TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Like many other school districts in Florida this year, Polk County is having major air conditioning problems in its schools this year.
The teachers union has filed an official grievance over the issue saying AC problems are so bad, they violate the contract between the school district and teachers to provide a safe and comfortable environment for learning.
“It makes people feel physically ill, which if you think learning is important, which we are in the business of learning, you can’t learn in an environment that is 80, 85, 90 degrees,” said Polk Education Association president Stephanie Yocum.
At the start of the school year, teachers reported more than 1,400 problems.
The district initiated work orders on the issues reported, but Yocum says there are still more than 700 work orders open.
“And about 46% of those work orders are what they call priority because the air is just not working still,” said Yocum.
The school district blames the record-breaking heat in the area, but Yocum says a major part of the problem is unfilled vacancies for qualified AC repairmen.
“Districtwide, this is a teacher and staff shortage because public schools can not compete with private sector jobs right now because our state legislature refuses to fund public education,” said Yocum.
The school district says they’ve now hired nine outside contractors to deal with AC problems and they are taking other steps to deal with problems on an emergency basis.
“We are using all of the contractors that we have. We have approved overtime for all of our maintenance staff to work nights and weekends, custodians are coming in an hour, they are being paid overtime to come in early to jump start AC systems to make sure they are cooling before teachers come in,” said Deputy School Superintendent Jason Pitts.
The district says they’ve also purchased portable AC units to deal with areas that have a critical problem, but it’s not an instant fix.
“We also purchased over 500 portable AC systems to dispatch. Those will be dispatched in the first week of September,” said Pitts.