News

Teachers frustrated by poor classroom conditions

Problems with Bubb Elementary's portables affecting students, they say

Improvements are on the way for Mountain View Whisman School District's elementary schools, as Measure G school bond construction kicks into high gear. But for some teachers at Bubb Elementary, it can't come fast enough.

Bubb teachers complained to the school board last month, saying that the portable classrooms at the school have fallen into a state of disrepair. Leaky roofs, faulty heating and broken air conditioning, strange smells and rat droppings are among some of the chronic problems that teachers have reported at the portables located in the back of the school campus.

Speaking on behalf of four teachers, Bubb teacher Barbara Scott told the board at the Nov. 5 meeting that these portables have been around and in use for 20 years, and have recently started to fall apart. Using an instrument to measure sound in her classroom, Scott said she measured 60 decibels in her empty classroom with the air conditioning running -- well above the maximum 45 decibels advised by the California Air Resources Board. Other teachers reported that their air conditioning had broken in the hot weather, allowing the temperatures in the classrooms to reach over 80 degrees.

While the district is in the midst of planning for school construction using Measure G funds, Scott urged the board to start thinking about more immediate solutions.

"Not only do we ask that you consider these concerns as you make your budget decisions, but as a heavy El Nino approaches this winter, something needs to be done now," Scott wrote in an email to the board.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

At the meeting, district staff appeared to be surprised by the comments. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph insisted that there are "no issues whatsoever" in the classrooms, and that there are no outstanding maintenance problems that remain unaddressed. While it's not clear why teachers would report on issues that have already been solved, Rudolph said, it's possible the teachers are trying to highlight "old issues."

Teachers might also be airing their grievances in order to make a case for the portables to be replaced with site-built classrooms during later phases of Measure G construction, Rudolph said.

"(Scott) was just trying to express a sentiment to the board, and as a citizen she's more than willing to do that," Rudolph said. "Through our system, we did not see any of those issues."

Bubb principal Cyndee Nguyen also said she believes the intent of the complaints was to "encourage the board to move forward with construction."

However, some of the teachers' testimony seemed to dispute that, citing problems that occurred just a few days prior to the Nov. 5 meeting.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

However, when contacted by the Voice, Scott declined to respond to the comments by district administrators, and other teachers working in Bubb portables did not respond to the Voice's request for a reaction to Rudolph's assertions. The school's PTA leadership also did not respond to the Voice's requests for comment.

Measure G construction plans for Bubb are still murky. The board agreed to the District Facilities Committee recommendations earlier this year, which called for classroom modernization at all the schools. But the recommendations fell short of requiring 24 permanent, or "site built" classrooms at all the schools, which would eliminate the need for portables, citing budget constraints.

Some of the portables on the campus were built prior to 1995, and are "prone to substantial deterioration," according to the district's School Facilities Improvement Plan.

Construction at Bubb is expected to begin in the summer of 2017 and continue through the winter break. The plan would remove most, if not all, of the portables and repurpose existing space in the multi-use room for special education classrooms, according to school construction manager Todd Lee.

Litany of complaints

Several letters sent to the board by Bubb teachers say that the portable classrooms are a source of chronic issues that have caused problems as recently as last month. Bubb teacher Emily Campion wrote that in the past, she's managed to cope with the lack of storage space and emergency exits that comes with teaching in a portable. But lately, things have been challenging.

Over the last four months, she went without a functioning projector and document camera to teach students, and was relegated to using a whiteboard and marker for her lessons. In an email, she explained that maintenance staff were "flummoxed" as to why the wiring in the classroom didn't work.

The roof on the portable has multiple leaks "in even the slightest rainstorm," Campion said, and she recalled that on Nov. 2, an entire panel of the ceiling had leaked all over the electronics in the classroom, forcing her to relocate students and unplug everything.

"I understand resources need to be allocated by where the need is greatest, but what exactly needs to happen in my classroom for it be deemed of great need? Do I need the roof to actually fall on a student's head?" Campion wrote.

In another email, teacher Laurel Shephard explained that teachers are working at a huge disadvantage when they have to teach in a portable. They consistently have to worry about leaks when it rains, and have to cross their fingers that the air conditioning continues to work when it gets hot outside. When maintenance staff does come in to make repairs, it's often a disruptive experience as they walk on the roof and stick ladders in the middle of the room during class time.

