Local pol calls for school air conditioner reform

Hot summer days still ahead, one City Councilmember is looking to use some capital funding dollars to pay for air conditioner units at city public schools.

Councilmember Mark Treyger recently penned a letter to City Comptroller Scott Stringer to consider reviewing and amending the city’s fiscal guidelines, explaining the importance of having air conditioners at schools and how it can affect student performance.

“As a former teacher, I have experienced first-hand the important role that environmental conditions play in shaping the classroom experience and determining student outcomes,” wrote Treyger in the letter. “Unfortunately, building-wide HVAC systems are incredibly costly, forcing those charged with allocating funds for such improvements to prioritize the health and education of children at one school over others. There is an urgent need in our schools for improved temperature control during the last months of the school year, when high-stakes standardized testing takes place.”

In the letter, Treyger notes the connection between poor indoor air quality and lower student performance, with asthma listed as one of the lead causes of absenteeism and heat and humidity being one of the main triggers for asthma.

“The City’s own studies state that heat emergencies will likely increase as a result of global climate change,” Treyger wrote. “With high temperatures in June regularly exceeding 80°F, and average highs trending upwards, a lack of air conditioning is no longer an inconvenience to be suffered while awaiting summer break; it is a significant burden on the health and well-being of our students and our education system as a whole.”

With over 1,800 public schools to fund, the City often makes purchases of integral classroom equipment before appliances like air conditioners, says Treyger.

However, Lauren Petrosino, a special education teacher in Coney Island, knows how distracted her students get when it becomes too hot in the classroom.

“When it’s too hot inside the classroom, they become too tired to work,” said Petrosino. “Sometimes, opening the windows doesn’t help because there isn’t enough air circulation or bugs fly into the room and the children become distracted.”

Citing the yearly requests his office receives to help install new air conditioning systems for schools in his district — which encompasses Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend and Sea Gate — Treyger asked that the Stringer review the section of Comptroller’s Directive 10 that deals with ‘Charges to the Capital Fund.’ The section (4.4.4 of Directive 10) was last revised in 2011 and currently renders air conditioning units ineligible for Capital funding.

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