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Los Angeles schools seek savings with green upgrades

solar school2

State-level budget crunches are taking their toll on local school systems, with many resorting to layoffs and service cutbacks to stretch funds. The Los Angeles Unified School District is no different: a quick scan of their news releases shows the board approving layoffs, and the district’s superintendent proposing a shorter school year and even taking furlough days.

LAUSD is also considering some more unusual, and more sustainable, approaches to making ends meet: cutting energy and water use through the implementation of green building and transportation.

According to the LA Times’ Greenspace blog, the potential savings here represent big money: the district is one of the state’s largest consumers of energy and water, and just one part of their plan — the installation of 50 MW of solar power — could save $20 million per year, or nearly a quarter of the school system’s energy expenses.

Short-term plans for the district include:

  • Upgrading hundreds of school buses to propane-powered models
  • Installing solar power on eight schools
  • Outfitting other schools with “smart” irrigation systems.

While saving money plays heavily into LAUSD’s plans, the district also sees a potential “win-win-win” situation in terms of meeting its purpose of educating students. A 5-person board has researched the potential for green improvements to improve student outcomes and health, and found a lot to like: reduced noise pollution, less triggers for student and staff asthma attacks (a major contributor to absenteeism), and perhaps even better student concentration through increased use of natural lighting.

The district also sees potential for new educational opportunities in its green plans: one pilot project will

…get students involved in mapping water-efficient irrigation systems at their schools. It sends students out of the classroom and into the field to measure the water used by the current system and to devise better strategies, all of which will be incorporated into an existing math class.

I’m having a hard time not thinking of cliches involving necessity and invention, or doing more with less, or thinking outside of boxes… but LA’s planned approach to spending less while providing better educational environments strikes me as incredibly innovative.

Know of other schools or districts that have tied “greening” efforts to budget savings? Let us know about their plans…

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjmonty/ / CC BY 2.0 (and, yes, this school is in San Francisco… but we’ll be seeing more like it in LA)