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Tucker Schools in CBS Investigation of Electricity Waste

Lights are on but nobody is home.

Tuesday’s lead story on CBS Atlanta (WGCL-TV) was an investigation into the budget shortfall still plaguing the DeKalb County School District, specifically the $6 million overage in electricity. 

Several Tucker schools were included in the report, which showed all sorts of lights inside and outside the buildings on at all hours of the night and during the time that most schools should be closed up.

CBS Atlanta’s Chief Investigative Reporter Wendy Saltzman indicated that this was the scenario for schools all over DeKalb, but in her report she focused on a few in particular from Tucker: , , Tucker High School and .

She also showed footage of similar waste at two schools nearby - Lakeside High and Henderson Mill Elementary.

 The story was part of a “Tough Questions” investigation, and can be found here

CBS Atlanta’s Investigative Crew is serious about wanting to keep tabs on this issue and they will run a follow-up story if they learn that the electricity waste is not being stopped or curtailed as a result of their report.

Report further waste of electricity at your schools to: Wendy.Saltzman@cbsatlanta.com.

$6 million over budget could have saved 100 teaching positions this year. It is even worse when you learn that board member Nancy Jester pointed out the waste in October 2011 when it was only $1 million over budget. She tried, but no one else on the board or in the Administration was willing to take her warnings seriously.

And now look where we are today. 

Have you seen any other kind of wasteful activity at local schools? Tell us in the comments below-