Teacher Shana Siegel said in an email that when it rains outside, it rains inside her classroom as well, and that water had dripped onto her students on Monday, Nov. 2. She said there's a "distinct smell of mold" in the classroom, and that many of her special education students -- several of whom have Down's syndrome and are more susceptible to catching colds -- are affected.

When the weather heats up, other problems crop up. Siegel recalled her classroom's air conditioning breaking, forcing her and her students to go without it for over a week. As a Band-Aid fix, maintenance staff brought in a small, portable air conditioning unit, she said, "which brought the temperature in my classroom down to the low 80s during the heat wave we were experiencing at the time."

According to a 2004 report by the state Air Resources Board and Department of Health Services, portable classrooms tend to have an array of environmental problems. Noisy heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems tend to ratchet up the noise level in excess of 55 decibels. And the alternative -- turning off on the noise-making equipment -- can prompt serious ventilation problems in the classroom by cutting off outdoor air circulation into the room.

Musty odors, water stains and excess wall moisture are a persistent problem in many portable classrooms, according to the report, and are "often attributable to inadequate maintenance."

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now
Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Teachers frustrated by poor classroom conditions

Problems with Bubb Elementary's portables affecting students, they say

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Dec 8, 2015, 10:38 am

Improvements are on the way for Mountain View Whisman School District's elementary schools, as Measure G school bond construction kicks into high gear. But for some teachers at Bubb Elementary, it can't come fast enough.

Bubb teachers complained to the school board last month, saying that the portable classrooms at the school have fallen into a state of disrepair. Leaky roofs, faulty heating and broken air conditioning, strange smells and rat droppings are among some of the chronic problems that teachers have reported at the portables located in the back of the school campus.

Speaking on behalf of four teachers, Bubb teacher Barbara Scott told the board at the Nov. 5 meeting that these portables have been around and in use for 20 years, and have recently started to fall apart. Using an instrument to measure sound in her classroom, Scott said she measured 60 decibels in her empty classroom with the air conditioning running -- well above the maximum 45 decibels advised by the California Air Resources Board. Other teachers reported that their air conditioning had broken in the hot weather, allowing the temperatures in the classrooms to reach over 80 degrees.

While the district is in the midst of planning for school construction using Measure G funds, Scott urged the board to start thinking about more immediate solutions.

"Not only do we ask that you consider these concerns as you make your budget decisions, but as a heavy El Nino approaches this winter, something needs to be done now," Scott wrote in an email to the board.

At the meeting, district staff appeared to be surprised by the comments. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph insisted that there are "no issues whatsoever" in the classrooms, and that there are no outstanding maintenance problems that remain unaddressed. While it's not clear why teachers would report on issues that have already been solved, Rudolph said, it's possible the teachers are trying to highlight "old issues."

Teachers might also be airing their grievances in order to make a case for the portables to be replaced with site-built classrooms during later phases of Measure G construction, Rudolph said.

"(Scott) was just trying to express a sentiment to the board, and as a citizen she's more than willing to do that," Rudolph said. "Through our system, we did not see any of those issues."

Bubb principal Cyndee Nguyen also said she believes the intent of the complaints was to "encourage the board to move forward with construction."

However, some of the teachers' testimony seemed to dispute that, citing problems that occurred just a few days prior to the Nov. 5 meeting.

However, when contacted by the Voice, Scott declined to respond to the comments by district administrators, and other teachers working in Bubb portables did not respond to the Voice's request for a reaction to Rudolph's assertions. The school's PTA leadership also did not respond to the Voice's requests for comment.

Measure G construction plans for Bubb are still murky. The board agreed to the District Facilities Committee recommendations earlier this year, which called for classroom modernization at all the schools. But the recommendations fell short of requiring 24 permanent, or "site built" classrooms at all the schools, which would eliminate the need for portables, citing budget constraints.

Some of the portables on the campus were built prior to 1995, and are "prone to substantial deterioration," according to the district's School Facilities Improvement Plan.

