SMMUSD board feels the heat of the termite treatment
Controversial talks about how to effectively eradicate termites in Santa Monica and Malibu schools dominated a meeting of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Board Thursday.
A recommendation was made to the Board to make full tent fumigation the standard for termite extermination as opposed to low to nontoxic methods such as point heat treatment, but some Board members questioned the validity of the countywide application of the recommendation.
At the meeting, Carey Upton – Chief Operations Officer of SMMUSD facilities and management – had Roosevelt Brown (SMMUSD Director of Maintenance and Operations) describe in detail how his team got into the pro-fumigation position.
Last year the district fumigated some schools, but parents in both Malibu and Santa Monica protested the use of the toxic chemicals that resulted in the application of heat-based treatment in some locations.
Brown told the board he was aware of parental concerns about residual toxins left behind from fumigation. To allay concerns, Brown said his team spent $ 28,000 cutting samples from carpets and pillows to conduct extensive tests to find traces of poison that Brown said were not present. He remarked, “Mind you, camping was only $ 32,000.”
He said the heat-based system had flaws, including the destruction of expensive equipment due to the high temperatures, and experts still found termite feces, suggesting it was still present after treatment.
An independent expert, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), was hired to study the two methods and prepare an analysis. IPM employee Mario Bazan said no termites were found in the fumigated school, but termites were found in the heat-treated school. He took photos as evidence of the blackboard.
The employees asked the board of directors to develop a district-wide guideline for dealing with termites. Upton said the recommended time for treatment is during “large modernization” and building rehabilitation projects.
“Fumigation is something we want to do when no one is on campus, give them days to ventilate,” said Upton. “We then have a cleaning team that repairs these surfaces. We can do that in the spring break and don’t have to interfere with the construction work. “
Upton acknowledged that heat treatment also involves emptying buildings, which costs thousands of dollars.
“The Pest Control Department supports fumigation when used appropriately,” said Upton. “No harmful effects on people or the environment. It’s a viable choice. For this I am looking for your recommendation by default. “
Board member Craig Foster disagreed with the presentation, and after a spate of questions, his board colleague John Kean said he felt the situation had turned into cross-examination.
“There are many things in this presentation that seem factually incorrect,” replied Foster. “I know it’s awkward, I’m trying to find out the truth.”
After a steady stream of public speakers opposed the fumigation, Foster said he wanted the board to focus on educational issues and said that future discussions of this nature should remain in line with existing board policy.
In that case, he said the board had previously discussed an integrated approach to pest control that would not act on mass fumigation and recommending staff to introduce fumigation because the standard treatment was in fact against the established policy.
“We talk about it too much,” he said. “We have come to a conclusion. When we make a decision, we have to stick with it. “
Board member Laurie Lieberman said board discussions should be dismissed with derogation and innuendo. She said the board shouldn’t focus on the differences between Malibu and Santa Monica.
“I think the best way instead of throwing darts is to assume that we’re all on the same side,” she said.
Foster said the problem is that the school board is not an expert on pest control, and the communities of Santa Monica and Malibu are fundamentally different in the way they approach a problem.
“This shows whichever officer you speak to, attitudes vary widely,” said Foster. “The sensitivities in Santa Monica and Malibu are very different. Politically very similar. When it comes to pest control? Completely different. I would allow my Santa Monica brothers to tell me that this is not a priority for them. If the Malibu policy is X, Santa Monica is Y, I have no problem with that. “
At the end of the three-hour conversation, the board declined to implement a particular policy, and Superintendent Ben Drati said he would return with more information in the future.