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District: We're on top of the Newsome High air conditioning issue

The Hillsborough County School District is taking complaints about air quality seriously, and did exactly that in response to teacher Richard Mobley's concerns at Newsome High School, the district said Friday.

Seeking to rebut a letter from Mobley that the Gradebook posted on Thursday, the district offered three documents: Mobley's notification of a complaint to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in which he acknowledges he has had respiratory issues his whole life; a testing and balancing report from Bay to Bay Balancing; and an environmental quality survey from Chastain Skillman.

"We thoroughly inspected and cleaned the air handler, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja wrote in an email in which she attached the three documents. "We also performed operational inspection of the rooms' VAV [variable air volume] boxes.

"After we concluded our scope, we contracted a third party vendor to conduct the test and balance report. The test and balance report confirmed that all air flows on the air handler, including outside air ventilation rates, are at design specifications. The VAV boxes were also performing as designed."

Indeed, the Chastain Skillman report concluded that there were "no obvious indications of adverse indoor environmental quality conditions that would indicate a potential health concern for the occupants in the interior areas" of the building where Mobley teaches.

The report went on to recommend that the district address some elevated carbon dioxide and humidity levels, and not to keep outside windows open while the system is running.

Mobley, who has been at Newsome for 11 years, is one of numerous teachers around the district who have been posting comments on social media sites this week about uncomfortably warm conditions at their schools.

Teachers raised the issue in the context of last week's clerical cutbacks that directly affect 50 central office employees; ongoing teachers' union negotiations; and renovations to the downtown and East Tampa buildings that will allow the human resources and communications departments to each be together in their own location. Along the way, the district created separate downtown offices for the seven school board members, which is a sore spot among critics of the board and administration. All three issues have been discussed at length on social media sites, and the union polled its members on the air conditioning issue in response.

Bottom line: The district says it responded appropriately to Mobley's concerns about the AC at Newsome.

On another note: This is the list of savings steps that Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez provided earlier this week to explain how the district ended the 2015-16 year with a general fund reserve that is $51,000 higher than it was at the end of 2014-15.

The report shows that $68.8 million of the savings were really not savings, but an accounting change. Expenditures were charged to other accounts, such as capital improvements and special revenues (a category that includes federal anti-poverty money and funds for children with disabilities) instead of the general fund, which is by far the largest.

The actual savings included $6 million in energy costs. "A concerted effort by all staff to conserve energy resulted in the energy cost savings," district officials said.

So the big question: Are schools, as some teachers suspect, shutting their systems off every weekend to save money?

Friday's answer from the district: Absolutely not.

"We do not shut down the system completely each night or each weekend," Arja said. "We either raise the temperature set point or cycle the system off and on."