Construction at Bubb is expected to begin in the summer of 2017 and continue through the winter break. The plan would remove most, if not all, of the portables and repurpose existing space in the multi-use room for special education classrooms, according to school construction manager Todd Lee.

Litany of complaints

Several letters sent to the board by Bubb teachers say that the portable classrooms are a source of chronic issues that have caused problems as recently as last month. Bubb teacher Emily Campion wrote that in the past, she's managed to cope with the lack of storage space and emergency exits that comes with teaching in a portable. But lately, things have been challenging.

Over the last four months, she went without a functioning projector and document camera to teach students, and was relegated to using a whiteboard and marker for her lessons. In an email, she explained that maintenance staff were "flummoxed" as to why the wiring in the classroom didn't work.

The roof on the portable has multiple leaks "in even the slightest rainstorm," Campion said, and she recalled that on Nov. 2, an entire panel of the ceiling had leaked all over the electronics in the classroom, forcing her to relocate students and unplug everything.

"I understand resources need to be allocated by where the need is greatest, but what exactly needs to happen in my classroom for it be deemed of great need? Do I need the roof to actually fall on a student's head?" Campion wrote.

In another email, teacher Laurel Shephard explained that teachers are working at a huge disadvantage when they have to teach in a portable. They consistently have to worry about leaks when it rains, and have to cross their fingers that the air conditioning continues to work when it gets hot outside. When maintenance staff does come in to make repairs, it's often a disruptive experience as they walk on the roof and stick ladders in the middle of the room during class time.

Teacher Shana Siegel said in an email that when it rains outside, it rains inside her classroom as well, and that water had dripped onto her students on Monday, Nov. 2. She said there's a "distinct smell of mold" in the classroom, and that many of her special education students -- several of whom have Down's syndrome and are more susceptible to catching colds -- are affected.

When the weather heats up, other problems crop up. Siegel recalled her classroom's air conditioning breaking, forcing her and her students to go without it for over a week. As a Band-Aid fix, maintenance staff brought in a small, portable air conditioning unit, she said, "which brought the temperature in my classroom down to the low 80s during the heat wave we were experiencing at the time."

According to a 2004 report by the state Air Resources Board and Department of Health Services, portable classrooms tend to have an array of environmental problems. Noisy heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems tend to ratchet up the noise level in excess of 55 decibels. And the alternative -- turning off on the noise-making equipment -- can prompt serious ventilation problems in the classroom by cutting off outdoor air circulation into the room.

Musty odors, water stains and excess wall moisture are a persistent problem in many portable classrooms, according to the report, and are "often attributable to inadequate maintenance."

Comments

Air Quality
Rengstorff Park
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:01 pm
Air Quality, Rengstorff Park
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:01 pm

At a different school I saw a sign in a portable classroom that said it was a violation of federal law to turn off the air conditioner blower. Is the air in these portables safe to breathe or do they have to keep the blower on so that it keeps getting breatheable air in there?


the_punnisher
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Dec 8, 2015 at 3:23 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Dec 8, 2015 at 3:23 pm

My parent taught Special Education in a portable with no problems. The AV Department is responsible for projector issues.
Most structures are designed for a forty year lifespan. If there is a problem, the Building Maintenance department needs to do the job properly THE FIRST TIME.

That means proper roof repairs and HVAC repairs.

I note that when I had the REACH program at Cubberley, these same conditions came up and the Maintenance Department fixed things right the first time.

Teachers forcing construction issues? Very UNPROFESSIONAL behavior on their part.


MVWSD Employee
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 7:35 pm
MVWSD Employee, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 7:35 pm

I work in one of the portables at one of the schools in the district. The conditions in a portable are not pleasant. The thermostat/air system is antiquated and loud. We have to yell over it. It sucks in all sorts of smells from outside and pushes it into the portable for us to breathe. We have had to live with the smells of skunks, dead rodents, lawn mower exhaust, etc. I don’t allow students to use the water to drink - I have no idea how old the pipes are and what might be in them. The carpet is disgustingly dirty from many years of wear. We can hear crows pecking on the ceiling and can hear what is going on outside due to poor insulation around the windows. We only have exits on one side of the portable so if there is ever an emergency that affects that side of the room (fire, earthquake, campus shooter, etc.) we are in serious trouble. I don’t understand why campuses with acceptable facilities are being remodeled first while Bubb, Huff and Landels still are operating with portables (and the LAST schools planned to be renovated). I worry that insufficient funds will remain by the time all the other campuses have been remodeled.


