As part of its “Green Screen” process to interview all candidates for local office — School Board, Town Board, Village Council — Sustainable Warwick has just finished doing ZOOM interviews with the four candidates, three incumbents and one newcomer, running for three slots in this year's School Board election.
The candidates were asked four sustainability-related questions. Here are the questions and replies:
Question 1: What do you know about sustainability efforts in the district and, in these difficult times, what are your priorities for the future?
Bob Howe, 27 years on the school board:
Over the years we have been working on recycling and reducing kitchen waste. We also got rid of stryrofoam . The solar field has been an awesome accomplishment. I smile every time I pass it. It has been satisfying watching how far the district has come vis-a vis the environment. It has been great to see environmental ideas embedded into the curriculum. Because of my profession (manufacturing metal framing often used in passive solar) I have always been concerned about raising student environmental conscientiousness.
Dory Masefield, six years on the school board:
When I came on it was a priority to craft a sustainability policy that would formalize Warwick’s commitment to environmental education and energy efficiency. The Board Policy effectively holds everyone’s feet to the fire. I am proud that we are Green Ribbon schools and that we are presenting at the upcoming School Boards Association meeting about sustainability. We are hoping to educate other School Boards as well as our own students.
Governor Cuomo has left the School Budget open ended, so it was hard to set our budget. We had to set up a layered response to the budget. With my environmental academic background, I am acutely aware how environment and health are linked. Among other concerns, I am worried we will be using too many disposables.
John Garcia, three years on the school board:
The sustainability board policy holds "our feet to the fire" to: reduce the consumption of energy in our facilities; develop students as environmental stewards; require source separation and segregation; promote environmental and energy stewardship; and seek new and improved ways to create a sustainable future. The district will accomplish much through new curriculum, educational programs, and fiscally responsible operational decision-making, all measures which align with the sustainability policy.
Luis Abramson, seeking to join the school board:
The district has installed new insulation, led lights, water refilling stations, some composting, high efficiency boilers in the Middle schools. The district got rid of Styrofoam in the cafeterias. Warwick is ahead of the game; it has the largest district solar field and is winner of Green School Ribbons. Priorities for the future are to introduce vertical farming in shipping containers using hydroponic growing systems. We should look for grants to fund the project. The profit from the crops would benefit the students. Another goal is to create a Sustainable Kids Club, which would integrate abilities, sexual orientation and age levels.
Question 2. What do you think about building a monthly “dashboard” which would show district energy use and energy and the amount of waste produced?
We hire a firm to monitor energy use that gives us recommendations for building use and maintenance projects. A dashboard would get the students used to the concept of monitoring waste and energy use.
Monitoring waste and energy use has been something we have done for a while, so it would not be a big step to build a dashboard. We already have a dashboard for the solar array and the EPA dashboard for energy use. It would be an easy step to integrate the data into a central dashboard. It would be a great tool to bring into the classroom for project based learning with real world applications.
I am a strong proponent of creating a monthly dashboard. I believe much of the core functionality is in place. The district uses a solar dashboard to monitor the production of electricity. The EPA "Energy Star Online Portfolio," measures and tracks energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It ensures all classrooms and other building areas are as energy-efficient as possible. These tools, along with new enhancements, could be integrated to create a powerful new dashboard.
A dashboard would bring a better way to monitor energy use and negotiate a better price. It would allow us to see better solutions for waste reduction. It would be a way to show transparency and should help mitigate expenses.
3. What do you think of creating an “exit survey” for each level (Elementary, Middle and High) which would assess student understanding of and attitudes toward Sustainability?
An understanding of sustainability has been an educational goal, but I don’t think that have been any measurements of the goal. A survey would give good feedback to parents, teachers and administrators. In general, it has been satisfying that the district has been integrating environmental awareness at all levels.
As a science teacher, I regularly use exit surveys in my teaching. Warwick schools currently have exit surveys for substance abuse in grades 7, 9 and 11. In order to inform our educational choices we could consider using exit surveys more frequently and not just at the end of each level. We will need to make sure that the results are accurate.
I support the use of a survey and other multiple measures. Seventh-, ninth-, and eleventh-graders take a comprehensive survey throughout Orange County about healthy lifestyle choices. Let us develop a similar instrument to ascertain students' attitudes and beliefs around sustainability. Additionally, teachers author integrated units of study on sustainability, including fun and engaging project-based learning activities for pupils. The students' performance tasks also offer a rich array of authentic student feedback.
A survey would increase student interest in sustainability and would encourage students for find jobs in the environmental sciences. Starting in grade 3 we should administer pre and post surveys about their knowledge of sustainability.
Question 4. What do you think about buying more sustainable alternative-fuel vehicles for the District school bus fleet?
We should absolutely think about buying more alternative fuel buses. We already have purchased more than ten propane buses. We have looked at electric buses, but they are still too expensive. Propane is a stepping-stone to electric buses. We have begun to see that the propane buses require less maintenance than diesel buses. They run cleaner and have fewer parts.
We have been trying to buy alternative fuel vehicles for the past few years. The decision has to be budget driven. Maintenance and longevity have to be factors. We have been pleased with the propane busses we own but future decisions will have to be driven by finance and technological innovation.
Propane-fueled school buses are a safe, fiscally prudent alternative. I will ask the administration to study electric school buses. While the initial purchase price is higher, we must consider the total cost to maintain the buses over 15 years or so and the fuel savings throughout the buses' lifetime. The fuel savings and reduced maintenance costs may make this a wise choice. I need to study electric school buses further; let's take a closer look.
As a parent our number one goal is child safety. We have an aging bus fleet. We cannot allow misconceptions and systematic falsehoods undercut clean energy solutions. We want to reduce pollution and maintenance costs. We need to purchase more alternative fuel busses to reduce cost and cut pollution. It may be costly, but in the end worth it. Being cheap can become expensive.