Parents push schools to go green

04/01/08 Seán Kinane
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A group of environmentally conscious parents and educators has formed in Hillsborough County to encourage schools to go green. This Environmental Improvement Force met today to share their accomplishments and ideas for upcoming initiatives with Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

The Environmental Improvement Force met at the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa. Leslie Farrell, chairman and founder, described the group's mission.

“We’re a nonpolitical, nonprofit coalition of parents and educators who are working to make the schools more environmentally responsible, trying to bring education into the schools and do whatever we can just to make the schools safe environmentally inside and also educate the kids to be more environmentally aware.”

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told the group about some of the school district’s environmental accomplishments.

“All of the busses we’re purchasing are green busses – now they’re not green, they’re yellow -- but they’re considered green busses because of the emissions and the controls that they have. We are prohibiting idling wherever possible with our busses. So a bus driver drives in to an area, they turn the bus off. We’d love to have that rolled out to the parents who are in the drive lines.”

In addition to helping the environment, these initiatives save Hillsborough County schools money, according to Elia.

“We’ve avoided discharging in the atmosphere more than 100 thousand tons of carbon dioxide. We’ve reduced our energy bills by about 10 percent per year, which is about $4 million. And the good thing is that if we’re not spending that money on energy, we can spend that money in our schools working with our students and our teachers. If schools meet their targets, which is based on their past usage rates; they share in the savings, somewhere between four thousand and ten thousand dollars.”

Several dozen third-graders from Roosevelt Elementary School sang songs about the environment from a play they are rehearsing. Mike Hoskinson is the principal at Coleman Middle School and told WMNF about environmental programs organized by what he calls the Coleman Conservation Corps. Some of these green initiatives have generated income for the school.

“We’re recycling paper, plastic, aluminum. We’re doing an idling campaign for the emissions, also energy conservation, working with the energy conservation for Hillsborough County Schools to save electricity throughout the day. We’re looking at the Styrofoam plates, but obviously that’s a lot of extra work on that one, so. We’re always looking for new ways to save energy and be conservative. … We received two thousand dollars last year from the energy savings plus with the recycling the paper, we get money back from that also.”

School Board member Candy Olsen said that buy-in from parents and educators is the key to successful sustainability projects.

“I’m reluctant to say to a principal or a teacher you must do this. For two reasons, number one a lot of them really don’t have the time and secondly when you impose it, you get compliance, and we don’t want compliance, we want excitement. ... When it becomes cool and everybody wants to do it, it’s embedded, it’s impossible to stop it.”

Members of the Environmental Improvement Force shared ideas they were implementing at their schools such as using native plants instead of sod for ground cover and encouraging parents to walk or bike their children to school.

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena shared some of the city’s sustainability initiatives.

“... what we’re doing is we’re trying to look at our ordinances to make it easier for the private sector, individuals and businesses, to do things in a greener way. We’re looking at our own processes in trying to make sure that the city builds greener, maintains greener.”

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Hillsborough County Public Schools

Hillsborough County School Board

Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools

City of Tampa’s Recycling Program

Contact Leslie Farrell: 813-287-1914 (h) and 813-493-1805 (mobile)

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