City Councilman Mark Treyger recently penned a letter asking Comptroller Scott Stringer to consider amending city fiscal guidelines for the purpose of allowing city council members to use capital funding allocations to pay for air conditioner units in the city’s public schools.
Citing the numerous requests his office receives every year to help get new air conditioning systems for schools in his district, Treyger asked that the Comptroller review Comptroller’s Directive 10, on Charges to the Capital Fund, which was last revised in 2011.
“As a former teacher, I have experienced first-hand the important role that environmental conditions play in shaping the classroom experience and determining student outcomes,” wrote Treyger in the letter. “Unfortunately, building-wide HVAC systems are incredibly costly, forcing those charged with allocating funds for such improvements to prioritize the health and education of children at one school over others. There is an urgent need in our schools for improved temperature control during the last months of the school year, when high-stakes standardized testing takes place.”
In the letter, Treyger also noted that multiple studies have connected excessive heat and poor indoor air quality with lower student performance. Asthma is one of the leading causes of chronic absenteeism, afflicts nearly 15% of children in New York City, with a disproportionate concentration in low-income communities of color. Heat and humidity are among the triggers for asthma. Environmental irritants which exacerbate respiratory issues are also released at an increased rate when heat and humidity levels are high.
“The City’s own studies state that heat emergencies will likely increase as a result of global climate change,” Treyger wrote. “With high temperatures in June regularly exceeding 80 degrees, and average highs trending upwards, a lack of air conditioning is no longer an inconvenience to be suffered while awaiting summer break; it is a significant burden on the health and well-being of our students and our education system as a whole.”
With over 1,800 public schools to fund, the City currently has to make tough choices when air quality and temperature comes up against bathroom repairs or the purchase of necessary technology. Stand-alone air conditioning units are lower in cost to maintain, while the Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed using window air conditioning units for the improvement of indoor air quality, increasing air flow and ventilation, and keeping temperatures stable.
Meanwhile, the Stringer’s office has acknowledged the letter and told Bensonhurst Bean that it is reviewing the matter.
“The City should explore every avenue to ensure students aren’t forced to learn in uncomfortably hot classrooms, and Council Member Treyger is right to raise this issue. Under current rules, however, air conditioners are ineligible for capital spending. Our office is reviewing this letter, and will work with our partners in government to address students’ needs,” a spokesperson for the Comptroller said.