NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY
STANDING COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
ASSEMBLY STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION
ASSEMBLY STANDING COMMITTEE ON HEALTH
HEARING TO ASSESS THE ADEQUACY OF NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITYíS POLICIES RELATING TO SCHOOL FACILITIES AND THEIR EFFECT ON THE HEALTH AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE OF STUDENTS
Assembly Hearing Room
ASSEMBLYMAN STEVEN SANDERS, Chair
LIST OF SPEAKERS
Mr. Robert Troeller
Dr. Leonardo Trasande
Dr. Sophie Balk
Soneni B. Smith
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Good morning everybody. Thank you all for getting up so early in the morning, being here so promptly. My name is Steve Sanders, Iím Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. These hearings are being held in conjunction with my committee and also the Committee on Environmental Conservation shared by my colleague to my left, Tom DiNapoli. He will, we will be joined shortly by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried who chairs the Assembly Committee on Health, and we are now being joined by the sponsor of a great deal of legislation in the Assembly dealing with healthy schools, promoting healthy schools, Steve Englebright.
We have a fairly ambitious schedule for today. I expect these hearings will probably go well into the afternoon and we will try to certainly move the agenda along as expeditiously as we can.
New York State schools are the places where three million children and hundreds of thousands of professionals learn and work every day in 4,200 buildings. Many of them constructed over one half century ago. Children and young students are not just little adults. They are more susceptible to physical damage or physical disruption because of exposure to toxins, carcinogens and other environmental hazards. Their bodies and immune systems are not fully developed and at such they are at greater risk and we must take greater care to ensure that the school buildings they inhabit for at least 30 hours a week are more, more than just surface clean. These buildings must be safe from dangers that at times cannot be seen but are health threats and even deadly if not eliminated.
These hearings are designed to question whether laws passed and regulations adopted promoting healthy schools are being enforced and whether through either negligence or perhaps benign neglect, school districts are placing students and school professionals at risk.
Yesterdayís very troubling revelation about airborne exposure to asbestos at PS 219 in Brooklyn, which was identified based on work that was being done in their gymnasium is very troubling and probably not isolated. We will try this morning and during the course of the day to shed some light on that and other matters that may pose environmental risks and threats to our students, our teachers and all persons who come through in and around school buildings everyday. Let me turn to my colleague, Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli who chairs the Committee on Environmental Conservation.
ASSEMBLYMAN DINAPOLI: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Just very briefly because we do have a long list of witnesses today, this issue is of critical importance and I think Chairman Steve Sanders framed our purpose and our interest very well today. This hearing is not the first hearing that our Environmental Conservation Committee has convened on this important topic and as a result of the earlier hearings, the significant pieces of legislation have been introduced, largely under the sponsorship and leadership of my good friend and Long Island colleague Assemblyman Steve Engelbright. So, we certainly hope that todayís hearing will continue to shed important light, give us important information, and as important, help us advance what is already a very thoughtful and very responsive agenda on how we need to deal with this issue.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And speaking of Mr. Englebright, Mr. Englebright?
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for your steadfast advocacy and commitment to the creation of healthy and high performance schools to protect the next generation. Our children should be able to go to school knowing that they are safe and secure and they should not wonder, nor should their parents wonder if they are in fact becoming victims of the circumstance of schools that are improperly planned for or maintained. I think itís very significant that weíre joined at this hearing today by Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, the Chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee and shortly Iím sure Dick Gottfried, the Chair of the Health Committee will be here. Their support and presence along with your own Mr. Chairman, underscores the great importance that the New York Assembly attaches to the issue of healthy schools and I thank you again for your care and your sensitivity to this very important issue and I look forward to those who are going to speak to us.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much Mr. Englebright. Our first group of witnesses, a panel that represents various agencies in New York City so I think I will let them each individually introduce themselves and if you please of course indicate your position in the agency that you represent and then I think there will be at least one, perhaps several prepared statements. Thank you.
MS. OESTREICHER: Good morning Chairman Sanders, DiNapoli, and Assemblyman Englebright. My name is Marty Oestreicher, Iím the Chief Executive for School Support Services in the New York City Department of Education. I am joined by my colleagues at the Department Bernie Orlan whoís the Director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. Jim Lonergan who is the Executive Director of School Facilities. To my right Lorraine Grillo is the Senior Director of Project Support at the School Construction Authority and also here with us is Elliot Marcus from the Department of Health. On behalf of Chancellor Joel Klein we thank you for the opportunity to come before you today to discuss the Departmentís policies and initiatives for healthy schools.
Let me say at the outset that insuring the health and safety of our 1.1 million school children in addition to our staff and parents is of the utmost importance to Chancellor Klein. We all know that children absolutely need a clean, safe building in order to learn to succeed, just as teachers need them in order to be effective instructors. We are committed to maintaining 1,500 school buildings as effectively as possible, while insuring a healthy safe learning environment for students and staff and while there are many things that we need to keep our schools safe from, such as rodents, insects, contaminants in the air and water, we also need to be sure that we are safe in products and methods we utilize to alleviate these problems. There are several strategies we employ at the Department that weíll describe this morning, which will include the way in which we alleviate pest problems, and our planned use of non toxic cleaning products.
As we all know, New York has a uniquely challenging task in pest control. However, we cannot allow that to deter our pest abatement efforts in our schools. While pests can be harmful to childrenís health, we need to also remember that the products we use to eliminate them can also be harmful. This is why the Departmentís Pest Control Division has and continues to promote and utilize the principles of integrated pest management, IPM in the treatment of our school buildings.
IPM is a pest management strategy that focuses on long term prevention or suppression of pests through a combination of practices, not the least of which is eliminating the use of any pesticides that might be considered hazardous. Other states such as Pennsylvania have made IPM a mandatory program for their school systems. IPM includes such strategies as using High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA)vacuums_with special attachments used to suck up pests and pest debris when an infestation is found, eliminating the need for pesticide use. The staff uses an enzyme based cleaner, Super C Professional, to remove pheromones left by ants and cockroaches on surface to attract other pests. Repairing pest entry points and harborages is also a key strategy. The New York City system has reduced overall pesticide use by over 90 percent with a 95 percent reduction in service calls since the adoption of the IPM program.
The US EPA has cited our program as a model for other urban school pest control programs, and has sponsored the divisions traveled to share the particulars of the strategy throughout the country. On December 12, 2002, the Department was named as the 2 school districts in the nation to receive the 2002 champion of the IPM award and on April 9, 2003, we received the first ever star certification award from the North American Institute of IPM. Most recently, on December 8, 2003, the Department received the 2003 Excellence in IPM Award by the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.
We are committed to eradicating pests from our schools, particularly in cafeterias and other areas where infestations are likely to occur. We regularly send staff out to school buildings where there are emerging or recurring pest problems, and monitor those schools after treatment. We are proud of our overall efforts in pest control, particularly in minimizing the use of potentially harmful products to rid our schools of pests.
With the assistance of Ms. Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network, the Department of Education has begun to review custodial cleaning products used in our school. We are planning to start a pilot project in the fall term that will test the cost and operational effectiveness of utilizing only organic products to clean our schools. In a number of schools yet to be designated, participating custodians will be instructed to order materials from a fixed list of acceptable items. We will review the effectiveness of these products in cleaning our schools as well as their costs compared to our current product inventory.
If successful, we will expand the program throughout the City. We should also note that we are in strict compliance to regulations regarding the use of our current products. We adhere to all right to know requirements and all other regulations governing use of these products.
The Department in the issue of lead and water, the Department takes several precautions to make sure that drinking water in our schools is safe to consume. In consultation with the New York City Department of Health and Environmental Protection as well as the EPA we have established a program to insure that all potable water outlets are in compliance with drinking water standards. As of January, 2004, all DOE buildings except 101 were tested for lead in drinking water.
The sampling was conducted in accordance with DOEís lead in drinking water sampling protocol where all potable water outlets, drinking water fountains and water coolers, kitchen sink faucets, hand washing sink faucets within the school were tested. DOE buildings were tested once during the initial testing with follow up as needed. For example, after remediation or changes to pluming. Utilizing the Federal guidance level for lead concentration in drinking water in schools of equal or less than 20 parts per billion set by the United States Environmental Protection Agencies, Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Non Residential Buildings, EPA 812-B 94-002, April 94, and used that to determine the allowable levels.
Based on these results, should the elevated outlet be a drinking water fountain, water cooler or a kitchen sink, they are immediately turned off and taken out of service. The elevated level comes from a hand washing sink, a sign would be posted that said do not drink from this faucet, hand washing only. A licensed plumber investigates the possible source and replaces suspected plumbing components after which post remediation water sampling and analysis is performed. The water outlet remains out of service until 2 consecutive satisfactory lead water results are obtained.
If enough outlets need to be closed, thereby rendering the operating facilities insufficient to meet the needs of the school occupants, the Department of Education provides the school with bottled water until the remediation is complete. In addition, to avoid any pipe erosion that may allow lead leachate into the water, school pluming is flushed after every weekend and after school vacations.
Lead in paint has been know to cause neurological injury to children. The Department of Education has continued to work with the New York City Department of Health to eliminate this risk in our buildings. All classrooms occupied by children 6 years of age and younger and special education children who cannot control their hand to mouth activities are inspected periodically. All peeling paint is safeguarded by removal or enclosure following abatement protocols as established by the New York City Department of Health and outlined in their regulations.
Safeguarding requires the removal of lead paint or otherwise making the lead paint or itís dust inaccessible to the hand to mouth activities of this sensitive population. All personnel involved in the abatement process must be certified by training mandated by the US EPA. Areas surrounding the activity site are sealed in polyethylene sheeting and lead paint is removed by scrapping utilizing wet methods, the use of HEPA vacuums and in some cases, negative air filtration. Upon lead paint removal and environmental cleaning, the areas both in and outside the work area are tested by an independent state certified laboratory to ensure that the level of dust remaining in the area is within acceptable limits.
Clearance sampling results are shared with the school community and are available for review by the New York City Department of Health. Since the regulation was instituted in 1995, the Department of Education has performed lead abatement activities in 4,488 classes occupied by pre K, Kindergarten and first grade and special education students. In addition, Department of Health has referred 903 lead poison cases that were jointly investigated by DOE and DOH. Of these, 180 classes required remedial activities.
Some recent development in the bussing doesnít affect buildings, per say, but it affects the air surrounding our schools. The Department of Education is taking steps to address those issues on those areas outside of our school buildings. The Office of Pupil Transportation which I also oversee, using grant funds from the New York Power Authority and the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority has committed to the installation of Diesel Particulate Filters and Diesel Oxidation Catalysts on more than one thousand school buses. This program will also cover the cost of the differential for the purchase of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel for these vehicles and another one thousand school buses that will service schools in all five boroughs of New York City.
In addition, four of our major contractors have already reached agreements which Chancellor Klein was pleased to announce with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer earlier this year. These agreements call for the development and implementation of school bus idling policies that are standardized throughout the companies. These contractors will 1, implement a no idling policy that prohibits idling for more than one minute within one block of a school unless idling is necessary to operate an auxiliary loading or unloading function such as wheelchair lifts or necessary safety equipment or for more than 3 minutes at any other location; 2, implement an operations plan at bus depots to eliminate excessive idling; 3, implement a monitoring program for 3 years and report all compliance activities and findings to the Attorney Generalís Office on an annual basis; and 4, fund an environmental benefit project valued at $47,000 for tree planting near New York City public schools. The school buses owned and operated by these contractors who signed this agreement represent approximately 60% of the school bus fleet.
So in conclusion, there are many other programs in place at the Department of Education to address health and safety in school buildings. For example, under the Clean Air for Schools Program, or CASP, we no longer have any schools utilizing coal furnaces. These are some of the ways the Department is working to make certain that our school buildings are healthy and clean places in which students can learn, teachers can teach and where everyone can be productive.
We look forward to your support of our capital plan so that we can make the needed improvements in our existing school buildings as well as in the construction of new ones. I Thank you for the opportunity to testify and will be happy to take any questions you may have. I believe the Department of Health out.
MR. MARCUS: Good morning Chairman Sanders, members of the Assembly. Iím Elliot Marcus, the Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The safety of our children is of paramount importance to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as it is to all of us so Iím pleased to be here to discuss food safety in school cafeterias. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has included school cafeterias in itís food service establishment inspection program since September 1996, even thought the Department of Education has a special unit to inspect and monitor food safety in itís own cafeterias.
The Departmentís inspection process for food service establishment is based on extremely rigorous standards, and those same standards are applied to school food service programs. These inspections involve full reviews of a food establishmentís practices and facilities including everything from receiving food from approved sources to proper sanitizing of utensils and equipment and the impact these activities have on food safety. This includes assessment of food workers and their hygienic food practices, food storage, food preparation processes, equipment and facility issues, cleaning and sanitizing, water sources, sewage disposal and vermin control. The Department inspections are based on the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point or HACCP approach. The standard that is incorporated in the Federal Food and Drug Administrations Model Food Safety Code. The HACCP approach examines an operation as a total process by identifying critical control points in an attempt to prevent food safety hazards.
The Department schedules school cafeteria inspections at least once during each school year. Cafeteriaís found to meet a threshold for reinspection that is a combined total of 28 points for critical and general items are scheduled for an additional inspection on or after 15 days from the date of the original inspection. The minimum point totals for each violation categories are as follows: public health hazards received 7 points; critical violations 5 points; general violations 2 points. Additional points may be added in each category to reflect the extensiveness of a violation.
It is important to recognize that this is a complex process and that all violations are not equal. The standard applied by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is extremely high and it is exceedingly difficult to get a perfect score. In fact, it is relatively uncommon for food service establishments of any kind, school food service programs included to go through inspection without being cited for some violations.
Our inspectors check more than a hundred different conditions ranging from the wearing of hairnets and general cleanliness issues, to meeting cooking temperature requirements and the proper storage of food. There are also many variations of conditions reflected in a given violation that may determine the potential degree of risk to food safety.
Violations that are most likely to cause food born illness turned to Public Health Hazards must be corrected at the time of inspection. Even though the violations are corrected immediately, these corrected violations are noted on the inspection report. Each inspection is concluded with a conference with a Supervisor of the food service operation in which the reasons for the violations, and methods to prevent future occurrences are discussed. The inspection report is given to the Supervisor of the Food Service Program in each school who forwards a copy to the Department of Education office of School, Food and Nutrition Services and itís division of school facilities.
The Department Supervisorís at the Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation then review each inspection report. Any serious problems or concerns are immediately brought to the attention of the Department of Educationís Office of School Food and Nutrition Services and plans for compliance are established.
The inspection process and the food safety standards upon which it is based are the same for all food service establishments. The enforcement process, however, is somewhat different for school and food services programs.
Under a long standing city policy, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene does not fine other City agencies. School cafeteriaís and restaurants are graded in exactly the same fashion, but we do not impose monitory penalties on schools for food service violations. Monetary penalties assessed on schools would simply move tax money from one agency to another and might reduce the educational resources available to children.
However, we have the ability and the authority to close a cafeteria or order food operations to cease immediately for schools just as for restaurants and we would not hesitate to do so if the school warranted. Our experience has shown school food service supervisorís and workers to be quite responsive to the Department inspectors. Failure to correct serious violations immediately or to cooperate with inspection efforts resulted in immediate call for the Department, to the Director of the Department of Educationís Office of Food Technology and Quality Assurance.
The frequent and continuous discussions we have with that office provide an added level of monitoring and follow up that has no parallel with respect to private restaurant industry.
The Department annually inspects 1,139 school cafeterias, which serve about 800,000 meals a day. The number of schools that have received one or more violations in the critical category, which includes public health hazards, had declined between the years 2000 and 2002. In 2003, that number rose slightly as it did throughout the rest of the food service industry in New York City due to our Departmentís restructuring of the point system by which establishments are graded. With several general violations reclassified as critical violations based on the risks they pose for food born illnesses.
In 2000, 615 school food service programs received critical violations, averaging well less than 1 critical violation per school. In 2001, 517 school cafeteriaís received critical violations and by 2002, the number of critical violations dropped to 396. That number rose in 2003 to 577, due to the changes made by the Department in grading inspections. However, only a very small number of New York Cityís school cafeterias received violations, meeting the threshold that requires a compliance inspection. Twenty eight in 2000, twenty one in 2001, fifteen in 2002 and fifty two in 2003.
The percentage of school cafeterias requiring compliance inspection compares quite favorably to all other food establishments. In 2000, 8.1% of school cafeteriaís required a compliance inspection as compared to 17.3% of all other food establishments. Respectively, the comparison of the school cafeteriaís requiring compliance inspections versus other food service establishments is as follows for the next 3 years, in 2001, 5.5% of the schools versus 13.9%. In 2002, 2.1% versus 13.7% and in 2003, 5.6% versus 24.29%.
Finally, an additional important measure of food safety of the food served in schools is our system of monitoring for food borne illness. The Departmentís Office of Environmental Investigation, which investigates reports of possible food borne illnesses, has not reported any confirmed outbreak of food bourne illness associated with food served in school cafeterias for the period to which this testimony refers.
We believe the inspection program we now have in place is sound and effective, but we are always looking for ways to improve and strengthen it. We continue to have regular contact with the Department of Education to be sure that the potential risks to food safety are addressed in an effective way. And there is sufficient accountability to assure that violations are addressed in a timely manner. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
MR. OESTREICHER: Mr. Chairman, at this time you had mentioned the situation in the school in Brooklyn, PS 219. I wonder if we could have our Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Mr. Orlan who was there last night provide an update on what the situation is at that school?
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Okay.
MR. ORLAN: I will try to bring you up to date on what it is we know at this point. The incident is still under investigation as exactly what took place leading up to that. However, what we are doing at present is working on parallel tracks. First of all, we have to make sure the building is safe re-occupancy by the children. Thatís got to be of paramount importance to us all.
Secondarily, weíre also reviewing the various protocols and procedures to see if everything was followed, what needs to be developed to avoid such a situation in the future. But at this time in terms of actual data, itís still being investigated, the final results have not been received from the laboratory as of yet. We did have some initial indication that lead us to make the move of closing the school to have a very thorough cleaning done by environmental abating specialists.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you, thank you all for those statements, thank you for that update. Let me begin the inquiry portion, ask a few questions of several of you and then Iím sure my colleagues will have a few questions as well. Mr. Orlan, as long as you went last and you spoke about probably the, certainly the most recent problem, let me ask you a few more questions about that.
The school in question of course is PS 219 in Brooklyn. In a way I was struck by, this is not really a criticism but just I was struck by the fact that none of the presentations mentioned the work asbestos. That word was not mentioned in any of the presentations and of course asbestos, the presence of asbestos certainly represents one of the greatest potential health risks to anyone who is in close proximity and Iím speaking of mostly about asbestos which becomes airborne.
The newspaper accounts of the events in that school yesterday indicated Mr. Orlan that based on the work that was performed or was being performed by the company which I believe is a company by the name of Tempco Service Industries, that there was the existence of asbestos found in the air. So first of all my question is, is that report accurate?
MR. OESTREICHER: Before Mr. Orlan answers in more details that statement is not entirely accurate. The work was not being performed by Tempco. Tempco is a building management company, oversees the custodial operations at that site. The work was done by a contractor brought in to remove, replace the gym floor and so our --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Okay, thatís, thatís fine, that certainly clarifies the record but the, one of my primary concerns here about yesterdayís incident is number one, was the report, the account that I read this morning that there was air quality testing done and there was airborne asbestos in significantly high levels found and that was one of the reasons for the schools closure.
MR. OESTREICHER: I havenít seen that particular report but what Iíd like to do if I may is let review the details as I understand it and then if there are any questions based on that Iíll be glad to try to answer them.
The Department of Education does have protocols in place to avoid such incidents. Prior to doing work, examination should be taking place first, both in terms of asbestos or just general dust, lead, regular dust. Protocols should be in place.
Each school does have a document that details where asbestos is present at the school. However, according to that document there is no, there is no designation for a asbestos material that is underneath a sub straight. For example, if I have insulation on a boiler I would be able to indicate that. If I have it on the wall I can indicate that also. However, in this particular case, it seems to have been something beneath the floor surface itself, which would not have shown up on that particular adhere reports. Thatís something that has to be addressed. If not by an adhere report then by further into the protocols that weíve already established.
It is assumed at this point that was disturbed, and there was levels in the year, they were higher than pre occupancy levels, which is listed at seventy structures. I do not have the exact data, but I do know we were pushing that and in some instances perhaps even above that.
Exactly where in the school those are elevated, I couldnít tell you at present, I will have that later on this afternoon. However, if itís there, we air on the side of safety and it was prudent to close the school at this point until we further investigate.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Do you know what time of the day the work was performed?
MR. OESTREICHER: I can tell you the sampling was conducted late yesterday afternoon --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: That was the air sampling?
MR. OESTREICHER: The evening, the air sampling.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Do you know what time of the day the, the work in the gymnasium was being performed? The question Iím getting at here is, for how many hours during the course of that day were people in that building exposed to airborne asbestos?
MR. OESTREICHER: I think thatís a portion thatís also under investigation, exactly when it was disturbed.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: But what time of the day was the air sampling done?
MR. OESTREICHER: The air sampling was conducted from 4 p.m. on into the early morning hours, until about 2 a.m. or so, we did get our results coming in about 5:30, 6 a.m. this morning.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Several years ago the state adopted new regulations based on a law that was passed, commonly referred to as the rescue legislation which was passed in 1998. Among other things, the rescue legislation requires that a building condition survey be done on a regular basis, certainly every 5 years that there would be an annual, visual inspection, that there would be a school facilities report card, annual safety ratings done, a comprehensive maintenance plan. Shouldnít some portion of this, of these requirements on the City if not all of them but certain, shouldnít some of those requirements in terms of building condition survey and the identification of dangerous material, should that not have identified for every school what may be below the surface?
I think your statement Mr. Orlan was that because the disturbance of the asbestos was somewhere in or below the super structure, in or below the concrete I suppose, that there was no knowledge of that and yet there was a disturbance and that evidently caused asbestos to be freed into the air. Are we basically saying here that for all 1,100 buildings we donít really know what is just below the surface so anytime that there is work that is done it is possible that substances like asbestos may be disturbed? That thereís no asbestos abatement procedure because we donít know whatís below the surface?
MR. ORLAN: There are protocolís established that require the investigation prior to continued operation or continued maintenance or any kind of improvement to the area. Exactly what happened in this situation, as I said before, weíre still looking in to see if our existing protocols and procedures have been followed, if they werenít again, why not and if they were, what we need to do to insure that this does not happen in the future.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: But do we not know from building to building what is actually part of the construction of that building and where risks may exist?
MR. ORLAN: The buildings that I believe are median age is sixty, sixty five years and the construction industry went through different eras. At one time it was very prevalent to find asbestos in the wall plaster, other times it was not. It is such a mixed bag we do not have a boiler plate, so to speak of everything that is out there beneath the surface.
The recent constructions, we certainly do have that, courtesy of the work done by school construction authority. So we do have a good handle on that. However, on the much older buildings, and there are some buildings that are well over a hundred years old, that information isnít readily accessible to us.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Getting back to the rescue legislation, can anybody testify as to whether or not the specific provisions of the rescue legislation which calls for a building condition survey every five years, an annual, visual inspection, a school facilities report card on an annual basis, annual safety ratings, a comprehensive maintenance plan, does this, is this taking place, is this taking place for all buildings in New York City?
MS. GRILLO: Assembly member Sanders, thank you for allowing us --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: If you would just -- yes, thank you.
MS. GRILLO: My name is Lorraine Grillo and Iím a Senior Director of the School Construction Authority for Project Support. With regard to the building condition assessment survey, the School Construction Authority has just completed the building condition survey which was an intracle part of the creation of the proposed five year capital plan, so all that data is available.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: For all buildings?
MS. GRILLO: Yes sir.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And with respect to the other aspects of rescue, the annual visual inspection of school facilities report card, all of this has been submitted to the State Education Department and we could, we could access that information for all schools?
MR. OESTREICHER: Well the closest thing that we have whatís called the B Cast Report which I donít know if youíd consider that a full score card, Iím not sure of what all the details what the score card calls for but we have a B Cast report which is a detailed analysis and inventory of ever one --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Excuse me, whatís a B Cast report?
MR. OESTREICHER: Building Condition Assessment Survey and that is the point I think Ms. Grillo was referring to and is the basis for our capital plan but that is a listing of every school, the conditions at every school, the needs at the school.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Alright, let me just ask 1 or 2 more questions and then turn to my colleagues. It is my information that around the State there are some, this is statewide, there are some 235 schools which house about 140,000 students that have been cited within one half mile of a superfund site or a contaminated site, and I believe that PS 65 in Queens is one of those buildings. I think that it is within a half mile and close proximity at least to what the Department of Environmental Conservation has declared to be a toxic site and I understand that a waiver has been granted by the New York City Department of Health for this school and the areas of the school that are perhaps vulnerable to the toxicity of the site to continue to operate. Can someone comment on this please?
MR. OESTREICHER: Yes, PS 65 is a school that we monitor very, very closely. The waiver to the Department of Health is the waiver to have the classes and basement level. Itís not the waiver with regard to any of the funds that was, or the materials that were underneath the building. That waiver, I should say has not been granted yet, itís being considered. We have applied for the waiver to the Department.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Why are you applying for the waiver?
MR. OESTREICHER: Because under the Department of Health and Regulations, classrooms that are of a certain level, certain people of grand level must have a waiver from the Department of Health.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: No, I understand that but, given, given itís proximity to a toxic site, at least thatís my information, given the fact that it is in close proximity, given the fact that the particular, the areas which are most vulnerable are those on ground or below ground level, you know, weíre dealing with ground water other seepages into, into soil, why, why would you seek to use those areas of the building that in fact, it seems to me and to some people maybe quite vulnerable given itís proximity to a toxic site?
MR. OESTREICHER: This is the way the building was designed to use those, use those classrooms but I should say Mr. Chairman that we have been testing that school on a regular basis and the tests for air, water, anything else done in consultation with the State Department of Health, US EPA, City Department of Health have always, have shown that everything is negative and everything is as appropriate. And they should also know that we did in November 02 construct a sub slab vapor extraction system which insures that any vapors emanating from the ground water are drawn away from the building.
But we constantly test that building and whatever the issue with that building and the tests have proven negative and that, those, that testing will go on until we decide to do something else with the building, but the building has always tested positive and itís all done in cooperation with the regulatory agencies.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I think you mean tested negative.
MR. OESTREICHER: Tested negative, did I say that? A positive test with negative results.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I understand that. Excuse me. One more question on this point and then I just have one additional question for Commissioner Marcus. With all of this information that is supposed to be submitted to, in some cases the State Education Department, in some cases the testing of as you mentioned Mr. Oestreicher, the testing of various parts of a building to make sure that it is in full compliance with environmental health and building code regulations. Is this information whether itís the information that is, it pertains to the rescue legislation or whether it is individual building specific testing that is done, is that data available to parents and if so, how can they access this information?
Obviously the direction of my question is the parents want to know what the situation is with regard to the places that their children spend more time in their lives, than any other place except their own homes?
MR. OESTREICHER: I agree, and itís a fair point then, in this case of PS 65 we have constantly been in touch with, the circulars have gone out to parents on a regular basis. Where we have these kind of issues we will, we work with parents and now we have parent coordinators in the schools who we will make available any literature, any information, any sort of meetings that need to be held with parents.
In terms of just general information about the schools, the system you described before that describes whatís going on in every building and the conditions at that building is available on line for parents
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: So, is all this, is all this information available on a DOE website or some other website so that parents actually know how they can access this information and itís all there? Ms. Grillo?
MS. GRILLO: I just want to comment on the B CAST survey, you know I, I said itís online, I know itís going online, I apologize for that, itís being placed online as we speak.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: So up until now it has not been?
MS. GRILLO: No, itís just recently been completed and it is being placed online.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Is there any information with respect to surveys which are required or specific inspections which are done dealing with specific schools, whether itís PS 219 as of yesterday or PS 65 or any other schools that would not at this point now be made accessible of via your website or some other mechanism for parents to know?
MR. OESTREICHER: Well in buildings where the special circumstances that weíve just described, it would not just rely on the website. We would be meeting with the parents of the school, weíve met with the parents of PS 65 and if we have special means to reach them directly weíre not relying on any website that, weíd have to check a citywide website and look for their school. Thereís an issue and the issue will be brought to the attention of the parents in the school community.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Let me just ask Commissioner Marcus, your testimony dealt to the greatest extent with the conditions of cafeterias and the integrity of not only the facilities, but obviously of the integrity of the food itself.
I was very concerned earlier this year that a contract for, which is basically a sole source contract, in that only one vendor provides all the food services to New York City pursuant to a contract. I was very concerned that, that contract was almost consummated with a vendor who in fact had a history of providing unsafe food in our schools. This isnít my opinion, this is, was the opinion of the Inspector General, Mr. Conden.
Does the Department of Health in any way have any input or tend to have any input with respect to not only the conditions may exist, that may exist at a given time but a contract that was almost granted to a vendor that was cited for problems in the past, contaminated food, rancid food, how do we avoid a vendor with this kind of troubling history from actually being given the contract for all of our schools when that person has been cited in the past?
MR. OESTREICHER: Can I comment on that?
MR. MARCUS: Thatís not really something thatís within our jurisdiction. We do food service establishment inspections, and those include school cafeterias. So we have no role in the contracting process.
MR. OESTREICHER: Can I comment on that?
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Sure.
MR. OESTREICHER: Because you mentioned that contract and I know who youíre referring to. I mean we will, we do a full due diligence imbedding of any contractor whoís going to apply for the food distribution bid and we are, the bid is going out very soon, a revised bid, and we will be doing that bidding and the company youíre referring to is still, continues to do business, there is some questions about those findings many years ago but the company has been doing business for quite a while with the City and has not been found to be providing any sort of rancid food or anything like that in the last 5, 10, at least the last 5 to 10 years.
Anyhow, itís an issue that will be reviewed when any contractor, any bidder will be reviewed and weíll do a full bidding of their experience.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: But when this company who also tried to bid, in fact did bid for food vending services outside of the schools in other parts of the city that provides food services department of corrections, others, I believe that the Division of Citywide administrative services ruled very definitively that this vendor was not a responsible bidder based on a prior history of not providing a safe food. Bid rigging allegations were involved as well but DCAS had indicated that this was not a responsible bidder.
Why was it that when the same vendor was bidding for all of the food services in all 1,100 schools in New York City that, that same determination was not made based on the same facts?
MR. OESTREICHER: Well my understanding of the facts of the DCAST decision was it was not based on rancid food or anything like that, it was based on something in the company and in the companyís paperwork that was submitted for the contract. And based on the opinion, the legal opinion, that the Department of Education was that, on that limited specific decision made on a particular contract bit, that is not the basis for denying them the opportunity to bid. That doesnít mean they have to get the award and they were not close to getting, necessarily getting the award. But we do not have the legal right to deny them the opportunity to bid on or contract.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I didnít say that, that you can deny them the right to participate in a bidding process.
MR. OESTREICHER: Thatís all thatís happened. ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: But they were declared by another part of the City Government to be a non responsible bidder. So even if they submitted the bid that was the highest bid --
MR. OESTREICHER: Lowest.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Lowest responsible bid, even if their bid was the best bid, DCAST determined that they were not a responsible bidder for a whole host of reasons that I, we donít need to go into today but it was a whole host of reasons and my concern is that, Iím not saying that they canít participate in the bidding process, but why would they similarly not be declared a non responsible bidder based on the circumstances the DCAST found?
MR. OESTREICHER: Well, when we review the bids and they do submit a bid and we will review the DCAST determination that could be a factor. But again, right now weíre only at the bidding stage. We havenít even reached the bidding stage. So we have not made any declaration that will prevent them from bidding. They will be a part of the review of the bid.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: This is, I donít want to, I donít want to beat this horse into the ground but this is the second bidding process. They were not, in the first bidding process, they were not declared a non responsible bidder. The bidding process went from the beginning to itís conclusion and it was only after the intervention by certain people pointing out certain facts and then a subsequent report that came out by Mr. Condon I believe, that caused the City to say we better go back and re-bid.
So, the first bidding process which took place in the fall went from the beginning to the end contemporaneous to that, this company was bidding for a food service contract for other parts of the City was declared a non responsible bidder, but in the case of New York City Schools, there was no such determination and that perplexes me because of, this all begins really, at least in terms of schools, what a determination is to whether or not the food thatís being provided by the companies that are supposed to provide it are companies that we can rely on.