PACT parent
Rex Manor
on Dec 8, 2015 at 8:54 pm
PACT parent, Rex Manor
on Dec 8, 2015 at 8:54 pm

@MVWSD Employee of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,

While I certainly concur about the problems with portable, which make up a large portion of the school my daughter attends.
I am somewhat confused by some of your remarks.
Perhaps you could elaborate to clear-up the confusion?
Perhaps you have never examined any of the build plan documents explained at many Board meetings?
Perhaps you have not read the full agenda packages from prior Board meetings?

"...The thermostat/air system is antiquated and loud. We have to yell over it..."

Indeed, we also have the same problem in our portables AND in our even older permanent building with 6 classrooms from the 1970's (or was that 60s?). Those air conditioners really make things difficult to hear.

"We only have exits on one side of the portable so if there is ever an emergency that affects that side of the room"

Yes, that concerns me about our portables too. 2 of our Kindergarten rooms are such portables. Our library and a few other portable rooms have only one exit.
Hey, come to think of it, we also have several permanent-built classrooms where the "emergency exit" requires basically tossing the kids through a small window way over the kids heads and falling to the ground out back of the school.

"I don't understand why campuses with acceptable facilities are being remodeled first"

Now I'm confused, which "campuses with acceptable facilities" are being remodeled before Bubb?

My understanding is that the seriously in need Castro/Mistral dual campus is going first (of the K-5 schools), then Monta Loma has huge problems with their portables and with several permanent buildings, similar to what is wrong at Bubb.

Then, all at once, it will be Bubb, Huff & Landels renovated together.

By all reasonable budgetary math, Measure G will run out after BB/HF/LN are all done, so no G money for Theuerkauf, no G money for Stevenson, no G money for the District Offices and no G money for the new Slater.

So, what schools do you think are in such good shape they should be moved to the end of the line and get no Measure G money?

"while Bubb, Huff and Landels still are operating with portables"

Just like Stevenson and other schools.

"(and the LAST schools planned to be renovated)."

What are you talking about?

Theuerkauf and Stevenson are not even on the LIST to get any Measure G money and Bubb will already be done long before anything gets started at Theuerkauf or Stevenson.

"I worry that insufficient funds will remain by the time all the other campuses have been remodeled."

Not to worry, the plan was always to do Bubb/Huff/Landels all at the same time with the same materials by the same construction company.

The projects which will get nothing from Measure G are Stevenson, Theuerkauf, Slater and the District Offices.

I don't know where you're getting your information, but perhaps you should read the full agenda packages and watch the Board meeting videos?
IT would help you relax.


MVWSD Employee
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm
MVWSD Employee, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm

In response to PACT Parent-

Well, here is the thing. I’ve gone to the middle school campuses that are being renovated. There are buildings there being (or have been) remodeled that had far better working conditions than portables. (And frankly, some of the building remodels I’ve seen are not an improvement over what they originally had.)

I really don’t care to get snarky or into a battle of words about each campus. I just wanted to state facts about working in old portables. I am grateful the teachers at Bubb raised the issue publicly. If we all agree that portables need to be replaced due to poor conditions for employees and students, then why are they not on the top of the list to be replaced first on every campus? If you look into it, you will find that years ago, money did run out on a MVWSD tax measure and schools at the end of the list had to scale way back from what was originally planned. It happens.


PACT parent
Rex Manor
on Dec 9, 2015 at 11:58 am
PACT parent, Rex Manor
on Dec 9, 2015 at 11:58 am

@MVWSD Employee of Another Mountain View Neighborhood

You seem to miss the point that Bubb, Huff and Landels are all going to be done at the same time and the existing Measure G money will cover all the work needed at those schools. The District will renovate Castro/Mistral/Monta Loma as a group first, then move on to Bubb/Huff/Landels as a group.

Then we fully expect that the Measure G money will be gone or perhaps just a few million left (if they get lucky). NOT enough money to do anything for Stevenson or Theuerkauf or Slater or the District Offices.

