DAVENPORT, Fla. — Some schools in the Bay area have been experiencing ongoing air conditioning issues.

The Polk County Public School district and the Polk Education Association (PEA) met face-to-face Friday to discuss the issues with the air conditioning at a number of schools.

What You Need To Know

  • Teachers at 60 schools now reporting AC issues  
  • The school district and union are set to meet Friday regarding the class action grievance 
  • Polk school district says out of 755 work orders, over 600 have been filled 
  • Four jobs for AC technicians posted on Polk Schools’ website 

According to PEA president Stephanie Yocum, educators at 60 different Polk County schools have reported issues with air conditioning units. On the first day of school last Friday, only 15 schools were reportedly having issues. The union filed a class action grievance last week regarding the issue.

Yocum said the district is bringing in hundreds of portable AC units and ais getting help from nine different contractors to try and cool the air in some classrooms.

But having 100% working units district wide is going to take some time.

Yocum said there are still eight AC technician vacancies in the district and said the district plans on spending about a million dollars in getting those nine contractors to help solve this problem.

According to data provided by the district, of the 1,427 work orders submitted this year, 755 have been closed.

Yocum says policies and procedures have to change moving forward to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

“If you think that learning’s important, which we’re in the business of learning, you can’t learn in an environment that’s 80, 85, 90 degrees. It’s just not conducive to teaching and learning.”

At Davenport School of the Arts, parents say the school first started having air conditioning issues last spring and those problems have yet to be fixed. Students and teachers have reported issues in multiple middle school classrooms, the band room and the cafeteria.

Staci Lipman, who has a 7th grade son at the school, says the students often sit in the cafeteria for well over 30 minutes at the end of the day and it’s unbearably hot.

“The fact that it’s still ongoing, it’s something that started last year that still hasn’t been addressed, honestly I’m quite frustrated,” Lipman said.

Lipman says last year, when the school had fewer students, those in impacted classrooms could move to another space. This year, it’s harder to make those accommodations. Industrial sized fans have been placed in the cafeteria but it hasn’t made much of a difference, Lipman said.

“He’s not excited about coming,” she said. “And unfortunately they have a uniform, so it’s not like they can dress different either.”

A photo sent from a Polk County elementary school teacher to the union on Aug. 15 depicts a thermostat sitting at 86 degrees inside of a classroom. Parent Joanne Stewart says it’s not fair to the teachers.

“No one should be working in this environment and nevertheless our children be here and trying to learn in this,” she said.

The Polk County Public School District issued a statement on Thursday about the working orders. It said:

“Please note that some of the orders (approx. 5%) were duplicates, and many (49%) were submitted for rooms that had working A/C — but in the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing, A/C systems can struggle to cool rooms more than 15-20 degrees. For context, A/C issues have made up less than 13% of the total work orders we’ve received over the summer.

PCPS maintenance crews have been working diligently to finish all remaining repairs. The district is assigning maintenance staff from other trades to assist with A/C work orders. We also have authorized overtime pay for night and weekend work to make fixes as quickly as possible.

PCPS is prioritizing repairs in rooms without working A/C that are used by students. We also are deploying portable A/C units where possible.

PCPS is contracting with vendors for more extensive HVAC work. We also have secured more than $40 million in federal ESSER funds for various air quality initiatives, of which more than $6 million has been spent to purchase and install more than 500 new A/C systems.

As a temporary measure, schools have the flexibility to relocate students if they are in rooms without working A/C.

The district is also working to ensure that school thermostats are being set at appropriate levels, as a way to avoid moisture/mold buildup, and prevent A/C systems from being overtaxed.”

Hillsborough County

In Hillsborough County, schools were having some issues when students went back to class just over a week ago.

Officials with the district say a half cent sales tax referendum has helped them with the fixes they have to make. The half cent sales tax for deferred maintenance has raised almost $500 million — many improvements have been made at almost 100 schools with that money.

The issue is that there is around $1 billion in deferred maintenance needed, with new needs cropping up every day.

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Farkas discussed the increasing cost of construction and repairs, and how that is adding to the challenges of existing AC issues in schools.

“The funding that came along with both air conditioning and roofs, did not keep up with where we are, the milage rates in that part too, so deferred maintenance means things we should have done in a timely manner that we weren’t able to because of funding,” said Farkas.

 The district says it is using spot coolers and chillers in schools with AC issues right now, and in some cases, schools are moving students out of classrooms with broken ACs.

Those schools with AC issues are now a top priority, as the district continues to work on its planned AC upgrades.

The district says it is responsible for cooling around 29 million square feet of space, which is like cooling 14,000 single-family homes every single day.

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