Air­con in schools a cold war

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FRONT PAGE - LINDA SILMALIS

AIR-con­di­tion­ing in schools is shap­ing up to be a key elec­tion bat­tle­ground, with the state gov­ern­ment ex­pected to out-pledge La­bor on cool­ing down class­rooms.

It is un­der­stood “sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing” has been set aside in the State Bud­get to eclipse a $300 mil­lion pledge by La­bor to in­stall or re­place air­con­di­tion­ers in class­rooms.

While the state gov­ern­ment de­clares “around two-thirds of schools” have air­con­di­tion­ing, not all class­rooms have an air-cool­ing unit.

In some cases, the air­con­di­tion­ing units are old, bro­ken or no longer work ef­fec­tively. Many have been in­stalled by the schools them­selves us­ing P & C funds.

Some schools have also strug­gled to power air­con­di­tion­ing units with out­dated elec­tri­cal in­fra­struc­ture.

Un­der the ex­ist­ing De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Air Cool­ing Pol­icy, “hab­it­able spa­ces” in NSW pub­lic schools lo­cated in ar­eas that have a mean max­i­mum Jan­uary tem­per­a­ture of 33 de­grees or higher are “given pri­or­ity for air­con­di­tion­ing”.

Pub­lic schools that do not meet the thresh­old “may in­stall air­con­di­tion­ing” un­der the pol­icy.

The thresh­old is not ap­plied to de­mount­a­bles, which are all fit­ted with air­con­di­tion­ing.

La­bor claims the pol­icy is un­fair on schools that ex­pe­ri­ence sum­mer tem­per­a­tures of 40 de­grees but miss out on air­con­di­tion­ing be­cause the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture fails to meet the thresh­old. As part of La­bor’s $300 mil­lion com­mit­ment to so­lar-pow­ered air­con­di­tion­ing, it will abol­ish the thresh­old in place of a broader one that will also fac­tor in hu­mid­ity.

Op­po­si­tion ed­u­ca­tion spokesman Ji­had Dib said Bu­reau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy data will be used, but schools will also be able to sub­mit their own read­ings.

How­ever, the first step will in­volve a statewide au­dit to de­ter­mine the num­ber of air­con­di­tion­ing units in each school. “There are schools that don’t meet the de­part­ment thresh­old but ex­pe­ri­ence tem­per­a­tures of up to 42 or 43 de­grees,” Mr Dib said.

“A teacher told me re­cently how she took her class out­side into 43 de­gree heat last sum­mer be­cause it was cooler than in­side the class­room.

“Our pol­icy will en­sure the hottest schools in the state will be air­con­di­tioned.”

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