EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A policy aimed at saving energy at township schools may be making things uncomfortable for after-hours staff, and could have contributed to the mold issue at Slaybaugh Elementary School.
A Board of Education member said the district is looking into the matter, and promised improvements.
Teacher Kathy Waszen, president of the union that represents the district's schoolteachers, raised the issue at the school board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Waszen praised how school Superintendent Kimberly Gruccio handled the issue of penicillium surface mold and spores found earlier this month in two Slaybaugh classrooms that rain had leaked into. She said teachers and parents were kept informed as the district hired an outside agency, TTI Environmental, to handle the testing and remediation.
“I was completely satisfied,” she said. “I have no concerns that way.”
What she is concerned about is the school district’s energy policy. Waszen said she is in favor of saving energy, and saving money, but does not want to see the heating or air conditioning shut off in school buildings each night.
“I know they have come up with a new plan for Slaybaugh so the building does not get totally cold,” she said. “My concern is, that’s one building. We have 10 others.”
She said her understanding is that school buildings are only considered occupied when there are students present. But staff members sometimes work late or arrive early.
“We do have people in those buildings working,” Waszen said. “Our custodial staff works until 11, 11:30 at night. Some nights it’s brutally cold when I’m leaving at 5, 5:30. They have the rest of the night in that building. So I would like you to keep that in mind.”
The district has a responsibility to its staff, she said, and trying to be too frugal could backfire.
“We’re not saving money if we have to keep calling out companies to correct mold issues,” Waszen said.
Board member Pete Castellano responded that the board is "very aware" of those concerns, and said the board's finance and operations subcommittee had discussed it just the night before.
“While we do want to save energy, there’s a point beyond which we can’t go,” he said.
Sometimes it may be worthwhile to keep the heating or air conditioning running, he agreed.
“I work at the FAA Tech Center, and we see the same thing. When we turn cooling systems completely off, that attracts mold. That’s not safe, and it’s not wise,” he said. “We do want to save energy, but not at the expense of mold, and of people’s comfort.”
He said he also wants to look at lighting around the buildings. It may save energy to turn off outside lights at the schools, but he said there are other issues to balance.
“Again, we do want to save energy, but there needs to be some level of lighting for safety and security around all of our buildings,” he said.
Contacted after the meeting, Castellano declined to discuss the policy further. Indications at the meeting were that a new policy would come before the board at an upcoming meeting.
“We’re going to be able to turn this around fairly quickly. I don’t think there’s any disagreement,” Castellano said.