Downwinders Invited to Help DISD Write New Environmental Policies

by Downwinders on July 22, 2020

Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck is joining eight other area environmentalists in helping to produce an environmental and climate plan for the Dallas Independent School District.

Schermbeck was appointed by District 8 School Board Trustee Miguel Solis to the newly formed DISD Environmental and Sustainability Committee, which had its first (virtual) meeting two weeks ago. Molly Rooke from the Dallas Sierra Club, Mellan West from the North Texas Renewable Energy Group, former DISD teacher Bill Betzen, and Aaryaman Singhal from the local Dallas Sunrise Movement chapter are also members. Trustee Ben Mackey and DISD staff are leading the effort.

According to the resolution passed by the District back in February, the group is officially charged with the job of recommending “goals and progress measures, along with specific recommendations for acting on climate change that are within the purview of the District, such as: Curricular and Educational Opportunities; Facilities and Operational Priorities, including bond projects; Transportation and Food Services.”

Committee members will be meeting as a whole and in subcommittees from now until they make their final report by November 1st. Between now and then they’ll be community meetings to receive feedback in August and September.

Since 2018, Downwinders has been pushing for full electrification of all DFW bus fleets a a way to address both the climate crisis and reduce PM pollution. Diesel and natural-gas powered buses are a significant source of PM exposure – from their tailpipes on the outside to the PM that migrates to their interiors. DISD owns the largest fleet of school buses in North Texas. None are electric and the school board just voted to buy hundreds of new diesel buses last year. So Schermbeck and the other electrification advocates have their work cut out for them.

Schermbeck will advocate for that agenda as well as other issues like less plastics use and landscaping to mitigate air pollution. He’s also hopeful the group can address how to extend their recommendations out into the neighborhoods surrounding schools via a new proposal that’s part of larger school bond package up for approval by voters in November.

A brainchild of Solis, the effort ties a portion of facilities improvement monies to providing community needs at DISD school campuses in neighborhoods suffering the greatest lack of services and resources.

Solar panels on the Casey Middle School in Boulder, CO.

$40 to $50 million out of the bond’s whopping total of $2 billion is expected to be earmarked for this effort, distributed over just four school feeder routes at first: LG Pinkston High School in West Dallas; Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Oak Cliff; Lincoln High School in South Dallas; and H. Grady Spruce High School in Pleasant Grove.

The idea is for the school district to extend itself into the community sending its students to its schools, and in doing so help fulfill an identified community need. For example, a school in the middle of a food dessert could help build a grocery store on school property. A school in an area that suffers from a high rate of childhood asthma could build a new family health clinic. Solar or electric bus battery electric power generated at a school site could be sold to surrounding residents at a reduced rate.

As far as anyone can determine, Dallas is the first school district in the nation to try something like this. Its creation is far from certain – the bond package is already encountering opposition because of its size – but the District’s willingness to be creative is admirable.

Even if the new bond goes down to defeat they’ll be a list of new environmental policy recommendations left by the Committee to implement in current facilities and operations. With any luck those will also be pushing the envelope. Stay tuned.

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