Category Archives: Benicia Unified School District

Benicia School District responds to tough questions about clean air controls during the pandemic

How good are the Benicia Schools’ HVAC Systems?

By Roger Straw, March 16, 2021

On February 26, a Benicia resident asked an intriguing question on Nextdoor:

How good are the Benicia Schools HVAC systems? Before we expel school board members and chop up the teachers union, how up – to date & how well maintained our our school’s hvac systems?  If it costs approx $300,000 to recall a board member can we put that money into upgrading the schools’ hvac systems and hiring more janitors instead?

The Nextdoor question had obvious political implications, with which, incidentally, I agree wholeheartedly.  Our school infrastructure, supplies and services for teachers and students are so important.  The recent effort to attack and unseat two BUSD trustees is ridiculously expensive ($300,000!) and the recall is also misguided in intent, targeting two fine Trustees, including the School Board President.  EVERYONE please DO NOT SIGN THE RECALL PETITION!

But… what stood out to me was the opening question, “How good are the Benicia Schools HVAC systems?”

I wondered if anyone has a good answer to that question.  A little research uncovered that Benicia’s 2014 Ballot Measure S included significant provisions for upgrading the District’s HVAC systems.

So I dug around and found that I could write to Roxanne Egan, the Bond Director for Benicia Unified School District.

I emailed Ms. Egan some tough questions, and got a thorough response.  Here is my opening contextual statement and my four questions:

Given the pandemic guidelines’ strong call for good ventilation and heating/AC in schools before returning to in-person learning, I would like to know some details:

      1. What has been done to improve BUSD HVAC systems since passage of Measure S in 2014?
      2. What improvements have been made to BUSD HVAC systems in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
      3. Has the BUSD received specific federal and state guidance on HVAC recommendations and requirements in order to provide safe space as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and if so, what are those recommendations and requirements?
      4. In what particulars are BUSD schools up to HVAC standards proposed by the CDC and the CA Department of Health, and in what particulars are we still deficient?

Ms. Egan and directors of several other BUSD departments were thorough in gathering information that would address my questions.  I received a two-page letter from Ms. Egan and Alfredo Romero, Director of Maintenance and Operations on March 11.  After the opening thank you, Egan and Romero answered each question, beginning with the first:

What has been done to improve BUSD HVAC systems since passage of Measure S in 2014?

      • Measure S has funded HVAC improvements including the replacement of over 28 HVAC units, service and repairs to existing HVAC units, upgrades to HVAC economizers, which are the mechanical assembly that responds to the thermostat “demand” to allow fresh air intake. In addition to Measure S funding, BUSD received State Proposition 39 funding through the California Energy Commission for qualified energy improvements which included thermostat upgrades at all schools. The upgraded thermostats provide the ability to remotely access the thermostats including the ability to monitor fresh air intake and allow maintenance operators to increase and decrease the fresh air minimums based on ambient conditions. The minimums for fresh air intake are consistent with state building codes and during the COVID-19 pandemic, these minimums may be exceeded to introduce a larger amount of fresh air.
BUSD letter on HVAC improvements, March 11, 2021

The letter goes on like this.  I find it on the one hand reassuring, but on the other, rather general and couched in technical language that leaves me wondering.  I’m guessing the public might still have questions.  Please read the whole letter, and see if you agree.

READ THE LETTER from Roxanne Egan, Bond Director, and Alfredo Romero, Director of Maintenance and Operations, March 11, 2021.

Questions?

If not for the pandemic, parents and grandparents like me could all gather in a school auditorium and ask questions, or maybe even get a guided tour with HVAC examples.  I wonder if the District could convene a ZOOM meeting and interact with us on these and other in-person learning issues that concern us.

Benicia City Council to consider whether to discuss BUSD recall effort

By Roger Straw, February 28, 2021

Here’s an opportunity to voice your opinion on the misguided and ridiculously expensive recall effort of two Benicia School Board members.

This Tuesday, March 2, Mayor Steve Young and Vice Mayor Tom Campbell will ask the Benicia City Council to consider whether the City Council should take a position on the proposed Benicia City School Board recall effort.

The Council agenda will allow for public comment before Council members discuss the request and provide direction to staff on whether or not to schedule this topic for future Council discussion.

Please call or email Council members before Tuesday’s Council meeting, and if you can, attend the meeting and let the Council know that School Board members Sheri Zada and Mark Macelli need our support.  (Email addresses and zoom instructions below.)

Mayor Young and Vice Mayor Campbell are submitting the request and will support the measure.  Please email the three other Benicia City Council Members, Christina Strawbridge, Lionel Largaespada and Trevor Macenski, to let them know that the City and its residents will oppose this $300,000 effort to target and remove two excellent School Board members.

Zoom instructions and how to comment are available on the City Council’s March 2 AGENDA.

From the March 2 Agenda:

ITEM 14.D – TWO-STEP REQUEST TO CONSIDER WHETHER THE CITY COUNCIL SHOULD TAKE A POSITION ON PROPOSED BENICIA SCHOOL BOARD RECALL EFFORT (City Manager)

Vice Mayor Campbell and Mayor Young submitted a two-step process request for Council’s consideration of whether the City Council should take a position on the proposed Benicia School Board recall effort.

