Board Briefs: Board continues solar proposal, ratifies agreement with potential furloughs

Calling for a greater effort to notify neighboring communities, the IUSD Board of Education continued a proposal to add canopies topped with solar panels to the parking lots of 11 Irvine schools.

The proposal under consideration Tuesday night represented the second phase of the district’s ambitious plan to leverage solar power districtwide. The first phase, which added rooftop panels to 13 schools and parking lot canopies to two district sites in 2010 and 2011, has produced $220,000 in annual savings through a unique power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison.

Phase 2 specifically focused on 11 campuses that were unable to accommodate rooftop solar panels. A staff recommendation sought to place vehicle shade structures, outfitted with energy-producing photovoltaic tiles, in the parking lots of Alderwood, Canyon View, Oak Creek, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School; Sierra Vista Middle School; and Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. (To access renderings of the proposals, or to weigh in via an online input form, click here.)

IUSD sent out notices, posted renderings on its website and held three community meetings in April. Yet the board pointed to a limited public response in questioning whether more could have been done to notify the community and draw feedback. Board members, acknowledging the financial and environmental benefits of additional solar tiles, directed staff to develop a more comprehensive notification plan to present at the next board meeting on June 5.

Board ratifies agreement with possible furloughs

The board ratified a tentative agreement between the district and the Irvine Teachers Association that includes potential furlough days with corresponding salary reductions for 2012-13.

Eamonn O’Donovan, assistant superintendent of human resources, praised ITA for its efforts to help address ongoing fiscal challenges, saying the negotiated agreement allows for as many as seven furlough days if state lawmakers and the governor impose additional cuts on public education. Should they prove necessary, these days would save the district money by effectively shortening the next school year for employees and students.

Meanwhile, budget news at the state level has gone from bad to worse in recent days. With tax receipts coming in lower than anticipated and some earlier cuts blocked by the federal government, Governor Jerry Brown said California’s deficit has nearly doubled to approximately $16 billion.

More cuts are planned in Sacramento, and to generate additional revenue Brown is advocating on behalf of a ballot initiative that would temporarily raise taxes for high-income earners and increase the sales tax by a half-cent through 2016. If that initiative passes in November, the governor said, schools would be held harmless with flat funding. If voters reject the tax increases, public schools would be cut by about $5.5 billion. That would translate into a loss of approximately $11.5 million for Irvine, according to John Fogarty, IUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services.

IUSD has set aside some funds and implemented a freeze on all non-essential spending to help blunt the impact of any midyear reductions. Still, even with these strategies in place, the district anticipates a shortfall of more than $5 million for 2012-13, prompting the employee negotiations for furlough days.

“It’s a testament to the relationship that we have with ITA that we can come to this kind of agreement when there’s so much uncertainty,” O’Donovan said Tuesday.

Other language changes in the agreement relate to working conditions, evaluations, summer school compensation and shared contracts.

Employees praised for service as retirements near

Also Tuesday, the board recognized the certificated, classified and administrative employees who are set to retire on or before June 30.

In all, 71 IUSD workers are set to retire this year, collectively representing more than 1,800 years of service. O’Donovan introduced those who were able to personally attend the meeting and praised them for their contributions. Each was presented with a small gift as a token of the district’s gratitude.

The retirees in attendance included Anne Caenn, DeAnn DeBey, Linda DeBoer, Renee Dix, Kathy Fredriksen, Darlene Grierson, Cathy Hogan, Vernita Hollman, Jack Houston, Liz Krogsdale, Sandy McHolm, Virginia Meinen, Karen Reaves, Mark Reider, Randy Rossi, Ann Shaw, Joanne Srsic, Debbie Wright and Gail Williams.

IUSD Board of Education to consider the second phase of ambitious solar effort

It’s been more than a year since IUSD held an activation ceremony to mark the installation of solar panels at 13 schools and a pair of support facilities, and the data that’s been gathered over the last 12 months is beyond encouraging.

The sustainable solar technology that was affixed to rooftops and parking lot shade structures in 2010 and 2011 is now producing about 1.9 megawatts of clean energy, with the district saving about $220,000 annually.

And there’s an opportunity for even more savings and greater environmental benefits.

That’s because the initial batch of photovoltaic panels represented the first phase of a potentially larger project. Next week, the IUSD Board of Education will consider a series of new proposals for round two.

If approved by the board on May 15, the second phase would add vehicle shade structures – or canopies, as they’re sometimes called – outfitted with energy-producing solar panels to the parking lots of up to 11 sites throughout IUSD.