maisiemom July 19, 2012 at 12:14 PM
My husband saw DeKalb Co. Schools trucks dumping perfectly good chairs and desks at the Seminole Landfill.
Marsha Ashby July 19, 2012 at 03:24 PM
I have not watched the piece but I do know that the schools leave the lights on wherever there is a security camera.
Cheryl Miller July 19, 2012 at 03:33 PM
These were lights left on inside the building, not outside near any such cameras. And the outside flood lights were found left on during the day, all day. We are talking about $6 million dollars OVER what we would typcially expect or spend on electricity, so standard lighting for security reasons is not the problem. These schools are being lit up like Christmas trees, all day, all night when school is not even in session. How are we this far over budget? It isn't a story about whether or not the lights are needed... it is about the fact that teachers are losing their jobs and the electricity bill is so far over budget, we could have saved 100 or more of them.
Marsha Ashby July 19, 2012 at 03:35 PM
There are security camers inside the buildings
Cheryl Miller July 19, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Hi Marsha, You really should watch the news piece. That is nice that you are trying to provide the school system with a reasonable excuse. I know it may sound hard to believe that in such a time of financial crisis that there would be such an easy fix that would actually save millions of dollars, but sadly it is true. I assure you that CBS Atlanta would not lead their 11 pm. newcast with a story about some schools having lights on that are necessary for their outdated security systems to be effective. They did a respectable job and, if the school board and administration follow up, there could be millions more that could be saved going forward. I have uploaded photos to this article which should help with the understanding of the waste. It is absurd ... people are losing their jobs here. This should not be happening and it is up to the community to call out these issues as it is our money that pays for these schools. Report further waste of electricity at your schools to: Wendy.Saltzman@cbsatlanta.com. Watch her investigation here: http://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/19045960/school-lights-left-on-tough-questions-about-waste
Marsha Ashby July 19, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Not giving an excuse. Just providing a fact.
Jane Patla Tanner July 19, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Turning off the lights and using more efficient light bulbs are one way to cut costs, but I believe the HVAC costs are the largest part of the budget, and could be brought down with a multi-solution approach of 1.) shifting the school calendar back 1 month, taking advantage of the cooler temps of June instead of the high heat of August, 2) setting the thermostat at a more efficient level in all seasons and having everyone dress appropriately, and 3) taking advantage of 'zone controls' so that the system is only working at max. where and when it is needed. There may be lots of other solutions/ideas too.
Marsha Ashby July 19, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Another tidbit: School starts earlier so that the students can take the semester End of Course tests (finals) prior to the winter break.
Robert Pendley July 19, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I hear and understand everyones problems, but I go back to tearing down a good building to build another one. The price I was Quoted was $58 million for tuckers new high school. Now they are doing the same with chamblee. What if they just gutted the building and re-fit it with new windows and run the nessessay wiring and if more space is needed just add a new wing. Lakeside is doing this and saving millions. When I watch news stories from other large cities you see school that are 70 or 80 years old which had been fixed up and used. Its not the building that makes kids learn but the parents who are proactive.but to me its people who are spending other peoples money carelessly.
Jane Patla Tanner July 19, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Convenience vs. Energy Costs, issues that will need to be considered. Food for Thought: Many school districts throughout the country are on the later calendar and use it as a positive learning opportunity, helping students develop long-term study skills and memory retention techniques, (helpful for the year-end exams too).
Jane Patla Tanner July 19, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I was referring to only the electricity budget in the above comment - not the entire school budget.
Cheryl Miller July 19, 2012 at 07:23 PM
We were $1 million over budget for electricity alone in Oct. 2011. Now, in July 2012 - only 9 months later and AFTER having this issue called to the board attention, we are $6 million over budget for that same line item. The Superintendent needs to still cut $13.5 million from the operations budget and she is looking at teachers, para pro's and others. How frustrated will these folks be if they later learn that they could have helped save their own jobs by paying better attention to the simple details of turning off lights? Every cent counts these days and we all need to be just as careful about conserving resources when we are at work as we are at home. Just because it isn't your money that is being wasted dollar for dollar - it all has to come from somewhere. Conservative spending or stopping obvious waste of expensive resources like power and water today could mean saving your own job a year from now. And, if these school principals are not paying attention, we as taxpayers need to call the things we see to their attention and insist something is done about it.
Cheryl Miller July 19, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Jane, I don't understand how starting a month later would make any difference if the same number of lights, the same settings on the thermostat and the same wasteful practices are ignored. The weather is something that should be factored into any budget when estimating your spending needs.
Bob Peppel July 20, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Having watched Walter Cronkhite lie about Vietnam, I don't have much faith in CBS; however, even allowing for sensationalizing there probably is a kernel of truth in their story. Sure does make one want to vote on July 31.
Kevin Madigan (Editor) July 20, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Thanks for uploading photos, Cheryl. Very helpful.
Lisa Kuebler July 20, 2012 at 03:50 AM
I think more electricity could be saved by allowing individual schools to regulate their own thermostats, rather than having it done by the central office. My children's school is either sweltering hot in the winter or freezing in the warmer months, and there's nothing that can be done about it at the school level. Concerning the lights: my husband and I were out running one evening probably a year ago and went past Livsey. We noticed the lights on and he called to check on it and was told that they were left on for security reasons. Schools full of computer equipment would be easy targets for thieves if they were left under complete cloak of darkness every night.