MR. OESTREICHER: And thatís exactly the type of investigation we do, those were not the reasons by the way why we strapped that bid.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Okay, let me Ė- recognizing the Chairman of the Health Committee, Dick Gottfried.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Thank you. Mr. Oestreicher, a question about insect infestation. I was very impressed with your testimony about the dramatic reduction in the use of pesticides. Is there any measure of the degree of insect infestation before, during and after that period of reduction, and if so, what are the results of that measure?
MR. OESTREICHER: We feel that weíve been able to stay on top of this pest control situation even when we used the non toxic chemicals. Itís a constant battle though to keep up with the rodent issue in the schools. We have our own exterminators going out and they visit the school at least once a month, every school gets visited once a month. Schools that have problems or issues are visited more frequently. We generally try to get to those schools on a weekly basis.
So I think weíre staying on top of it. We havenít, you know there are still issues, itís when the Department of Health comes in, frequently we will get rodent concerns and so itís, they are old schools, we have kitchens and you know, thereís no excuses, we were in there, weíre using these materials and I think weíre, you know, we havenít seen any increase in the number of violations as a result of these but weíre looking to keep on top of it and try and even get the numbers down. But we do have a team of exterminators on call and theyíre available and they have an inspection schedule for getting to every school using these materials.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: When these monthly inspections take place, are records made of the findings of those inspections?
MR. OESTREICHER: Yes.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: And does anyone count and keep record of the count of those inspections? So in other words, are there statistics available to you that would say in January of 2000 there were X number of problems found and in January of 02 there were Y number of problems found?
MR. OESTREICHER: Yes, Iíd be, I donít have that information with me now but we, every time the inspection is conducted thereís a report made and we can sit and again, the, if it goes on problem found it goes onto a different track and has more regular inspections, so we can certainly if you want try and go through those records and see in for a years total how many were you know, visits where there was no need for an expanded schedule and how many generating and those that had the weekly, how many resolved enough to go to a monthly schedule.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: You know, I think some data like that would be useful in determining statistically the effectiveness of the methods that youíre now using and I think since we, all of us here have been involved in efforts to move not only schools but everybody else away from the use of poisonous pesticides, you know, we would certainly love to see the data that your new methods have been a smashing success, but I think it would be good to see that in, numerically.
Mr. Marcus I have a question, and this more relates to legislation that weíre now considering in Albany modeled on the New York City law on the question of requiring food service establishments to have trained personnel on duty at all times. And as you may know, there is a bill in the Assembly which I am a co-sponsor of that would extend that requirement to the rest of the state. Does that requirement apply to the New York City schools?
MR. MARCUS: Yes it does.
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Well thank you because one of the issues that has been raised with the state bill is whether it ought to apply to school food service establishments and Iím happy to hear that it does in New York.
MR. OESTREICHER: All personnel, I mean the cooks, at least one full time person in every school must go to the Department of Health Food Handling Course and be certified as an approved food handler.
MR. MARCUS: Weíve trained 181 food personnel in 2003 and in 2004 --
ASSEMBLYMAN GOTTFRIED: Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Mr. Englebright?
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Thank you Mr. Chairman, I have a question regarding childhood asthma. As youíre undoubtedly aware, childhood asthma is at alarming rates in the City of New York. In 2001 the New York City Board of Education announced that it would be implementing the EPAís tools for schools program in New York City to improve indoor air quality and reduce the prevalence of asthma triggers in the school environment.
I have a 3 part question. I wonder if you could describe what actions have been taken to implement this initiative; secondly, would you speak to whether there are any quantify able results from this initiative; and thirdly, to piggyback on the Chairmanís question regarding rescue regulations, I wonder if you would describe what actions the New York City Department of Education has taken to improve indoor air quality in the schools as required by New York State Rescue Regulations?
MR. ORLAN: In terms of EPAís Tools for Schools, we have worked closely with them for a number of years. In particular, through our office of occupational safety and health there have been a number of inspections, I would say in the hundreds, I donít have the exact number off hand, the inspections consist of not only a quantitative approach to the ventilation in the school and other concerns, but also qualitative, speaking to staff, parents, administration to see what issues arise that they feel detracts from the general good health of the building and also from the educational experience.
Should there be issues involved, it then comes back to facilities. There are a number of people with EPA that do go into the schools, one in particular I know weíre working on now in West Harlem where they did have a couple of issues that needed to be addressed, floor tile removal because of damage and removing that possibility of any mold growing in the future. So there is an interaction and I would speak to the EPA region I would say every 2 to 3 weeks.
In terms of asthma, itís a very, weíre beginning to understand that itís a very wide ranging issue. There are many contributing factors to it. Whether itís just dust or sanitation or, weíre finding out more than ever, extermination issues, that some of the largest and most severe allergens are decomposing cockroaches, the dander off of the rodents, so, it has to be looked as an entire gestalt of the problem of which weíre working on.
With EPA and with the various divisions within us I also know that there are a number of medical centers and schools of public health such is Columbia that are working closely with EPA to try to quantify emergency room visits for asthma compared to the health of the community, both residential and in the schools.
In terms of the rescue regulations --
MR. OESTREICHER: The rescue regulations in terms of clean air in the schools, I mean weíre constantly monitoring the air and we, itís part of our basic maintenance procedures to maintain our H Bay system test, our era. Iím not sure of the specific regulations that your signing that called for.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Are you quantifying your process? I mean you mentioned other institutions, hospitals that might be keeping records. Are you actually tracking and monitoring in a very specific way the air quality of the schools, thatís a requirement of the rescue regulations?
MR. OESTREICHER: We do monitor them, if you say tracking, I mean, if there are any issues or problems then it will lead to greater action and then Bernieís Unit, Bernie Orlanís unit will get involved. But itís, you know, generally this is ongoing maintenance of testing everything, air quality and water quality in all our schools.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: One would imagine that you would wish to correlate that with incidences of asthma rather than just reassuring me that you are looking at the schools. Are you in fact cross indexing the incidences of asthma with your monitoring and drawing conclusions and implementing that into a program of action to reduce asthma?
MR. OESTREICHER: I believe thatís what Bernie was saying about the initial stages of working with the other institutions where we have findings and are trying to correlate them. I cannot tell you we have on our own developed any sophisticated correlations yet in terms of ten for the whole school system in regard to that, but in an area such as West Harlem which has been cited as a troubled area, we are working in those, with other institutions.
MR. ORLAN: If I may Iíd just like to add that most of what weíve know up until this point is holding true. There are a number of neighborhoods where asthma is endemic and I think our representatives of the health department can really lose a date more than I can. But we are finding South Bronx, portions of Harlem, the Rust Belt, so called Rust Belt parts of Queens and Brooklyn seem to have a much higher incident and unfortunately it is almost endemic. It is something that weíre beginning to expect to find, which is an issue for all of us to address.
MR. OESTREICHER: Assembly Member, just to state on the Asthma issue, that was one of the primary components of the bus idling agreement, I mean the driving force behind that was the concern about bus emissions and asthma.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Well Iím glad you mentioned the buses because I have a second question and itís relating to buses. You had mentioned that youíre committed to diesel bus retro fitting and as you rightly indicate just now, youíre helping to negotiate and implement the reduction of idling. But with respect to the retro fitting youíve indicated you have about a thousand buses?
MR. OESTREICHER: A thousand buses in the program. The New York Power Authority is funding a program to retro fit 1,000 of our buses, the main, the large buses which they felt are the ones that are the most appropriate to be retro fitted, because we have a whole fleet of smaller buses for special ed. But itís the main buses they think are the polluters in terms of the diesel fuel, those, that weíre working with NYPA. Then we have another grant that we received from my sartor for another 250 buses.
So our target is to start retro fitting 1,250 of our buses, with the diesel particulate filters which, with the use of the ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, should remove 90 to 95% of the particular matter from those buses.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: What is the schedule for completion of that?
MR. OESTREICHER: It was scheduled, we were hoping to get, start the installation this spring, we are waiting, weíre working with NYPA. NYPA is ordering the particulate filters for us. As soon as they get them in, they have a purchase order out, when they get them in weíve got the bus companies lined up, weíve identified the buses and as part of their contract the installation is covered and we will, weíre ready to roll as soon as NYPA gets itís, gets the filters in.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Could you calibrate that in months or years or?
MR. OESTREICHER: I would say it will be going probably through the next year.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Through the next year. Okay. And just one final question Mr. Chairman, I wanted to ask about the IPM Program. Within the context of the way in which a maintenance programs are carried out, I just wonder, has the City District privatized maintenance?
MR. OESTREICHER: In terms of the IPM or in terms of general, general maintenance?
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: All of the above.
MR. OESTREICHER: No. The IPM is run by our staff, and our school buildings are, thereís a mix. There are some buildings that are maintained by a private contractor but the overwhelming majority is still managed by a custodial staff.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Has that staff increased or decreased in recent time?
MR. OESTREICHER: I would say the custodial staff, the numbers of --
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: No the IPM specifically.
MR. OESTREICHER: The IPM staff, thatís probably reduced a little, we just added to our, we just added a couple of positions to it this year. But I would say over the last couple of years itís probably through has lost a few members, but we try to keep it at a steady rate, we are now adding about four or five members to that staff.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Do you feel that itís a step thatís adequate to assure accountability?
MR. OESTREICHER: Weíre going to monitor the situation because if they canít keep up with the inspections weíll just have to increase the size of it. Right now weíre just about maintaining it but itís the whole extermination issue in addition to what Assemblyman Gottfried raised, just have to keep up with the number of schools and if theyíre not keeping up, we monitor them on the inspections and being able to get out there monthly school and do a full inspection.
If we cannot keep up or the number of schools that require special work, which means you have to get to those schools weekly, effects our ability to get to the other non problem schools on a monthly basis, we will have to expand the staff or take other measures so we must meet that goal of getting to every school every month.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Thank you Mr. Sanders.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well we thank you, all of you for being here this morning. You all hold very important positions within the City Government to help insure and guarantee healthy buildings and of course as such, help to insure the health of all those who inhabit those buildings so, be assured, we will continue this dialogue with you so we can jointly do our best to improve the conditions in all of our school buildings in New York City. Thank you very much all of you.
Our next witness is the President of the United Federation of Teachers with some accompaniments but the President of the United Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten.
MS. WEINGARTEN: I just learned, first off, thank you so much for allowing us to testify. Iím here. I have several other members of our Health and Safety Committee but Iím here and sitting to my left is Ellie Engler who, when I was the counsel to the UFT back in the early, mid eighties under an OSHA grant, under a grant that we got because of the Assembly really pushing to try and increase public health and safety in schools and other work places, we were able to get a grant and we were able to hire Ellie Engler as a Consultant. She is an Industrial Hygienist who now works for us full time. We have another Industrial Hygienist who works for us full time, Chris Proctor, and we also have here the head of our Health and Safety Committee, Jerry Golden.
Now, why does the UFT spend so much money in terms of health and safety? And what we have been involved in the whole issue of health and safety for over fifteen years, Ellie Engler and I spend a lot of time in the late eighties under the asbestos crises that happened at Clara Barton High School, the school in which I taught after that, and the school in which was the first school to use a protocol that we developed under a court order and that the School Construction Authority is still using, but the Division of School Facilities, because of course, this was an unnecessary work rule that impeded their availability to have total and complete authority, they have now stopped using.
In the early 1990's, the UFT filed a lawsuit on building conditions. In that lawsuit which we ultimately won against the City of New York, we showed that their failure to maintain school buildings created tremendous problems. We showed persistent water leaks from building exteriors, we showed multiple deteriorating conditions, we showed rotting wooden floors, we showed moldy classrooms, we showed all sorts of other infestations. And what ultimately happened was that the maintenance lawsuit which we won in 1998 marked the beginning of a new phase in providing a healthy and safe environment for our staff and students.
You had at that time as well, you had the Assembly really pushing to get minor maintenance, really pushing to get capital into schools, you had Harold Levy who was then the Chair of a Levy Commission who focused on these same issues and there was a big push to make sure our schools were safe and make sure renovation projects worked appropriately, that we didnít go back to what we used to call rip and skip, where people would just rip things out, friable asbestos or friable lead or whatever, it would be all over the place, and then youíd have this constant problem of catch up, what a shocker. The same kind of thing happened just this morning at PS 219.
So with the exception of just saying that I actually learned something new today, that the Pest Control Program which was a fabulous program and as I understand it, Mr. Dickenson is a fabulous person who started this fabulous program, I understand today itís back in business because last we heard, it was gone. Mr. Dickenson actually answers his own phone these days because they cut it terribly. But aside from saying that, you can read the rest of my testimony, I want to go to something that happened this morning.
I want to ask you to look at this protocol, and I donít know if I have a copy of this, do I have a copy of this? Iím going to give you my copy of the memo that we wrote to the staff today at PS 219. This situation today is emblematic of whatís going on in school environmental health and safety. We solved the asbestos problem in New York City public schools over 10 years ago. Over 10 years ago David Dinkins, then Mayor had to close the schools for 2 weeks because we saw that the Adhera Reports were all botched up. And ultimately, what happened after that was that there was a real attempt to say if there is some kind of contaminant in schools, we are going to do everything in our power to get it fixed the proper way, regardless of expense, regardless of what other procedures and hoops we have to go through because the health and safety of children are paramount. And that was the commitment that all of us, even Rudy Giuliani, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative had, the moment there was a crises in a school or a potential environmental hazard, we were able to identify it, solve it, work together.
So let me tell you the story as I understand it of PS 219 this morning. There was a renovation of the gymnasium. Under the floor in the gymnasium was a concrete structure and as on Monday they started trying to replace or take out the floor boards. There was some white particles. Noone stopped to say what is this? They just continued. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to take this out. Workers traipsed down the halls, traipsed down to the dumpster, this was of course done during the school day when children were there, when staff was there and then we got a tip from people on Thursday afternoon about what was going on. And I will tell you, Bernie Orlan of the Board of Education, Ellie Engler of my staff, as soon as they all understood and recognized by about 5 oíclock, 4 or 5 oíclock yesterday afternoon what was going on, the Board of Education has done the right thing since that point. Everybody now understands that this was a very badly botched asbestos job.
My point here today is this. Thereís a lot of things that are not foreseeable, thereís a lot of things that you have to take care of after it happens. This was preventable. All DSF, the Division of School Facilities had to do was instead of having this ideological abrasion to using things that worked in the past, all they had to do was have a job meeting.
Something that we knew, from back in 1987, if you sit down with the principal of the school and some representatives of the staff and you say, as it says on page 2, these are the specs of the renovation, this is what weíre about to do, this is how weíre going to do it. Thatís what this protocol calls for. It says you should tell the staff and the parents and the custodian what the time line is. And it says there should be onsite supervision. None of that was done. It says as the job continues there should be some oversight and communication back with the staff. None of that was done. It says there should be dust containment and air pollution provisions including construction materials and or debris will not be transported during school hours while classes are changing or in areas and times of heavy congestion. That wasnít done. It said dumpsters used during the construction at our renovation will be wet down at all time debris is discarded, that wasnít done. It says thereís all these asbestos, abatement provisions on page 5. Nothing that we know ought to be done in terms of the handling of asbestos was done. Nothing.
And so what is happening now, I could go on and on, what is happening now is you have a staff, you have a whole bunch of parents who are really scared at this point. We will be sending in an occupational doctor next week from Mt. Sinai, Ellie Engler and Chris Proctor will be there probably several times over the next few days. But more importantly think about this, this is March, this is a elementary school of over 1,000 children, the school itself, somebodyís phone is on, the school itself is now closed --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Pardon me, although it was very entertaining it was also distracting.
MS. WEINGARTEN: The school itself, 1,000 children in East Flatbush, the building itself is now closed, all of the materials that all the teachers and the kids have is in that building. They canít go in to get those materials. That building has to be cleaned up from top to bottom. They have to go to a different school without materials. Theyíre now thinking what will happen because of an asbestos exposure of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and whatís going to happen to the kids for the next several weeks in terms of the continuity of instruction. This was soluble and it wasnít done properly because management has decided that it knows better and it will do things itís own way regardless of the proper procedures that we have put in place over all these years.
The health and safety of our kids is always something that we have worked on together in tandem regardless of who is mayor, regardless of who is governor. This is one of the biggest breaches we have seen. You can read through the rest of my testimony about you know, how we see it in other ways, how we see the other backsliding.
I just want to leave you with this, pictures tell a thousand words. These are pictures of Murray Birchum High School right now. We donít get these things fixed anymore. IN the mid nineties to the late nineties, we were getting these things fixed. That doesnít happen. So we need your help. When thereís a problem we always come to you. We knew how to fix these things, we had procedures. You didnít hear for a few years about renovation problems because weíre able to deal with them. You heard about overcrowding, you heard about other issues. Now, unfortunately, because of whatever is going on at the Board of Education, theyíre not fixing things and not paying attention to the health and safety of our children. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much Ms. Weingarten for your written testimony and the attachments and your presentation and weíre very appreciative of Ellie Engler and to the rest of your staff being with you.
Let me just ask you 1 or 2 questions. Itís ironic that we hold these hearings today that were scheduled of course several months ago in the wake of what could be a health disaster of enormous magnitude for all of the children and all of the professional staff that were part of the PS 219 community and tragically we know that the impact of what happened all of this week may not be fully known for 10, 15, 20, 25 years in that the ingestion of asbestos fibers is something that doesnít necessarily show up as a health problem the next day or the next year, but sometimes many years later.
So Iím very concerned not only about this instance but Iím very concerned as to the rest of your testimony Ms. Weingarten as to whether or not this instance can at least be viewed as an isolated incident and youíre suggesting thatís not the case. So let me just ask you 1 or 2 questions about that.
The lawsuit that you elude to resulted in the protocols that you brought with you. Were those protocols actually a part of the lawsuit settlement and expected to be implemented as part of the lawsuit settlement as a matter of policy?
MS. WEINGARTEN: Actually itís even worse. The lawsuit settlement in the, in 1998 has requires, and you see this on page 2 of my testimony or actually page 1 but itís labeled page 2, last paragraph. Thereís a ruling that requires the board to systematically inspect school buildings, prioritize the hazards, manage, and properly manage the repair of targeted buildings. We all agreed, we won at the Supreme Court level and Mayor Giuliani decided instead of appealing it to agree to settle the lawsuit at that point which was a very smart and also a very good move in terms of the schools.
But the lawsuit that Iím referring to is actually, actually pre-dates this one, which is in 1987 the staff of Clara Barton High School under the tutelage of actually Herman Badeo went to court to get an injunction against the school system because of what was perceived to be asbestos that was not cleaned up properly and we worked with the staff, ultimately and then worked with the school system to have a court settlement that ordered this kind of protocol for that particular school, and then what we did in 1990 in the UFT Board of Education Agreement of 1990, we created a new article called Article 10, that incorporated by reference this protocol and those kinds of things, the crime and sense practices that ought to be done before a renovation or modernization program is ongoing in a school. We never did it in a court order in 1998 because this had become institutionalized practice at the Board of Education and our view is you donít fix what ainít broke.
And ultimately itís only been this year and I have to admit, the SEA still in many of their projects still uses this, not with us but they still use this because they see it is good practice. But in the school systems zeal to try and eliminate any so called work rule that we had previously agreed with them to do, they no longer used this protocol. Now, we have grieved it in different times, people know that we are up at the Public Employer Relations Board right now because our whole grievance procedure has been mired in so many grievances. Our grievance procedures has been basically stopped because thereís been so many grievances we canít get anything done, so weíre there right now, weíve tried to griever this. But it is part of the contract, part of the past practices, part of very established policy and practice as you know, in the contract.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Two more questions. I think itís safe to say that one of the --
MS. WEINGARTEN: Let me just, let me just say that so you, many of you know me, you havenít heard me for years talk about these kind of issues because we were always able to try and figure out if there was a safety issue in a school. We had an early warning system and we would get it worked out for children and thatís the problem in 219. It was easy to fix this if we had the protocolís in place that we used to have in place. Even if a contractor was doing something in a botched way on Monday, we could have found out and we could have gotten it fixed before this kind of exposure Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Okay, so one of my 2 questions, let me go directly to that point then. You eluded to the fact that in the last year or two things, operations of the Department of Education seem to have departed from what was regular policy for the last 10 years and I think you said over, under different --
MS. WEINGARTEN: Eighty seven.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Different mayors, different administrations, different chancellors, but the last several years those policies, those procedures do not seem to have been adhered to and so my question is does, in your mind, and including the point you made about Murray Birchum High School and the lack of minor maintenance work being done, I think a lot of that work parenthetically has been done pursuant to the minor maintenance dollars that the Assembly has, and as Speaker of the Assembly had put into the budget for the last nearly 7 years.
But is the fact that the minor maintenance work not being done and these protocols not being adhered to, to disastrous results at least in terms of PS 219, do you connect that in any way, do you connect that in any way to the policy or the accelerated policy of outsourcing work that is done for minor maintenance and other, other maintenance related work?
There are a lot of new companies that have been brought in, in the last year to do this work. Do they not have the knowledge or the experience or what is, what is it, is the outsourcing an issue here?
MS. WEINGARTEN: Look, I can only guess and I can only speculate which is something that you should never do. On the issue of custodians, itís clear that in PS 219 which used to have a civil service custodian, that civil service custodian came up to me today when I was at the school and said I have shut down projects before like this, Iím not there at 219 anymore, thereís an annex that heís at but not at 219, I would have shut this project down. And you know weíve seen that historically, that custodians now are trained to identify asbestos to have an early warning system, and thatís probably true, and itís probably true that the Tempco folk who are the private contracted custodians, the out source custodians for that building now did not shut this project down on Monday through Thursday.
So in answer to your question in terms of those private contracts, that probably is true here. Now, itís hard to answer the other question for the following reason. Normally we have enough checks and balances that we can assess it. We donít even know who the private entities are, we donít even know what they are, we donít even know the kind of checks and balances or whether they pay a prevailing rate, whether they do the things that they ought to do under all of these other rules and regulations because everything is so non transparent in the school system right now, I canít even begin to answer your question because I donít have enough information to answer it.
All I do know is that we have spent and if I sound, if Iím making this personal itís because I am. One of my first jobs at the UFT when I was Sandy Feldmanís Counsel was to build up our health and safety program, because we understood at that time what the importance was in terms of children. I also take it really personally because I am an asthmatic and when I see whatís happened with the rugs and other things, and when I see how much the mayor was willing to stand up about smoking, and yet I see that we have rugs that go uncleaned for all of these months, notwithstanding any representation that they were cleaned in the mid winter break, and I see what that does in terms of asthma. So I do take this quite personally.
We donít have the data or the information to be able to assess that and we have seen though, a backsliding in what we were able to do before when we reached the high water mark in the late nineties and the early 2000's about maintenance. We thought we had the issue of maintenance and renovation solved.
Not in every school, weíve got 1,200 schools, thereís always going to be an issue, but we thought that things were basically going about as well as could be expected. Always going to have a problem, what you had with the windows, youíre always going to have embarrassments but we thought that we basically had it solved. You helped in terms of the minor maintenance money, we helped in terms of the capital money and the other money that came to New York City but we thought we had it solved. We didnít think we had overcrowding solved, but we thought we had it solved. And now what weíre seeing is the same kind of issues that we saw back in the 80's and the early 90's.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And just finally, you mentioned 2 important words, data and transparency. One of the outgrowths of your lawsuit was the 1998 adoption of the rescue law --
MS. WEINGARTEN: Exactly.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: That was proposed by the Assembly majority by the speaker of the Assembly, the gentleman who is sitting to my left and my right and that was supposed to provide for transparent data, the filing of building condition surveys every five years, annual, visual inspections, annual school report card, comprehensive maintenance plan. Is this information that you tried to, that the union tries to access and can you access this information and do you know whether this information on a building by building basis is in fact filed and available to you?
MS. WEINGARTEN: Itís not accessible in a way that itís usable. And ultimately we get the information pursuant to a lawsuit on a quarterly basis, we spend hours trying to dissect it. But this is not user friendly information.
The way in which these regulations have been implemented in New York City and in fact, what was one of the reasons why we try to do it this way was that we knew if at least there was a renovation or a modernization project, if you get the parents and the staff involved and the custodian involved, and everybody knew the time line and everybody knew the protocols, then youíd have checks and balances and eyes and ears at the school where it mattered. And when that started being disbanded by them, because I asked my staff, I said are they following the protocols that we had done and they said no, then ultimately weíve lost the real check and balance that we had and the real transparency that we had.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. Tom? Well we thank you very much Randi Weingarten for your testimony and for your ongoing vigilance in trying to make schools a safe place. Thank you very much.
Weíve been joined by one of the members of the Assembly Education Committee from Queens, Assembly Woman Barbara Clark, seated to the left of Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli.
Our next group of witnesses are all parents. Elsa Ford, Parent and Health Chair of Brentwood Counsel of Parent Teacher Associations, Annmarie Reeb, is Annmarie Reeb here? Is also a parent and co-founder of Parents fighting for a healthy and safe school and Ellen Weininger, is Ellen Weininger here?
Following their testimony we will hear from representatives from the State Education Department. Good morning.
MS. FORD: Good morning.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Any way you would like to divide up your testimony is fine with us, but just, when you speak, just for the purpose of the Court Reporter if youíd just identify yourself.
MS. FORD: Good morning. Iím Elsa Ford, Health Chair of the Brentwood Counsel of PTSAís. In August, a middle school custodian knocked over a bottle in a science department supply closet and the cork dislodged, spilling a few ounces of mercury. In September the Science teacher saw the spill and reported it. In November, a cleanup kit was used, in December there was testing, significant levels of mercury were found on the floor, the closet, carpets in the hallway, vestibule and 2 classrooms ranged from 3 parts per million to 13 parts per million. Some was found in the auditorium vestibule, but what were the levels earlier. Air levels were significant in the closet. Levels to 14 parts per million were found in the hallway vestibule and auditorium vestibule and on the shoes of the teacher. There was some values in two other rooms and the principalís office. Access to contaminated areas was restricted, and cleanup was conducted.
It was finished in early January. But people lived with mercury since August. This is an example of a small contained toxic situation that became large and expensive. I think the reaction to the spill is probably typical of other places as well, and this raises many issues. Those with the greatest need to know a potential exposure, the parents had scanned information other than the small reassurance letter in December. I donít know of assessment of varying exposure levels of any of the children. The custodian who deals with the chemicals was not prepared for the situation, reporting and actions to be taken were not clear and so itís sensibly drawn out, understanding that public health impacts on what to look for was not timely communicated to students and parents.
There was a staff briefing in December. Resources of information such as the poison control center and environmental health centers was not offered to provide expert analysis and recommendations. A well developed health and safety committee provided for the collaboration of representatives from each part of the school community to coordinate all other resources necessary to inform the whole school community of what needed to be done would have minimized the damage and further trust. It would also provide opportunity to address the gaps that were revealed in a positive way to provide prevention.
Support for school district health and safety committees is needed. Current health and safety standards are not adequate. In general, acceptable risk levels for toxic exposure have been based on the effect of an adult healthy male out of occupational studies one chemical at a time.
However, we have learned that in the case of lead, there is special damage to young childrenís developing brains at extremely low levels. Mercury is an example of another metal that crosses the blood brain barrier, yet there is currently not the same special consideration for mercury exposure to children that there is for lead. Mercury is absorbed through the skin and is breathed. It passes from mother to fetus and baby through motherís milk. Besides blood and brain, some other body sites affected are kidney, teeth, lung and liver.
People donít experience toxics as a group but as individuals with varying pasts of exposure and varying vulnerabilities. For this reason, our acceptable risk policy and regulation should be replaced with the reducing risk policy and regulations. The goal would be to continue to reduce risk rather than to try to set an allowable risk level. Weight of evidence and alternative assessments are techniques that could be used in itís place to address risk questions and better protect public health.
As in an infectious disease, the first step for health protection is prevention of exposure, in this case toxins. Incentives are needed for the greening of our schools, with the use of alternatives to pesticides and toxic cleaning products. And this way, besides providing a healthy school environment, schools would be modeling practices to protect health that would benefit all of our society.
Legislation in support of the precautionary principle that has been enacted elsewhere is important for New York State. Itís been enacted in Massachusetts and San Francisco some years ago. Also, Iíve included information of the March 23rd New York State Breast Cancer Network Advocacy Day. Our agenda includes legislation to ban the aesthetic use of pesticides introduced by Assemblyman DiNapoli and Senator Lavelle, we are seeking a new policy for reform to address the use of the precautionary principle, that for which we had been meeting with Assemblyman DiNapoli and I learned today that a bill introduced by Assemblyman Englebright for the removal of mercury from schools. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you.
MS. REEB: Members of the Committee for Education, Health, Environment and Envira Gas, my name is Annmarie Reeb and I am the mother of 3 children, 2 of which attend Starpoint Central School District and I am the co- founder of Parents Fighting for Healthy and Safe School in Pendleton, New York. Thank you for inviting me to speak today on behalf of the children in Starpoint Central School District.
I have given the Committeeís 10 pages of written testimony with attachments since I only have 10 minutes to give my oral testimony. That would be these.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Yes.
MS. REEB: I became concerned about my daughters health. Her allergies to dust and grass after she complained to her allergist in late September of 2003 regarding conditions at Star Point Central School District. My daughter Melinda who is right over here told her doctor about the layers of dust on the stairs, in the hallways in her classrooms. Dust in the air was causing her breathing problems and a barking cough. Excessive noise from jack hammers were giving her headaches and she could not hear the teacher. The doctor asked me what was going on at the school. I was unaware of any renovations going on at the middle school other than construction of the new high school.
Melinda continued by saying there were no stalls in the bathroom so she doesnít go to the bathroom all day. She feels embarrassed that others might watch her and the other bathroom is not close enough. The doctor decided to put her on more drugs and antibiotics to clear up her sinus infection and to control other symptoms. This was after an entire summer of no drugs.
The doctor suggested I check out the situation at the school. Melinda returned to school and I noticed a lot of workers coming and going through the same entrance my child was using. There were building materials on the lawn, sidewalks and near another entrance. Several portable toilets and dumpsters were along the sidewalks and more than a dozen contractor trailers lined in front of the school.
I work the afternoon shift and did not talk again with Melinda until Friday morning. Right away Melinda said that she came home yesterday with a headache and was nauseated. She said that the parking lot was being paved and blacktop fumes were being sucked into her classroom. She said that everyone was getting sick including the teacher.
I contacted her teacher and he confirmed her story. I also spoke with the principal about the conditions. The principal stated that these were not her responsibilities and she could not help me. I asked her who could help and she stated that she didnít know. I then called the superintendent and left a message, because he was in Florida for the week. Friday, which was the next day, Melinda once again came home with a headache and nausea but this time from oil based paint fumes.
On Monday, I contacted the, contacted her teacher and was had permission to meet before the start of the day. When I arrived with my 3 children I immediately had problems breathing in the main hallways, as did Melinda and my 4 year old daughter. My son commented on the dust but had no problems.
The doors entering lower D wing, which is at the base of the stairwell were closed but contractors were coming in and out with materials. The bottom landing in the stairs had not been cleaned. There was heavy dust as well as footprints from the workers. In her second floor classroom in D wing, I felt very hot and so did my kids. The thermometer showed 92 degrees. But across the hall there was no heat in the classrooms.
Her teacher arrived and I asked him to turn down the heat. He said he couldnít, it was controlled by a computer. He then showed me a memo from the principal regarding a new bathroom access policy. The sixth graders now had to go to the bathroom as a class, during home room, then not again until the afternoon classes which would take 20 minutes away from their class time. The teacher also wanted me to know that he relocated his class one morning when he smelled gasoline fumes in the hallway and classroom. The other classes were not evacuated.
I ran into the middle school principal on the way out and I handed her a letter regarding our phone conversation, and I told her it was 92 degrees in my daughterís classroom. She said the teacher could open the windows if it was too warm. I then asked her about the bathroom stalls, the dust and fumes and a mandatory fund raising training that was being held in lieu of core classes. Again she stated this is not my responsibility.
I proceeded to the Superintendentís office and went over my concerns with him. I asked the Superintendent about the gasoline fumes and why I was not notified that my daughters class was relocated. He just stated that a contractor using a gasoline power cut off saw prior to classes had not opened a window while working and the fumes went upstairs. So, no real answer was given. The Superintendent will call me later with answers to my other concerns.
I went home and I contacted another parent who has a child in my daughterís class. Mrs. Andrea Sepansky was unaware of the problems but had been in for open house and was concerned about the cleanliness of the building. She went to the school the next morning to investigate for herself. In the meantime I contacted New York State Health Department, but they had no jurisdiction, so I was referred to the New York State Education Department.
