Energy Police|School district monitor checking buildings by night

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 6, 2009

By the time security guard Richard Banks enters a school, students, teachers, administrators, even nighttime custodial and cleanup crews have finished their work and gone home.

His job is different. Each night, Banks inspects three or more area schools chosen at random, checking thermostat settings, seeing if lights, computers or coffee pots have been left on, and looking for other drains on electricity.

“All of that adds up to a great deal of money,” said Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Dr. James Price at last month’s meeting of the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

With the school budget for the upcoming fiscal year reduced more than $1.7 million over the current year, costs right down to the kilowatt hour make a difference. Price has projected that those small-scale savings, when multiplied district-wide, will compound into about $200,000 annually.

Unlike so-called energy czars pulling down $60,000 to $80,000 a year, Banks earns about $12 an hour, or about $300 weekly, putting in five hours each night. His services are covered by a contract the district has with a security agency, said school finance director Dale McClung.

Besides electricity usage, Banks rates the cleanliness of classrooms, student bathrooms and other areas. He checks outside light poles for missing or burned-out lamps. He also notes the presence of appliances in classrooms.

“What takes up most of my time is looking for the microwaves and refrigerators,” Banks said. “They’ve got them camouflaged.”

While no current district policy prohibits teachers from keeping those appliances in their classrooms, Banks is charged with monitoring energy usage so he includes those items.

After completing his inspections each night, Banks prepares a report for Price, who in turn notifies the principals that their schools have been checked and what Banks found.

“It just makes people aware that somebody is going to be there, so don’t leave the lights on,” Price said. “It makes a difference.”

On his rounds Wednesday night, Banks visited Bovina and Bowmar elementaries and Grove Street School. While most lights were off, Banks noted that multiple computers, both desktop and laptop, were left on in many classrooms. Thermostats were set at what Banks called “normal,” though one classroom’s was set at 73 and none had been turned down for the night to save on costs.

Globally, nearly half the PCs used in the workplace are left on all the time, an international study by the software firm 1E and the Alliance to Save Energy showed. Powered-up computers left idling cost U.S. corporations an estimated $2.8 billion annually, claimed a 2009 PC Energy Report cited on the ASE’s Web site.

Besides wasting money and energy, those PCs left running throughout the night also emit about 20 tons of carbon dioxide, roughly the same as 4 million cars.

Dewayne Sims, district resource officer for VWSD, said the district started the night inspection program about a month ago, letting administrators and department heads know about the plan beforehand. “We’re just asking, how can we do more with less?” Sims said. “So far, we have definitely seen a change and people are becoming more aware.”

Anticipated savings in electricity costs have not been built into the budget for 2009-2010, McClung said. VWSD budgeted $1,557,000 for electricity in 2007-08, and upped that allocation for this fiscal year to $1,637,000 when Bovina Elementary reopened with the beginning of the school year. It will remain the same for 2009-2010, which begins July 1.

Through March 31, 2008, the district had spent 63.9 percent of its electricity budget. For the comparable period this year, 67.6 percent had been spent with three months to go in the budget year.

“There’s so much that affects power costs,” McClung said, citing weather and fuel adjustment surcharges as two examples. “It’s great when we come in under budget, but often we have to use carry-over money for cover costs.”

On his nightly rounds, when Banks finds lights or computers left on, he does not turn them off but makes note of it in his report to Price. “That way, if the schools gets a memo in the morning, they see it just how it was,” he said.

An unintended benefit is that it’s bringing school staffers together, Sims said. “It’s become a conscious effort, everyone’s responsibility, from the principal to the teachers to the custodial staff. People are actively involved, and that’s helping communication and building relationships in addition to saving money.”