Stevenson will continue to operate in sub-standard portables and really old buildings and all our classrooms are smaller than the classrooms at other schools. Stevenson will have to wait until a new bond measure is passed. We know this and we are pretty sure there is nothing we can do about it.

We're not happy about this, but as long as we are allowed to continue to exist as a school and on our existing site, we can live with the delay. Stevenson getting closed and forcing PACT to move to some other location, that is the real disaster we will fight to avoid.

"I've gone to the middle school campuses that are being renovated."

The Board decided to renovate the 2 middle schools first, because it was politically easy to do. The K-5 schools could NOT all be done at the same time and the Board knew the money would all be gone long before all the K-5 schools would be done, so the decision to shaft some K-5 schools was put off for later. To do all our schools properly, we needed $421 million, but the Measure G bond could only be for $198 million. Clearly, some schools would get the shaft.

"I really don't care to get snarky or into a battle of words about each campus."

But by suggesting that the order the Board has already set for which K-5 schools should be done in is incorrect, you were doing exactly that.

"I just wanted to state facts about working in old portables."

And I agreed, I even expanded the issue to let people know that even in the very old Stevenson permanent building we have similar problems. Yes, portables can be bad when they have not been properly maintained, but lots of schools use them and suffer problems too, like Stevenson.

"I am grateful the teachers at Bubb raised the issue publicly."

As was I, it also raised my awareness of other serious issues at Stevenson even among permanent buildings. But if the choice is living with what we got, or getting closed and forced to move to Slater, we'll stay where we are.

"If we all agree that portables need to be replaced due to poor conditions for employees and students, then why are they not on the top of the list to be replaced first on every campus?"

If you're suggesting that the construction companies run around to each campus and replace ONLY the portables at that campus, then run to the next campus and take out those portables, then so on...????

That would be extremely inefficient and costly.

What works is doing everything on each campus before moving on to the next campus. That saves money.

"you will find that years ago, money did run out on a MVWSD tax measure and schools at the end of the list had to scale way back from what was originally planned. It happens."

I am well aware that Monta Loma got shafted and their project ran out of money and left lots of work not done and some things poorly done.

I am also aware that this time it will be Stevenson that gets the shaft because all the Measure G money will be gone before anything gets done for Stevenson. The Board will find alternative source of money to build a NEW Slater, but still, Stevenson will be the last school to get improvements.

Assuming the Board does not ultimately totally close Stevenson and force about 400 families from all over the district to commute to the newly built Slater.

Stevenson has all the same problems with our very old facilities of any of the other schools, and worse. Our classrooms are all under-sized, we have the fewest classrooms, the smallest library, smallest MUR, smallest administration building, fewest bathrooms and we still love our school and our location.


Well
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2015 at 1:30 pm
Well, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Maybe the Stevenson teachers need to go public like the Bubb teachers did.
Msg board comments aren't going to do a single solitary thing no matter how long and thought out they were.
The (Official) squeaky wheel gets the grease.


PACT parent
Rex Manor
on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:25 am
PACT parent, Rex Manor
on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:25 am

@Well of Another Mountain View Neighborhood

"Maybe the Stevenson teachers need to go public like the Bubb teachers did.
Msg board comments aren't going to do a single solitary thing no matter how long and thought out they were.
The (Official) squeaky wheel gets the grease."

I think you missed the point, for Stevenson, our facilities are bad for many reasons, but being forced out because the Board decides to close Stevenson and reassign our kids to Slater is the big disaster we are fighting to avoid.

It would be nice to get our decaying and wildly outdated facilities modernized, but first we have to make sure our school will be allowed to remain open. Once we have secured the future of Stevenson PACT to even exist, then we will see what if anything can be done to improve the facilities.

Certainly nothing from Measure G will be spent on repairs to Stevenson.
We will need a new bond to fix Stevenson, but who knows when that may take place.


Well
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:46 am
Well, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:46 am

Ah, I see. That's a totally different topic for another discussion. Would like to stay focused on the topic in the story rather than the side issue of Stevenson PACT.
You can create a thread appropriate to that issue to begin that discussion.
Good luck


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.