When the Superintendent called back, he said that the classroom heat was being addressed and I was to speak with the principal regarding fund raising the bathroom access. He stated that he does not interfere with the principalís policies. As for the stalls for the girls bathroom, those were put in this morning. I told him the stalls were not there and he said he would get back to me.
The next day Mrs. Sepansky called to say the temporary stalls were in, but something in the air was causing an irritation in her throat. She couldnít identify the problem but thought that dry wall dust along with something else was the cause. She contacted New York County Health Department and was told they have no jurisdiction over this school. She was referred to the New York State Education Departmentís facility planning division who advised her to speak with the Starpoint District Health and Safety Committee.
In an effort to discover who was on this Committee, she spoke to the high school nurse and was referred to the schoolís facility planner. He informed her that she was the only parent who called regarding air quality and dust. He also informed her that due to cost constraints the building could only be cleaned on an every other day basis. Mrs. Sepansky offered low cost solutions to control the best contamination. Though he seemed to think it was a good idea, he would have to check into it.
I started e mailing the New York State Education Department and explained the concerns for bathroom access, dust contamination, excessive noise and other health issues. We started researching all laws and regulations set up to protect our children and I contacted the Healthy Schoolís Network. They sent me specific materials regarding our concerns and offered their assistance.
After reviewing all this information we found that the contractors in district school officials were violating numerous laws and regulations for construction in an occupied school. Additional parents started assisting and parents fighting for a healthy and safe school was formed. Over the past 6 months we discovered and reported the following, inability to control heating of classrooms; no stalls for the bathroom; a policy restricting toilet access; HVAC systems not properly working or shut off and a lack of daily custodial services due to cost restraints.
Violations of Commissioner of Educations regulations Part 155 included no control of chemical fumes, gases, dust and other contaminants, improper ventilation, no segregation or construction from the occupied school, construction materials were not stored in a safe and secure manner; no overhead protection; no isolation of noise from demolition and renovation; no MSD sheets on site; no proper off gassing of voltal organic compound such as glue, paints, adhesives, et cetera.
Starpoints District Health and Safety Committee has violated almost all the guidelines for rescue. Some of these violations are a failure to investigate complaints, refusal to publicize their meetings and by not allowing a committee that is free of administrative control. School officials also fail to follow the EPAís regulations for testing and removal of presumed asbestos containing material and they refuse to allow access to public documents for asbestos.
Though I have informed you of two violations, over ten violations were filed in a formal complaint submitted to the EPA Region two office regarding violations of AHERA and MISHA, I have yet to hear back from them.
HIPPA and FERPA violations occurred when school officials released students identifiable medical information to the public without a parental waiver, more than 5 times.
To date we have involved over 18 local county State and Federal Agencies and countless others and still Starpoint school officials, board members and the New York State Education Department have assumed no responsibility to protect our children by adhering to the minimal laws and regulations. Of all the agencies involved, not one has accepted responsibility to enforce the law and hold Starpoint officials and others accountable for the laws that they have been violated.
I could go on and on about each and every violation or repeated violation but time does not permit. Our schools have a self reporting system. It has become shockingly clear that the school system has been allowed to be responsible only unto themselves.
Today is one of the few days, excuse me, since September, that I did not cry after sending my daughter to school. Thatís because sheís here with me today. I have spent months trying to figure out why the school officials of Starpoint Central School District donít care about our children. I still donít know the answer. Every agency that can protect our children can not do so because of lack of resources and budget constraints. Iím asking you today to find a way to help us protect all the children at Starpoint School District and throughout New York State. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much.
MS. WEININGER: Good morning, my name is Ellen Weininger and I am a resident of Westchester County. Thank you for this opportunity to testify this morning. It is my hope that the testimony that you hear today will bring about new initiatives and legislation that will benefit all children throughout New York State.
Three and a half years ago my daughter became very ill from a serious pesticide exposure in our community. We sought medical health. As part of her medical evaluation and in preparation for some blood work, the physician specializing in environmental illness requested information about the total environment in which our daughter lives. We were instructed to send the material safety data sheets for all the products that were being used at her school and in our home.
At home we used environmentally preferable products and we made the false assumption that the school was using similar products. It had never crossed our minds to think otherwise at the time. We faxed material safety data sheets to a toxicology lab at the request of the physician. Upon confirming receipt of our fax to the lab, one of the toxicologists reviewing the data requested an opportunity to speak with us off the record concerning the data, the material safety data sheets that they had received from the school. We were told that there were quite a few highly toxic products being used, and urged us to speak to school administrators about it and about possible alternatives.
The various products involved included cleaning chemicals, pesticides for indoor pest control, and herbicides for the grounds outside. We followed the toxicologists advice and attempted to share the information with the school. We were brushed off. We provided the school with information and resources regarding the hazardous health impacts of the products being used and safe alternatives which we are very grateful for that information from Healthy Schools Network. We were met with defensiveness and lack of interest. There was a facilities committee at the school which had been inactive for some time. We tried to enlist the help of other parents who seemed interested. Some made some efforts and others were intimidated, concerned with repercussions, concerned about repercussions to their children, or their own standing in the school.
We spoke with the school nurse who did not seem to have an understanding of the serious health impacts of these products upon students and staff. Even with the resources that we provided they seem to be powerless in affecting any change. Teachers, we discovered, were bringing in unsafe cleaning products from home to use in the classrooms with no MSDS sheets on file. Students experienced allergic reactions and chest tightness in school, but not at home. Finally the connections were made.
We struggled over the course of that year and into the next year with these issues. Our daughter remained at home for most of that year suffering with the serious affects of the pesticide exposure. Recognizing the toxicity of the products that were being used by the school, there was no hope of her returning until a serious change of products was made.
Our daughter was home schooled by the district, but only for a few hours each week. She experience tremendous loss of learning opportunities, social opportunities, enormous, enormous stress and poor health. The financial impact was felt by us personally since I needed to leave my job so that I could remain at home with my daughter. Our medical bills soared. The district was also impacted financially for the expenditures and providing home instruction during this absence.
We struggled to educate the school about the environmental health issues at stake. During this time we became aware of many parents who reported their children were complaining of serious headaches, allergic reactions, mysterious coughs and of teachers with frequent absences due to sinus infections.
There is no health and safety committee at this school. The Facilities Committee was briefly revived primarily a name only. After a long, drawn out effort, the school finally agreed to a trial period with environmentally preferable cleaning products and a moratorium on pesticide use until other alternatives could be investigated. It is now 3 years later, our school does use environmentally preferable cleaning products and has implemented an organic turf management program for itís grounds and integrated pest management for itís structural pest control.
Although many parents signed a petition to establish an active health and safety committee and a written formal policy committing to these programs, none to date has been established.
After my experiences at my childrenís school, I became involved at Healthy Schools Network as a Parent Leader in Westchester County 2 years ago. I attempted to reach out to parents, school administrators and facilities directors around Westchester County. I was shocked to learn the length and breadth of serious environmental health issues in schools all over the County.
I met with a small group of parents in Yonkers who had not had a PTA in their school in years and had serious concerns about dangerous sanitary issues in their school. I spoke with and provided resources to numerous parents with children suffering with serious cases of asthma as a result of exposures in their schools from building and renovation projects which provided no barriers to the dust, diesel exhaust, fumes and fiscal hazards from such projects. Parents were frequently intimidated and isolated. Children at the highest dosage limit of asthma medication were being hospitalized and were experiencing frequent and lengthy absences from school.
Teachers who became ill in that same environment were threatened if they attempted to approach their unions. In one case after many phone calls from a small group of parents the New York State Department of Education Representative finally came to investigate a complaint. The school with, given an advance warning cleaned up their act for the day for the inspectors visit and by the next day it was back to business as usual at school. Fumes, dust, diesel exhaust, hazardous debris, students, staff and construction workers all blending together.
I spoke with large groups of nurses, school nurses in one of the largest school districts in New York State which reported a variety of problems with no recourse to address their serious health concerns. In one case a nurse reported that she did not even have a sink in her nurses office, and several times each day she had to carry buckets of water from the cafeteria back to her office to be able to tend to the studentís medical needs.
I spoke with several teachers in several districts who were seriously disabled after severe mold exposure in their classrooms. Extended hospitalization followed by continued and severe health problems from these exposures prevent some of these teachers from ever working again.
I also had the opportunity to speak with several facilities directors for several school districts in the county. When asked about the implementation of an integrated pest management program and pesticide notification program under New York State Education Law 409, some responded that they had not implemented any kind of registry for notification of pesticide applications. They couldnít be bothered I was told by one person. Another facilities director told me no one was complaining, why should I have to do anything?
In most school settings bus idling is a pervasive problem. Truck and bus exhaust, especially from diesel engines is very harmful to human health and certainly unnecessary idling increases these dangers. New York State and New York City have idling laws for trucks and buses. However, at best they are poorly enforced. Over and over again, parents as well as teachers report that school buses line up and idle in front of schools for extended periods of time upon arrival in the morning and at pickup in the afternoon. One teacher reported that after she complained to her school principal about the exhaust fumes from buses, he replied that the buses are required by law to idle.
USCPA has found that exposure to diesel exhaust, even at low levels, is likely to pose a risk of lung cancer as well as other respiratory risks, and is well documented as an asthma trigger. There is no cost involved in shutting engines off. Heavy fines should be paid for idling and retro fitting school buses is a vital initiative.
Students rely on adults for protection from potential harm and health risks. There is very little in the way of legislation which protects students. More important, there is no enforcement agency to protect the environmental health of students in our schools. There is no recourse for parents. No agency exists such as OSHA which protects employees, to protect our children at school. Our health department stop at the school door. Yet the health and welfare of our children at school is a major public health issue.
Many government entities have adopted a policy of environmentally preferable purchasing pursuant to the executive order issued in 1998 by President Clinton. The EPA issue for guidelines for federal strategies to implement environmentally preferable purchasing with respect to green building, janitorial and maintenance services, green landscaping and green power. As already noted, many cleaning products typically used are toxic and emit volatile organic compounds. Effective and safe products at equal costs are available in the market. The Department of Interior has already switched to non toxic alternatives.
The EPA has directed that all federal government janitorial products should specify products that meet the green seal of cleaning product standard. This kind of initiative could be adopted by New York State, similar to those adopted by Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington as well as the City of Santa Monica.
With regard to reduction and elimination of pesticide use, particularly in maintaining healthy landscapes and athletic fields, the IPM Council of Canada was formed to promote within the professional urban landscape industry, the use of IPM for a planned protection. A comprehensive accreditation program involving examinations, continuing education credits, annual desk reviews and onsite audits conducted by certified environmental auditors is now in place in several Canadian provinces for the lawn care sector.
The University of Ridgetown College is the Administrator for the accreditation program, Canada Wide. It is a model that can be adopted in New York and would impact positively on every school and community.
The increasing rate of childhood cancers and asthma is staggering. The Precautionary Principle, as noted by ULSA should be adopted by New York State which would require careful examination of environmental consequences and the selection of the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health.
The best course of action would be to prevent these dangerous exposures. For our childrenís sake, they should be considered hazardous until proven safe. Children should not have to become ill first in order for change to be implemented. Environmental improvements supported by legislation will have positive results for students, teachers and the entire school community. Positive health impacts increase attendance, enhance concentration and learning and diminish the high cost of healthcare. Absenteeism, extra instruction as well as devastation from chronic or life threatening illness.
Thank you again for the opportunity to address this forum. Itís been a privilege and an honor.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Let me just ask just one question. Your testimonyís individually and taken together was very compelling and I think it paints a very worrisome picture for us, obviously for you individually, your family members, first and foremost but, it paints a picture generally which is obviously of great concern to this panel.
My question particularly in light of the next set of witnesses who will be testifying in a moment is that you all testified at some point in your personal experiences when you sought help and redress even as high up as the State Education Department that you were passed back and forth to different people at different levels, at the local level at state level and it seems that you were unable to either get the simplest of help which would be answers or something more suitable to you which was help in redressing the problems in your school.
So, do I understand correctly that each of you, when you encountered even persons from the State Education Department that your encounter and your experience was unsatisfactory?
MS. REEB: Yes, but I did go above New York State Ed. I have gone all the way to the Governor, and I have gone to the US EPA, so I didnít stop at the State Ed. When they stopped helping we just stopped using them and we went above them. And we got some answers from the Governorís office for an asbestos abatements, but that was about it.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Alright, and finally, have any of you attempted to get information specifically about the schools that your children attend with respect to the various school report card and the various information that is supposed to be posted on websites to identify what problems or issues may have been identified, or at least the school report card if you tried to access that information?
MS. WEININGER: That is something that has not been accessible.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Have you tried to?
MS. WEININGER: Yes, we tried to form an Active Health and Safety Committee and tried to get information. Even initially a number of years ago when I described obtaining the material safety data sheets, initially were very, very difficult in getting that information.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: So, this was difficult getting that information from the school itself or from --
MS. WEININGER: From the school itself.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Okay, alright.
MS. REEB: If I can respond on that?
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Yes.
MS. REEB: The report card that they provide is several years old and I did not realize that you could actually get the current years report card. I donít think it would be, be favorable for the school considering the number of children who have already exceeded the number of days allowed per year and have either home tutors or may have to repeat the year now. But I did get that report card.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well, we all thank you all very much. Obviously the experiences that parents, individual parents have with individual schools and of course their children is of paramount concern to us and I also know that testifying about these matters is not an easy thing for you to do but I want you to know that your testimony is extremely important and will help us figure out better how to protect your children and everyone elses children, and we thank you.
MS. WEININGER: Thank you.
MS. REEB: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Our next group of witnesses are officials from the State Education Department, Jim Kadamus who is Deputy Commissioner, I think I will allow Mr. Kadamus, Commissioner Kadamus to introduce all of the other individuals who are with him.
MR. KADAMUS: Iíd be glad to, Iíd be glad to Mr. Sanders. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. With me today is Chuck Szuberla who is our Director of School Operations and Management. Also, Carl Thurnau who is our head of our Bureau of Facilities and also Laura Sahr who is an Associate in our Bureau of School Facilities and works on environmental issues.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I have some formal testimony, Iíll just review highlights of it. Particularly weíre trying today to outline many of the requirements, Iíve been listening to some of the testimony in the room today and I want to be clear about what the requirements are because in many cases this is an issue of awareness and compliance and persistence and enforcement because these are rules and requirements that are on the books and are generally complied with across, throughout the state, but obviously we have specific cases.
I would like the opportunity wasnít in our testimony to set the record straight about our involvement in the Starpoint situation, Carl Thurnau will do that and in fact we did have staff people visit that district and found some compliance issues there, so, of course it may not have been satisfactory with the people who were complaining but we clearly did act on that issue as well as others.
The health, safety and well being of school children in New York is one of our highest priorities in preventing environmental hazards in school facilities is a vital factor in helping students achieve the standards, the New York State learning standards. In 1994, the Regents created an advisory counsel on environmental quality in schools, they developed a report on the environmental quality in the schools, I believe itís the first of itís kind on that subject in New York State. We had broad based representation of many groups including representation from legislature, regents were directly involved. We had a lot of public comment on it.
The report developed five guiding principles for environmental quality in schools and those principles I think became a sort of framework for the rescue legislation and other efforts that weíve been conducting throughout the years. Those five guiding principles are one, every child has a right to an environmentally safe and healthy learning environment which is clean and in good repair. Second, every child, parent and school employee has a right to know about environmental health issues and hazards in their school environment; third, school officials and appropriate public agencies should be held accountable for environmentally safe and healthy school facilities; fourth, school should serve as role models for environmentally responsible behavior; and five, federal, state, local and private sector entities should collaborate to ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently to address environmental health and safety concerns.
As you know, the legislature acted in creating landmark rescue legislation and we implemented a series of regulations under Section 155 of the Commissionerís Regulations that have all of the key provisions which we believe have resulted in schools being able to take a pro active role as well as school personnel and parents being able to take a pro active role in identifying mitigating hazards in schools, and we outlined some of the key elements of those regulations.
Schools must establish health and safety committee made up of district administrator, staff, parents, architects and contractors to address and resolve issues related to the school environment, construction and maintenance activities.
Schools must provide advance notification to parents, staff and the community prior to the start of any construction project of 10,000 dollars or more. Our staff of professionals insure that all new and rebuild spaces are designed to provide a supply of fresh air and have sufficient air changes to produce healthful conditions and avoid odors or buildup concentrations of toxic substances or dust particles.
RESCUE requires fumes, gases and other contaminants produced by welding, gasoline or diesel engines, roofing, paving and painting to be controlled to ensure they do not enter portions of the building or air intakes. Materials such as glues and paints, furniture carpeting must be ventilated in accordance to the manufacturers recommendation before the space can be occupied. During construction or maintenance activities, the school district must monitor the occupied portion of school buildings to ensure that it remains code compliant in order to maintain a certificate of occupancy.
A comprehensive maintenance plan must be developed for all major building systems to make sure theyíre in a state of good repair. These plans must include provisions for the least toxic approach to integrated pest management and the establishment of maintenance and procedures and guidelines to contribute to accessible indoor air quality.
A building condition survey must be conducted every five years. An annual visual inspection is required. A five year school capital facilities plan must be completed and updated. This helps guide the Districts capital needs and prioritize those needs in order to preserve the capital assets of school districts.
RESCUE requires school areas, all school areas to be disturbed during renovation or demolition to be tested for lead and asbestos and that construction areas under the control of a contractor be separated from areas occupied by students and staff.
Large amounts of debris must be removed from the school facilities using enclosed chutes or a similar sealed system. No movement or debris is permitted through the hallways or occupied spaces of the buildings. No materials may be dropped or thrown outside the walls of the building. The school buildings occupied during construction project must maintain health, safety and educational capabilities at all times that our classes are in session.
To further enhance the learning environment, construction and maintenance operations may not produce noise in excess of 60 decibels in occupied spaces or be scheduled during times when buildings and spaces are being occupied by students.
All school areas scheduled for maintenance repair or construction by school district personnel as well as areas of flaking or peeling paint must be tested for the presence of lead and abated or encapsulated. The emergency plan must be updated as a result of changes in the construction of the building. No smoking on school property including construction area is permitted.
Districts are directed to be aware of the geological potential for high levels of radon and to test and mitigate for the presence of that.
In addition to RESCUE, the Regents acted to implement regulations relating to other types of legislation pass in 2001 and 2002. They include providing parents and staff advance notice and the right to know about pesticide applications and establishing standards relating to construction, maintenance to operation of electronically operated partitions.
Weíve not been doing this alone and in fact we collaborate with other agencies. The State Conservation Law for example was amended to prohibit the construction of new playgrounds using chromatic copper arsenate treated lumber.
We work with the Health Department as well as the Department of State. The work with the Department of State had been involved to ensure that code safety and health issues are adequately addressed the new State Building Code as well as we work with the office, the Department of Stateís Office of Fire Prevention and Control in the development of new fire safety and inspection processes for schools that reflect the provision of the new building code.
Work is also underway to revise our Education Departmentís chemical storage guidelines in conjunction with the Department of State which collaborated with the Health Department in developing a series of joint meetings around Radon.
Outreach activities are conducted in schools that involve, have indoor rifle ranges. Weíve been working with Cornell University in the Health Department to implement and develop a survey to assess pest management practices in New York State, and collaborative work is also taking place on mercury outreach materials for school administrator, science teachers and nurses.
We also work in close partnership with the professional organizations, obviously our capacity is limited to have the kind of enforcement that I think many of the people here are calling for. We work with associations like the Superintendents of Building and Grounds and the Association of Education, Safety and Health Professionals to increase awareness and be able to make sure that people are persistent in terms of looking at these environmental quality issues.
The one thing you asked about in the call letter was the cost of improving facilities and mitigating adverse environmental and safety issues and certainly the investment that youíve made in New York Schools are significant. One thing weíd point out is our school facilities are approaching an average of 50 years old. The average age of school facilities in our largest cities is 63 years old. So these older facilities are going to require more maintenance and repair until theyíre either retired or replaced.
Take a look at the cost of these aging school buildings, New York City, for example state and local school facility spending during 1994 to 1998 exceeded itís 2.7 billion dollars and in the succeeding period til 2001 as a result of the legislative enacted 10% building aid incentive, the total increase to 5.5 billion dollars.
Throughout the State, the rest of New York State thereís also been a major increase in spending on school facilities. From 94 to 98 it was 4.8 billion dollars, and from 98 to 2001 it increased to over 6.8 billion dollars. So, much of this has occurred of course because of the building aid incentives. I would point out to you that the amount of money available for maintenance has pretty much stayed about the same as a result of the minor maintenance.
So despite the fact that weíve been investing significant dollars, billions of dollars on school facilities, with very little commitment in terms of the amount of money available for minor maintenance.
Much of what you heard today is about enforcement of existing rules and for us I think thereís 4 keys here. One is awareness, a second is persistence, making sure that people know about this and are able to force it at the local level. The due diligence requirements that we have in terms of informing parents and being sure that the kind of things that you heard from some of the parents here donít happen and ultimately enforcement.
I would like to address specifically as Carl Thurnau to address the Starpoint situation and what we did in that situation because I think itís instructive in what our abilities are to respond to those kinds of complaints and if you allow Mr. Chairman to do that for just 30 seconds or a minute and then we can open up for questions. Carl.
MR. THURNAU: Thank you. My name is Carl Thurnau, Iím the Coordinator for the State Education Departments Office of Facilities Planning. The Starpoint issues did come to us, come to light in the Department as a result of the parent complaints that we heard today. We certainly sympathize and we understand that those problems were severe and we would agree with that.
We do disagree with the issue that we did not take action in that as soon as we heard these issues, the first thing of course that we did was refer the district back to the required Health and Safety Committee. Thatís going to be our first requirement because thatís the process that we setup in rescue to respond to these concerns on the local level.
When we continued to receive further complaints, we recognize that, that local committee was not working properly. We agreed with this, the types of issues that were not being done properly as far as the construction was concerned. We actually issued a stop work order on the project because we were concerned about the violations that were continuing. We had conversations and correspondence with the Commissioner, excuse me, with the Superintendent of Schools, and until we were satisfied that he understood the regulations and was taking steps to address them. We did not allow that work to proceed again.
When we were available in that area we actually had an employee stop by and look at the Starpoint school and during that inspection we again found issues that were not in compliance with the regulations and we addressed those at that time and required a correction. So, we agree that the situations at Starpoint were serious, we did take steps to correct them and as Mr. Kadamus indicated, itís got to be a continual training effort in order to make awareness of the seriousness of these conditions so that they can be prevented and taken seriously.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Just while weíre on the point of Starpoint, how long did it take for someone from your division, Mr. Thurnau, to come out to the school and to the school district after the parents initially contacted the State Education Department?
MR. THURNAU: I donít know off hand.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Do you think it was days or weeks?
MR. THURNAU: It was probably more like a month.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: A month.
MR. THURNAU: Again, we initially recommended that they go back to the Health and Safety Committee to work out those problems locally. We do not have field staff in various parts of the State. When we were convinced that those problems were not being solved at the local level, thatís when we issued the Stop Work Order and then, and thatís when we inspected the property.
MR. KADAMUS: And Iíll point out that we helped and probably it was weeks in terms of being able to issue the Stop Work Order. It may have taken a month to get a staff person there but there were, there was action taken to actually stop work on the construction project.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Let me just ask a few questions. Generically, about how SED operates in regard to the enforcement of the rescue law and also the Commissionerís regulations and first of all I guess this questionís best deposed to Commissioner Kadamus, can you discuss with me the staffing levels that exist now at facilities planning including how many field inspectors are currently employed and maybe you can contrast that with 10 years ago?
MR. KADAMUS: Iím going to ask Carl since he supervises the specifics of that Mr. Chairman but the, the thing I will point out is while the staffing levels are relatively constant over the last few years and in fact there has been even some additions that have been, the additional staff that has been added Iím obviously, the amount of school construction has gone up dramatically so the, this same staff is handling projects that are, you know, billions and billions of dollars beyond what they are, what they were previously.
The other thing Iíll point out is that we also do not have review and enforcement over New York City School System in terms of itís building projects, we donít review those building projects, thatís the result, responsibility of the Department of Buildings, so, Carl?
MR. THURNAU: Yes, our staffing has recently increased. We have hired 4 additional people which brought us to a grand total of 4 architects and, well I have to say 3 engineers now because one individual has left, we have gotten a waiver to fill that position again just this week.
During the height of the building incentive, we were actually down to two engineers, one of whom retired and left us with one engineer for the entire state for probably a four month period before we were able to have waivers approve to hire additional staff.
MR. KADAMUS: Carl, can you give the total staffing now and say --
MR. THURNAU: Total professional staffing of architects and engineers now is --
MR. KADAMUS: Project managers?
MR. THURNAU: At nine, architect, licensed architect and engineers, we have five project managers, we have one code compliance specialist which helps us out with the, with some of the complaints that weíre concerned about. We have no field staff.
MR. KADAMUS: And contrast that to say 10 years ago.
MR. THURNAU: Chuck, can you handle that one?
MR. SZUBERLA: I can talk about it. We have substantially more architects and engineers. Ten years ago, unfortunately we didnít have the rescue regulations and those requirements.
Also, as Commissioner Kadamus mentioned thereís considerably less construction going on at that point. Maybe 500 million dollars a year versus 3.7 billion at the peak.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Let me just, help me desegregate this again. Currently there are how many architects, how many engineers, how many persons who would be considered inspectors --
MR. KADAMUS: Project Managers.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Project Managers.
MR. KADAMUS: People who work with the districts in terms of the management of the project. Then thereís co- compliance folks so.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: There are currently 5 project managers?
MR. SZUBERLA: There are currently 5 project managers, correct.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And currently there are how many architects?
MR. SZUBERLA: Four, excuse me.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Four architects, three engineers?
MR. SZUBERLA: There are 4 licensed architects, 3 licensed engineers, we will be hiring a fourth licensed engineer, and thereís 1 individual who is a Code Compliance Specialist.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And again, this is, this is down from, you know the early nineties by approximately, what was the aggregate number?
MR. THURNAU: I think total staffing from 10 years ago, weíre probably down about 25%.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: So if there is a, if there is a problem in a school like Starpoint or some other school, you have for all of the schools in the State with the exception of New York City. So weíre talking about 3,000 schools, give or take, there are 5 project managers to essentially cover the whole state? Is that?
MR. KADAMUS: Thatís correct. Thatís accurate.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Is that sufficient?
MR. KADAMUS: Not to be the first group weíd go to. Generally weíre operating on a complaint basis. If we are hearing about problems, we are either responding with our staff. We may also get involved and spend it on the situation of the local District Superintendent which as you know represents the Commissioner of the District Superintendents of BOCES. They may get involved in some of these situations, particularly if weíre finding that the District is not responding, we may ask them to be involved.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Is the staffing levels that exist now, particularly the project managers but also the architects and engineers, is that sufficient to enforce all of the laws and regulations?
MR. KADAMUS: I guess the question is, you know, what is the, you know, definition of sufficiency and inadequacy. Obviously there are complaints that weíd like to respond to quicker. Iím sure there are cases where you know, youíd want to have routine kind of inspections on a regular basis to kind of make sure people are understanding that the need to enforce it, we know weíre not able to do that. Training, we generally work with other groups like the Superintendents of building in grounds, the Health and Safety Officials across the State and BOCES to try to do more training and awareness.
As much as what I think youíre hearing about, all the place, and I was listening, the parents are all those issues whether itís mercury or a building, a building construction project or the, you know in Pest Management issues, theyíre all on the books for both in terms of law and regulation. Itís a question of how people are implementing on those requirements. Some schools are doing a fantastic job in implementing those requirements, some arenít.
How do you build the awareness, how do you build the fact that districts need to know this, need to be able to respond to this? Weíre working through our other entities. We are, weíre not sending our staff up to do that kind of work. Weíre working through the BOCES, weíre working through the associations to get that done. Thereís not much different than any other area whether itís school improvement or whether itís awareness on curriculum or instructional issues.
We have to use other entities to get our work done. I would say the facilities area, you know, is part of the downsizing of state government. The facilities area has been treated about the same as just about all the other areas of elementary and secondary education department. I would say, weíre, you know, have lost about 25% of our staff as a result of continuing downsizing of state government which is happening in all of their agencies as well as the early retirement center.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Let me just turn your attention to the RESCUE regulations for a moment. This was something that was a very important piece of legislation going back to 1998 and the, the premise to some extent behind RESCUE was that to the extent the public is aware of circumstances in their own community, their own schools. They, then can act as a pressure point if things are not happening correctly, understanding that SED will probably never be adequately staffed to handle all of the issues that might come to your attention.
Can you tell me whether or not all of the schools in the state are complying with all of the reporting requirements that were required under, under the RESCUE legislation and if not, what is the, what is the response by SED?
MR. KADAMUS: Let me ask Chuck Szuberla to give you the history on that.
MR. SZUBERLA: Okay, I think if we break it down, I think in part because there was aid provided, there is very good compliance in doing the detailed building addition surveys where theyíre required to hire an experienced architect or engineer.
Where compliance started to fall off is where they got to the 5 year capital plan. The idea being that youíd go out and tell the community hereís what we need to do for the next five years, hereís what was stated in our building condition surveys in terms of what was satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The report cards --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Excuse me Mr. Szuberla, what does very good compliance mean and what, you know, in general percentages and what does a fall off mean in the five year capital plan in terms of overall, just overall, just to give us a picture, are we talking about 98% of the schools complying or 60%?
MR. SZUBERLA: I donít have the exact percentage but certainly over, you know, 90% and I think close to virtually everybody in terms of the building condition surveys. The capital plans, we have found that districts do not look far enough ahead. If we were to tally up numbers what you would see is the projected need for the following year would be very accurate. Two years later it would be like probably half what the true need is and, you know, by 5 years later school districts are very reluctant to go on record saying hereís what needs to be done is one of the problems that we found.
The school report card, probably in part because, due to lack of staff weíre unable to get out some templates, less than 50% the districts would be providing information in a user friendly appropriate public manner. That is certainly one of the biggest gaps.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Let me interrupt you again at this point. Weíre talking about the school report cards.
MR. SZUBERLA: The school facility report cards.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: The school facility report cards, right. The facility report cards which have to be provided on an annual basis?
MR. SZUBERLA: Correct, there is, the district is responsible for providing that information.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And youíre indicating that districts have not been able to do that because SED has been unable to provide a format for that?
MR. KADAMUS: Districts are required to do that. There is no requirement that we give a format but I think some districts have indicated that they would be helped by a state, uniform state format and we are only getting around to doing that now, but districts were required to comply and we, and I think Chuckís indicating probably about half have done that.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: What is SEDís response to schools and to school districts when it discovers that a thousand or more schools are not complying with the facilities report card?
MR. KADAMUS: It would be a district responsibility I believe. Itís not itís, so, you would have about 700 districts involved so, about half the district.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Alright, but so, my question is that given the fact that these report cards have to be submitted to SED, correct?
MR. THURNAU: Correct.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: On an annual basis, correct?
MR. THURNAU: No, theyíre not required to be submitted. Report card do not, the school facility report cards are not required to be submitted there, required to be presented to the public.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Alright, do you expect schools to post this on a website? The purpose of the facilities report card is for the parents and the public in the community to know what the condition of that school is. So what is the requirement of SED for that information to be made available to the public?
MR. SZUBERLA: Our expectation is that they would either put information in their school news letter, put it up on a website. If I might back up a minute, part of the core though, in terms of the whole issue of information was that if they were doing a construction project that they designate a key contact person. And as youíve heard today that is something that certainly some districts have been falling down on.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: But when districts, when schools and districts do not provide what the law required that they provide, either to SED in some cases or for public dissemination, how does SED, A, how do you know or do you know, and once you do know, what is the sanction that is available against the school or the school district to make them comply?
MR. KADAMUS: Our general approach to this would be if weíre finding that weíre seeing a slow compliance on this one, provide no more direction, be clear about how it, you know, recommend a format which weíre working on now, put a notice out to the schools, work through the district Superintendents at their meetings to remind them that this has to be done, and basically try to get greater awareness right down the line.
There are no sanctions in terms of you know, funding sanctions or, you know, ultimately when youíve got this kind of situation where half the, only half the districts are on board youíve got to kind of have a broader base, you canít go one by one. And if cases where if we had 98 compliance and 98% compliance we had a few that werenít complying, there would be direct letters that we would send to the Superintendent or ultimately even the Board of Education indicating that they have to do this, so, I think weíre more in, in still in an education role here in terms of trying to get much more understanding of what they have to do and probably working through the District Superintendent trying to get the Superintendents more aware of this and being able to get this done.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Alright my last point which Iím not even sure if itís going to be a question but my last point is, and you may want to respond is this, it seems to me either because of lack of staff or maybe youíll say because of lack of specificity in the law in which case you might want to recommend to us how we make the law more specific, we are hearing, not just today but we are hearing that the requirement, that the schools in fact be healthy places, have protocols in place, whether it deals with construction or maintenance work being done weíve, you know, weíve learned just recently today about what went on this week in a school in New York City.