The schools under consideration are Alderwood, Canyon View, Oak Creek, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School, which is a K-8; Sierra Vista Middle School; and Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. (To access renderings of the proposals, or to weigh in via an online input form, click here.)

Again, these are merely proposals at this point, and it will be up to the Board of Education to decide whether to move forward at any or all of the proposed sites. But the new panels could generate even more clean energy and provide millions of dollars’ worth of additional savings over the long term without IUSD paying any upfront capital costs, according to Mark Sontag, IUSD’s administrative lead on the project.

Sontag, who also serves as the district’s coordinator of math and science, said Phase 2 has the potential to generate approximately 4.5 megawatts. If the entire project was approved by the board, the combined total for phases 1 and 2 would be 6.4 megawatts, which would represent the second largest solar deployment for a public school district in California. The first-year savings for Phase 2 alone would be as high as $380,000, with the district projecting a 20-year savings of between $5 million and $11 million.

“Irvine and other school districts in California are facing significant fiscal challenges in light of the state budget crisis,” said Board of Education President Michael Parham, who spearheaded IUSD’s solar efforts along with Sontag. “This is an opportunity for us to capture added savings that would be unrestricted and available for educational priorities, and of course the environmental benefits are well documented.”

In fact, Phase 1 of the project produced enough energy to power 167 homes for a year and had the impact of removing 378 cars from the road. The first photovoltaic units have also been integrated into the district’s energy curriculum, allowing Irvine students to learn more about solar power while monitoring their own usage in real time.

Learning opportunities would increase with Phase 2. Other ancillary benefits would include downward-facing lights on the canopies, which could make campuses safer by illuminating school parking lots at night.

Meanwhile, other districts have followed IUSD’s lead in embracing solar technology through mutually beneficial power-purchasing agreements, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported.

Under the terms of IUSD’s original deal, which was approved by the board in 2009, SunEdison agreed to finance, operate and maintain the systems, enabling the company to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. In exchange, IUSD agreed to purchase energy from SunEdison at a lower rate that was predictable long-term. Another company, SPG Solar, was brought in to build the units.

Along with its solar initiative, IUSD has in recent years reduced its electrical consumption, cut waste and added an 18-lesson curriculum on sustainable energy in grades five and six. For all of these efforts, representatives from the Sierra Club’s Orange County Committee on Climate Change announced the Irvine Unified School District as a recipient of its “Solar Energy and Good Practices Award” in 2011.

Parham is elected to a one-year term as school board president; McInerney is named clerk

At its yearly organizational meeting on Tuesday night, the Board of Education voted unanimously to elect Michael Parham to a one-year term as president and Carolyn McInerney to a one-year term as clerk.

Sue Kuwabara, who was president this past year, was honored for her leadership.

The five-member board also approved school site liaison assignments, appointed representatives to various committees and established meeting dates through December 2012. The next two regular meetings are scheduled for Jan. 17 and Feb. 7.

Parham, whose background is in corporate and financial markets, is serving his second term on the board after winning a seat in the 2004 election and running unopposed in 2008.

Having last served as president in 2007, he has been a driving force in the district’s recent efforts to pursue cost effective and sustainable energy sources, working to secure deals that ultimately brought solar power and energy-generating fuel cells to Irvine schools.

To read a full recap of the Dec. 6 board meeting, click here.


IUSD’s solar panels and other green initiatives earns kudos from local Sierra Club members

In recent years, IUSD has engaged in an ambitious campaign to harness solar power, cut electrical consumption, reduce waste and promote sustainability while adding an 18-lesson curriculum on sustainable energy in grades five and six.

And these efforts have not gone unnoticed.

On Wednesday, representatives from the Sierra Club’s Orange County Committee on Climate Change lauded the district’s solar project and other green initiatives while announcing IUSD as a recipient of its “Solar Energy and Good Practices Award.”

Members of the Sierra Club, considered the nation’s largest grassroots environmental group, presented the award during a brief visit to Plaza Vista School, where they watched as science specialist Danielle DeFrank walked students through a hands-on lesson on the role of the sun as an energy source for the food chain.

The students later showed off smaller solar panel kits that they had personally assembled. Each was capable of powering modest electric lights or plastic propellers.

Superintendent Terry Walker was there to receive the Sierra Club’s accolade, as was Mark Sontag, IUSD’s coordinator of math and science. (Both are pictured above with Sierra Club member Suvan Geer.)

In March, IUSD held an activation ceremony to mark the installation of solar panels at 13 schools and two support facilities. Officials believe these panels will generate 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical consumption, covering about 10.5 percent of the district’s needs while offsetting more than 57 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

But solar power is just one piece of the ecological puzzle.

