-advised decision by the Board of Supervisors last spring to demand that we reduce our up-front future construction costs by ten percent. I do not want to sacrifice the quality of our buildings, including the additional resources we devote to make them energy-efficient, to meet some arbitrary number. If anything, I want us to have the flexibility to make our buildings even more energy efficient to achieve long-term savings, and I am hopeful that the next Board of Supervisors will see the wisdom of this approach and support us accordingly. Regardless of who gets elected to the Board of Supervisors, it is my intent to work with every one of them to help them understand the importance of supporting our efforts to create more sustainable schools. It’s good for our students and it’s good for our environment.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to respond to your concerns and congratulate you on forming a subcommittee this summer to work with the School Board and LCPS staff on these topics.
I share your goals and am committed to using my experience and my knowledge of the inner workings of LCPS and the public policy process to best achieve them. As you can see from my answers, while I believe we have already been doing a great deal in these areas, I welcome input on how we can further improve, and I know we need to do more.
In my five years on the School Board, including my two years as Chairman, I have explored all of these issues in great depth with my colleagues and with staff, and I look forward to working to achieve further progress in making our schools and our school environment sustainable. I led the fight this past spring for our proposed new, LEEDS certified, Monroe Advanced Technology Academy, and I defended it when the cost was criticized by supervisors. My view is that we must not be short-sighted but should instead work to achieve long-term savings and preserve our environment. If we have additional discussions with the Board of Supervisors along these lines, and I hope we do, I invite your organization to join me in supporting this.
Finally, as a parent of children who have attended Loudoun County Public Schools for the past 18 years, with nine more years to go for my youngest child, I appreciate your efforts to raise the awareness of these important issues. I want my child, and those children who will be future students, to go to school in the best possible environment and to have access to healthy, nutritious foods. I look forward to working with you in the years ahead toward these mutual goals.
ps. I have been discussing and meeting with our Director of Transportation and a leader in the environmental community plans to phase in bio-diesel fuel use in our buses, starting with this year's proposed budget.