But, with respect to a whole host of things, schools providing the information in an accessible way to parents and the community schools not making all of their filings that are necessary with the State Education Department, that it seems that these issues that deal with health and safety matters was simply information to parents in the community that deal with the health and safety of their schools, doesnít seem to have the same sense of zero tolerance to violations that other regulations of the commissioner does, that when thereís any violation, thatís a very serious matter. Even one violation. You canít have even one student in the entire state not complete all of the Regents learning standards and we say well, you know weíve got 90% compliance or 95% compliance and you require 100% compliance.
Now Iím not saying to any of you, lady and gentlemen that districts not complying with a regulation or a law is the fault of the State Education Department, and Iím not even saying that when you identify areas of non compliance that you can immediately, that you have the staff to immediately dispatch to deal with those issues. But it seems to me that non compliance doesnít attach with it any real serious consequences and Iím wondering if my observation is correct and if itís not, tell me why itís not correct and if it is correct, what do we need to do to make sure that even one student in the state is not exposed unnecessarily, and certainly ways that are preventable to dangerous substances, toxins, carcinogens, and this week as serious as asbestos exposure.
MR. KADAMUS: I think, just a couple of points Iíd make on it. Number one is that when the serious situations are brought to our attention we respond and I think you know, Carl documented what weíve done in that one particular case and you know, we are able to deal with the most serious and severe of situations in terms of the quote ďnon complianceĒ where itís a serious health and safety matter.
Clearly there is a broader response, broader educational role that has to be played here in terms of getting greater awareness and understanding and best practice going on in local districts. When youíve got, when in at least our view that youíve got say half the school still not complying with a certain part of it, youíre not on a case by case basis anymore. In fact, what youíre suggesting is that there may be issues of resources at the local level.
Certainly issues of resources at the state level and I think there has to be some kind of major initiative if your going to, youíre going to want widespread compliance for people to be much more aware of this, thatís going to require more of an investment in terms of you know, state education departments responsibility to do that, more of investment to be able to strengthen some of the regional entities that we have through the BOCES, for them to be able to do this work. And probably more investment in terms of maintenance and other types of resources that the legislature has to make to make sure that districts, because you know thereís a carrot in the stick kind of situation here.
If youíre going to provide them with the money, then youíve got the ability to be able to deal with the strings in terms of that money and require compliance. So --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Agreed, agreed. Iím sorry to interrupt you but, and I, I fully understand that there are certain things in education that requires money. And that is the responsibility of the legislature and the governor and we could have a whole discussion about, you know what has happened there and we donít need to do that today.
But there are other things that require the dissemination of information either to the public, or to the State Education Department that are not really money issues but none the less, school districts, some school, some districts are very casual about that and, so my question is that with respect to the information, the transparency, the ability of parents in the community to know based on the rescue language and the Commissionerís own regulations, why can we not have a policy of zero tolerance against those districts that for one reason or the other do not provide the information that they are required to?
MR. KADAMUS: Well I think itís a question of being able to get the information out to people, make them more aware of the seriousness of this, and having some additional staffing to be able to do the kind of spot checking and other things that we do in other areas. And I think itís just got to be a broader base campaign. I think weíve come a long way from where we were prior to the rescue legislation where thereís virtually zero awareness of this. Other groups I know will testify today that, you know the buildings and grounds folks and what they do with their conferences and meetings and what theyíre trying to do to get the information out to schools.
But a zero tolerance policy on this would take a significant investment in terms of both the information that has to go out and on the staffing that we would have to have to be able to do that.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: I have a question.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Ms. Clark?
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Iím very concerned about the demands that weíre making on the Department and the staffing levels first aboard from school facilities right on in to the standards movement. Iím very concerned about that, because I know the number of staff people youíve lost, I know the proposed budget cuts for this year, I know all of that. And I know all thatís important, but it must be very frustrating to parents who are sitting here listening to us because they donít have a direct link and Iím really, really concerned about parents having a direct link because I was a parent in school and I know what itís like to start with the principal, the custodian and all those people and how difficult it is to make your voice heard. And you need a place to be able to call if youíre worried about your childís health and safety.
And so where, you know I understand and I will fight along with Steve cause I hear his line of questioning is similar to what I would be asking about what is it you need, but you know, Iím agreeing with him that thereís still certain demands that have to be made, so what is it that with, that you would need to help establish, like a direct link, because these health and safety committees are very often connected to parents, right?
MR. KADAMUS: Well that is, that was what, you know I think in the conception of rescue, creating that health and safety committee as the first point, where parents are writing them and then that committee responses --
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: But they have that committee and they not have a place to go beside the people who know them that see them everyday and say theyíre a pain in the neck and theyíre, you know, and theyíre not going to get anywhere. They need a desk in State Aid where they can get to where thereís a body to listen to their issues, and I understand youíre stretched thin, I understand all of that, but I mean I want you to tell us what we need to be able to do that because I canít, I just canít conceive with the frustration of parents whose children are ill. And theyíve pretty much confirmed by other outside sources that thatís their problem. Illness due to something in school and then they canít get any reliable source to get it taken care of.
MR. KADAMUS: Weíd like to, Iíd like to consult my colleagues and then get back to the Committee on this in terms of what, you know, our needs are in this area. I think that, you know, for us, you know I guess ultimately it gets down to a matter of priority.
We have, you know, the staff, our staffing is primarily designed to review and approve school facilities construction projects. This is indeed as Chuck pointed out ten years ago it was five hundred thousand, 500 million dollars a year, now itís 3.7 billion dollars a year. We have fewer people to do it than we did 10 years ago, we have about a 12 to 14 week turnaround on projects right now, most people would say thatís too slow. And so that has got to be our priority.
These issues that weíre talking about today, obviously fall behind that in the list of areas, that doesnít mean theyíre not important but they, obviously our first priority is review and approve facilities, thatís what youíve charged us with, thatís what the legislative requirements are.
So I think weíd have to get back to you in terms of what kind of enhancements we would need to be able to do this, the whole environmental quality area on a much more aggressive basis in terms of education and enforcement. I think there, to me if you say lets create an enforcement office, go out an solve every one of these problems, theyíre never going to have enough people. Weíve got to get into a situation where we educate the schools to do this. Theyíve got to want to comply, theyíve got to want to believe this is important and then weíre only then dealing with the exceptions.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: And then somehow theyíre going to have to have some kind of accountability measure. You educate them and they still donít do it. Thatís a major issue and I donít know if thatís something that we have to deal with legislatively or what but something has to be done there because the culture of schools is, you know, they make all of these rules, they donít know whatís going on underground and so you know weíll do part of and then we wonít do the rest. And thatís serious.
Charter schools, are charter schools monitored by State Ed or do you leave them to the companies that run them?
MR. KADAMUS: It depends on the charter school. The charter school that are sponsored by the school district such as ones that Chancellor Klein would be responsible for that be recommended by the City of Buffalo for example, they would fall under either the New York City Building Code or in case Buffalo under the State Building Code because they would be district sponsored.
Other charter schools that are sponsored by other entities are governed by the local facilities, the local building departments thatís by law, they are not under the State Education Department so they do not have the same facility requirements that we have for other schools.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Thatís interesting.
MR. KADAMUS: And that was in the Charter School Law.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Okay, thatís interesting.
MR. KADAMUS: We educate them, we share with them our facilities guidelines, many of them do comply because theyíre good guidelines but they are under the local building code. Just a point of history here, the reason the State Legislature back I believe, early seventies, but created a State Uniform Building Code is that many, many school districts have buildings in multiple jurisdictions. If you had to rely strictly on the local building code, you could have school buildings in 2 or 3 different towns. In fact, weíve got school districts that cut across county lines.
And so you could have a situation where youíd have one code requirements in one building and a different set of code requirements in a different building and within the same school district. Legislature in itís wisdom decided to do that in a uniform way, create a single state code for school buildings and require the State Education Department to review all plans and issue the certificates of occupancy.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Okay, I heard you mention the rifle ranges in schools.
MR. KADAMUS: Yes.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: A charter school in my Assembly district opened in what was previously a rifle range. For a long, long period of time. And I talk about the parent, it was difficult for me to get somebody, I wrote to everybody to look at that building and give a sign off as to whether this building was safe for kids --
MR. KADAMUS: There certainly should have been some review of what the conditions were. Itís easy to test for that, weíve done that, we did do that when the rifle range controversy came around a few years ago we worked with the Health Department, we did do testing on all of those buildings to see what the situation was for. Students that were involved in those rifle practices. So I think in that case someone should, the local building department should have looked at that question.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Oh, they, finally the Health Department looked at it. Alright, thank you.
MR. KADAMUS: Your welcome.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well we thank you all very much. We appreciate Commissioner Millís efforts and certainly his, his dispatching you to our hearings today. I know that you had to make arrangements to be here from Albany and we want you to know that we very much appreciate that and undoubtedly some of our concern about some of the non compliance deals with our worry that the State Education Department perhaps has been deprived of the necessary resources, systematically for a number of years but that perhaps is also a debate for another day. We thank you very much.
MR. KADAMUS: Thank you Mr. Chairman and the members of the Assembly.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. I donít know if heís still in the room. Perhaps he is not but I just wanted to make reference to the fact that Assemblyman Meridist I would say, Ed Sullivan who formerly is the Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee either is here or certainly was here and he continues to be a man of great public service. Our next witness is Claire Barnett, Executive Director of Healthy Schools Network, Inc. Good afternoon.
MS. BARNETT: Good afternoon. Thank you very much. I really want to thank the Assembly Committees on Education, on Health and on Environment for convening this very important hearing. Itís a wonderful opportunity for us to talk about how to get past the crises of the day, which is what weíve been hearing about most of the morning is hazard by hazard assessments and crises of the day and really look ahead to the promise of what healthier buildings really ought to be about.
My name is Claire Barnett, Iím Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network and to my left is Steve Bose, whoís our New York State Policy Director and Iím, weíre going to share this testimony back and forth just a little bit.
Healthy Schools is dedicated to assuring every child environmentally safe and healthy school that will improve child health and facilitate learning. We look at the importance of the school indoor environments and preventive green principles. We are dedicated to assuring every child an environmentally safe and healthy school thatís clean and in good repair which was the guiding principle that Deputy Commissioner Kadamus talked about in his testimony which was promised 10 years ago in 1994. It was a great promise and we still look ahead to that promise being fulfilled.
A school building is more than just a place for education. Itís actually the one constant factor in a childís school day. Schools are also centers of community and are a tangible indicator of community and neighborhood values. Schools house millions of New York State children who breathe the school air and listen, see and learn in the school classrooms. The school building is in fact a learning environment and the environment undeniably shaped to the quality of a childís experience. It also effects the childís ability, childís health and ability to learn.
Children on the average spend 30 to 50 hours a week in the school which makes the facility essentially a compulsory work place for children. Yet unlike adults, children have on OSHA protection, no union bargaining contractual rights, no past protection and certainly no bargain unit that goes to bat for them in a contractual process.
But school children cannot rely on the protection of this public health infrastructure. Since with the exception of cafeteriaís, public health departments at the State and local level have no authority to investigate school public health complaints unless invited to do so by school administrators. But children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards than the adults are and they out number adults in the buildings by a factor of almost ten to one, and in some places, more than that.
Children moreover cannot identify hazards or protect themselves from hazards. In fact, thatís sometimes why you send them to school is to figure out what problems really are. So their bodies are still developing. Meeting an exposure or an injury at a very early age can disrupt the development process or result in a lifetime injury.
Only a real revolution in how we approach school buildings is really going to change this paradigm. When we look at our work in the Healthy Schools Network weíre really on two tracks of advocacy. One advocacy track is better buildings, fulfilling the promise of assuring that every child has an environmentally safe and healthy school. These are, there are healthy and high performance school buildings being built across the country, operating constructed design maintain cited to be environmentally clean, safe and healthy work places for everyone.
The other track for healthy schools is looking at what happens with children before that promise is fulfilled. And as Assemblywoman Clark pointed out, you need ways to find a way to find swift answers for parents. Because every single day that the bureaucracy lingers over whoís responsible is another day and another week of illness, of injury, and of family disruption and cost to families. The cost to families who are caught up in the situations like the Starpoints or like the Briarcliffs are really extraordinary. Very extraordinary and I donít think any system has really recognized whatís going on here.
We want to build this revolution really on the Court of Appeals Decision. We agree with Court of Appeals, 1995 Decision in CFE vs. The State of New York Ruling, which was reaffirmed in 2003, and it said ďChildren are entitled to minimally adequate physical facilities and classrooms which provide enough light, space, heat and air to prevent children to learn.Ē We assume in Healthy Schools Network that this means that schools must at least meet all relevant building codes and at least comply with current laws and regulations of the State and the Federal Government, including Federal Laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or the Americanís With Disabilities Act. These require facilities to be accessible to all children regardless of disability. And Asthma can in fact, or the ability to breathe can be considered a disability.
One of the legislatures most significant actions to date in improving environmental health of schools has been the adoption of the rescue regulations. It was sweeping, it was statewide, and it gave to the Commissioner the first time in 1998 the ability to set facility regulations statewide.
It also involved for the first time the requirement that every district set in place a health and safety committee, to which bargaining units were appointed, to which parents were appointed. So there was a community and a parent involvement in looking at facilities. I think this legislation and the implementing regulations held a great deal of promise when they were put in place in 98 and 99 about what could happen. We were certainly very supportive of those regulations. Particularly the parts of the regulations that drove the system towards better buildings and better practices.
A recent audit of the rescue program from the New York State Comptrollerís office found some significant weaknesses in the Education Departmentís implementation, resulting in school district non compliance with rescue requirements. These findings formerly document what our own findings are with regards to the mis management of the Rescue Regulations. Most notably, the State Comptroller found that the vast majority of the schools have not implemented school facility report cards, which is consistent with what State Ed is talking about them, is not implemented the initiative. The Comptrollerís report also found that Department Staff generally do not visit or otherwise verify a districts compliance. Part of rescue is in fact a self monitoring and a self reporting system. This is not a system that protects children.
Clearly the legislature needs to further investigate the implementation of RESCUE as part of itís own comprehensive agenda on addressing the need of school facilities statewide. Not just in New York City, but throughout the State.
I would like to make one comment on the accessibility of school facility report cards and data on that. Before the hearing and as a result of a number of requests I thought it might be simpler if we just go ahead and Google it. And for those of you who are users of the internet you know that Google is a very powerful search machine. So we Googled school facility report cards and I can tell you, I could unroll the scroll for you here, but it takes even for somebody whoís used to using that search engine, you can go through a lot of iterations to get to something which leads you nowhere. Google cannot find school facility report cards anywhere in New York State or any other place.
We are today releasing a major report regarding the environmental impact of school facilities. Weíre also submitting the report to you as part of these proceedings. The report itself, which I think you have now, is in two parts. The first is a science based background in paper of international pure reviewed scientific research, publically accessible documents that talk about indoor environments and child health, learning and performance. These are very important underpinnings from any policy work.
The translational piece is what does this mean for New York State Policy? And weíll look at that very quickly. The recommendations basically fall into two broad categories. First is it is abundantly clear that we need statewide a policy that will design and build, construct, site healthy and high performance school buildings. These buildings are environmentally designed buildings that do in fact improve student attendance, they improve health and they improve achievement. The children who need these the most are the children who are the neediest children in the State and as the State has set up itís Construction Reimbursement Programs including through NYCERTA for Flex Tec Programs on Green Buildings, the children who are the neediest are the least likely to receive the benefits of this.
The second category of recommendations includes the maintenance of existing school facilities and highlights policy proposal and practices that will improve the environment of these existing schools.
Let us turn first to the need to design and build healthy and high performance buildings. Communities across the nation except New York are designing and building healthy and high performance schools that combines state of the art school design and construction technology with good old fashion common sense to create learning environments that improve learning, promote good health and cost less to operate. Healthy and high performance design, or green buildings is also a policy of New York State, but only in other sectors of the economy.
Executive order 111 in New York requires public buildings to meet green building principles but it doesnít require schools to do so. The Governorís green building tax credit provides tax incentives for commercial developers to build green. But that doesnít reach schools either. NYCERTAís Flex Step programs are, pay up front cost and will reimburse you later. So this doesnít work very well for the neediest schools either. Yet as our paper in some of the testimony today demonstrates, green or healthy and high performance school design improves student health and achievement and saves money.
As part of any new policy proposal for funding school construction and renovation, we need districts that are held accountable to building school facilities that meet these design standards. NYCERTA is uniquely situated to develop some green guidelines and make them accessible to the State Ed Department.
All new school construction and all major school renovation projects should adhere to these healthy and high performance design guidelines. And at some point I would urge members of the legislature to think at what point, knowing that you, knowing that these buildings make a difference for children, at what point is there a compelling state interest. In the City of Buffalo, which is going through a one billion dollar massive renovation and rebuild program on public infrastructure, itís 95% State aided. Only one building is being experimented with as a possible green construction and design. One elementary school. At what point does the State Legislature say at 95% State aid, the State has a vested interest in making a building thatís held in high performance and is easy to maintain, keep clean and cheaper to operate. I suggest to you, at some point you need to be able to do that.
New York State Regulatory Agencies also need to place a priority on the implementation and enforcement of existing regulations facing school environments. And I think weíve heard a lot of that this morning. I, the rescue regulations were enacted in 1998, the implementing regulations were in 1999. How many years of constituency group education do we need before there are effective enforcement actions?
Ten years ago the Regents Environmental Quality Task Force on which I served then as a volunteer parent promised regulatory enforcement and action statewide. And today weíre still talking about educating school officials and educating people about how important it is to do the right thing. We donít do that on regents exams and I think itís time for the State Ed to have a little backbone in this area.
The second area is school maintenance repair funding. We believe this should be increased to a level to be sufficient to have enough financial resources for schools to sufficiently maintain their facilities. The Assembly has really taken the leadership over the last few years to restore fifty million dollars each year for minor maintenance and repair of schools and weíre very grateful to you for that.
Weíre also pleased to see that this appropriation was included this year by the Governor and the Executive Budget Proposal, and this year again, we urge the Assembly to fulfill this legislative promise and increase the appropriation to 80 million dollars this year. The increase in this fund was originally promised to take place in 2001, it has not yet taken place.
School maintenance and repair funds also ought to be prioritized to make sure that funding is targeted for true environmental health and safety hazards. CCA remediation, pesticide issues, mold remediation, ventilation problems and so forth.
A parent right to know law would insure that parents are notified of environmental health indoor air quality at schools will absolutely be improved by demanding that schools implement indoor air quality plans.
We also need to establish school siting standards as part of construction and design guidelines that would prohibit schools from being constructed on or near hazardous sites. This is a significant problem not only in New York but in many other states. And part of that has to get to the cheap land issue. If schools donít have enough money to purchase or to acquire to investigate a piece of property, itís very tempting to put something in a site which is inappropriate for school.
Finally I want to talk specifically about a couple of things that weíve heard about today in the previous testimony and I want to highlight a couple of items and Iíd love to take some questions. One is that there was a lot of conversation both from the State Education Department Representatives and from the New York City Department of Education Representatives about occupant health during in buildings under renovation.
Make no mistake, this is a State Law. You enacted, the Legislature enacted State Law that says occupants of buildings of schools under renovation will be protected. There was a child killed here in New York City which was the final tipping point on that particular piece of legislation. This is not a matter of protocol. This is not a matter of desk practice and guidelines. This is not a matter of going out and educating somebody to do the right thing. This is a question of hard core enforcement. When will children make a difference to the Education Department? They donít yet.
The question of rifle ranges is also a good question. In fact, the Department of Education and the Department of Health did in fact do a investigation of lead contamination in school rifle ranges and found significant contamination. It came about actually because of some schools on Long Island in which the ventilation system was taking the dust from the old ranges and actually distributing the dust throughout the elementary school. The schools were also, one school in particular was also carpeted. For whatever reason, the study was completed more than 2 years ago and the Department of Health has not released the study. I would encourage members of the Assembly who are interested in finding out more about it to see if we can get the State Department of Health to release that study. It would be very useful.
Regarding PS 65 in Queens, where there is a highly toxic TCE plum underneath the building, we know that Mt. Sinai Medical Center was involved in that investigation and there was a written recommendation to the district regardless of how the building was configured to keep the building well ventilated. And this actually is one of the areas of difficulty working around New York City Schools, is that once a parent graduates, leaves, child graduates so the parent graduates from the Parent Association or leaves the school, that parent is no longer allowed to or can contribute to the decision making on health and safety in the school.
But in the absence of any system for children what happens is you have one parent, whether itís someone like Annmarie or someone like Ellen or someone like Elsa or other people who are here whoíve had long experience, they develop and internalize a lot of expertise. When they finally give up or move on, that expertise goes with them and thereís no repository for it. So the parents who are left at PS 65 in Queens have to discover it all over again.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Weíve gone a little bit beyond your allotted time so I know you were serving the extemporaneous portion of your presentation but weíll --
MS. BARNETT: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Weíll need for you to wrap up. Maybe you just did.
MS. BARNETT: I will wrap up. I think a couple of the issues that came through that were so crystalized by some of the testimony are these sort of, the crises of the day, and itís perfectly possible to get past the crises of the day, we need a system that is, that really pushes the environmental side of things, and I really encourage you to think warm thoughts about that and work harder on it, we would love to work with you on it.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: I have one quick question.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Ms. Clark?
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: After that, I have to go but Iím glad you finished. I see a lot of the discussion about indoor air quality. And Iíve heard about buses, outdoor air quality. What about other kinds of facilities, is that addressed in your report in and around the school buildings?
MS. BARNETT: You mean buses or?
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: No, I mean just air quality, around, outside of school buildings?
MS. BARNETT: The science part of our report is largely about indoor environments. Schools are, interestingly enough, schools are really a wonderful case in indoor environments. They are more densely occupied than commercial office spaces, there are no standards for indoor air quality, and so it becomes a very difficult issue both for parents and for schools alike. Particularly since all schools across the country and including New York State, New York City are enrolling more and more children with more and more sensitivities.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: I agree but my concern is because of the, the number of students in buildings and so forth, opening windows, since all, most of the old buildings arenít, donít have air conditioning. Opening windows are very important.
MS. BARNETT: Right.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Very often outside air quality is probably worse than leaving the windows closed. So Iím asking, is there anything or can you, you know, look at some of the outdoor air qualities in and around school buildings? You know some of them are located in places where that is a major issue. The last question I have to ask you is have you done any kinds of studies on where kids are located in buildings i e basements of school buildings?
MS. BARNETT: I think that, thatís now data that State Ed could produce. One of the things that RESCUE does is require building condition surveys and annual visual inspections. Weíve looked at some of them, we have a lot of questions about the accuracy of some of the data, but I think for State Ed to produce some documentation about where buildings are located, and ask the other state agencies to contribute their information about hazardous sites and air pollution would be a fabulous gift to the legislature for policy making.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN CLARK: Mr. Englebright?
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: I just want to, I donít really have a question so much as just a comment, I just want to express my appreciation for your steadfast application of science to one of the most important social matters in our state and your long term dedication I believe will save lives of young people, make their adult years more productive and healthful and contribute significantly to the long term well being of our State and I just wanted to say thank you for your pioneering effort and your perseverance.
MS. BARNETT: Thank you. I have to thank my staff and my board theyíre very tolerant and very helpful.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: All of us join with Assemblyman Englebright, weíve had, weíve all had an opportunity to work with you Ms. Barnett and your organization for many, many years. I think that you are advise, your recommendations to the Legislature about what the needs are and how to meet those needs continue to be very important. So we thank you very much for your testimony this morning. We thank you very, very much for the hard work that youíve done over the years and undoubtedly we will be having exchanges and interactions as we try to move the agenda of healthy schools and the Healthy Schools Network during the balance of this session, and we thank you both. Thank you.
MS. BARNETT: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Just for everyoneís edification, let me just say that necessarily so, some of the early witnesses, particularly those from the New York City Department of Education, related agencies, and the representatives of Commissioner Mills, the State Education Department, these are the entities that are charged with the enforcement of our laws and responding to problems so, we have necessarily taken a great bit of time with those witnesses. From here on out though, we will have to try to keep people very closely to the 10 minute time frame.
This is not to pre-empt anybody. Everyoneís testimony of course is valuable but there are only a certain number of hours in the day and we do want to hear from everybody. So, Iím going to enforce it, fairly closely the 10 minute time rule and itís not to be rude in anyway but itís so that we can hear from everybody.
Our next witness is Hillary Brown, New Civicís Works.
MS. BROWN: Good afternoon. My name is Hillary Brown and I am an architect with a background in Public Works Management. In 1997, I established the City of New Yorkís High Performance Building Program within the Department of Design and Construction. We oversaw the development of the Cityís high performance building guidelines and promulgated about 18 projects, pilot projects for the City of New York as high performance buildings. Many of those, 2 are completed and there are 18 in design and construction.
Today I head an organization called New Civic Works, I help government and institutional clients implement high performance building practices in their facilities program. And I actively serve on the United States Green Building Counsel as a former Director of the National Board and currently on the board of the New York Chapter. And Iím also on the Board of Healthy Schools Network. So I hope to better define for you what is meant by High Performance or Green Schools, explain the benefits, talk about the costs, describe whatís currently being accomplished in the region and recommend what may help the State of New York move forward.
Today we use the term high performance to describe those new or renovated schools that have successfully tackled some of the chronic barriers to education. Distractions that include inadequate lighting thermal discomfort, unhealthy indoor air and poor acoustics, but I believe that getting rid of these impediments while necessary is not sufficient. A higher bill still must be the creation of physically and psychologically supportive environments and that can mean a truly less stressful more benign classroom and learning centers, those with access to views, to daylight, fresh air and greenery where possible which can affect in essence high level cognitive functioning. Alertness and creativity that promotes intellectual development.
Achieving high performance on design and construction requires setting high benchmarks for comprehensive building functionality during design, from thermally improved windows and walls to correctly sized ventilation systems, lower water use and of course the elimination of contaminant materials.
High performance really requires convening a multi disciplinary professional team at the onset of the project to set these goals and to subsequently comply with them. Teams often utilize advanced engineering such as computer simulation studies to predict and thereby optimize building performance.
The benefits of high performance schools are both direct, fairly knowable such as energy, waste and water savings and indirect and more difficult to calculate, namely productivity and health benefits. Starting with the direct benefits, well designed green buildings, high performance schools can reduce energy expenditures by upwards of 20%, paying back the slightly higher initial cost for improved systems and go on to produce a saving stream for the lifetime of the building.
What is required to do that is adequate funding of the relatively small incremental costs and an conscienceously managed quality based design and construction process.
Indirect benefits are more difficult to quantify but those that add real value to the school system accumulating evidence today suggests that better indoor environmental quality, exposure to daylight, good indoor air and better acoustics and so on is linked to better student and teacher health and performance. Specifically, one frequently cited California study found thereís a statistical correlation between the amount of daylight in elementary school classrooms and the performance of students on standardized reading and math tests. Specifically at 21% improvement in this particular study in learning rates compared to students in the classroom with least daylight. So that better daylight can be cost effectively realized in what we build today with proper glazing, with glare control, light monitors and other features.
Indoor air quality. Where the outside air is sourced from, how itís cleaned, how much and what rate is it flows to the occupied spaces, itís humidity content, the removal of pollutant sources indoors, all of these factors contribute, reduce illness and contribute to occupant alertness.
Lastly, acoustics, high performance facilities pay strict attention to the role of the envelope of the mechanical systems and the classroom finishes on sound transmission that can often be barriers to good hearing. And there are other outcomes. Studies relate school facility classrooms, those that are pleasant and effective places to work with teacher satisfaction and retention. There is the prospect of reduced liability exposure to health related problems, and lastly I think importantly, high performance schools can compliment student and adult programs in science and environmental literacy.
Lets talk about costs. While many green buildings today are known to be realized of costs that are comparable, I stress comparable to conventional buildings, environmental performance features usually add some cost to design in construction expenditures, the consensus might be in a rage of anywhere from 1 to 7% of those construction costs, depending on the design and the extent of added features and when the decisions to incorporate those criteria are made.
A recent study executed by the State of California showed data on 7 school buildings across the country certified as green by the US Green Building Counsel and the study shows on average the premium for those green schools is about 2%. Some local and regional examples to touch on, there is the Clearview Elementary School in Hanover, Pennsylvania, one of 10 high performance projects underway in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As an exemplary high performance school it boasts 56% energy cost reduction at just 2% initial first cost.
As youíre probably aware, the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation is proceeding with more than a half dozen high performance schools. The City of New Haven with the assistance of my firm has offered and is now implementing the high performance schools design requirements, not guidelines, requirements. Currently weíre overseeing nine projects and design using these requirements that makes mandatory the use of energy modeling tools and requires an independent commissioning effort or comprehensive testing and training phase to ensure performance meets or exceeds design intent.
How can New York make high performance synonymous with standard school facility construction? Some basic recommendations for you. Provide direction for high performance schools at every milestone along the project delivery process. This means either the, it means the creation of guidelines and or management tools for the state edís, New York State Department of Education that directly relate to itís guiding principles for environmental quality adopted by the State Board Regents and itís current articles that cover long range planning needs assessment, capital construction financing design and construction standards.
Allocate sufficient funds for school construction programs for energy modeling and commissioning, further capitalizing on the offerings of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Create incentive mechanisms for school districts that produce savings from well managed, high performance buildings to keep some portion of those savings for other critical operating needs. This incentive can motivate overall better facilities management.
Lastly, undertake high performance as part of a broader institutional policy making that includes smart transportation alternatives, reasonable energy policies, sorry, responsible energy policies, innovative health and safety programs, energy and resource efficient booths, procurement and other infrastructure decisions.
Smart school programs, high performance programs are being mobilized nationwide by people from all sectors that understand that high performance is at the intersection of environmental responsibility, prudent public health, the imperative of course to first do no harm and good fiscal management.
A famous journalist once said ďthe trouble with all good ideas is they soon they generate into hard work.Ē To achieve such a change we must overcome inertia and institutional rigidity in all facets of government that touch on schools delivery and operations. I think we need to provide the resources to upgrade those practices that can really show results and indoor changing political priorities. Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well we thank you very much for your testimony, your recommendations, you did it in exactly 9 minutes and 43 seconds, right on the button. So, youíve saved us 17 second or so in our pursuit to finish on time today. Seriously, we thank you. The recommendations from someone as prominent as you with respect to you know really how buildings begin in the planning stage and then beyond is very important and we thank you very much. Thank you.
MS. BROWN: Your welcome. Hopefully I can be of help in the future.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. Our next witness is Brian Mason who is the Audit Manager for the Office of the New York State Comptroller. I donít believe that Mr. Sossei is here?
MR. MASON: Mr. Sossei unfortunately had to leave. He had another --
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Okay.
MR. MASON: Another commitment down in the City today.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you.
MR. MASON: Good afternoon Chairman Sanders and Assemblyman Englebright. My name is Brian Mason, I am an Audit Manager with the State Comptrollerís Office, the State Audit Bureau. And on behalf of Comptroller Hevesi I appreciate the opportunity to share with you information from our audit on the State Education Department, the implementation of the RESCUE Program. This is an audit that we issued in September of 2003. I would note that the audit did not include the RESCUE aspects of, for the New York City Department of Education, given other reports that have been issued over the last eight to ten years dealing with the New York City Education Departments Capital program.
In the interest of time I think weíre going to dispense with certain background information that exists in our prepared statements. I think a lot of that information has already been shared and discussed by previous folks giving testimony. Iíll talk a little bit about the audit itself to term the extent of districts compliance with RESCUE requirements.
We sent survey questionnaires to 50 randomly selected school districts. The questionnaires addressed district maintenance practices in general and their compliance was a specific RESCUE provision. Received completed questionnaires from 51 of the, pardon me, from 41 of the 50 districts. In addition to serving certain districts we also selected six school districts for side visits. Those school districts included Syracuse, Westmoreland, Lake Placid, Glens Falls, Greenville and Onteora to gauge their knowledge in compliance with RESCUE requirements. We also visited the Ithaca City and Hermon DeKalb districts to review questionable costs for which State building aid was claimed, and the audit covered the period from January of 1998 through March 31st of 2003.