Over the last four years, IUSD has been walking a greener path in nearly all areas of its operations, from its standards-based instruction and service-learning projects to conservation campaigns and new construction strategies that save energy and produce less waste.

“Solar power units on the school sites have profoundly energized Irvine’s educational opportunities,” said Dr. Chuck Buck, a member of the Sierra Club’s O.C. Committee on Climate Change. “These are the kinds of in-depth and hands-on learning experiences we all want our kids to have to prepare them for an energy-aware future.”

“IUSD and the teachers have been brilliant in putting together this amazing educational package,” Buck said, “to teach about science and sustainable living by using what’s on campus.”

IUSD ‘flips the switch’ during ceremony to mark districtwide solar power initiative

With the help of corporate partners SunEdison and SPG Solar, IUSD ceremoniously flipped the switch on two megawatts of solar power at 15 sites throughout the district Wednesday, marking the completion of an ambitious sustainable energy initiative that’s expected to generate 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical needs.

The more than 7,300 solar panels that are now affixed to rooftops and vehicle shade structures are projected to produce more than 2.9 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and more than 51 million kilowatt hours over 20 years, saving IUSD in excess of $8 million. The district paid no upfront costs to build or install the systems – it will simply purchase power from SunEdison at a reduced rate that is predictable over time.

District officials gathered Wednesday morning for a special “Flip the Switch” ceremony at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School (pictured above), where they were joined by representatives from SunEdison and builder SPG Solar along with city leaders and students from Rancho’s Science Olympiad team. And flip the switch they did – literally, using a giant light-switch prop that was shipped in for the event.

Rancho Principal Scott Bowman emceed the ceremony and introduced each of the five speakers. They were IUSD school board member Michael Parham; Superintendent Gwen Gross; Inna Kaminer, a representative from Assemblyman Don Wagner’s office; Matthew Dickey, director of public sector for SunEdison; and Ted Walsh, vice president of business development for SPG. Also in attendance were school board President Sue Kuwabara, board member Sharon Wallin, Irvine City Councilman Steven Choi and Assistant Superintendent Terry Walker, who was recently named as the successor to Dr. Gross.

Parham, in his remarks, referenced the contributions of Galileo Galilei, noting that the famed Italian physicist wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo of his era. Neither is IUSD, he said.

“Today we flip the switch on a new idea, a new model for our society – sustainable green energy,” Parham told the audience. “More importantly, we shine the light on a whole new set of opportunities for education, for the workplace and for our children.”

Indeed, the project has significant curricular potential for IUSD. Not only will students be able to track energy production and consumption in real time, they’ll get to learn more about photovoltaic technology on their own campuses. In fact, the production of solar energy is just one part of an 18-lesson curriculum being implemented in grades five and six that teaches students all about sustainable energy sources.

IUSD’s solar journey began back in August 2008, when the district first considered installing panels at Rancho alone. It wasn’t long before officials were looking at all 2.5 million square feet of district roof space and exploring a more wide-ranging plan.

The solar power systems currently in place were made possible through a strategic power service agreement between IUSD and SunEdison, which financed and deployed the units, allowing the company to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. IUSD, in turn, agreed to buy back power at a rate that is reduced and predictable long-term. SunEdison worked closely with SPG Solar, which was responsible for the overall design and construction.

“This extraordinary partnership with SunEdison and SPG Solar will reduce our energy costs by millions of dollars and shrink our overall carbon footprint,” Superintendent Gross said. “At the same time, we are eager to incorporate new lessons on photovoltaic technology into our curriculum, giving students the opportunity to learn more about solar power as they monitor their own energy usage in real time.”

The technology will generate 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical consumption, covering about 10.5 percent of the district’s needs while offsetting more than 57 million pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to removing more than 5,600 cars from the road for one year.

Said Parham, “This project is one of the few no-brainers that come along – save money, save the environment, teach children.”

Anticipating a spike in enrollment, IUSD’s facilities team plans for the future

The Irvine Unified School District is on the verge of a significant growth spurt.

Over the next decade, the district is expected to swell from 27,000 students to as many as 39,000, representing a 44 percent spike in enrollment. Much of the growth will come from new neighborhoods to the north, including Irvine Company developments as well as those near the Orange County Great Park, where officials recently announced the first phase of residential construction.

Board members and staff break ground on Woodbridge High School's long-awaited pool

Accommodating the influx of new students isn’t the only task facing the IUSD’s facilities team in 2011. According to Lisa Howell, assistant superintendent of Business Services, there are dozens of projects in various stages of planning and construction, along with scores of additional facilities needs on the horizon. Each represents one piece of a larger district puzzle that continues to expand and evolve.