Jane Patla Tanner July 20, 2012 at 02:31 PM
It takes more energy to cool a building: 1. As the outdoor temperature rises; 2. When lights and technology are running, (they create heat). 3. That is full of people (they create heat). The 2 hottest months of the year are July and August, thus the total estimated budget can be reduced right off the top by not operating during the hottest and most expensive months of the year. Turning off lights and technology is another way to save during the year, as is letting the individual schools control the temps., insulating, and making basic energy efficiency modifications for long-term savings. Isn't there a Long-Term Operations Committee that works on 5, 10, 20 year solutions to these types of issues? Becoming more energy independent with solar, geothermal, and wind at each school would be another long-term cost savings as well as an awesome teaching/learning experience for the students. This is being done at schools around the country - Atlanta's Woodward Academy uses geothermal for heating and cooling - California has a Solar Schools initiative to help save $1.5 billion in energy costs over the next 30 years. Again, food for thought.
Robert Pendley July 20, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Jane, the panels for solar are very expensive and do not produce enough energy to be productive. They don't pay for themselves until 23 years and they have to be replace every 15. We also don't sit in a geothermal area so I don't know whereee they are getting the heat. I can be wrong on this but willing to listen. Also the majority of the lights are florsesent and they don't put off much heat. But I want to save money so what ever works is ok for me, just stop tearing down good buildings and building now ones just to spend our money.
Jane Patla Tanner July 20, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Hi Robert - Geothermal, also known as Ground Source Heating and Cooling (GSHC), is available in Atlanta for residential and commercial use - here is a company with an extensive project list in Atlanta to get you started http://www.hpbuildingsolutions.com/portfolio.html. The Woodward Academy facility in College Park is an example of school campus using this technology. Westminster School won a $10K Lexus Eco Challenge competition with the installation of the school's first solar array and also met the GA Governor's Challenge in 2010 to reduce energy consumption by 15%. Clearly there are all sorts of programs, technologies, and creative opportunities for everyone, (residential, commercial, gov't) to save and become more energy efficient. There is no single solution nor single person to solve the problem - it will be a 'team effort' to help our schools and community become the best it can be.
Cheryl Miller July 20, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I do not understand why so many people are willing to use the security excuse to find a practice that you would not use in your own home to be okay for use at a school in your community. When the use of electricity goes up in your area, so do your rates. The schools are not full of computer equipment, by any means, but even if they were, an alarm system or a security guard would be a better way to prevent a break-in. No one is saying that they have to turn off all the lights in a cloak of darkness, but these schools are being lit up so you can fully view the contents of every room by just driving by. That's putting your valuables on display, not preventing a break-in. And, when the school system just raised our taxes to near the maximum allowed by law, isn't it a bit rude that they wouldn't be exercising a little more decorum by not flaunting right in our faces just one of the many ways they are turning around and throwing our money away? It's an insult.
Cheryl Miller July 20, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Or, as Dist. 4 candidate Jim McMahan suggested last night at the candidate forum ... a few motion sensors would go a long way to keep the grounds secure without having to waste all that electricity. Do we not expect our government to be as careful with our money during times of recession as we all are learning to be at home? Has anyone else considered turning on all their lights inside and outside their home while away on vacation (and leaving all their blinds open so people could see in from the road) as a method of security?
Alison Dealy July 20, 2012 at 09:45 PM
There are bigger issues than electricity. Not that it isn't a wasteful portion of it, but don't let it get in the way of the other issues, especially the issue of dead wood in our administration, as well as our teaching staff. As for new v. retrofitted, Tucker did the right thing. Yes, it could have been retrofitted, but the TPA went to bat and waited until we had accumulated enough splost funds. Lakeside is a whole other issue. They did not need a new building, they needed just what they did, and have a private fundraiser going on to support that build. The two cannot be compared. What we need to be concerned with the students best interests in health and education. Period. Bad, angry, lazy, poor-attitude teachers and administrators need to go -- we cannot afford to take on the staff that got let go in one area of the county, just to keep them employed. Fire the ones that are not doing their job or who have violated some rule. Get rid of the administration at the county level that is not productive, or those bean counters who apparently missed the rising deficit over the past 10 years, or who, for some reason "forgot" to put in things like "electricity" as a line item on the budget, and then added it in as a "non-listed fixed cost" so that it wouldn't show up on the bottom line. Hey, let's look at Crawford's $240K severance folks, or the others who screwed our county, and still got paid???? I'd like to see the media expose ALL the issues - not just this one.
Cheryl Miller July 20, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Alison, I agree that there are bigger issues to deal with ... check out our website: www.GETtheCELLoutATL.org and you will understand how I became active in this watchdog thing in the first place! Thank you to everyone for the comments. This is a good conversation to be having. Report further waste of electricity at your schools to: Wendy.Saltzman@cbsatlanta.com
Cheryl Miller July 23, 2012 at 12:39 AM
To read about Wendy Saltzman's follow up with the DeKalb County School Board, the Superintendent and the spokesman, read the letter she sent them here: http://www.getthecelloutatl.com/#!/2012/07/cbs-investigative-reporter-wendy.html
Cheryl Miller July 26, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Also, if you watch the actual story as the link provides, you will feel foolish at the suggestion that these lights are on for security.

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