The results of the audit basically were as follows:
Our audit identified material problems in the execution of the RESCUE program. Those problems related districts non compliance with the RESCUE requirements for the five year facilities plan, comprehensive maintenance plan, and the school facility report card. Deficiencies in long term facilities planning and maintenance can result in need for capital projects, but otherwise could have been avoided, but are eligible for State Building Aid. Moreover, from any districts there is a strong financial incentive to maintain the facilities through capital projects eligible for building aid, rather than through routine facilities maintenance activities whose costs are paid from general operating funds. In fact, officials at several of the districts we surveyed and site visits acknowledged deferring maintenance so they could include such costs in future capital projects.
The detailed results from our audit for the 47 districts we surveyed or visited to assess RESCUE compliance are as follows, some of them are positive and some of them are indications of areas where significant improvement are needed:
- 47 of the districts, 100% had established the required health and safety committees;
- 45 districts or 96% of the group that we surveyed had completed their building condition survey or obtained a department waiver granting them more time to meet the requirements;
- 46 percent had done and Annual Visual incessment.
The following are areas where significant improvement are needed:
- 28 or 60% of the 47 districts have completed the 5 year capital facilities plan;
- 25 or 53 % of the 47 districts had a comprehensive facility maintenance plan; and
- Only 8 of the 47 districts or 17% had completed the annual report card.
As noted previously, on ly 28 of the 47 districts we surveyed or visited had completed a five year plan. Moreover, there was wide variation in the nature and quality of these plans which ranged from detailed documents that closely followed SEDís regulatory guidelines to simple, single page write ups which likely had limited management value to senior district officials.
Thus, 40% of the districts we visited or surveyed had not developed even the most basic plan and 83% of districts had not produced any form of a report card. These requirements were supposed to be met by July 1st, 2001 and January 1st of 2001 respectively, are about a year and a half to 2 years prior to the time that we did the audit.
In addition, at the request of SED we also asked the districts we surveyed if they had prepared an integrated pest management plan. Nine districts or 22% of those who responded indicated that they did not have integrated pest management plan. For those districts that did not comply with the RESCUE related requirements, SED has limited assurance that district officials are effectively maintaining their facilities and doing effective long range facilities planning.
In addition, it is likely that residents in non complying districts, those districts that did not produce a report card have sufficient information about the condition of their districts school buildings.
The main reason for districts non compliance was SEDís delay in finalizing the formats or templates that districts could have used to complete the five year plan in the report card. Some district officials told us they were waiting for SED to provide them with the proper formats, both the plan and the report card, so they could insure that they completed them according to SEDís requirements. Although officials at the districts we visited were generally knowledgeable about RESCUE and itís requirements, they wanted specific SED guides to help them insure that the plans and the report cards they prepared conformed to SEDís regulations. We also determined that SED staff generally do not visit districts to verify their compliance with critical aspects of the RESCUE program.
I would just like to address some comments to the issue of building aid and deferred maintenance I previously had mentioned. Building aid is available to a district for SED approved capital projects generally costing ten thousand dollars or more. State building aid usually reimburses districts for a majority of capital program project costs, and in some instances, more than 80% of those costs.
Projects eligible for building aid include instructional buildings and garages. Eligible project cost may include those for new buildings, additions, re- constructional facilities and the professional fees for design and project implementation. However, routine maintenance and repairs to keep property in good working condition are not eligible for building aid. Districts should fund these projects through State Comprehensive Aid or local tax revenues. Some districts may also be eligible for State minor maintenance program aid.
Since districts have financial incentive to pay for as many property related cost as possible with State building aid, we believe thereís a significant risk that districts use building aid rather than operating aid or minor maintenance program funds to pay for facility maintenance items. Ten of the 41 districts which responded to our survey acknowledge the deferral of maintenance to capital project requests. Further, as noted previously in our audit report, 47% of the districts we surveyed and visited lacked the comprehensive maintenance plans for the major building systems. We believe that the lack of the maintenance plans increases the risks the districts will request and use building aid to keep facilities in good working order.
At one district that we visited identified over 400,000 dollars in costs for maintenance and improvements so that districts administrative building that weíre paid for through State Building Aid and this was an improper use of those funds.
Our audit report contained six recommendations. Among them are the following, Iím going to list three that I think pertain with the issues that youíre concerned with today. The first of the five districts with the finalized formats for the 5 year plan and the report card, so that they can fulfill the corresponding rescue program requirements. The second recommendation to the department, the State Education Department was to enhance existing procedures for monitoring district compliance with the rescue program and the areas related to the program, the report related to the five year plan, the report card and the annual visual inspection.
And the procedure should include asking districts to post programatic compliance information on their websites visiting or otherwise verifying districtís compliance, particularly districts where the risk of non compliance is greatest. And informing tracking the submission of required reports to identify non complying districts and this had to do with the annual visual inspections which the Department had collected a considerable number of, however, there was not an enumeration of which districts had actually complied with that requirement and which had.
Third recommendation had to deal with modifying the building aid guidelines to clarify what constitutes acceptable building aid expenses and give examples of expenditures the districts should not incorporate into their capital project claims.
Education Department officials agreed with the recommendations of the report and pursuant to Section 170 of the executive law they advised us in January of this year that specific actions had been or will be taking simple recommendations. And consistent with the Comptrollers standard procedures, we will conduct a follow up review to verify SEDís and the limitations of those recommendations later this year or sometime in 2005.
That basically completes our prepared comments and if you have any questions regarding the audit, the issue in general weíll certainly respond to them.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well Mr. Mason, we thank you very much. We thank Comptroller Hevacy very much for this audit and this very important contribution to this discussion. It would appear that all the recommendations that you made can be done administratively, non of them require State legislation or --
MR. MASON: Yes, they can all be accomplished through existing staff.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: At this point the Comptroller does not make any recommendations that would require legislation. You feel that the rescue law if implemented vigorously by SED is sufficient?
MR. MASON: Yes, I think that itís more a case of insuring that itís enforced, you know, we look at the law as it exists as a very good management tool, a very comprehensive management tool and I think the key will be the enforcement.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well we thank you very much, I hope youíll extend our thanks and appreciation to the State Comptrollers. I said this is a very important contribution to this discussion.
MR. MASON: Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much. Our next witness is Mr. Robert Troeller, President of Local 891 International Union of Operating Engineers. I guess if you can bring them right to the side there.
MR. TROELLER: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and the distinguished members of the Assembly. My name is Robert Troeller and I am the President of Local 891, the International Unit of Operating Engineers. My members have cared for New York City school buildings for over 100 years. I want to thank the members of the Assembly for showing great concern for the children of this State and through the RESCUE program have appropriated substantial resources to insure the safe operation of our schools.
I have a prepared testimony which Iíll go forward with, but I do want to pause and have some, give direct, can you pass these up there as well. I believe that many of the schools in New York City with an average age of over 50 years, many of them more than twice that are still in fairly good condition and are kept usable due to the efforts of my members who care for them as if they were their own. New York Cityís public schools certainly need additional funding.
However, itís my observation that the New York City Department of Education can certainly do a better job managing the resources they are given. They waste countless dollars through mis management and the growing use of outside contractors, architects, engineers, inspectors and contractors. A more efficient use of in house staff would provide a better safeguard of public funds and certainly provide a safer environment for the children of this City.
I came here today to speak about what many consider to be the single biggest threat to providing a healthy and safe environment for New York City school children, and they are the most vulnerable group in our city and they deserve a superior place to learn. I had prepared photos of incidences and I have today a copy of the papers from a copy of an article from each of the major dailyís in New York City brought this in a school building out in East New York that was shut down and the children bussed off to another location. That school was shut down due to the failure of Temco Services to adequately monitor the activities of a contractor working in that building.
There was a gym floor replacement going on for nearly a week. The wood gym floor was ripped up exposing an asbestos insulation underneath, between the wood and concrete, and for one week the workers worked around it and removed it and spread it around the building while the children occupied that site. This is just one example of what I came here today to warn the Assembly members about.
The current Chancellor had proposed and had begun to implement the widespread use of private cleaning companies to oversee the custodial operations in the City schools. Since itís not the focus of this Committeeís hearing, Iím not going to delve into the hazards of contractor and sub contractor employees without background checks working around the children. Iím not going to talk about the waste of tax payer dollars that this is causing, because much more important than that, thereís the risk that it exposes our children to and the staff and the building to.
As I said, New York City schools over fifty years old average, many of them over a hundred years old, most of them very large facilities, they require a certain level of expertise for the person whoís operating that facility. The Assembly had widely provided the funds to eliminate coal burning furnaces from our schools and for that I commend them, there are none left.
The Department of Education is now in the process of removing the qualified and trained operators who know how to operate the new, sophisticated equipment which has taken their place. The schools have developed an effective asbestos containment and removal process that Ms. Weingarten had talked about. Things were working out well, things were going on correctly. While the DOE is in the process of eliminating my members, who are all trained to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable abatement procedures, and to recognize where such hazards may exist. They have released an RFP that turns asbestos removal responsibilities over to the very same contractors responsible for the day to day operation. Thatís more than a conflict, itís extremely dangerous to the children.
The same goes for exterminating. Work previously performed by in house licensed exterminators, although the RFP called for a license exterminator, it is the contractor himself whoís responsible to verify and see that the person they hire meets those qualifications. By far the biggest threat to health and safety of the children in this entire scheme is the removal of the public servant on site, in each building, to act as the ownerís agent. The owner and responsible party being the Department of Education.
The cleaning contractor is in effect an absentee landlord. And we all know the negative effects our neighborhood suffers when that practice spreads. Currently the Cityís Civil Service Custodian Engineers must posses a license and a broad range of credentials and background experience to be able to compete for their job through a competitive examination. And then only the most qualified of both women and men will get the job. Yes, the job requirements actually go beyond the present laws and their demands for the best candidate. But the children of the City deserve no less.
The RFP doesnít even require the Department of Education to verify that the contractorís building manager holds the legally required licenses. Once again, the Department of Education washes their hands of their responsibility and allow the contractor to verify himself that they have hired the appropriate personnel.
Additionally, all members of our union have already received federally approved training in indoor air quality, confined space laws, blood borne pathogens and other related issues. Our affiliation with procedures International Unit of Operating Engineers affords us access to continue an ongoing training such as the new first responded training, recently established jointly with the federal government in response to the tragedy of September 11th.
One block north of that site the International had headquarters for almost one year after that event and were responsible for overseeing many of the environmental concerns on that site. It was members of this very local that got and kept New York Stuyvesant High Schools, emergency generators up and running, allowing that building and several others in the area to operate as a command post and morgue after that horrible event. The contractors currently operate in public schools in New York City require that there building manager be non union.
I present to you today some truly shocking photographic evidence why New York City School Chancellor Klein must not abdicate his responsibility to the children he is entrusted to protect, by turning the operation of school buildings over to private firms. The contractor who have taken over some of the City schools failed to maintain the previous level of staffing. The RFP doesnít even require them to. It allows them to suggest their own needed level of staffing. Quite often they elevate a subordinate to the fire custodian to the position of non union building manager. This is akin to removing the captain from a ship and replacing him with a deck hand. This is simply dangerous and irresponsible.
The following photos shows just some of what is going on in the schools already turned over to these contractors in addition to what we all saw today in the media, on TV, on the radio and in the press. I would like to say that they turned these contractors over to a low bid, a low bidder, but the reality is that the Supreme Court authority ruled that it was done illegally, they turned these schools, these schools in the pictures over to these contractors with no bid at all. They gave them a sixty million dollar contract with no bid.
Iíve attached photos of PS 124 in Queens in September. The school, operated by Temco Services, this school was evacuated and crying children filled the street, many overcome with fumes was sent to an area hospital. It would be a terrible tragedy if this was simply an accidental chemical spill. It was not. It was the result of an unqualified building manager ordering his subordinates to apply a noxious cleaning chemical to the intake vent of the schools air supply system during the operation of the school day.
I present to you photos of PS 112 in the Bronx. It is operated also by Temco Services. It was reported to me that after running out of fuel on Friday the 13th, this past February, and being unable to provide heat or hot water they ordered a fuel delivery. The following Tuesday the 17th, they took in a fuel delivery. The only problem is they took in 2,000 gallons too many. They sent the oil flowing down the street. You can see photos of the bowels where the oil was put back into and the spills and the stains which reached to the corner.
Understand something, this is number 6 fuel are, which in the middle of the winter has the consistency of molasses. So you can imagine how much oil had to flow out of there to reach the corner. A Civil Servant Custodian Engineer is responsible to guarantee that the tanks going to receive the oil that he is delivering and responsible to stand by the truck or have the subordinate stand by the truck the entire time. This obviously is not being done by the contractors.
I present to you today photos of PS 10 in Brooklyn operated by Johnson Controls. These pictures present clear evidence why each and every public school in the state must have at least one public employee on the facility staff. The educational staff and their administrative support personnel cannot be expected to be expert or even competent in an area for which they have no training or background.
PS 10 Brooklyn is being operated by Johnson Controls. The photos show a construction project that took place over a period of about 7 days, just 2 weeks ago. The contractor doing the job obviously became aware that people were watching what he did and acted very quickly and had the job finished up the following day on a Sunday morning. The photos show bricks removed and the remaining structure temporarily supported by old 2 x 4's. They show other bricks stuffed in the wall with no mortar to hold them in place. The entire job, as evident in the pictures was done without any bridging to protect anyone underneath. Not the workers and certainly not the children who can be seen playing in the unlocked school yard. There was never any bridging or scaffolding used on this site.
Government officials and public servants at all levels cannot accept that we allow private contractors to supposedly monitor other private contractorís work. Although the RFP requires just that, Johnson Controls obviously did not do that in this case. Without question, these type of reckless repair work would never have been allowed to start if a qualified Civil Servant Custodial Engineer was responsible for that site. Where was the Division of Facilityís Managers? Were they even aware that this work was going on?
I implore the members of the Assembly to call on Chancellor Klein to immediately halt his planned expansion of the use of private cleaning contractors, and to speed up the process of civil service testing and hiring. They have delayed that exam for years.
Hereís the most important thing I want to say today. I believe the parents of this state have the right to know that their children are safe. When they entrust the health and safety of their children to the government by sending their kids to public school, the government should insure that those kids are protected as much as feasible. They have a right to expect that there be at least one government employee on site in every public school on a facility staff with the proper credentials as determined by that district to insure the safe operation of that building. I call on the State Legislature to enact a law to insure that there is that person on staff regardless of what type of custodial cast system any individual school district may eventually chose to operate. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much Mr. Troeller. Thank you for this very comprehensive packet that you have provide us with. Of course the visual representations of what is going on around the city in our school buildings is very compelling.
MR. TROELLER: And this is only what we know about. Because then we donít have a government worker in those buildings.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And, I understand that, I think we all do. I also just want to make brief mention of the fact that we have had the opportunity to discuss with some of your fine representatives, Mr. Caroll and others, some of the ongoing issues that you are raising. I just want to ask one question of you. Why do you think that this Chancellor and the City administration has decided to embark upon a policy of outsourcing this work to private contractors? Is it, do they, does the City save money, is it all about that or is it something else?
MR. TROELLER: I do not believe itís about saving money. I have included in your package a complete, detailed analysis of the cost of buildings that were operated by contractors. First, those buildings that were operated by Custodian Engineers, and itís clearly evident that the Custodian Engineers operating sites cost the City less money. So my own personal belief that this is really a form of union busting. Itís politically motivated and itís union busting. It costs more money, provides less service, and as I said I think the most important point is it exposes the children of this City to untold and unnecessary dangers. And thatís why I came here today and again, just what happened last night is further evidence of that.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well, we thank you very much. We thank you for being here, we also appreciate very much the work that all the men and women who are part of your local and part of the International Union of Operating Engineers do, and as I say you have raised some very troubling issues and have provided some very compelling documentation and be aware and be assured that we take this exceedingly seriously.
MR. TROELLER: Well I thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you.
MR. TROELLER: Good afternoon.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Our next witness is Mr. Peter Smith who is the President of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.
MR. SMITH: Good afternoon Mr. Sanders, Chairman Sanders, Chairman DiNapoli, distinguished members and guests. My name is Peter Smith, I am the President of the New York State Research and Development Authority, commonly known as ďNYSRDA.Ē Itís my pleasure to be here today to discuss what NYSRDA has accomplished through the Stateís Energy Smart Schools Program in an ongoing effort to make our schools energy efficient, healthier in more productive places to learn and to work.
From NYSRDAís perspective, a healthier school day starts at the bus stop. From the bus our children ride to school in to the building they spend a good portion of the day in. NYSRDA offers programs to help insure that our childrenís learning environment is as healthy as it can be. We know that environmental factors such as indoor air quality, proper lighting levels, including day lighting, construction material content and many other elements contribute to childrenís health and their ability to learn. Getting that message out is important and requires a broad range of partnerships to be effective.
To accomplish that, NYSRDA works cooperatively with our fellow state agencies and authorities as well as a support associations whose constituents comprise portions of the K through 12 sector, such as the council school superintendents, the New York State Board, School Boardís Association, the New York State Association of School Business Officials and the Superintendent of Buildings and Ground Associations to name but a few.
At the local level, we work with the school facility staff, the school boards, the school business officials and most importantly, put the parents and the teacher organizations in the design community.
The Stateís energy smart school program encompasses a broad range of programs to assist schools through a variety of initiatives including technical and financial assistants for new construction, existing building rehabilitation, transportation and working with the energy servicing companies. The portfolio of opportunities we offer under energy smart schools can fit most needs and we look forward to continuing our efforts where appropriate.
Iíd like to highlight some significant accomplishments to date that weíve achieved. Under our new construction program, weíve assisted more than one hundred K through 12 schools and districts by providing technical and financial assistance and incentives in excess of 7.5 million dollars. Those buildings construct or are rehabilitated under the program will see light cycle energy use decrease by 15 to 18 percent from standard construction practices.
Our Commercial Industrial Performance Program provides installation incentives for projects installed using an energy service company. To date, weíve provided more than 3.25 million dollars in incentives, for 210 school buildings across New York State. These projects will save more than 25 million kilowatt hours annually as a result of the installed improvements.
Our technical assistance program, which provides cost year and engineering analysis can be used to identify a variety of energy efficiency in building operational savings and has provided more than 1.6 million dollars in matching funds for 87 projects. On average, installed measures have the potential to lead 6 dollars in energy savings for every dollar invested.
We are presently in the final stages of developing a web based training program for architects and engineers on the design in operation of high performance school buildings. The completed project will feature 25 individual training modules, ranging from site selection and building orientation to water conservation and ventilation system design. NYSRDA is working with the American Institute of Architects and the National Society of Professional Engineers among others to ensure that the training content adheres to the fundamental of some building design. The programs goals is to train up to a hundred and fifty design professionals this year and create a model for web based training thatís reputable nationwide. I might add, this was an award from the Department of Energy to New York State to design this, so that we can replicate this that only New York State can take it across the nation.
Weíve joined with the Healthy Schoolís Network and the Environmental Business Association to offer four community forums on healthy and high performance schools to get the word out on health, educational, energy environmental benefits of a properly designed constructed and operating school building as well as having the available training that NYSRDA has to offer to school districts across New York State.
If we turn to transportation, through NYSRDAís support for school transportation we have awarded 5 million dollars under the Clean Air, Clean Water Bond Act to retrofit 2,194 school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts to reduce school bus omissions in 74 districts across New York State. 1.25 million of this 5 million dollar total was awarded to the City of New York to retrofit 209 school buses in the City right now. NYSRDA also awarded funds for 20 new compressed natural gas school buses at Long Beach City School District, which will make their fleet the cleanest in the State.
If we turn to renewables, the State School Power Naturally Program has provided more than 2.1 million dollars at 50 schools selected competitively to install 2 kilowatt photo able tag units at each school. The units will provide a small amount of building integrated load, but more importantly, will be used as a teaching tool on renewable energy. The 50 schools chosen through a competitive solicitation with participate with neighboring schools districts to share the curriculum information as well as allow those districts to see the panels and operation.
We have many initiatives ongoing and in the development stage that has and will provide assistant to the K through 12 sector. From Building Operator Certification training for Facility Managers to Performance Contracting Assistance for Assisting Building Retrofits as well as Energy Environment Curriculum being developed in cooperation with the State Education Department that will fleet within New Yorkís Region Standard for both primary and secondary level students.
In November of 2004, NYSRDA will host our 3rd installment of Energy in Schools, a conference dedicated to the K through 12 school community featuring presentations on all aspects that school building and operation and maintenance, new and existing building technologies, heating, ventilating, lighting controls, indoor air quality and more. The two day conference will be held in Albany, the last conference attracted over 400 school administrators, facility managers, technology educators and curriculum planners, and we anticipate an increased attendance for the upcoming session.
I assure you that next years commitment to the K through building and transportation community is unwavering. The average building stop for a public school can be occupied for more than 50 years and itís the daily learning environment for thousands of students. While a properly maintained school bus can remain on the road for more than 10 years, NYSRDA will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to provide thought for programs that will do their best to make a difference to the school community. I want to thank you for inviting me here to testify today, and I will be happy to take any questions you may have. Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Mr. Smith, we want to thank you very much for being here. Of course Mr. DiNapoli and I are well aware of the cutting edge work and recommendations that NYSRDA is involved with in making sure that not only as school buildings but everything in and around school buildings are as state of the art environmentally as possible. Mr. DiNapoli in particular is Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee I know has a great deal of interaction of, with your department and we very much appreciate your testimony today and your ongoing commitment to environmentally sound buildings and environmentally sound school buses and all of the things in and around schools and thatís just I know a small part of the work that NYSRDA does. So we thank you very much for being here today sir. MR. SMITH: Thank you, thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. We now have another panel of parents we will call. Wendy Ruotolo, Marilena Christodoulou and Avril Dannenbaum, all parents, I think maybe all parents from Manhattan but I may be incorrect about that. Good afternoon.
MS. RUOTOLO: Good afternoon. My name is Wendy Rutolo and I live in Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County and have a daughter who is being home schooled this year because my school district would not adequately protect her from environmental hazards. These hazards included, but were not limited to new construction and maintenance.
Our daughterís doctor suggested that we go into school to do a walk through her school environment in order to determine if environmental factors were playing a role in her poor health during the academic year. She had a high rate of absences due to chronic problems with her asthma. During the summer months she remained healthy.
On a walkthrough I entered the art room and was overcome by a strong odor and immediately felt ill. The principal admitted that an asbestos abatement had taken place in that room and that staff members had complained of feeling ill due to some odor. It was discovered that a pool of chemicals that was used during the asbestos abatement was left under the shelves. Even after cleaning this up periodically the room would emit an odor and the room would have to be closed down. Subsequently, this room was closed for the remainder of the school year. I also noticed leaks in the ceilings as well as dumpster filled with construction debris against the cafeteria wall where the windows were opened. I witnessed numerous other violations of the State Education Department regulations for school construction and renovation.
I joined the Health and Safety Committee to assist the school in addressing these issues. I myself became ill at times during walkthroughs due to exposure to construction fumes and maintenance projects. The Health and Safety Committee reported serious violations of the State Education Department regulations for construction and maintenance to the Superintendent and the Director of Facilities on a regular basis. Some of these violations included workers soddering in a doorway that children were walking trough, a worker using a nail gun in a crowded hallway, workers using the childrenís bathrooms and workers failing to wear the proper ID badges on a regular basis. Often times, there were no barriers or inadequate barriers separating the children from the construction areas.
Also, at the Board of Education meeting parents reported their children being ill from what they believed to be a result of being exposed to construction. The Health and Safety Committee received reports from parents that their children were experiencing more severe health problems than they had in previous school years. Parentís reported that they witnessed mold issues. Workers on ladders in occupied hallways and their children coming home from school complaining of fumes in their classrooms and in the hallways. Staff members also reported anonymously due to fear of retaliation by administration that they were ill due to exposure to construction.
The State Education Department announced that it would conduct a walk through due to parent complaints. Miraculously, on that day, all construction projects were halted at the elementary school. However, the State Education Department representative also inspected the middle highschool and found violations. Despite the State Education Departmentís verbal instructions to the district, violations continued to occur. It was also brought up at that time that parents had complained at a board meeting that their children were ill due to exposure to construction. The Superintendent denied this. When a copy of the State Education Departmentís report on the inspection was requested, the administration said they never received one.
Throughout the course of the year, the district was selectively responsive to ongoing State Education Department violations. The Health and Safety Committeeís free access was eventually reduced to monthly walkthroughs with an administrator present, which progressed to denial of access. The Health and Safety Committee wrote a letter to the Superintendent about the change in access. The Superintendent never responded to the letter. Then without any notice, each member received a letter stating that she was removed from the Committee.
In our effort to protect and advocate for our daughter, we requested a 504 Accommodation Plan for our daughter during the 2002, 2003 school year and submitted a doctorís letter. While our daughter received some accommodations, many of the doctorís orders were omitted. According to the doctorís recommendation, our daughter was not allowed to attend classes in new construction. The district isolated her in a classroom without instruction, while her peers attended specials such as music and computers in these areas. The 504 Plan was not adhered to in itís entirety.
The school refused to create a plan for the current school year that would protect her health. The school never provided us with information that we requested regarding equal access for our daughter. The opportunity to inspect the school environment for potential health hazards was denied and the doctors orders for accommodations that are essential for our daughter to attend school were denied.
As a result, weíve been forced to temporarily home school our daughter. While home schooling our daughter this year, her health has improved substantially. Her asthma medications have been reduced significantly and some have been eliminated. It appears that the State Education Department does not have the ability or the incentive to enforce itís regulations and at times defended the school. Other agencies that I contacted such as the Department of Health did not provide assistance. The only agency that was helpful was the Healthy Schoolís Network, and I would like to publically thank Claire Barnett and her organization. The current system of regulations for maintenance construction are minimal, vague, subject to interpretation and not enforceable. It appears the school districts currently have the freedom to allow children to be exposed to a variety of environmental hazards.
I appreciate all the efforts that the State Education Department is making to insure the safety of all of our children, however, much work continues to be needed in this area. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you.
MS. RUOTOLO: My name is Haley Ruotolo and I am being home schooled right now because my school isnít protecting me from things in my school environment that have made me sick for years before. One time I told my mom that being home schooled wasnít any different than being in school because Iíd be home sick anyway and now I am healthy.
Last year when I was in 4th grade I used to see a lot of workers without badges on. That made me think that anybody could walk into school, even someone that shouldnít be there. That scared me. Another thing that scared me was that workers would work right outside the bathroom that I used.
One time I was walking out of my school with and my mom and, with my mom and I got a really bad headache and stomachache and my chest also got tight because we had just walked past some buses that were running. Another time I was walking down a hall that had just gotten painted and I had an asthma attack. I didnít like having to check a hallway before I went down it to see if there was a worker working on something that would make dust or a bad smell that would make me sick.
A good thing that my school did was to start to use healthy cleaners. My teacher brought in her own cleaner and sprayed it on my desk. Then she said tell me if you get sick. I felt mad that my teacher did this because she knew that I wasnít supposed to be around it. I wish that I wouldnít have to protect myself and that the adults in my school would to it themselves. I hope that you can make laws that can keep kids like me healthy in school.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you Haley.
MS. CHRISTODOULOU: Thank you for holding this hearing of a matter of great concern to all parents. My name is Marilena Christodoulou and my capacity is President of the Parentís Association of Stuyvesant High School during the school years 2000 to 2002 I have previously testified on two occasions in front of the Assembly Committees of Environmental Conservation Health and Labor on the horrendous environmental health and safety issues that were faced by the Stuyvesant community of 3,000 students and 200 staff members as the result of the September 11th tragedy. Unfortunately, these issues are still critical to this day to the school, and very relevant to the school environmental health legislation.
Following the EPAís failure to monitor air safety in the school, the environmental testing performed by the Board of Education in 2001 and 2002 demonstrated contamination in excess of APA regulatory levels caused by the initial dust cloud, mostly asbestos and lead, and continues re- contamination caused by a fleet of diesel trucks that were transporting the debris from Ground Zero to a waste transfer station which was adjacent to the intakes of the schools ventilation system.
We subsequently learned that the location of this transfer barge next to the school and in the middle of a residential community was directly contrary to EPA zone regulations.
The government agencies, including the Board of Education, failed to take adequate measures to protect our children. Although the Board of Education conducted an asbestos abatement of the school prior to re-occupancy, the ventilation system was not cleaned. Filtration was not adequately upgraded, and carpeting was not properly cleaned or replaced. Only under the threat of eminent litigation did the Board of Education finally clean the ventilation system in the summer of 2002, nine months after the worst environmental conditions and replaced the carpets only this past December, 2003, twenty six months after our children returned to school after September 11th.
As to any long term health consequences for the children, the juryís obviously still out. Unfortunately, September 11th has not been a wake up call for the government agencies involved or for the Department of Education.
In terms of environmental health, an emergency preparedness, it is still business as usual. Two and a half years after September 11th, in spite of the fact that the parents of the Ground Zero schools were so instrumental in insuring the proper cleanup of our schools, parents are now less empowered as a result of the changes enacted by the Department of Education. Parent volunteers are not prepared or staffed to take on the role of watch dog. As Claire Barnett mentioned, as a volunteer PA President, I had to start from scratch to educate myself on environmental hazards to communicate them to parents and unfortunately to fight with the Board of Education to protect our childrenís health. After September 11th, this became a full time job for me. But we did educate ourselves and we did succeed. However, once our children graduate, the PAís institutional memory is lost forever.
My son graduated in July, 2002. Parents whoís children were freshmen in 2001 still call me for advise or questions. When these parents children graduate in another year, all our expertise and hard work will be lost. It is my understanding that as a result of September 11th, emergency preparedness was expanded to include community and environmental disasters, both sheltering in place in the school and evacuation.
However, the current Stuyvesant PA Co- President and the Chair of the PAís Health and Safety Committee have asked me to report to you that emergency preparedness of the school is still grossly inadequate. The school safety plan is a generic, boiler plate, fill the blanks document, designed by the Department of Education without any meaningful input from the parents. In fact, it is so inadequate that the PA took it upon itself to evaluate in order to propose the necessary amendments. Attached to my testimony is a document prepared by the Parentís Association of this matter.
Studentís health is not addressed by the Stuyvesant School Safety Plan. Although the plan addresses legitimate issues ranging from noise in the hallways to fire evacuation, it does not address student environmental health issues. Insufficient attention is based to environmental hazards inside the school facility. Such hazards include laboratory safety, inadequate ventilation in the classrooms and public spaces, lack of local exhaust ventilation in the labs, there are no fume hoods in the labs, cleaning chemicals, et cetera.
At Stuyvesant there is no spill response plan in cases of spill of the concentrated acid or a mercury instrument and the faculty and custodial staff are not, as you heard before, are not appropriately trained in safe handling, storage and disposal of chemicals.
Another problem is that students are not covered by public health standards. Occupational health laws and OSHA regulations only apply to faculty and staff and there are no public health standards for indoor air quality applicable to children or for reporting and monitoring students environmental health.
In the case of Stuyvesant, after the Teachers Union filed a grievance over post September 11th environmental conditions of the school, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, conducted an investigation of environmental conditions and health effects among the faculty at Stuyvesant and at other lower Manhattan locations.
NIOSHís preliminary findings were that 50 to 60% of the staff reported respiratory symptoms after 9/11 and majority of which were new onset symptoms. Thirty three percent of the staff had continuing symptoms months later. However, NIOSH has no jurisdiction to conduct an evaluation of our children. You asked the Department of Education representative this morning if they are studying the correlation between asthma and school environment. In our case, neither the Department of Health, the New York City Department of Health, nor the Department of Education conducted any epidermal illogical or health studies of the Stuyvesant students, let alone any correlation studies.
An informal survey of parents by the PA found several hundred children with new or exacerbated respiratory symptoms several months after September 11th. As I mentioned, the carpets were only replaced this past December. Of the 430 respondents, about 2/3's indicated new incidents of illness since they returned to school in October 2001. It should be noted that the NIOSH study was never finalized and to date, no actions were taken as a result of this preliminary study.
Appropriate environmental health standards have to be established for school children, coupled with legislation embodying similar rights for students and parents and similar obligations on the parts of the school administration as the ones currently available to faculty and staff under occupational health laws and regulations. Specifically, for lower Manhattan, a mechanism has to be established for schools to evaluate the environmental consequences on both outdoor and indoor air, on students health, during the massive construction in the next 10 years, and parents have to be provided with a right to know. Finally, I would like to add that newly constructed schools should be equipped with state of the art ventilation and filtration systems, especially in urban areas.