On the upside, IUSD has a pretty good track record in the construction arena, completing project after project on time and under budget. And despite California’s devastating budget crisis, there is still funding available for most of the district’s plans. (Remember that the state does not allow construction dollars to be merged with operational revenue.)

All of IUSD’s foreseeable capital needs will be detailed in the latest Facilities Master Plan, coming soon to a giant binder near you. As the Business Services department rolls up its sleeves to take on the Herculean task of updating this report, we thought we’d offer a sneak preview of the areas and projects that could reshape our district.


As many as 30,000 new homes are ultimately expected to sprout up in the city’s Northern Sphere, and while most will be generated by the Irvine Company, the figure also includes homes adjacent to the City-owned Orange County Great Park, billed as “the first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century.”

In January, FivePoint Communities held a joint news conference with officials from the City of Irvine to announce the first phase of residential development, which will bring 5,000 new homes to the former El Toro Marine base. CEO Emile Haddad said his company expects residents to move in by 2013.

Accommodating new communities is nothing new for IUSD. But the district has traditionally partnered with the Irvine Company to establish special funding mechanisms that enabled the construction of new schools before homeowners arrived. Though IUSD has yet to reach a similar mitigation agreement with FivePoint for the Great Park area, district officials have expressed confidence they’ll be able to work with the developer to ensure Irvine-quality schools.


Following a recent legal settlement, IUSD is moving forward with a highly-anticipated second district stadium at University High School.

The proposed 2,940-seat venue, which would serve as the home field for University and Woodbridge high schools, will have bleachers, elevated field lighting, a public address system, a scoreboard and other amenities, including restrooms and a ticket booth. Expected to be completed by 2013, this project will finally reduce the need for Thursday night football games, which are fairly common with only one home stadium – it’s at Irvine High – to serve four high schools.

Plans for the new stadium are in the process of being finalized, and the district’s facilities reserves have been identified as a potential funding source. Those reserves are expected to be bolstered by the imminent sale of surplus properties.


Supporting the recommendation of a committee that included community members, business leaders and staff, the Board of Education approved the sale of two surplus properties – IUSD’s Alderwood school and the original Vista Verde campus – to William Lyon Homes in February 2009. Both sites are now in escrow, with the district negotiating a price of more than $29 million.

It may seem counterintuitive to sell properties as Irvine continues to grow, but IUSD staff and its facilities advisory committee diligently analyzed enrollment trends, population projections and long-term generation rates before considering the sale. Moreover, the district has been transitioning away from older, smaller campuses in favor of newer, larger sites that are more cost-effective and energy-efficient.

Howell also noted that revenue from property sales helps IUSD fund the high-quality schools and facilities to which Irvine families have grown accustomed.

“We don’t get money from the state for infrastructure improvements, for food services facilities, for stadiums and for pools,” Howell said. “So it begs the question, ‘Where does that money come from?’ It’s coming from property sales.”


Board members and district staff are continuing to analyze options for the large patch of vacant land at Harvard Avenue and Barranca Parkway, where the Creekside Education Center is located.

Originally the property of the U.S. Navy, this site was deeded to IUSD by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003. The Creekside campus, as well as other district offices, currently occupy about eight acres, but that still leaves another 12 acres of open space.

Unfortunately, IUSD has yet to find an eligible source of revenue to pay for new construction at Harvard and Barranca, though staff is leaving no stone unturned as options for the property are discussed. Those options include ball fields, a much needed Nutrition Services facility, a staff training center and possibly an elementary school if local enrollment swells beyond projections.


Not too far from John Wayne Airport you’ll find a blend of commercial, residential and office space that is benefiting from new investment and redevelopment dollars. It’s called the Irvine Business Complex, and it straddles portions of the Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin unified school districts.

High-rise homes associated with mixed-use projects don’t traditionally generate a significant number of school-age kids, and based on similar developments IUSD is only projecting about 200 new students. But district officials are keeping a close eye on the IBC and holding regular meetings with the City because nearby Irvine schools are already approaching capacity.


Deerfield Elementary School is in the middle of a major modernization and expansion project, as is Woodbridge High, which is finally getting its long awaited swimming pool.

Meanwhile, crews recently completed modernization jobs at Sierra Vista Middle School, along with classroom expansion projects at Oak Creek, Canyon View, Brywood and Turtle Rock elementary schools and Plaza Vista School. The facilities team is now determining which schools are eligible for the next round of state modernization funding.


Not many cities in Orange County can claim they’re still growing, but Irvine continues to expand with new development to the north, and that means board members and administrators are constantly in planning mode.

