School is back in session but it still feels like summer outside. Massive air conditioning problems are causing summer-like temperatures inside classrooms across Hillsborough County.
Social media sites are flush with photographs of thermostats showing temperatures of 87 and 88 degrees in classrooms at a number of Hillsborough schools — new and old, high-achieving and under-performing, affluent and low-income.
Christine Brady Corum saw so many posts about sweaty students on the Fishhawk Area Neighborhood Facebook page that she began purchasing box fans for Randall Elementary School and launched a community-wide fundraiser. Broken air conditioners fueled an attack ad last week from state Senate hopeful Janet Cruz, who stood outside Coleman Middle School to accuse opponent Dana Young of voting for legislation that has cut $1.3 billion to public schools.
Making the problem worse: Heightened security measures means teachers can no longer open windows or doors to air out sauna-like classrooms…
The breakdowns were expected. Eakins said at a back-to-school news conference that fixing every problematic unit would cost an estimated $340 million — money he said the state is unwilling to provide.
“I have to be honest with you,’’ he said two weeks ago. “There are going to be times this year when those air conditioners are going to break.”
Records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show that 52 percent of the Hillsborough schools reported air conditioning problems at the beginning of the school year.
The problem has only grown worse. A staggering 1,533 requests were made in the first nine days of the school year to fix air conditioners, temporary chillers, water fountains and water cooling units, according to a district spreadsheet obtained by the Times.
Records show report after report of disrupted class time, destroyed equipment, damaged classrooms and conditions that affected the well-being of students and staff alike…
Leaks from broken AC units led at least 11 schools to suffer severe damage, such as flooding in classrooms, cafeterias, and “technical rooms” filled with wiring and costly computer equipment.
The moisture and humidity also caused paint to peel from walls, band uniforms to turn musty from mildew, musical instruments to break and rust and caused cameras, computers and other electronics to stop functioning entirely.
The state legislature has cut funding to schools- especially for capital improvements- year after year. The district’s infrastructure issues led the School Board to approve putting a 10-year, half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters will be asked to levy a local referendum to generate $131 million a year to repair old schools, build new ones and upgrade technology.