I would like to close with a quote from Mr. Bernard Orlan who was in front of you this morning, the Department of Educations Director of Environmental Health and Safety. At an EPA hearing on March 11th, 2002, he testified as follows: ďTo my knowledge, schools are built not for ventilation for the occupants of the building, but rather to safeguard the mechanical equipment itself. So filtration was only sufficient for the big chunk of particulars that would not drop or damage the equipment as opposed to what would be safe for the students and teachers of the school. This cannot continue.Ē Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
MS. DANNENBAUM: Hi, good afternoon my name is Avril Dannenbaum. Iím here to speak on behalf of my son Gerry. Gerry just turned 7 last month, heís a first grader at PS 111, here in Manhattan. Heís a great kid but he has a chronic infection of his colon, found to by lympho-nodular hyperplasia on biopsy.
What having a chronic infection means is that his immune system is always on high alert and he is more likely to have allergic reactions than other children. He has food, environmental and seasonal allergies. The food allergies are difficult but are within our control. The seasonal allergies are something we can medicate for, but canít control. Then there are the environmental allergies.
When I describe Gerryís chronic infection to people, I ask them to imagine his immune system as being like a large glass of water, filled almost to the brim. Each allergen he comes in contact with is like a drop of water. You can add one or two, maybe five drops, and the surface tension the water will hold. But keep adding drops and the water in the glass will overflow.
When that happens, various changes occur in my son. Last spring he had persistent hives all over his body for 3 weeks. We had to dose him round the clock with Benadryl. He doesnít function well on Benedryl. He becomes lethargic, almost boneless on the stuff. Eventually his pediatrician put him on Zyrtec for several weeks and the hives were controlled.
Allergies and my son can result in him becoming hyperactive or sleepy or completely zoned out. He might rub his eyes until blood capillaries break, or he might become very irritable and unable to focus. At times he wheezes and sweats. Iíve seen him break out in blotches and in little spots. Iíve seen all sorts of reactions. Once he came home from school with mottled stippling all around his mouth and face and I watched the rash spread down his neck and onto his torso over the period of 3 school days before it began to fade.
Returning to the image of a glass of water, if it is allergy season, my sonís immune system is under assault from grass, pollen and mold. Heís especially allergic to mold and is quite a sad, withdrawn child when affected by it. He is not his outgoing self at all. We usually use Claritin for seasonal allergies and he is on the stuff for months at a time for his itching red eyes, sneezing, coughing and sinus headaches.
But then if you add on environmental allergins in his school, such as a dirty rug to sit on, peeling, flaking paint from the walls and window sills, along with industrial cleaning products and insecticides, you have a child who comes close to shutdown. Then he is unable to learn or function in class because his discomfort levels reaches a point where the metaphoric glass is most definitely overflowing. Then he canít learn.
Two months ago, because of a bowl flare up, Gerry was put on a course of Prednisone, a corticosteroid used for bowel inflammation and allergies. Suddenly he had across the board improvements on his report card and he was a much healthier, relaxed and energized child than the one I usually see. I had teachers who I usually never speak to coming up to me and saying with great excitement and saying what happened? Heís so much better.
Prednisone clamps down an over reactive immune system. Itís used for asthma attacks and other inflammatory conditions. Itís too dangerous for him to use long term but I wish we could. It showed me the child who I rarely get to see. The happy child who felt great because his immune system was no longer overreacting.
I leave you with the image of the glass of water. I can control his food allergies, but I canít control the season. In between is the environment. I can make his home as safe as possible but itís at school that he needs to be able to function well to learn optimally. Iíd like you to make his school a safe place where he can study and reach his full potential. Iíd like to see the carpets eliminated. Iíd like to see the peeling paint gone. Iíd like to see green cleaning supplies in his school. Iíd like to see safe pest management. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: We thank you all very much, especially Haley.
MS. RUOTOLO: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: When all said and done, what these hearings are about is not just to look at a big, vast state with millions of kids who go to school and thousands of school buildings but to bring it down to the individual level, right down to the school and right down to the family and your children and we wonít be satisfied until we do everything that reasonably can be done to protect every school, protect every child to have those laws in place that in fact promote healthy schools and make it possible to respond effectively when something goes wrong.
I suspect Haley youíd rather be in school than being home all day and Iím sure as good as your home schooling is youíd rather be out with your friends in an environment that doesnít make you sick. So it was especially important for us to hear from you, as well as your mom and as well as the other moms who are here today because I just want you to know that what you have to say to us and the individual stories really puts the human face and the individual case on you know, what sometimes can just seem like, too large a state, too many issues, too many schools, things fall through the cracks and you bring it back to a very personal level.
So I just want to assure you that as we go forward we will be very mindful of each and every situation and circumstance that weíve heard today and as such I just want you to know how meaningful your testimony is today and how important it was for us that you were able to take time out of your day and let us know your views. So we thank you.
Our next set of witnesses are school officials. Fred Koelbel who is the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds for the West Islip Union Free School District, David Kincaid, School District Safety Officer for Great Neck Public Schools and Alan Wakefield, Director of Buildings, Grounds and Transportation for the East Williston Union Free School District.
MR. KOELBEL: First of all, Iím Fred Koelbel, and while Iím listed as being from the Westside Union Free School District and that is where I work, Iím here today speaking on behalf of the New York State Superintendents of School Buildings and Grounds and before I read my prepared remarks and I will work hard to stay within my 10 minutes, I just want to make one comment and that is, you know, weíve heard a lot of testimony today that raises a number of very real important issues. And, you know, the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds in New York State are the people who are confronting many of these issues on a day to day basis and I know weíve met with Assemblyman Englebright and Assemblyman DiNapoli already, but we stand ready to offer our expertise as the ones in the trenches implementing many of these regulations that are being discussed to working with all of you to craft legislation that will have the end result that we all desire. So we are always available, our staff in Albany is always available, as is our legislative staff. Thank you.
The New York State Association for Superintendents of School Buildings and Grounds is pleased to come before you as you convene this hearing into the adequacy of New Yorkís policyís relating to school facilities, and the effect of these policies on health and academic performance for our students.
SBGA is a professional organization comprised of committed men and women responsible for maintaining and operating the thousands of school buildings and facilities in our State. We are committed to ongoing professional development, excellence and efficiency in our operations and are proud of the work of our colleagues in insuring safety, health and the comfort of our students.
As you convene this hearing, you are aware that there are over 4,200 school buildings in our state and that these buildings are the place of learning and growth for over 3 million children. Our association believes that those buildings must be consistently conducive to learning and that this means they need not only have adequate space, equipment and capacity, but that they must be clean, bright, safe and adequately maintained.
These are words that are not always used in the school facilities arena but are necessary for the public to hear. Mothers and fathers all across the state want to know that their child is in a safe, healthy and clean environment. Accordingly, the Stateís policies and our practices in our schools must adhere to an approach that insures that safe, healthy and clean environment.
Among the most important elements of a strategy that will serve to accomplish these are engagement of properly trained and empowered school facilities managers, who can advance proper building operations, maintenance practices, technologies, effectively mobilized, well trained personnel toward this objective and most importantly, exercise sound, fiscal management of an adequately funded department. Too often, the choice is textbook or custodians. When that is the choice, it is maintenance that loses. But if that is the choice, textbooks or custodians, havenít we all lost already?
Appropriate and adequate investments in ongoing buildings, building maintenance repair, particularly in the preventative maintenance area are essential. Deployment of appropriate regulations for planning and reporting on building conditions and addressing those conditions that require remedy. SVJ believes that each of these elements must be directly and with sound policy and planning by the State in conjunction with the local school districts. One without the other will lead to failure, and failure is not an option for the safety of our children.
To that end, we recommend the following as the State approaches the 2004, 2005 budget year and the enactment of laws that affect our children.
Our school facilities are worth in the billions of dollars to the state and the tax payers of New York School Districts. Sound and strategic state and local investments are necessary to the success of the learning enterprise. Many children cannot learn and thrive in school facilities that are under equipped, cramped, cold or dirty. All children can learn in well designed, well equipped, well planned healthy school facilities.
As with any persons, children respond well to positive environments, and take pride in their surroundings. These feelings encourage positive outcomes and are supportive to their learning activities. The State must consider a continued and significant investment in our school facilities if our facilities are to remain safe and secure and healthy.
We have expended billions of dollars in the construction and renovation of school facilities across the state. We need to continue the job of providing safe and healthy school facilities for all children in all parts of the State. We need to invest significantly and consistently in preventive maintenance for our schools. To allow new or renovated school buildings to erode or to revert to their prior conditions would be a complete waste of taxpayersí money and should be avoided by investing in preventive maintenance activities in our schools. This can be accomplished by increased and stable appropriations for the Minor Maintenance and Repair Aid Program and or by set asides in Building Aid that require school districts to conduct preventive maintenance activities in all new school buildings.
And I might add that Tuesday our Association will be in Albany lobbying and we know the 3 gentlemen sitting before us right now are instrumental in getting minor maintenance aid in place in the first place, and we will be speaking to you on Tuesday about increasing that minor maintenance aid from 50 million to 100 million dollars and we hope we will be able to count on your support in doing that.
Moreover, the State should consider more transparent and predictable approaches to building aid. Approaches, such as those offered by the New York State Association of School Business Officials would provide funding to school districts on the basis of square footage and student population. SBGA is interested in offering the experience and expertise of our over 500 members in pursuing any options that will encourage sound and consistent planning for our school facilities.
School districts and school leaders are confronted with mounting regulations and requirements related to health, learning standards, security and a host of other topics. Most of these requirements bring some degree of benefit to our schools, our colleagues, and most of all, our students. All of them were well intended when proposed. But not all of them are essential in terms of health and safety and security purposes. We believe that the objectives of most of these regulations could be accomplished in much simpler fashion.
Accordingly, we are pleased to work with the New York State School Boards Association, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State Association of School Business Officials and the State Education Department in pursuing a rational approach to school facilities planning, record keeping and reporting. In practice, this translates into ensuring that we are tracking relevant and useful information on our buildings and building conditions and that such information is utilized in making appropriate and timely decisions about our school facilities.
School facilities are a major investment not only for the state, but also and quite directly for the people and taxpayers of each school district. School properties and buildings are among the most significant facilities in many communities and serve a range of purposes for families and local events.
SBGA believes that the state must work with local school leaders to ensure that appropriate and rigorous standards are established for school facilities personnel and managers. These are the individuals and teams who must apply the principles of cleanliness, good health and safety, proper maintenance and fiscal responsibility in our schools. They are only as good as the training they receive and the experience they possess.
SBGA has long valued professional development. In 1990, we created a certification program modeled in part after programs operated by the commercial real estate industry. This certification program called a Certified Director of Facilities meets the rigorous test which we would advocate to the Legislature. Moreover, it is fair and allows for legitimate life and work experiences to be considered toward attainment of the certification.
To become a Certified Director of Facilities or CDF, a superintendent of buildings and grounds superintendent must complete an exhaustive series of professional activities including course work, a range of work experiences, a mentoring period and competency examination.
In addition, presently we are preparing to launch a degree program through Mohawk Valley Community College. Successful completion of this program will result in an Associates Degree in School Facilities Management. It is SBGAís hope that this program will eventually expand to a full four year program resulting in a Bachelorís degree.
Finally, we have created SFMI, the School Facilities Management Institute. SFMIís goal is to provide continuing education to our members. A couple of examples of those programs, right now we have work shops going on throughout New York State on the EPA Tools for Schools and Mold Remediation Programs, those are being conducted through a grant from the EPA.
Just launching, and I only have a draft copy of it, is a program of the State Education Department Office of Facilities Planning on Regulation and Code Compliance and Training, and topics this will cover are Compliance Submission Approval Implementation Process; Safety during construction and maintenance activities; safety concerns during after hours assembly functions; fire and safety inspections, and decision making authority. And these programs are going to take place in the four areas throughout New York State and are being funded by our Association through SFMI.
Programs like these should become the gold standard for all school facilities operations, particularly in those school districts over a certain size.
Our professional colleagues have contributed on a regular basis to improving the condition of schools in all parts of the state. Our Peer Review Program has conducted comprehensive reviews of some 15 school districts. As part of these efforts, several of our colleagues spent time in the Roosevelt school district designing a building improvement program and assisting school district leaders in bringing their buildings into compliance. It is that kind of professional expertise and capacity that is needed in all schools in our state. It is professional certification and high standards of competence and quality that will ensure our children are provided a safe, secure and healthy place to grow.
In the final analysis, school facility management is very complex. Managing school facilities in not quite as simple as administering a big pile of paperwork and reports. Rather, we see ourselves as professionals whose job is ensuring a clean, healthy, safe and comfortable setting for our students and our faculty colleagues. Our job is to ensure that parents and families can sit in an auditorium watching an elementary school play, can cheer from the bleachers at a sporting event, or watch with pride the high school graduation. We provide facilities fro the PTA to meet the young and old of the community to play sports, and adults to continue their education. It is the professional Superintendents of School Buildings and Grounds who makes all this happen. We just want to be able to do our best possible job.
SBGA thanks the Assembly Committees on Education, Health and Environmental Protection for calling these hearings and we hope that the information you gather here will afford our children a safe and healthy school environment that is conducive to learning, growth and achievement. Moreover, we hope that it also helps to ensure that school facilities managers are enabled and empowered by state policy and financial incentives to do their jobs in the best way we know how.
Please feel free to contact our SBGA headquarters at (518)465-0593 and our legislative representatives at Carr Public Affairs, Inc. at (518)434-8830, if you have any additional questions or need for information. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much.
MR. WAKEFIELD: Good afternoon. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I am Alan Wakefield, the Director of Facilities and Transportation at the East Williston School District in Old Westbury, Long Island, New York. My comments this afternoon will be regarding green cleaning, integrated pest management and indoor air quality as it relates to the facilities and student health.
Iíve been the Director of Facilities in this District for over eight years, and held this title in public schools for over twenty, and it would be an under statement to say that we have, that the way we manage public school buildings today has changed drastically. The Director of Facilities positions throughout the state and the country have been transformed into health and safety environmental experts, managing every aspect of environmental pollutants associated with the health of students, staff and the community.
Health care professionals throughout the country have been associating many of todayís childhood illnesses with the quality of indoor air contaminated with pesticides and petrochemical fumes. Today nearly 5 million US children suffer from asthma. The American Lung Association states that childhood asthma has nearly doubled in the past 20 years. Indoor air is often 2 to 5 times more contaminated than the outdoor air.
John Wargo, a Professor at Yale University included this statement in trends in childrenís health that Asthma is the #1 cause of absenteeism in schools. Thirty years ago, the three major childhood illnesses were chickenpox, measles and mumps. Now it is asthma, attention deficit syndrom or ADD and cancer.
The apparent common denominator of environmental illness is environmental illness instead of viral. Environmental illness caused by excessive exposure to chemical pollutants in interior spaces where the off gassing of carpeting, upholstered furniture and fumes from cleaning chemicals are unable to be removed effectively. For years, sore throats, coughs and headaches were symptoms building occupants complained of, not knowing the cause.
Chemical sensitivity to environmental pollutants including perfumes and colognes have become as common as cold. Americans now spend billions every year to deal with allergic diseases, including a brand new one called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity whose symptoms are currently reported by some 15 to 30 percent of the US population. The results for schools are student and staff absenteeism, causing districts money, and lost state aid, lost productivity and the cost of substitutes.
The reason I state the obvious facts, even though they may have been repeated throughout this hearing, is that you need to know that this message is clear and we get it in the Buildings and Grounds Association we get it. Nothing is more important to my colleagues and I than the protection of the health and safety of every child who enters our doors. We also recognize the responsibility to the health of our staff and the entire school community.
The pollutants from photocopiers, art supplies, custodial supplies and even bus exhaust fumes contribute to the problem and are sources that can be controlled and or eliminated. However, not all replacement products are healthier than the ones we use or are trying to replace them with. For years now, the least toxic, non hazardous cleaning products have been sought after to replace the potentially dangerous materials. The problem with the first generation of these substitutes is that they just didnít perform.
Fifteen years ago I had switched over to a solvent based gym finish, water base gym finish instead of the solvent base type and to lessen the emission of the volatile organic compounds into the air. The product did not perform well under wear creating a feeling of a lack of confidence with the new products. These green products contained a familiar buzzwords like biodegradable, natural, green, environmentally safe and nontoxic. It was important to seek assistance and become educated on how to evaluate the product information in order to make the right decision and selection for the cleaning products. Organizations such as the EPA with the Green Seals Program, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Education Department, our local BOCES and the New York State Superintendents Building Grounds Association continued to provide solid information and education and resources as well as guidelines.
The East Williston School District has been actively involved in green cleaning program for the past 4 years. I initiated this program for my custodial staff with the intent of improving the indoor air quality learning environment as well as reducing the hazards the custodial staff are exposed to daily. I wasnít told to do this. There wasnít an outbreak of a particular illness or an excessive absenteeism. There wasnít the mandate from the Board of Education or the development of a new policy. It wasnít driven by, it was using safer, less toxic cleaners in our schools just made sense knowing that everyone would benefit.
We know that children are more susceptible to various pollutants because they are still growing. Children breathe more air and often sit on the floor and love to put their hands in their mouth.
Whether you start from the top down or from the bottom up, the District needs to make a commitment. In our case it was my desire to change and open minded custodial staff to carry it through. We started slowly working with one building at a time, testing and evaluating. Getting custodians who have been using ammonium chlorine bleach for years to change to a less toxic material was difficult.
If it didnít have toxic written all over it, how could it be an effective cleaner? Everyone knows what a great disinfectant bleach is, but they usually donít know the hazards associated with breathing the fumes. The educational component needs to continue well after the switch over and the hazardous cleaners need to be removed from the site. I called in a local vendor who was an expert in this area on green cleaning to train my custodial staff. The results were extremely positive, reinforcing the benefits of green cleaning program with the staff is essential to keep the stakeholders enthusiastic.
It is important that the staff understand that their participation not only will have a positive impact on a childís health, but that their mere concern about their health as well. The school community needed to be educated about these ongoing efforts. We did not establish a benchmark on absenteeism or health complaints related to indoor air quality. I cannot provide scientific documentation on the reduction of VOC levels. However, I am aware of a school district that had done this particular exercise and had remarkably documented the reduction of VOC levels as volatile organic compounds within their buildings as a matter to converting over to green cleaning methods. What I can share is the methods and efforts employed, they do work. There is a certain feeling throughout our schools that you just get an air about it when you walk through, they look and feel cleaner.
Petrochemical toxins from custodial supplies are not the only source of pollution throughout our schools. It is one that can be reduced with little or no cost increase. Building occupants are often affected by poor indoor air quality associated with exhaust from idling diesel buses and improperly vented copy machine or the application of pesticides or the mold from leaves that have been gathered outside the classroom unit ventilator. The EPA Tools for Schools is a great program developed to assist the school districts in setting up effective committees, community participation, and remediation measures needed to improve their indoor air. The corrective solutions take money in budgets to fix things such as leaky roofs, and replacement of a HPAC system. Funding for these projects is essential.
Increasing the amount of walk off mats in the entrances will trap more dirt and means less dust in the air. Effective scheduled maintenance and change filters on unit ventilators is also necessary. Using a vacuum with HEPA filters, high intensity in particular air filters also aids in dust removal. Education and training on implementing this program has risen to new levels through a grant from the EPA to provide training to the members of my association, SBGA, last year. And that program continues on. Programs like this are the product of the SBGAís newly founded Schools Facilities Management Institute.
Integrated Pest Management is just another component in the efforts of public schools to reduce the risk of chemical exposure. My district has been participating in IPM for over eight years with positive results. The problem is that many of the methods employed are more labor intensive and once again school maintenance budgets arenít able to keep up with this particular need.
What does this all mean? I believe that the health of our children in public schools is the primary focus of everyone associated with educating a child. The way we maintain our facilities need to be the safest, cleanest, and as environmentally responsible. The directorís of facilities throughout the state are committed to this and continue to seek new products, methods and resources that will assist us with addressing these concerns. The programs implementing changes as well as education and training all have costs associated with them and what you need to hear from us is that despite everyoneís efforts to address the conditions of public school facilities, maintenance budgets throughout the state continue to shrink.
Maintenance is a four letter word, ďcost.Ē The schools have to continue to receive mandates to improve the quality of education and the physical environment. Please continue to make the aid in funding to support these efforts available. Thank you very much.
MR. KINCAID: Good afternoon gentlemen. My name is David Kincaid, and I come to you from the Great Neck School District and I would like to reemphasize what youíve been hearing all day and we all know that petrochemicals are an important part of our everyday life. In fact, we probably couldnít exist as a modern society without them.
However, as cleaners, they are not good for us and they do not function well. And until fairly recently, we didnít have many choices for alternates. We now do and I would like you to think about the possibility of creating some kind of guidelines that would establish a basis for volatility of cleaners.
One of the alternate based cleaners that exists today is hydrogen peroxide, commercial hydrogen peroxide, which can be used in various strengths for a wide variety of cleaning uses and is quite successful. The big difference is, of course, its just composed of hydrogen and water.
The Great Neck School District has been using this material now since July of last year in all of itís elementary schools and it has no other petrochemical based cleaners in any other schools. It intends to expand the program to secondary schools this summer, and it has through itís board of education prepared and adopted a policy for the use of non petrochemical cleaners and I have a copy of that board policy here with me. Unfortunately, I didnít realize I had to make multiple copies of all this stuff so I didnít do that.
But some of the advantages are in petrochemical cleaners youíre talking about a variety, a multiple bank of different kinds of cleaners to do different kinds of things. With the new alternatives, youíre talking really essentially one product. Consequently, storage is far less, certainly less toxic, the cost is less because youíre only talking about one product at varying intensities and disposal which frequently becomes a cost is no longer a cost. So there are some other benefits aside from those that are health related to the use of these products.
I think basically, Iíd sooner give you your time back, I think Iíve made the points that I need to make. Iíd like to give you your time back and thank you very much for listening to me.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well gentlemen we, weíre very indebted to all three of you as sort of the on the ground folks and your efforts as well as your advice in terms of how to make the building, the grounds transportation right in your school districts as safe as possible is very important to all of us and as I say, hearing from those persons who is charged with the responsibility of applying the measures, safe measures in and around school buildings and how you do it and what needs to be done to do it better is very important to us. We thank you very much.
Our next two witnesses are Leonardo Trasande, Trasande, Director, excuse me, Fellow in the Pediatric Environmental Health and instructor in Pediatrics and representing Dr. Philip Landergrin is Sophie Balk, Dr. Balk, American Academy of Pediatrics.
DR. TRASANDE: Thank you Chairman Sanders, Chairman DiNapoli and Chairman Gottfried and members of the Education, Environment and Health Committees. I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak at this important hearing on the role the school environment plays in childrenís health. I am Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a Pediatrician and the Assistant Director of the Center for Childrenís Health and the Environment of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. The testimony that I am presenting today reflects my views and those of my colleague Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of Mt. Sinai Center for Childrenís Health and the Environment.
As others have stated, children spend tremendous amounts of time in our schools. Six hours per day, five days per week and 180 days per year. For children, school is their workplace and education their occupation. Our school systems invest tremendous time and energy in providing our children the knowledge and the skills that they need to become the leaders of tomorrow. No teacher would want to see those efforts go to waste, and no citizen wants to see taxpayer dollars go to waste. That is why it is exceedingly important to insure safe school environments so that environmental toxins in the schools do not reverse and under mind the work of our teachers or the learning of our children.
Children are especially vulnerable to many chemicals that can exist in the school environment. Theyíre much more susceptible than adults. There are several reasons why children are so sensitive to chemical toxins and the research that we have undertaken in our center at Mt. Sinai has contributed greatly to the understanding of those factors.
One important reason why children are so vulnerable to environmental chemicals is that they have dis- proportionateley heavy exposures. Pound for pound of body weight, children drink more water, eat more food and breathe more air than adults, and so they have proportionateley more of the toxins in the water, food and air into their little bodies. Small childrenís exposure is magnified further by their normal behaviors. They play close to the floor and they engage in what we pediatricians call normal oral exploratory behavior.
A second reason for their great susceptibility to chemical toxins is that children do not metabolize, detoxify, and excrete many toxins in the same way as adults. Thus, the chemicals can reside much longer in childrenís blood streams and cause more damage.
A third reason is that children are undergoing rapid growth and development and those very complex developmental processes are easily disrupted. Finally, children have more future years of life than most adults and thus have more time to develop chronic illnesses that may be triggered by environmental exposures.
Today the prominent disease is confronting children in New York and across the United States are a series of chronic illnesses that have been termed the New Pediatric Morbidity. These include asthma, cancer which is the second leading cause of death in children after injuries, birth defects, developmental disabilities and autism. Despite advances in our ability to treat these conditions, many are increasing in incidents. For example, in the United States, 12 million children under the age of 18 now suffer from a developmental learning or behavioral disability.
Since 1977, enrollment in special education for children with learning disabilities has doubled. In New York there are now 206 thousand learning disabled children. This is 50% of the special education population in New York. These increases in the incidents of disease tell us that we need to do a better job with disease prevention.
Evidence, meanwhile, is increasing that environmental toxins contribute to the causation of disease in children. Lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and certain pesticides have been shown to cause brain damage and to contribute to learning disabilities and disruption of childrenís behavior. Although many of the causes of developmental problems in children are still not known, a recent National Academy of Sciences study suggest that at least 28% of developmental disabilities in children, things like dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and mental retardation are due to environmental causes.
In the face of this growing body of scientific knowledge about the preventable environmental causes of learning and behavioral problems in our children, we must take prudent action. We cannot afford to sit back and allow our children to be hurt by the schools that are training them to be the citizens of tomorrow. Policy makers, elected officials, pediatricians, parents, teachers and school officials all need to work together. While we have much to learn yet about the causes of pediatric disease, we have enough information in hand to take sensible evidence based action today.
That is why we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that schools meet existing federal and state environmental standards. We also need to be extremely careful to ensure that schools are not placed on sites that will expose them to unsafe environmental toxins. We fully support the work of Claire Barnett and the Healthy Schools Network and others to protect children from unsafe school environments. We would like to especially emphasize the role the healthcare provider such as pediatricians can play in helping to limit childrenís exposures to environmental hazards in the schools.
Pediatricians can and have worked to educate parents to identify hazardous exposures to diagnose and treat children and to advocate for prevention. However, most physicians have little training in environmental medicine. For example, a study of Georgia pediatricians found that only, that 54% reported seeing patients that seriously affected by environmental exposures, but that only 1 in 5 had received specific training in environmental pediatrics. Pediatricians who do not, who ask about environmental exposures usually limit their inquiry to lead and environmental tobacco smoke.
A new statewide network of Childrenís Environmental Health Centers in New York State would provide New York pediatricians with the training they need to prevent and treat environmental exposures in children. Such a network would also serve as a referral system for children with serious or complex exposures. It would be a unique resource for New York. Much is the statewide network of clinical centers in occupational medicine that serves and an invaluable tool for our stateís working men and women.
The primary goals of this network that we propose are to increase the accuracy of diagnoses of childrenís diseases caused by environmental toxins; to contribute to the prevention and treatment of these diseases; to contribute to the quantification and description of the burden in the State caused by childrenís diseases that are caused by environmental toxins; and to expand and strengthen educational programs for childrenís environmental health at all levels.
These childrenís environmental health centers will function as regional resources. Each center will serve as a geographically defined segment of the State, and the network as a whole will cover the whole state. The center will, each center will maintain itís close ties with other centers through a central office in the New York State Department of Health. The information generated by the centers will enable New Yorkís pediatricians, parents, teachers and school officials to prevent environmental threats to childrenís health through the identification of possible hazardous chemicals and areas of likely exposure. The networks impact on childrenís environmental health will also reduce economic and social cost for the State.
Because children spend so much of their lives in the school environment, we anticipate that these clinics will be a wonderful, useful resource to school officials and families alike, not only for children with environmental health concerns, but in providing evidence based information to the public about the need for environmental interventions to protect children.
We appreciate Chairman DiNapoli and Chairman Gottfriedís support of this initiative, and we have made significant progress towards assembling a complete proposal that describes a statewide network and the analysis of the benefits that a network like this would provide. We remain on schedule to present this proposal in the middle of this year and we are thankful for the support of Claire Barnett and other leaders in our shared goal of protecting childrenís health.
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony at this important hearing. We would be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much. Dr. Balk, do you have, was there something, did you have a statement you wanted to make as well?
DR. BALK: Yes.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Please.
DR. BALK: Good afternoon and I thank you for the opportunity to present testimony this afternoon. I am Dr. Sophie Balk a practicing pediatrician at the Childrenís Hospital at Montafure and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
Iím here today to represent District 2, which is New York State, of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Just to clarify, Iím not representing Dr. Landrigan but the AAP.
I have been interested in childrenís environmental health issues for the past 15 years. My interest arose because in my practice I treated and continue to treat, including this morning, a large number of children with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Fifteen years ago I began to understand the relationship of childrenís environments, particularly indoor environments, to these respiratory symptoms. Iíve subsequently come to understand and appreciate the effects of numerous and environmental toxicans on childrenís health, growth and development.
I have worked extensively with the American Academy of Pediatrics at the local, regional and national levels. I am immediate past chair person of the AAP Committee, National Committee on Environmental Health and Associate Editor of the Second Edition of the Pediatric Environmental Health Handbook published by the Academy in November, 2003.
Iíd like to inform this group further about the second addition of pediatric environmental health, the handbook for pediatricians published by the AAP. Hereís a copy of the handbook which I will give to you. In this handbook we present evidence from the scientific literature about environmental hazards and their effects on childrenís health and development and provide guidance to pediatricians about how to diagnose, treat and prevent childhood diseases linked to childhood exposures. Parents and care givers are increasingly concerned about the impact of environmental hazard and toxicans on children. This handbook provides up to date and practical information about environmental hazards to pediatricians and others such as yourselves who are interested in childrens environmental health.
Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards compared to adults. They breath more air per pound of body weight and also eat and drink more proportionateley compared to adults. Developing systems in children are also more vulnerable to environmental toxicans compared to those of fully developed adults. Children also engage in behaviors that put them at increased risk. These behaviors include frequent hand to mouth activity and crawling and playing on the ground and floor. Even childrenís shorter stature may increase a childís risk of exposure to poor indoor air since certain airborne toxicans accumulate in higher concentrations lower to the ground.
Older children attend school for six or more hours a day making the school the environment where they spend the most time, second to the home. The school in this regard is the equivalent of the childís workplace. In the pediatric environmental health handbook we discuss that environmental hazards, intoxicans in the schools environment may be linked to a variety of childhood symptoms such as exacerbation and respiratory symptoms, academic difficulties and achievement, attention and focus, and behavioral problems.
Some of the specific hazards the schools discussed in the handbook include poor indoor air quality, biologic agents, radon, asbestos, pesticides, lead, noise and the outdoor environment. Many problems with indoor air quality are coming to all large buildings, there are, however, other pollutants unique to schools, including those related, released into the air from arts and crafts supplies, chemistry and biology laboratories and wood and metal shops.
I report by the US General Accounting Office noted that more than half the schools surveyed had at least one environmental pollutant that could effect the air quality. The indoor air may directly influence a childís learning by affecting alertness, attentiveness and absenteeism and indirectly by affecting the performance and productivity of teachers. Common symptoms of poor air quality include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, cough and sneezing, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, nausea and nose bleeds.
Molds in schools have recently received a great deal of attention at effected schools and by the news media. Molds are everywhere but can become a health hazard when concentrated growth occurs due to moisture intrusion into a building, creating damp conditions conducive to excess mold growth. Mold has been a particular problem for schools with poor construction, poor or inadequate maintenance, or both. Symptoms include congestion, runny nose, coughing, irritated eyes and asthma complications, headaches and fatigue.
Pesticide use has been common in many schools because large, poorly maintained buildings are susceptible to pest problems. However, exposure to pesticides is a known hazard, especially for children. Schools can reduce or eliminate pesticide use through integrated pest management programs that are less toxic, may be less expensive, and are often more effective than routine pesticide spraying.
Volatile organic compounds or VOCís include a wide range of chemicals emitted as gases at room temperature. These include solvents and other compounds from paints, adhesives, building and construction materials, markers, arts and crafts supplies, science room materials, cleaning products and carbonless paper. VOCís may contribute to poor indoor air quality and can produce various symptoms in children and other school building occupants.
Many VOC containing products are of special concern in school due to their frequent concentration and use in the school building and poor maintenance of school buildings. Other well known environmental health hazards in and around schools include radon, asbestos, diesel exhaust, stored mercury and lead.