The next campus to open its doors will be a middle school in what’s called “Planning Area 40,” near the intersection of Jeffrey and Trabuco roads. IUSD worked closely with the Irvine Company to establish funding for the project, and the district was able to secure an additional $9 million from the state by meeting a number of early construction deadlines. As a result of those early deadlines, the school-to-be-named-later is on pace to be completed well before it’s needed to accommodate new students in 2013.

Other schools in the planning stages include Portola Springs Elementary School and an additional elementary campus for Planning Area 40.


Finally, we’d be remiss in not mentioning the district’s efforts to establish energy-generating solar panels at 16 sites.

As mentioned in previous posts, the silent, renewable systems are expected to save IUSD approximately $8 million in energy expenses over 20 years based on conservative estimates, and they’re not costing the district a cent to build or maintain.

Under the terms of deal with SunEdison and SPG Solar, IUSD’s corporate partners will finance, build, operate and maintain the systems, enabling those companies to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. In turn, IUSD will purchase energy at a reduced rate that is predictable long-term. Local schools will also be able to monitor their own energy production as part of a new curricular component.

IUSD in the news: Daily Pilot covers district’s plans to harness solar power, enhance instruction

As we mentioned a few weeks back, the Irvine Unified School District is working with corporate partners to install solar panels at a number of sites, and some are nearing completion.

Not only will the clean and silent panels save the district a significant amount of money over time, but they’ll also become part of IUSD’s curriculum on renewable energy, allowing students to immediately monitor their own usage.

In an article that appeared over the weekend, reporter Sarah Peters of the Daily Pilot writes about IUSD’s solar initiative, including its curricular potential. To read the story, click here.

IUSD moves forward with ambitious solar plans as corporate partners pay construction costs

Vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-generating solar panels are quickly taking shape in the parking lot behind IUSD’s District Office, and rooftop solar panels may be coming soon to a school near you.

The silent renewable energy systems are expected to save IUSD approximately $8 million in energy expenses over 20 years – and that’s based on conservative estimates. Best of all, they’re not costing the district a cent to build or maintain.

You may recall that in December 2009 the IUSD Board of Education approved a historic agreement with SunEdison and SPG Solar to establish solar photovoltaic power systems – commonly known as solar panels – at 16 sites. The first phase is now underway.

Under the terms of deal, IUSD will incur no upfront capital costs. SunEdison will finance, build, operate and maintain the systems, enabling the company to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. In turn, IUSD will purchase energy at a reduced rate that is predictable long-term.

The units, part of a districtwide campaign to walk a greener path, will also be integrated into the curriculum, allowing students to learn about solar power while monitoring their own energy consumption in real time.

“In this fiscal environment, with state revenue continuing to drop precipitously, our district is pulling out all the stops to get the most out of every penny,” Superintendent Gwen Gross wrote in December. “Recycling programs have been ramped up districtwide, conservation campaigns are being led by our students, parents and staff, and new schools are utilizing the latest energy efficient technologies. Going solar was the logical next step.”

While IUSD initially considered installation at a single middle school, the district ultimately began looking at how best to utilize its 2.5 million square feet of roof space.

The schools and sites involved in the initial phase were selected based on feasibility, and nearly all will have the solar power units installed on their rooftops. Because the District Office doesn’t have enough rooftop space, the Board approved the construction of shade structures, which are essentially high-tech carports, to hold the panels.

To check out a list of participating sites, and to view construction plans, click here.

IUSD lauded at green schools summit

IUSD has generated plenty of buzz with its recent plan to partner with SunEdison and SPG Solar to establish solar panels atop 21 district sites – a move conservatively projected to save $8.5 million in energy costs over 20 years.

But the district has been walking a greener path for the better part of two years now with a growing number of Green California Schools Summitinitiatives designed to make our schools more energy efficient, reduce water usage and empower students to become catalysts for change.

For all of these efforts, Irvine Unified was honored Thursday, Dec. 10, with the 2009 District Leadership Award at the Green California Schools Summit & Exposition.

Organized by Green Technology, a nonprofit initiative designed to help government agencies achieve sustainability, the state summit took place Dec. 9-11 at the Pasadena Convention Center, bringing together school district representatives, green builders and others looking for innovative ways to preserve the environment and reduce costs.

School board member Michael Parham and Superintendent Gwen Gross accepted the Leadership Award on behalf of IUSD. They’re pictured above along with Kathleen J. McKee (right), a partner with Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost who advised the district on the solar contract. 

Parham, Gross and Mark Sontag, IUSD’s math and science coordinator, also led a pair of summit workshops detailing the district’s many green initiatives.