Recommendation:
Discuss the request and provide direction to staff on whether or not to schedule this topic for future Council discussion.

Benicia School Superintendent: Goal to begin in-person learning on March 22

Update from Superintendent Dr. Young 2/11/2021

Dr. Charles F. Young, Superintendent, Benicia Unified School District

Dear Community and Staff,

As we head into the four-day weekend, Monday being President’s Day and an opportunity to pause and reflect on the long lineage of presidents in our great country, I wanted to provide a quick update on matters related to in-person learning.

In-person Learning Review:  During the January 14 Board meeting, the Trustees voted to remain in distance learning through March 19, 2021, with the desire to return to in-person instruction, implementing the approved hybrid learning plan, on March 22, 2021, which is the first day of the 4th quarter, State rules permitting.

The good news is recent COVID-19 case rate data is showing positive signs of trending in the right direction in the three primary categories:  New COVID-19 positivity rates per day per 100k, positivity rate (7 day average) and ICU availability.

Please use the following link for detailed COVID-19 data.  Hover your cursor over Solano County for our data. https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/)

As a follow-up to the February 4th Board meeting, the Trustees asked that we explore options related to small group, in-person instruction before the implementation date of the larger hybrid plan mentioned above.  We will be discussing this item at the upcoming Board meeting on Thursday, February 18th.

Safety Plans:  Since the January 14th Board meeting, the State established a new requirement called the COVID-19 Safety Plan, which consists of a COVID-19 Prevention Program and COVID-19 Guidance Checklist.  Districts are required to submit this plan to the County Health Director for approval before heading back to K-6 grades in-person hybrid learning.  Fortunately, we worked very closely with our two unions earlier in the year and passed two Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s), which outline, in considerable detail, the required safety elements for in-person instruction.

Most, if not all, of the safety requirements are included in the MOU’s and we were able to transfer them to the COVID-19 Prevention Program which is nearing completion for submission.  Please find the COVID-19 Prevention Program linked here.  If you have any feedback or comments, please email them to Dr. Gill, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources:  kgill@beniciaunified.org.

Vaccine:  Although the COVID-19 vaccination is not required for in-person learning, the enhanced protection and sense of safety it provides, is obvious.  The main challenge, as per Dr. Matyas, the Solano County Health Director, and who presented at the last Board meeting of February 4th (recording), centers on the demand for the vaccine being greater than the supply.  We are continuing to work closely with Dr. Matyas regarding a specific date and plan for the availability and distribution of the vaccine in BUSD.

The following link will take you to the Solano County Health Department’s COVID-19 Vaccination plan.  This is a VERY useful website and provides all related information related to the vaccine and its distribution, including the following COVID-19 interest form sent to all staff last week.  https://www.solanocounty.com/depts/ph/coronavirus_links/covid_19_vaccines.asp

Governor’s Safe Schools for All Plan:  In my last newsletter, I referenced the Governor’s plan and that it was still being negotiated in the legislature.  As of today, we do not have any clear updates regarding this plan and whether or not it will be passed.  I will provide more information as it is made available to us.

LCAP/Strategic Plan Survey:  We are beginning the process of collecting information on key goals and initiatives for our LCAP/Strategic plan.  This document plays a central role in providing clear direction for key initiatives and goals for our district.  Your input is vital to this process.  Please watch for an additional email with a link to the survey.

Thank you!
Charles Young

Benicia Mayor and Solano County Public Health Officer disagree whether teachers should get vaccine sooner

Benicia mayor asks Solano supervisors to move teachers to front of vaccination line

Fairfield Daily Republic, By Todd R. Hansen, February 10, 2021
Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Benicia Mayor Steve Young asked the Solano County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to move teachers to the front of the vaccination line so schools can open quickly and safely.

“And the key, as I see it, and absolutely to do that, is being able to vaccinate each teacher and member of the (schools’) staff,” Young said.

Educators are scheduled as part of the first tier of Phase 1B, the same as residents who are 65 to 74, agriculture workers, as well as child care and adult care workers.

The county is currently working through the groups in the final tier of Phase 1A.

Dr. Bela Matyas, the county public health officer, said the next group of seniors need to be the top priority since 80% of the county’s Covid-related deaths are residents who are 65 or older.

“So if we want to make a dent in our fatalities, we have to focus on (residents) 65 and older,” Matyas said in a phone interview after the board meeting. He was not part of the meeting agenda.

Matyas said he was aware of the pressure being applied to get teachers vaccinated more quickly, but does not agree that politicizing the issue is the best way to make health decisions.

Young’s comments came during the public comment period of the board meeting, during which Michele Guerra also called on the board to open the schools.

She said students, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing, need to be back in the classrooms.

“Students are struggling with all this technology,” she said. “We need to get these schools open. Many of these students are falling behind.”

The board heard a similar message early in the pandemic from Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson.

She told the board she was concerned with the potential effects of having schools closed on students with disabilities because of the reliance on distance learning and technology.

The schools closed to in-class instruction at the start of the pandemic in March. The vast majority remain closed, with children and teens receiving instruction online from their teachers….