The conclusions that we reach as we look at the evidence are that one, children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental toxicans and hazards, and two, school settings, if poorly maintained may place children at risk from these environmental hazards.
As State policy makers, I would urge you to consider the following, schools must be provided adequate resources for maintenance of their school facilities. The New York State Assembly should be congratulated for assuring that maintenance of schools has been funded at 50 million dollars per year. This year I urge you to support the recommended increase in this fund to 80 million dollars.
Schools must also be built and designed to meet modern, healthy and high performance standards. In addition to these initiatives, I would urge you to support the Healthy Schoolís Network, New York State Legislative agenda which includes the following initiatives: promote and protect indoor air quality at schools; provide for annual water testing at schools for lead contamination and protecting children and all school personnel from lead contaminated water in schools; protect school children and all school personnel from exposure to toxic and unhealthy mold; protect students and all school personnel from exposure to pesticides in schools by requiring schools to use integrated pest management programs; establish school siting standards that would prohibit schools from being constructed on or near hazardous sites; establish a parent right to know about environmental health and safety problems in schools; prohibit schools from using or storing mercury.
Again, I thank you for this opportunity to address these important issues.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: We are very indebted to both of you doctors for making this house call today. Your advice and your research and your experiences with respect to the impact on young people with respect to exposure to the kinds of environmental hazards that we worry about, that addition to the body of record in this testimony is exceedingly valuable and really indispensable. So in that regard we thank you both very, very much for being here. Thank you.
Our next Witness is Robin Brown, President of the United Parentís Association of New York City.
MS. BROWN: Hello, good afternoon. I guess Iím the only one here by myself. I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity and Iím not going to belabor the points but Iím just going to touch on a few key issues concerning New York City schools.
New York City issues are not very much different from those within the rest of the State with the exception we have some of the oldest buildings and the greatest number of children actually utilizing those facilities. As you know, we have a tremendous need and I canít express enough for my own maintenance. Unfortunately in a New York City public school youíll have something that will start as a small drip and unfortunately that issue isnít addressed until itís a major leak, so that it can actually fit into a five year capital plan and then youíre lucky if in fact youíre school actually ends up having that addressed at the end of the five years.
As you know, and I guess youíll hear from if you havenít already from the Educational Priority Panel who will give you more detail in the state of disrepair of New York City Public Schools and UPA, United Parentís Association is also a member of the educational priorityís panel.
The health of our schools is largely predicated on what the City puts forward, a five year plan and with this plan, the vast majority of those dollars is predicated on the court decision, the campaign for fiscal equity. We ask that you continue to support that decision. Iíd like to take a moment just to speak to the issue of safety and safety as a health issue. If the school is not safe, I donít understand how it could possibly be healthy.
Again, weíd like to ask the legislature to revisit and fully fund the state legislation which was passed within the last few years. We realize and Iíd like to thank you Steve, youíve been totally supportive on that particular issue. But we have a series of schools that are now classified as impact schools and these schools have a strong police presence within them, and unfortunately when youíre schooling on a very limited budget, you always have to make sacrifices as to where you should put the dollars. And in these particular schools a lot of attention needs to be paid to the students to the climate and culture within that building.
Just in conclusion, we ask you to fully support and fund these schools around minor maintenance, around new facilities and around safety. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Robin Brown, we thank you very much. The President of the United Parentís Association of New York City is a very important and responsible position. There are nearly 2 million parents representing about 1.1 million children in New York City and the input and advice that you get from your constituents that you give to us with respect to what is going on in individual schools on individual days is very important.
So, I want to thank you very much for your advocacy on behalf of Healthy Schools and on behalf of good educational policy, generally in New York City. I want to thank you personally and I want to thank the organization that you so ably represent because I think the work youíve done over the years has been very, very valuable.
MS. BROWN: Well, just on that note, we have a lot of parents, the vast majority of parents within New York City that are depending on the 2 billion dollar down payment regarding CFE and we do realize and we do hope that, that actually happens because we do feel that, that will address a lot of the issues that have a direct impact on student achievement within our schools.
We have a 3rd grade retention policy that weíre dealing with and we know that the whole notion of smaller class size helps children move forward in their academic life and again, without the facilities, weíre not able to provide those benefits, those options, those opportunities, those experiences to our children.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I can assure you that we remain mindful and supportive of the fact that the campaign for fiscal equity lawsuit cannot be adequately remedied without a significant increase in resources for facilities, so, itís very much on our minds. So --
MS. BROWN: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I thank you. Our next witness is Heather Loukmas, Executive Director of Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, waiting patiently for many hours. Thank you.
MS. LOUKMAS: I have been consistently editing my testimony throughout the day so if youíre planning on following along itís changed a little bit.
Good afternoon, my name is Heather Loukmas, I am the Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State. LDA is a statewide parent directed organization that was established in 1958. We have seven regional affiliates that advocate for and provide direct services to thousands of families and individuals with learning disabilities, other neurological impairment and related developmental disabilities residing in New York State. It is also LDAís mission to focus on prevention of learning disabilities whenever and wherever we can.
There are many different causes of learning disabilities and while the cause of most cannot be isolated, experts agree that the causes involve a complex interaction of genetic, environmental and social factors. Genetic causes cannot be prevented but other causes such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use during pregnancy and exposure to environmental toxins can be. Prenatal and early childhood exposure to toxic chemicals such a lead, mercury, PCBs, pesticides, dioxins and other industrial chemicals are of the most concern. Research has proven that these chemicals are passed from the mother to the developing fetus, where the impact and the effect of theses chemicals can result in lifelong learning and other developmental disabilities for the child.
In addition, children under the age of 15 are at high risk of exposure to environmental toxins because their nervous systems are still developing. Within the past 25 to 30 years, the statistics showing the explosive increase in the numbers of individuals diagnosed with learning and other developmental disabilities are staggering. For example, between 1977 to 1994 the number of children with learning disabilities in special education increased 191%. Over 50% of children receiving special education services in the United States today have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Since 1971, the number of children with ADHD has risen from 4% to 12% and the prevalence of autism has risen 100%.
Exposure to toxic chemicals can occur in many places in our environment and the sources are numerous. Our school buildings and grounds should be the one place in our environment where children, their parents and school employees should not have to worry about being exposed to harmful chemicals. As legislators, advocates and parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are giving them the cleanest, safest healthiest learning environment that we possibly can.
LDA is encouraged by legislation the Assembly has passed already, that begins to make progress toward eliminating hazardous substances in an around school grounds. We urge the assembly to continue itís efforts toward this goal. LDA supports the work of the Healthy Schools Network and their legislative agenda for 2004. Specific initiatives that we support include:
Providing adequate funding for maintenance and repair of school facilities. We cannot expect our students to learn and achieve higher learning standards in buildings that may literally be falling down around them.
Ensuring that school buildings, grounds and drinking water are free from lead contamination. Lead poisoning is one of the most widely known environmental causes of learning and other developmental disabilities. Even at extremely low levels of exposure, learning is impaired. No level of exposure is truly safe so we need to get it out of our schools altogether.
Eliminating all pesticide use in school buildings and on school grounds. The very purpose of these chemicals is to destroy insects, rodents and other pests by destroying their nervous systems. Just think what those same chemicals are doing to our school children that are putting those substances into their mouths on playgrounds and breathing those fumes in school buildings. Studies in animals have demonstrated that just one incidence of low level exposure to certain organophosphates, during crucial periods of brain development can cause permanent changes in brain chemistry as well as behavioral changes such as hyperactivity. This may mean that exposure during early childhood can also lead to irreversible effects on learning attention and behavior. It is not enough to provide notification of these pesticides and other harmful substances on school grounds. Other, safer techniques for pest removal exist so the continued use of harmful pesticides is inexcusable.
Banning the use or storage of any devices containing mercury on school grounds. There are many sources of mercury pollution that are very difficult to control. We need to start by eliminating the sources that we can control such as thermometers, light bulbs and other mercury containing devices that could still be used and stored on school grounds.
Ensuring that future schools are not constructed near toxic sites. Based upon the scientific evidence that has been gleaned thus far, it is inexplicable that future generations of school children should be placed in harms way by positioning a new school building near sites we know to contain toxic chemicals.
It seems that before regulations reducing environmental exposures ever get passed, the burden of proof must be satisfied beyond the shadow of a doubt. For this reason, LDA believes that it is imperative that we begin collecting and publically reporting information on the relationship between environmental exposures and increases in the number of kids with learning and other developmental disabilities. Assemblywoman Sue John has sponsored three bills that would provide an excellent first step toward beginning this process. These bills are:
- A1644 which would increase requirements for lead screening of children upon enrollment in public school and referral to a committee on special education. The State Education Department would also be required to report on the correlations between special Education enrollment and elevated blood lead levels.
- A1473 would reduce the threshold of blood lead levels that would require the state health department to intervene and would require the state health department to enforce abatement regulations that are currently discretionary.
- A1341 would combine the elements of the two aforementioned bills and seek a waiver to use federal Medicaid funds for lead intervention demonstration programs.
LDA supports these bills because they are important measures in preventing learning disabilities resulting from lead poisoning. Even though there are lead poisoning laws and prevention programs on the books already, for too many children and adults the damage has already been done. We need to take more assertive action to curb this trend.
While the awareness level on the connection between exposure to environmental toxins and learning and other developmental disabilities is on the rise, it is nowhere near the point of where it needs to be. It is also one thing to be aware of a connection, it is another to take action on it. Some of these initiatives to reduce the potential for exposure in our schools might cost money and some might say that in these challenging fiscal times, we cannot afford to fund these initiatives. But, what those people donít realize is that when we fail to act and donít invest in these initiatives, we only exacerbate our financial crises. By not taking steps to reduce toxic chemicals in our environment, we put millions of additional children at risk of developing life long disabilities and other conditions detrimental to their health.
The consequences of failing to act are reflected by increases in the number of children diagnosed with learning and other developmental disabilities, skyrocketing costs of providing special education services and other support services that people with learning and other developmental disabilities may require throughout their entire lives. Not to mention the countless other effects these chemicals are having on the health of our children reflected in the high number of children with asthma, allergies, childhood cancers and more. So we shouldnít say we just canít afford to. The reality is we canít afford not to.
Scientific research conducted to date has barely scratched the surface on what we know about the impact of toxic substances on human health. We know for a fact that lead, mercury, PCBs and pesticides are harmful and we still donít have stringent enough laws protecting our children from exposure to these toxic substances. I shudder to think about the millions of other harmful substances that are floating around in our environment that have not and will not ever be tested. It is common sense that if we are aware of a source of exposure to substances that we do know are harmful then we should eliminate them, especially if they are in our public schools.
Many in our organization have said that if we could put ourselves out of business then weíd know that LDA has been a success. Unfortunately, there are many causes of learning disabilities that will never be eliminated but the potential does exist for us to prevent many cases if we take decisive action to eliminate toxic chemicals in our environment, beginning with our public school facilities. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well, Ms. Loukmas, we, weíre very indebted to you. Iím glad that you also reminded us of the fiscal consequences to the State of New York by not taking those initiatives to deal with preventable learning disabilities that obviously aside from the human aspect to all of this ultimately is more expensive for the state and is more expensive for school districts to deal with the consequences of not having prevented learning disabilities and then the interventions which are necessary for those youngsters.
Iím familiar with the work that your organization does and while I know youíd like to be put out of business one day, Iím also happy at the fact this fine association does exist, will continue to exist and to represent the needs and remind us of the needs of youngsters with learning disabilities. So we thank you very much for your testimony.
MS. LOUKMAS: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. Our next witness is Elie Ward, Executive Director for Statewide Youth Advocacy, Inc.
MS. WARD: Good afternoon. Itís nice to see you again in this different environment.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Itís nice to see you.
MS. WARD: Iím going to be very short because you know, when you get near the end everyoneís more or less said what needs to be said in very poetic and wonderful ways and I canít compete with some of the stuff. But Iíd like to let you know that today Iím speaking on behalf of the Campaign for Healthy Children, which is a partnership between SYA and the Academy of Pediatrics and you heard 2 of our pediatricians earlier and they were very clear and Green Book has now been in the record of New York State so weíre pleased about that.
I am actually here, Iím going to not basically say anything in the testimony but I am going to say something important that hasnít been said here and that is, thanks to the Assemblyís work and the speakers work over the last five years we have a later program in New York State and we have tens of thousands of four year olds that now go to pre kindergarten. In addition to that, more than 70% of 2 and a half to 5 year olds are in some kind of childcare, either after school, before school or full day and Iím here to basically say that whatever we do for those children who are in K through 12 we need to also do for licensed childcare. Those kids are closer to the ground, they have more hand to mouth stuff, you heard about the volume of intake and what happens developmentally, they are much earlier in the brain development phase and to ignore them in terms of going forward with creating a healthy environment for the kids of New York would be a big mistake because what you have to do is then go back and do it.
Our theory is start as early as you can, anything you do in the public school do for licensed childcare, and once you do it for licensed childcare figure out how the heck we do it for family daycare which also has hundreds of thousands of children in care in the state.
Iím very, very committed to that and I didnít hear anyone else say that so thatís one thing I want to say and I beg you not to just work on the public schools in this issue, really encompass the later program. Remember that what we would end up having is that incredible inequity, especially in New York City where about 60% of the kids are in the private sector in community based childcare settings and only 40% of the kids are in the public schools. So if you clean up the public schools, god willing, and things are wonderful, you still have 60% of the kids there in community based agencies that you havenít touched. So thatís my plea number one.
Number two, we heard from the Great neck school which is not a poor school district but what they could, were able to do I was very, very impressed. I mean hydrogen peroxide, come on. Why canít the New York City schools do that? I mean Iím just basically here to say well if we know what works, can not the legislature and the State Ed Department say do it. You know. Every day that we delay another child is becoming sick, another child is being put on home tutoring, another child in daycare is having some terrible allergic reaction.
I donít know why we have to delay the green book, is it there for the scientific information? The studies in New York City have been very clear what happened at Styuvestant is very clear. Everything is very clear to us. Itís time to do something.
And my third point, which I think is from years of working around the State capital, if you really want to have cleaner environments in the schools, incentive eyes cleaning up the schools. Thatís the only way itís going to happen. I donít care how you incentivize it, you know, do a bonus plan, do a you get more if you do this and you get less if you donít. But if you donít incentivize a greener approach to building maintenance and care itís not going to happen. I know it and honestly, you know it too.
So, those would be my three things that I would say at this point in time that I really didnít hear anyone else say and I would hope that you could add those to the record, most especially a focus on the younger kids in daycare. Daycare and childcare is now almost a universal service in New York State and those kids need to be brought into the circle of safety. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well Elie Ward, thank you very much. We know you very well.
MS. WARD: Yes, I know.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: We wonít go into how many years. Itís reached that time in all of our lives when we dispense with talking about how many years but, suffice it to say you have been a great advocate and a constant presence in advocating for the needs of all young people in New York State.
Youíve been doing this and SYA has been doing this for many, many years and I appreciate the fact that even though todayís proceedings deal primarily with public schools, of course we are mindful of the fiscal circumstances that so many other children either of pre kindergarten or pre, pre kindergarten age are and even youngsters above that who may find themselves in daycare or childcare facilities. So, yes of course we need to be mindful of that and you are exactly the right person to remind us. Thank you very much.
MS. WARD: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Our next witness speaking for Ray Pritcher is Wendy Hord --
MR. PITCHER: No, Ray Pitcher is going to speak for Ray Pitcher.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Excuse me?
MR. PITCHER: Ray Pitcher is going to speak for Ray Pitcher.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Oh Ray Pitcher is here, Iím so sorry.
MR. PITCHER: Thatís okay.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I apologize. Mr. Pitcher who is Chair of the New York State United Teachers Health and Safety Task Force.
MR. PITCHER: Good afternoon, I am pleased to announce that it is snowing very well in upstate New York. Good afternoon Assemblymen Englebright, Chairman Sanders. Again my name is Raymond Pitcher, I am the Chair of NYSUTís Health and Safety Task Force. As you may know, NYSUT is a statewide union representing more than 500,000 members. Our memberships are pre k to 12th grade teachers, school related professionals, higher education facility and other professionals in education and health care.
Indoor air quality. It comes as no surprise that indoor air quality is a major health care concern for both staff and students at public schools throughout the State. The New York State Department of Health study of occupational asthma cases seen by the New York Network of Occupational Health Clinics indicated teaching was the occupation most frequently diagnosed with occupational asthma. Asthma is triggered by a variety of air quality problems such as dust, strong odors, fumes from cleaning products, diesel exhaust, molds and mildews and toxic pesticides to name a few. Asthma has also reached epidemic proportions in our school age children. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that asthma now affects one of every 13 school aged children. More than twice the 1980's rate and accounts for 14 million missed school days each year. We believe a significant proportion of those absences is due to asthma triggered by conditions in school buildings. This is unacceptable from both an educational and a health perspective.
The range of environmental health hazards that pervade our public schools include excessive dust, toxic cleaning products, mold infestations, schools located on or near hazardous waste sites and lead contaminants in schools drinking water. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in many school systems, particularly in urban and high poverty areas, students attend schools in buildings that threaten their health, safety and learning opportunities, United States Department of Education.
Four well designed studies that are attached in the reports to you, using a composite building condition to measure the relationship temperature has upon student achievement demonstrated the need for maximum temperature limit and controlled the thermal environment. One study thatís also attached, concluded based upon an analysis of existing research that temperatures above 74 F adversely affected reading and mathematics skills. When room temperatures were between 73 F and 80 F, a significant reduction in reading speed and comprehension occurred. According to his analysis, the ideal temperature range for effective learning in reading and mathematics is between 68 F and 74 degrees. Another study, also attached, reported that after the socioeconomic status of the students, the most influential building condition variable that influenced student achievement was air conditioning.
Iím from a little district, Herkimer, and in my own district they can illustrate this and the various other problems that many districts are facing many districts today. The economic climate and our current law. We have just completed a multi million dollar renovation project. On the positive side, this project resolved many of the indoor air quality and mold issues in the elementary school that the district has not had the funds to address as stand alone projects.
However, this project has resulted in 50 percent additional square footage that needs to be maintained. As our maintenance staff leaves, we are far more likely to hire part time people instead of another full time person. This has resulted in classroom and offices not being cleaned, chalkboards not being washed, trash not being dumped and snow and ice not being removed. This lack of preventive maintenance has resulted in an increase of asthma and other respiratory reactions by the teaching and cleaning staff. It has resulted in staff falling as they make their ways from their cars to their jobs.
My district uses chemicals determined safe by current standards. Due to budget constraints and the lack of a meaningful chemical standard for cleaners, there currently is no pressure for us to move to the environmentally friendly cleaners.
The Herkimer Elementary School is a single story box with a flat built up roof on a steel plate. The roof has a drip edge for an overhang. The windows are energy efficient awning style that tilt into the classroom. Without overhangs, the temperature in the classrooms varies greatly based upon which side of the building the sun is on. Each classroom was constructed according to the stated Education Department Standard for square footage for an elementary classroom. Each classroom was equipped with a univent for air circulation. The small size of the univent, the lack of cleaning, no air conditioning and the windows that allow very little air to transfer through means. Now we have students working to raise standards by taking high stakes tests in a hot stuffy oven.
The high school was originally constructed in the 1950's and additional classrooms were added as part of the renovation. Even with a new heating system we still have uneven temperatures throughout the building. The addition of a zoned water air conditioning system in the building is creating dew zones where we will eventually have mold issues. The water cooling tubes already are sweating which is causing the need to constantly change the ceiling tiles. During the building program, we ran into a time problem and ended up tiling the floor over concrete that still had high moisture content.
The rush to get the tile into the classroom voided the warrantee of the tiles, and may add additional maintenance cost down the road. The building project also left the floor in the wood technology labs with holes, ends of conduit protruding and uneven areas for the students to work on. It must be noted that this room is directly over the custodial staff lunch and break area. My district is one of dozens in New York with similar problems even after new construction.
Even though the building is zoned air conditioned, the students are still trying to meet New York State Standards in hot small classrooms. When we do test large number of students, for instance when issuing a state test, we often must move these students to a cool zone of the building.
It is simply common sense that tells us that a classroom with peeling paint, mold infested carpeting and malfunctioning ventilation systems is an unhealthy environment and one that is not conducive to either learning or teaching. Numerous studies and research have demonstrated a link between healthier and cleaner school environments and academic performance.
One such report entitled School Facility Conditions and Student Academic Achievement by Glen I. Earthman for the UCLA Institute for Democracy Education and Access, attached, sited many studies including the authorís own that demonstrate that the condition of school facilities has an important impact on students performance and teachers effectiveness.
Specifically, research demonstrates that school building design features and components have been proven to have a measurable influence upon student learning. Upon the influential features and components are those impacting temperature, lighting, acoustics and age. Comfortable classroom temperature and noise levels are very important to student performance the age of school building is a useful proxy in this regard. Since older facilities often have problems with thermal environment and noise level, a number of studies have measured the overall building conditions and itís connection to student performance. These studies consistently show that students attending schools in better condition out perform students in substandard buildings by several percentage points, a difference of between 5 to15 percentage points. Finally school overcrowding also makes it harder for students to learn. Analyses show that class size reduction leads to higher student achievement.
As State and federal governments push for higher academic and accountability standards, policymakers must seriously consider the cost of not providing the resources necessary to properly maintain school facilities. The physical condition of our schools will play an important role in the success or failure of these efforts to improve the performance of our public school students. We urge you to ensure that the resources necessary to properly maintain school facilities are provided. Students canít learn if they are sick.
Delayed maintenance is also education denied to children whose buildings or classrooms are closed due to environmental health hazards. Cleaner and properly maintained schools result in fewer absences from school by both staff and students due to health problems caused by poor environmental conditions.
Preventative maintenance is cost effective. Again, common sense tells us that by properly maintaining our equipment and facilities, we can extend their use and prevent breakdowns and repairs. Every dollar spent on preventative maintenance will save many more in repair and replacement costs.
As the legislature deliberates on the Executive Budget and funding for a sound basic education, the members of this panel must ask is there a significant state fund for the maintenance and repair of our public schools?
Approximately 50 million dollars was proposed in the Executive Budget for funding minor maintenance, a level of funding that has remained static since the inception fo the Ladder program in 1998 and is significantly below the 80 million dollars that was originally envisioned.
When schools are facing difficult budget years, often the first place they look to cut is custodial and maintenance staff. Many school districts maintenance budgets are already at a bare minimum so that only the most pressing problems get addressed and routine cleaning is deferred.
Again, within my own district, the economic problems are compounded by increased mandate expenses. This year the contingency budget cap is set at a 2.76% over last year. With these expenses, budget delays and the associated costs of loans that are caused by late state budgets, it will make a contingency budget difficult at best to achieve. The result will be yet another year with a below austerity budget going to the taxpayers. Even if it is approved, it will result in less preventative maintenance, more reactive maintenance and a perpetuation of unhealthy conditions that plague too many of the buildings where our children and their teachers spend most of their days.
School districts potentially face another lean year in terms of the level of state aid they can expect. Further, cutbacks in maintenance and custodial services are a real danger if additional resources are not provided. Providing full funding for Minor Maintenance will go a long way toward helping schools address their deferred maintenance issues and provide a healthy and safe environment for both the staff and the students
The State Education Department is responsible for overseeing school construction projects and the enforcement of the New York Uniform Building Code. Unfortunately, the State Education Department has been starved of both resources and the staff necessary to fully carry out itís responsibilities, especially those associated with inspecting and monitoring school construction projects and building code compliance.
The State Education Department either needs to provide with the funding necessary to carry out itís health and safety efforts or the legislature needs to explore other mechanisms for insuring that complaints are responded to and corrections are made in a timely fashion. In addition to providing the additional funding requested for Minor Maintenance, NYSUTís Health and Safety Task Force recommends the following:
- Establish maximum temperature settings for classrooms, recent regulatory changes have set a minimum temperature of 65;
- Require school districts to maintain a minimum custodial and maintenance staff levels per square foot of school facilities;
- Develop regulations that promote the use of green or environmentally friendly cleaning products;
- Require school districts to notify employees, parents and students of environmental health and safety hazards within school facilities.
As part of this effort, the state needs to address the size of classrooms. Classrooms need to be larger to allow more movement of the students and instructors. They need to fund building projects to allow for them to be environmentally friendly no matter what the weather is. Funding needs to allow districts to build more classrooms to allow for growth and to lower class size and then provide the funding to maintain the new facilities.
In conclusion, NYSUT appreciates and supports the interest of the Assembly in working with the education and labor communities in addressing hazardous environmental conditions in the workplace and in our public schools in particular.
The problems are easily identifiable. We can point to them, leaking roofs, mold, malfunctioning heating and ventilation systems, windowless and overcrowded classrooms, peeling paint and cracked windows. The solutions are also readily available. The allocation of the necessary resources to address these impediments to improve academic performance and healthier school children are within our grasp.
The results of our actions are also tangible. Improved academic performance, reduced sick days and health care expenses less costly repairs and replacements and most important, the health of our children and our future.
Preventative maintenance is smart and cost effective public policy. We look forward to working with the legislature to achieve a more healthy and safe environment for both staff and students in our public schools. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much Mr. Pitcher. Thank you for traveling down from Albany today. I know that in fact it was snowing this morning, I heard that, I trust that on your way back youíll find clearer sailing than you did on your way down. Please let Mr. Hobart and Mr. Lubin how much we appreciate your being here and the indispensable work that NYSUT does on so many issues that begins with teaching but, I know thatís not where it ends and your, your work as chair of the Health and Safety Task Force is so very important to our ongoing understanding of what we need to do, so I thank you very much sir.
MR. PITCHER: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. Our next witness is Arline Bronzaft?
MS. BRONZAFT: Thank you. I guess some credentials are in order. Professor Merither of the City University of New York, I also serve on Mayors Council on the environment, and have served for the three previous mayors as well. I consult to the League for the Hard of Hearing and I have conducted research on the effects of noise on childrenís learning over the past 30 years. Itís sad to note that after doing research 30 years ago that demonstrated the harmful effects of noise on our childrenís learning and 25 studies that have subsequently confirmed those results, and I still find myself talking around the country in the world on the effects of noise on our children.
I listened to the speakers before and I do fully understand as a member of the Council on the Environment and as a Professor of Environmental Psychology about the adverse affects of air pollutants on our children and I myself carry my Abuterol with me at all times because I am an asthmatic. However, I have not heard, except in the last speakers talk about the effect of noise on childrenís learning. That noise has been addressed and that is a pollutant that too often is ignored and neglected but one for which we have the most solid evidence that it is detrimental to our childrenís learning.
I will go back to the study Iíve conducted 30 years ago, makes me feel ancient, but 30 years ago here in New York City I had the opportunity to look at a school, public school 98 in Upper Manhattan, where half of the classrooms face the elevated train tracks, and the other half were on the quiet side of the building. And as a professor of psychology, I know how important it is to control all variables other than the variable that you are testing so that you can demonstrate an impact of the independent variable.
When I looked at the reading scores for several years of the second and fourth and sixth grade students of that school that were facing the elevated train tracks and compared them to the reading scores of the children on the quiet side, I and my colleague Dennis McCarthy at that time found that children exposed to elevator train noise at the sixth grade were one year behind in reading.
Fortunately, we were able at that time to convince the Board of Education to place acoustical tile ceilings in the classrooms facing the track and we were able to persuade the Transit Authority, not to easy to persuade to such agencies to chose public school 98 as the test site for quieting the tracks. When the two acoustical treatments were in place, the acoustical tile ceilings and the rubber resilient pads on the tracks, the classrooms were quieter by about six to eight decibels which is a significant level, and again, the former President of the City Council of the City of New York at that time asked me to go back to that school and see if the noise abatement had an impact.
And when I returned to do the second study, now looking at the classrooms facing the tracks and those on the quieter side, children on both sides of the building were reading at the same level. Thus we demonstrated that noise interferes with learning and quiet enhances learning and that second study was done over 20 years ago.
In the past 25 years, there are, 30 years actually, there are at least 25 studies that have found that noise in the school room disrupts learning. And we also learned, as I did my earlier study that students and teachers are bothered by the noise. And despite the abundance of evidence supporting the adverse effects of noise to our childrenís learning, learning environments are still far too noisy. This applies to schools as well as homes, for children donít only learn at school. Researchers have found that the development of childrenís cognitive and language skills are impeded in homes that are too noisy.
Just travel with me around the City of New York, and I will show you elevator train tracks that are on the number 4 line, the 3, the 2, the 1 and show you the homes in which children are unable to study. I will also show you the schools that are adjacent to those train tracks.
Iím here essentially today to ask the legislation that would call for publishing and distributing information to students, parents, school staff and concerned citizens on the potential danger of noise. The League for the Hard of Hearing and other groups have already prepared materials to educate students, teachers and parents about the dangers of noise and should be made available in all schools. Let me add that the literature also demonstrates that noise is adverse to the physical health of children, so itís not just limited to learning and that I include the work of Gary Evans on hypertension in young children exposed to noise.
The School Construction Authority must be made aware of the American Acoustical Societyís recommended standards for interior sound levels in schools. Schools without the outside elevator train tracks, without the airports that are exposing them to aircraft noise and without the highways exposing them to traffic noise are still very noisy places. If you look at the ceilings of some of the doors, you will see that noise is seeping through because theyíre not solid enough. If you look at the electrical ducts, you will see noise seeping through. So the interior of the classrooms, independent of the exterior noises from traffic, aircraft or elevator train tracks are noisy.
In 1982, The State Legislature passed the Rail Transit Noise Code to promote the health and welfare for a substantial number of the Stateís residents. The Code directed the New York City Transit Authority to quiet itís system. And within 12 years, specific sound levels had to be attained in subway cars, in the stations, and on elevator tracks. The Transit Authority made certain improvements. But not enough under the mandate of a code.
The Code expired after 12 years and New Yorkers can readily testify that the trains are noisier today than they were in the late 80s. It is time to pass another code to lessen the din of New Yorkís transit system, especially on the elevator train tracks which impact on the individuals living, attending school and working near these structures. I myself went back to PS 98 several years ago, just a few years ago and listened again, and it was noisy, because the rubber resilient pads are wearing and that happens after time.
Now most importantly, I am the grandmother of 2 children who attend the New York City public schools and one that will be starting in September, and the school across the street from my home where my 10 year old attends is a school that I frequently visit because I have a great deal to do with his, with taking care of this child because he comes to my home most of the time after school, and it faces York Avenue. And I have gone into his classroom. I canít hear the teacher. How can the children possibly learn in that kind of environment?
Now, Regan spoke of children at risk and Bush speaks of leaving no child behind and Iím here to declare that noise impedes learning. I offer my expertise and assistance to the Legislatures whom I believe can find the way to ameliorate nose effects, provided they have the will to do so. And what I feel so saddened by as I listen to environment in schools is that noise still continues to be the neglected pollutant, but itís the one for which we have the best data, which I will provide you with the studies, I have 2 websites here, I like a great deal in that area, and one that you can do something now about.
So I thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about noise. I hope you will take what I say truly to heart and I believe you will but more importantly, we need the dollars to ameliorate a problem that is robbing our children of their opportunity to learn in the most effective environment and as a speaker said before, the dollars you spend now will be so well worth it, because if you have to correct the learning of a 6th grader who is 1 year behind because he or she is sitting in a noisy classroom, then youíre going to need far more dollars to ameliorate the problem than you would have spent had you attended to the issue before. Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well thank you very much Ms. Bronzaft, and certainly preventative maintenance is always the best route and Iíll just tell you that as someone, when Iím in the City not in Albany attending to legislative responsibilities and I stand on the union square subway platform every day and I know about noise. So --
MS. BRONZAFT: Let me add, let me add, the aircraft situation, by the way, when we talk about airports, and I do chair in New York, New Jersey Coalition, the airports are not, you know, they create quite a bit of noise for children in schools, and thatís not New York City. Iím talking now upstate New York and smaller towns. So this problem of noise which is number quality of issue problem in the City of New York is one that is statewide a major problem as well.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Speaking of noise, we do hear you. We hear you loud and clear. Thank you.
MS. BRONZAFT: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much. Our next witness is Noreen Connell, Executive Director for Educational Priorities Panel.
MS. CONNELL: Thank you for holding this hearing and I know that at this time of day youíre, youíve been listening to a lot of people. But I wanted to first tell you that I appear before you as the Executive Director of the Educational Priorities Panel, a coalition of 28 civic organizations and parent groups and I wanted to begin with a short history of State and City funding for facilities, much of it gained from research conducted for EPPís report, Castles in the Sand.
During the 1975, 76 fiscal crises, the Cityís total capital spending went from a high of 1.7 billion in 1975 to a low of 521 million in 1978. While the City was again able to issue bonds by 1982, the school systemís physical plant essentially never recovered from the fiscal crisis. Itís a share of total city capital funding fell from an average of 20 percent a year to the single digits, and Iím talking about 7%, 8%. For fifteen years, from 1976 to 1990, the Board of Education was only able to build a handful of schools and make mostly emergency repairs. Overcrowding became a serious problem. The state of disrepair became alarming and dangerous.
I was surprised to learn from the city budget officials that up until 1989, New York City was essentially left out of the State Building Aid System. No matter how much was built or repaired, the City always received a fixed, small amount of building aid. It was only when the legislation creating the School Construction Authority was made into law that there was a relationship established between capital spending in New York City and State Building Aid reimbursement levels. This legislation also marked the beginning of renewed city investments in the schoolsí physical plant. The RESCUE program was also a step forward in providing a state funding stream for repairs. So there has been progress. Itís much better now than it was in 1989. Sometimes people just get so gloomy about facilities that I just want to make that point.
But that fifteen year period of a lack of new schools and deferred maintenance still affects us today. In order to catch up with overcrowding and disrepair, and solve the problems that deferred maintenance created, the cityís entire 30.7 billion dollar capital plan would have to be devoted to the schools for the next four years. Since this would eliminate any capital funds for environmental protection, bridges and highways, sanitation, mass transit, housing, justice, administration and other city services, this size investment in the schools physical plant will not take place.
So this is the end of the three minute review. But thatís essentially the dimensions of the problem. Historically and financially. At this point, I want to refer to a move you might have seen on television, Robert Altmanís the Player. Tim Robbins plays this studio executive and at one point he says that he hears 100 pitches a year, most of them writers saying that theyíre going to have Julia Robertís in their movie and he can only say yes to three or four of them every year. And when we interviewed school facilities decision makers in New York City, thatís essentially what they say, that they have to say no almost all the time and not yes, because there just isnít enough money and thatís all really because this purpose of this period of deferred maintenance. It, the Cityís schools just fell behind.
The issue of facilities planning in New York City is not just what capital projects should become priorities, but the fact that so many urgent capital projects with education and health implications for children will never get done. For this reason, the Educational Priorities Panel strongly supports the Rebuild Americaís Schools Act, commonly known as the Rangel Johnson Bill.
Americaís network of roads and highways would not be possible if they were the sole responsibility of local and State Governments. New York Cityís inability to fully fund repair, fully fund and repair school facilities and end overcrowding is prevalent in most other high needs, urban school districts. Federal funding, coupled with City and State resources could finally bring the nations school buildings up to a state of good repair.
But absent this federal role, the issue becomes one of hard choices. In 1994, Chancellor Cortines created a commission headed by Harold O. Levy, before he became a chancellor that came to the conclusion that the first priority for the capital plan was to make the schools watertight. This was a strategic decision that prevented further building deterioration. But it came at a cost. From this point on, the proportion of capital investments in new school construction in New York City fell from a planned 30% to just 12%. Whenever there is a cut to the capital budget, new school construction is cut.
Unfortunately, the State Building Aid reimbursement levels encourage decisions to tolerate student overcrowding in favor of building repairs. It is shocking that the school district experiencing the most overcrowding and that has among the largest average class sizes in the state has received far less Building Aid reimbursement for new school construction than any other school district in the state.
For reasons we documented in EPPís report, Castles in the Sand, state Building Aid has provided disincentives for New York City to reduce student overcrowding. In the appendix to this report, from pages A-85 to A-91 is EPPís analysis of the impact of the NYS Education Departmentís rated capacity computation on actual claim forms and rates of reimbursement for new school construction projects in New York City and in the rest of the State. This analysis shows that on average, state Building Aid reimbursed New York City only 22% of the costs of building new schools, but for school districts in the rest of the State the reimbursement averaged 67% for new school construction.
Lately, I have been characterizing these Building Aid reimbursement levels as a Dred Scott counting system with a twist. For the purposes of computation, students in New York City are counted once and students in the rest of the State are counted twice. This is how it works, for the rest of the State, if a school district plans to build a school for 600 students, the classroom capacity will be calculated based on hypothetical 1,200 students; in New York City, if a school is planned for 600 students, the classroom capacity will be calculated based on 600 students.
The State Education Department never had the authority to create these widely divergent computations either in law or in regulation. They now ascribe this problem as the result of poor planning by the New York City school system. EPP disagrees with this interpretation, but the important point is that this Dred Scott counting system be ended so that New York City receives a reimbursement level for new school construction that is similar to the rest of the state.
The Educational Priorities Panel strongly supports the Chancellorís request for state funding for his five year capital plan. We urge the legislature and the Governor to fully fund this plan in the upcoming state budget. Without beginning the process of building more schools in New York City, class sizes cannot be significantly reduced, especially in Queens where there is no excess capacity. We have four additional recommendations:
1. Support innovative leasing, financing and mixed use construction projects so as to reduce overcrowding at a faster pace. The EPP will be issuing a series of white papers on these ideas.
2. Reform the Building Aid formula so that the computation of reimbursement rate is fair.
3. And this I think might be helpful in terms of environmental problems and also priorities, setting them at the school level. Notification of potential hazards is not enough. EPP has been impressed with facilities planning processes whereby the school planning committee, staff and parent leaders must sign off on all surveys of needed repairs. Similarly, the school planning committee should be given the right to sign off on all surveys of school capacity. Too often, surveys are done by overworked consultants or education staff who are rushing to meet deadlines.
And we saw where we got this idea was Arizona, when it had a state mandated court ordered school renovation project and when the engineerís would come to the school and they would say their heating system needs repair, you have to have wiring for computers but your pluming is okay. The school committee would have to actually sign off after consultations with the consultant. So they just couldnít come and then leave and then leave the school community without any idea of what their findings were.
And also, since so often there isnít enough money to do repairs, why not have the principal teachers union representative, parent leaders, school planning committee make those hard choices, what will be fixed. Will it be the computer wiring or will it be the lighting? So we believe strongly in these sing off relationships to give school level, staff and parents the authority to participate and to sort of stop overworked consultants and staff people from just writing down anything.
4. And then, allow school planning committees the right to have input into priorities for repairs and renovations. Facilities professionals have cautioned EPP that this would result in a neglect of repairs that are not visible to the eye or more difficult to understand, and Patricia Zodalis has told us this and so has the person whoís Mr. Goldstein whoís now head of the FCA. Theyíre horrified when we say this and they say oh my goodness, youíre just going to then get parents and staff paying attention to whatís visible and not whatís un, you know, not visible to the eye. And we thing that there has to be balanced decision making and that they should, in fact, have a role in this.
Let parents and school staff participate in some of the difficult trade offs that must occur when there is not enough funding.
I want to end with the statement that facilities problems in New York City can be solved over time, with more money, better administration and innovation. But EPP strongly urges that overcrowding be solved within the next five years in New York City because our children should no longer be denied smaller class sizes.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: I thank you very much Noreen Connell, I think it is really safe to say not a some rhetorical exaggeration that you and the education priorities panel have been the foremost advocate for improving and enhancing and expanding and making fairer the funding for our facilities in New York City and around the State and Iíve certainly had an opportunity to read your many reports, your castles reports, your checker board for four months, your very many reports. They are a very valuable contribution.
We are hopeful that over these next several weeks and several months as we struggle to remedy the CFE court decision that many of the things that youíve advocated for so many years will finally become a reality in terms of fairness and adequacy but again I want to thank you, we all want to thank you for the contribution that you have made on an ongoing basis.
MS. CONNELL: Thank you, Iím trying not to get my hopes up but, thatís very encouraging words that you know, weíll see some solutions.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well we are working towards that.
MS. CONNELL: Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you, thankís again Noreen. Our next witness is Soneni Smith representing Regina Eaton who is the Executive Director for the Alliance for Quality Education.
MS. SMITH: Good afternoon Chairman Sanders and Assemblyman Englebright. As you mentioned Iím the new Deputy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education and Iím, on behalf of the Organization of Regina Eaton, thank you for giving us this opportunity to really endorse healthy school safety, the Healthy School Networkís Policy Report which we fully endorse.
AQE is a statewide coalition of more than 230 organizations dedicated to ensuring every New York childís right to a quality education and weíre working to make that right a reality. As you know, Iím going to kind of annotate my testimony as well because youíre very familiar with this, the case was brought by our coalition member the Campaign for Fiscal Equity found that in providing students with the opportunity for a sound basic education students need several things, that is high quality teaching, smaller class sizes and up to date learning materials as well as safe buildings. Safe buildings which has been the subject of testimony today has been one of the priorities on AQEís list of funding priorities in the down payment settlement or remedy for CFE.
AQE and CFE, we conducted a series of public forums across the state this fall, we, were attended by 1,000 New Yorker residents and at every meeting, participants talked about the need for improved school facilities and smaller class sizes. Clearly addressing these concerns were among their highest priorities in order to assist school children to meet the Regent learning standards. So, AQE fully supports the call for funding of facility improvements and improved school facilities policies statewide.
Children we know spend a great deal and amount of their time in the classroom and there are state and federal laws that oversee working conditions to protect adults that work in public buildings, school children do not have these protections and therefore we join again with our coalition partners the Healthy School Network and call for a requirement of healthy and high performing schools.
In the coming weeks the Fiscal Policy Institute will release two reports that explores the problem with the current school construction process and outlines a proposal to change the financing system to help high need districts improve facilities.
So as you struggle with the implementation of the CFE decision we know one of the issues you are considering is how to improve school facilities. And weíre here today because we want you to understand that it is not enough to simply develop a plan for new buildings or simply to improve existing school facilities you have to consider the very special needs of the children and the needs and the demands that the parents are making and weíre also expecting you to support the 2 billion dollar down payment this year so that we can begin to work on these improvements. Thank you again.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well thank you very much Soneni, congratulations on becoming Deputy Executive Director. Weíve worked very closely with Regina Eaton and all of the component parts of the Alliance for Quality Education and please understand that we appreciate the hard work, the coordination that AQE has done especially during these critical last number of months since the successful Court of Appeals decision on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity for which so much of our ability to do adequate funding statewide for all school districts relies on and we will continue to rely on AQE for leadership over these next crucial weeks and months as we try to approach the point where we successfully do that remedy.
MS. SMITH: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. Our next witness is Cindy Erickson, Chief Executive Officer for the American Lung Association, City of New York.
MS. ERICKSON: Good afternoon.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Hi.
MS. ERICKSON: Founded in 1902, the American Lung Association is the oldest voluntary health agency in the nation and for more than a century we have lead the fight for lung health and clean air.
One of the things I would certainly like to thank you is the opportunity to speak before you today, to speak on this important issue and then also to thank you all very much for your instrumental in helping to pass New York Stateís Smoke Free Workplaces Law nearly a year ago. While not entirely related to todayís hearing, this important public health law is protecting millions of workers in our state from being exposed to deadly secondhand smoke. Your leadership and support made this historic law possible and for that we thank you very much.
Today Iím here to testify about the affects of poor indoor air in our schools and suggest ways we can approach this difficult, yet urgent problem. I would like to begin by talking about the American Lung Associationís program called Open Airways for Schools and how this program has helped thousands of children in New York City and around the State to learn how to manage and better control their asthma.
Open Airways for Schools is a school based asthma management program for children with asthma ages 8 to 11. Across the state, asthma is a serious concern for families, but here in New York City, it has reached epidemic proportions. More than 300,000 children in the five boroughs are struggling to manage this suffocating and deliberating lung disease. In some neighborhoods such a Harlem, nearly 25% of the children are living with asthma.
Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism. But by participating in the six session Open Airways Program, children learn how to become experts in managing their asthma so that they can make the most of their education. In New York City, more than 30,000 children have graduated from our program, and research shows that because of the skills that they have developed from open airways, they have missed fewer school days as well as the grades have improved.
One of the main ingredients to successful asthma management is controlling and mitigating asthma triggers. That is why indoor air quality in the school environment is so important. For Open Airways to work best, children need to work in environments where the air quality is good. Sending children with asthma to school environments that trigger asthma attacks is like asking children to manage their disease without medication. I had a chance to visit with Haleyís mother a little bit after her testimony and I was just amazed at all that she is doing to try to help her daughter and all the doors that she has approached, essentially have been closed. And so today, after hearing Haley, you all have an opportunity to keep that door open for her, and I certainly hope that you will do that.
Air quality in schools has become a serious public health problem. According to a United States Government Accounting Office, at least 50% of our nationís schools have problems related to environmental quality, including poor indoor air. Indoor air quality may trigger asthma, allergies, cause eye, nose and throat irritation and may lead to long term health problems. Because many pollutants in schools can trigger asthma attacks, managing asthma in school must include managing indoor air quality.
That is why we would like to see more schools implement programs like the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program which you heard a little earlier. The American Lung Association developed Tools for Schools in partnership with the United States EPA, and the purpose is to solve indoor air quality problems.
Many items in the Tools for Schools kit can be implemented with little cost, and may significantly improve school indoor air environments. Each kit includes easy to use checklists for school teachers, staff and parents as well as facility managers, administrators, and school boards. For example, improving ventilation, keeping moisture low to avoid mold growth, using environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and restricting the use of pesticides are all simple ways to improve air quality in schools and improve health. In the interest of time, I will not go over all of the details of Tools for Schools, but we will follow up with your offices next week to provide you additional information about the program.
Now I would like to talk a couple of minutes about some of the legislative opportunities that the American Lung Association supports because they directly make an impact on the health of school children across our state.
First, working with the Healthy Schools Network, we heard from Ms. Barnett, the Executive Director a little bit earlier. We support the increase in State funding for maintenance and repair of school facilities of 80 million dollars. Poor maintenance and repairs lead to countless health problems for children. According to an economic analysis by the United States EPA, if one elementary school spent 370 dollars per year for 22 years that totals 8,140 dollars for preventive maintenance, that school would have saved 1.5 million in repairs. Itís kind of a pretty good return on investment, isnít it. It not only makes sense to help schools pay for repairs and maintenance because it makes the school environment healthier and safer, but also it makes economic sense.
Another issue we support is setting Healthy and High Performance School Building Standards, which would require school construction and renovation to adhere to Green Building standards. Green Building standards improves energy efficiency, enhances student and teacher productivity and provides a healthier environment for building occupants. Building green also is very cost effective. While New York State has provided incentives and resources for schools to consider green building standards, there are currently no requirements. It is time for New York to build upon its current green building initiatives and call for all school construction and renovation to adhere to green building and a renovation construction standards.
I just want to mention another important aspect to this issue, school buses. Assemblyman Grannis and Assemblyman DiNapoli are proposing to provide money to help pay for schools to retrofit diesel powered school buses. The proposal could yield 9 million dollars in funding to retrofit thousands of school buses throughout New York State and remove the harmful diesel fumes from school buses and protect children, especially those with asthma.
Diesel fumes are a potent asthma trigger and have been shown to cause cancer. Children with asthma and healthy children are riding in diesel powered school buses and are being exposed to high levels of diesel fumes. As a result, they may be arriving to school with their health compromised.
We believe this is an important step in helping us control asthma and helping keep our children safe on the way to and from school. Thank you for the opportunity to certainly present the American Lung Associationís position and we urge your support to include the budget proposal in the final budget, and if we can provide you with any additional information, the American Lung Association would be certainly happy to do that. Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you very much Ms. Erickson, I, of course we all are somewhat familiar with the important and outstanding work of the American Lung Association, not only in New York City but around the Country and Iím particularly grateful that you have put a focus on what a lot of people consider to be epidemic levels of asthma among our school age children and in part of my assembly district on the lower east side, the asthma rates are just astronomical.
And I think that we know that in some cases the causes or at least exacerbating the existence occurs not only in the school buildings but outside the school buildings is some the issues of idling buses and how that contributes to the on set of the symptoms is very important. So, thank you so very much for your testimony today and your ongoing leadership in these very important issues.
MS. ERICKSON: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. Our next witness is Kelly Bennett, who is the Associate Executive Director for Environmental Business Association of New York State. You looked at the agenda and you saw there was almost nobody left so it must be you. Youíve been here all day.
MS. BENNETT: A cause good.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: We appreciate the fact that you are still here, so are we and weíre anxious to hear your testimony.
MS. BENNETT: Iíll start by saying good afternoon or should I say good evening, almost.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Almost.
MS. BENNETT: As you mentioned my name is Kelly Bennett, I am indeed the Associate Executive Director of the Environmental Business Association. For the past ten years, the EBA and itís more than 140 members have been working to promote the growth and development of the environmental industry in New York. And it is that industry that Iíd like to represent today in joining in the voices heard previously to talk about the importance and our commitment to a healthy and a high performance school design.
Youíve obviously heard a lot of very compelling and alarming testimony today about the health implications of not building healthy and high performance schools. In addition, school districts around the country are certainly struggling to cope with their inadequate facilities. So thereís no better time to introduce and implement the concept of a healthy and high performance school design.
The practice of using environmentally sound building techniques that can serve resources and provide a healthier living environment is not a new concept. Using locally available natural materials and locating buildings to take advantage of solar orientation and prevailing breezes was practiced centuries ago. These are the principles that Clair will talk to the back to basics. This is intuitive, this is how we used to design buildings. Itís time we got back to designing them that way again.
The modern green building practices can be considered a decade old, dating to the 1993 formation of the US Green Building Council. The USGBC through itís green building rating system known as LEED is helping to stimulate green building market transformation. LEED has gained considerable market place acceptance since 2000, with nearly 5,000 LEED accredited professionals nationwide.
As we have also heard today, New York has done itís part to push the green building market. In 2000, we became the first state in the country to offer green building tax credits to developers of residential and commercial structures. This of course encourages the housing materials and construction industries to adopt green practices on a large scale, and as Peter Smith indicated this morning, NYSERDAís been a tremendous advocate in bringing in to development more than 150 innovative, energy efficient and environmentally beneficial products, processes and services.
Itís our opinion that school buildings present perhaps the most persuasive case for expanding the adoption of green or high performance building practices. A high performance school building has three key characteristics: it is healthy and productive, it is cost effective and it is sustainable.
It delivers a number of benefits including better student performance, better daily attendance, increased teacher satisfaction and retention, while at the same time reducing operating costs, liability exposure and providing a positive influence on the environment and a hands on learning tool for the students and teachers in that school.
To achieve these benefits, an integrated, whole building approach to school design, construction and maintenance must take place. The systems and technologies must be considered holistically, from the very beginning of the design process and optimized throughout based on their combined impact on the comfort and productivity of students and teachers.
Numerous studies have confirmed the relationship between a schools physical conditions, especially itís lighting and indoor air quality to student performance. For example, students in schools that rely primarily on day lighting perform up to 26% better on standardized tests than their counterparts in poorly lit schools. Again, back to basics, let the light in.
At the same time, high performance design saves money on both sides of the ledger by reducing annual operating costs and thereby increasing money available for capital projects. According to the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, a nationally recognized organization conducting research on high performance school design, the typical school district of 3,000 students spends about 400,000 dollars each year on energy related utilities alone, while those districts in large metropolitan areas, the largest of which in the Country we are sitting in today, may spend 20 million dollars or more.
By building a high performance school, school districts can save 30 to 40 percent on utility costs for new schools, and up to 30 percent on renovated schools by building healthy and high performance school. What we found at EBA is that education and training is the key to making healthy and high performance schools a reality.
Weíve been raising awareness of this issue through our green building task force, and to our six monthly salons on green building design practices that take place from Long Island to Buffalo. On average we attract 3 to 400 folks from the business community, the A and E community among. And as mentioned by Peter Smith this morning, we have teamed with NYSERDA and the Healthy Schools Network to conduct a series of community forms that promote healthy and high performance school design to parents, to teachers, to facility managers and to the public. We want to see those stakeholders as clients in the design and construction process as well.
The first two forums held in Syracuse and Buffalo, presented the basics, the what, the why, the how, of how healthy and high performance school design can take place and we had more than 100 people attend those 2 sessions. We have two more scheduled in the upcoming weeks and then we bring our show downstate to Long Island and to New York City, we certainly hope that youíll be able to participate sense and folks and learn as well.
Importantly, we felt that it was a very necessary to have the business community participating, providing a case study that talked about the real world examples, hopefully right in your community, where at least elements of healthy and high performance school design were taking place. The message is clear, itís happening now, itís happening in your community and there are experts in the field that can help you do it as well.
Weíve got lots of examples across the country where schools are committed to building and healthy and high performance facilities, from LA to Massachusetts. In fact, a number of our member companies are actively involved in a K through 12 school construction. Most of those firms, however, are now building healthy and high performance schools in New York. Those schools are being built just across the river in New Jersey. In New Jersey, the Governor has made sustainable school design state policy, and itís certainly my preference that that would happen in New York as well.
Creating a high performance school is not difficult, itís just different from conventional practice. For the billions of dollars that will be spent for school construction in the coming years, we not only have the opportunity but the responsibility to create schools that are healthy and productive, cost effective and sustainable. Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you so very much Ms. Bennett. The work that your association does is very important. I think weíre all particularly intrigued about the forums that you have been holding and we would, I think especially Mr. Englebright and I who are from the downstate area, I from the City and Mr. Englebright from Long Island, we would certainly like to know about the forums that you may be holding in the near future that will bring the messages and the information to our constituents and certainly the issues of sustainable school design and ultimately high performance schools is what this is all about.
MS. BENNETT: Indeed.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: So, I think that, not only the advice that you provide to us, but the information that you disseminate at these forums around the state are very, very important. And we thank you for waiting, and I thank you for testifying today.
MS. BENNETT: Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Thank you. We are just about at the end of our testimony list. Our next speaker is, who actually wished to defer to the later part of the day, Marianne Feinberg is our next witness, Health Coordinator from the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition.
MS. FEINBERG: Good afternoon Assemblyman Sanders, Assemblyman Englebright. Thank you for the opportunity of speaking here today. I am also a member of the Steering Committee and Chairperson of the Environmental Committee of the New York City Asthma Partnership, which is a coalition that includes the New York City Department of Health. Academics working in the area of asthma of community based organizations and health providers, all working to reduce asthma, morbidity and prevalence in the City of New York. Iím also the author of a report called Cleaning for Health which was issued a couple of years ago by Inform, which is an environmental research organization based here in New York City and Iím on the Health and Environment Community of Community Board 2 in the Bronx.
The issue of the schools, the environmental conditions in the schools in our city has concerned us for a long time. At the beginning, when our organization began in 1991 and we were fighting an incinerator we mostly were concerned about the outdoor air as it was coming into the schools and at that time we were made aware by some school principals in our area which was right near this new incinerator that was just opening that in fact school absenteeism from asthma was rising from the time that the incinerator had opened. And that sort of started our quest on thinking about asthma in the schools and trying to figure out what to do about it.
Weíre currently part of a community partner in a study with Columbia University School of Public Health on actually outdoor air as it impacts students inside the schools in sort of high diesel traffic areas such as on highways, so that weíre doing air monitoring now, as school on the Major Deegan Expressway and a school on the Sheriton Expressway and weíre going to be doing actually some testing soon which may be of particular interest to your committee on the indoor air in those schools and seeing how well the HVAC system that the heating ventilation and air conditioning system in those schools is actually venting and filtering the air thatís full of live diesel particulates, which, the previous speakers went into very well about what the health effects of those are, and their relationship to asthma.
And because outdoor air and indoor air is not different often, not often very different, we in the Environmental Committee and NYCAP have taken it as a major project this year to look at the diesel school bus issue in the city which, there was a very good study that was done about a year and a half ago, it was published by researchers at Yale University looking at the impact of diesel school buses on children inside of the buses, how much diesel were they really taking in and it was very, the results were quite alarming and really also convinced us of the need to work on those conversions, not just on idling but actually converting them to a safer fuel, to safer fuel use.
The issue in terms of indoor air quality in terms of these buses is that they often actually idle near windows and ventilation systems of the schools and I know that weíre doing the, a control school in the Columbia University study that I just mentioned is actually a school in Rockland County where the school buses are actually idling right in front of the ventilation system and those, the people in that school are very anxious for us to test that air.
Iíd like to sort of go over some of the more indoor issues and some of our perspective on it. We definitely support all of these initiatives around green construction. We think itís very important and really wonderful and can really serve to make our schools much healthier places for our children to be in. However, itís not just green construction that we need. We need our schools as they are, the ones that we have right now that our children are sitting in, we need them cleaned up.
I know that in the Community Board and in Community Board to Health and Environment Committee weíve had parents come to us from some of the schools in the area with Polaroid photographs of walls full of mold, of vermin, of conditions that were really sickening, overtly sickening students and staff in those schools, and they were beating their head against the walls trying to get those conditions cleaned up. This is inexcusable and unacceptable and goes beyond whether youíre going to have green carpet or not green carpet in a new school. This is like basic, you know, life and death cleaning this stuff up. And something, there have to be standards that are set, and just like these poor little children have to pass these stupid 3rd grade tests in order to stay in school, some of these schools need to be able to pass maintenance test in order to stay open. And if they canít pass them, then they should shut their doors.
And funding for these schools have to become dependent on them getting cleaned up and they have to have of course have adequate funding to do it. The over crowding, and these kind of, Iím sure your Committee is very aware that vermin and molds the way that those things contribute to asthma, but also that unfortunately when you have those kind of problems, the solutions that are applied, often apply to those problems which are the cleaning products that are used and the insecticides that are used are then, then further contribute to the problem.
They can irritate the breathing apparatus, they can, you know trigger asthma attacks, some of the insecticides that are used are things that do have an affect on the nervous system of the body and thereís a very good study thatís coming out of the Center for Childrenís Environmental Health at Columbia about the effect of pesticides on neurological development.
The overcrowding in the schools is also an issue in terms of asthma which you might not think it necessarily, you might think of it as just an issue that has to do with quality of learning, but in fact, overcrowding contributes to stress and there are very good studies that show the relationship between stress and asthma morbidity.
Overcrowding in our schools in New York City often mean that children donít have good access to gym, for example. And asthmatic kids more than any other kids really need some supervised exercise so that theyíre not just sitting on their rear ends all the time. Obesity in addition to everything else, a lack of exercise actually contributes to worsening asthma.
The, so we feel that the chemical that are used, the cleaning products, the pesticides, lab and other chemicals have to be cleaned up. The HVAC systems need to be really looked at. The mold situation has got to go. We really support what Cindy Erickson said about Tools for Schools. We know that thereís an action in Albany on the issue of promoting Tools for Schools but it is not being implemented in New York City at all, and would be a wonderful program to get going.
Weíre concerned about school siting as it impacts on safety of children and even the quality of indoor air. I know we worked with a PTA a couple of years ago who were worried about the construction of a second school right near the school that their children were in. That was going to be sited over you know, whatís called the Brownfield. And in fact that school ended up getting built over the objections of a number of parents and they had to actually build the school on stilts so that the methane gas that was trapped in the earth underneath the school could actually be vented. And if anything goes wrong, that venting, that methane venting system, the school and the children in it could literally explode.
And, we feel like the Health Committee and the Education Committee have got to talk to the Department of Environmental Conservation about implementing, and the Department of Health about implementing a new level of standards in terms of safety and school setting, especially on Brownfields.
In terms of some of the consequences, I donít know how much of this was said earlier in the day so forgive me if I repeat, the physical consequences, you know, itís been shown by some small studies by the New York City Department of Health and in some of our schools in the Bronx as well as some other places in the City, that about 1/3 of the children have asthma. Some of that asthma is very unfortunately poorly controlled.
That contributes to a high absenteeism rate. What is that high absenteeism rate do? It impacts obviously on the life of that child, on the life of that childís family where parents often have to stay out of work in order to take them to a doctor and to watch over them so it impacts on the sort of economic and life and stability of their family.
It also impacts on the funding levels to the schools. You should correct me if Iím wrong but itís my understanding that the school funding formula is based on attendance, is based on the average number of children in the school every day. If yo have a school like some of our schools that are actually in the most need of money, which are in the poorest neighborhoods, which have the highest asthma rates, and then have a high absenteeism rate, then it looks like thereís less children in the school and so the funding to those schools actually suffers.
And I just want to say in conclusion, that you know, a poor physical environment in the schools sends a message to children and it contributes to a poor social environment. It contributes to a poor self concept. It contributes to a poor sense among children that they can achieve things and that theyíre worth something, because the teachers are, the lesson that it teaches our children is that theyíre not being valued and theyíre not being respected. And that to me is the worst consequence of them all. You know, not an asthma attack, not a nasty fume but if children donít believe in themselves and in their future then weíre nowhere as a society and we have to start to care enough about our children to make schools that they can learn in and that they feel valued in. Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Well thank you so much Ms. Feinberg. I agree with everything that you have said, particularly the point that you were making at the very end about sometimes even the subliminal message the students are getting when they attend school buildings that are so badly neglected and in such poor condition and I couldnít agree with you more about what that says to them and what it says about us, the adults who provide such an inferior learning environment.
Be assured that we are going to do everything we can, particularly this year to begin correcting some of those long standing problems and clearly the South Bronx has been one of the more blighted communities, some of the oldest buildings, some of the most neglected buildings and thatís a good place for us to start. So I thank you.
MS. FEINBERG: Thank you and we look forward to working with you on that.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: And this is probably I guess a good place for us to end today. All of us, those of us who have been privileged to conduct these hearings today are very indebted to all of the witnesses who came out and shared their views with us.
Before I conclude let me just turn to my colleague Mr. Englebright who I probably havenít said enough about during the course of the day but it is, in fact, Mr. Englebright who is the foremost leader in the entire State Legislature to provide the remedies and to provide and does provide the leadership to try to improve the environmental conditions in our schools and the school grounds so, let me turn to Mr. Englebright for some concluding remarks and then we shall conclude.
ASSEMBLYMAN ENGLEBRIGHT: Thank you Chairman Sanders, youíre very kind and really very modest as weíve seen through this whole day. The leadership is yours and I am so proud and privileged to be a member of the Education Committee that you chair and I have, to the extent that I have become a leader it is because I have enjoyed your support, your intellect, your courage and your support and I want to say thank you as we conclude today.
ASSEMBLYMAN SANDERS: Before the end of these hearings seem like too much of a mutual admiration society I very much appreciate that Steve Englebright cause thereís noone in the Legislature who I appreciate more in terms of your professional and dedicated commitment to the people of the State.
We couldnít do these hearings alone, Mr. Englebright and myself and Assemblyman Gottfried who chairs the Health Committee, Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli who was here for almost all of the entire day and Barbara Clark, a member of the Education Committee who was here for a while. None of us could do this alone and Mr. Englebright has had the able assistance of one of his chief staff people, Marilyn Dubois, who is a, I know a constant source of support and help to Mr. Englebright. I also have a number of key staff people who have worked very diligently on this issue and particularly on these hearings and first and foremost, my Chief of Staff, Steve Kaufman who works almost as many hours as I do, inside joke. John Frederick whoís here today who leads my Albany office. Iíve had 2 extraordinary interns, 2 extraordinary young people, Neil Petticone who is, who has worked on these hearings, he is a student at Styuvsant High School, and he did a very, very good job in putting together some of the information that we needed for these hearings.
And I guess I have to give a final and very heartfelt word of thanks to Felicia Rector who for the last number of weeks, four or five weeks for certain basically put aside her entire life to do the research necessary for these hearings and did some absolutely astounding work in terms of putting together background reports and papers so, I know that Steve Englebright and I want to thank our staffs, our speaker, central staff, thank you Meyers as usual. Once again, our Court reporter, I want to let you know when I get to the end of these hearings and I keep talking I can sense that our able court reporters are thinking if you want to thank me just stop already so I can rest my weary hands.
But we couldnít do this without you again and thank you so very much and we will take these, this information that weíve received today from so many witnesses, Claire Barnett is still in the room, Claire Barnett has just been terrific and we thank you for all of your help Claire Barnett, the Healthy Schools Network for your inspiration and for your hard work and we will take all of this to heart and over the course of the balance of this session, weíre going to try and make some very important headway.
In any event, on behalf of Steve Englebright and myself, we conclude these hearings and we thank everyone who is here testifying. The hearing is adjourned. (Time noted: 4:20 p.m.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
I, EDWARD LETO, do hereby state that I attended at the time and place above-mentioned and took a stenographic record of the proceedings in the above-entitled matter, and that the foregoing is a true and correct copy of the same and the whole thereof, according to the best of my ability and belief.
Dated: March 12, 2004