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Sewerage and Water Board to start billing New Orleans schools for water use

6th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Della Hasselle and Marta Jewson

Just one week before the start of a new fiscal year, charter school operators received an email from the Recovery School District alerting them to a potential new charge that most schools have not accounted for in their budgets — a sewer and water bill.

Although they have not been charging schools for water since Hurricane Katrina, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans will begin collecting revenue for water consumed by all public schools in the city, a board spokesperson confirmed to The Lens.

Under state law, New Orleans public schools are allowed four gallons of water per person per day for free. It is unclear as of now how many schools will go over their allotment next year, as calculations are based on Oct. 1 student counts and staffing numbers. Also, the data appears to be incomplete —more than 60 meters associated with schools had readings indicating that zero water was used during the 2012-13 school year, according to the Sewerage and Water Board.

Those schools that go over their allotments will have to pay for the additional water they use. Some schools could be paying tens of thousands of dollars in sewerage and water expenses next year.

Based on state enrollment data and the Sewerage and Water Board’s water consumption data, the majority of schools use less than three million gallons of water per year. But it appears the allotment will be much lower than that for many schools.

The allotment for a school like John McDonogh High School, with a projected student count of 370 and 38 staff members, would be nearly 596,000 gallons of water a year. That would be the equivalent of about $5,000 of free water and sewer, based on the spreadsheet provided to schools.

If a school were to use about three million gallons more than its allotment, as was the case last year with Lusher Charter School’s middle and high schools, they would pay about $23,000 in sewer and water charges, according to a 2013 read rate on the spreadsheet.

Joe Neary, chief operating officer of FirstLine Schools, said he expects three of the network’s five schools to go over their allotment and owe a balance. He said using the calculator provided to the schools he anticipates Arthur Ashe Charter School, S. J. Green Charter School and Langston Hughes Academy to have bills of about $15,000 annually.

Langston Hughes Academy falls at the top of the group of schools using less than three million gallons. The school used about 2.8 million gallons total last year.

Some FirstLine schools have gardens, which add to their water consumption, but Neary said that won’t stop the network from running the program and watering the gardens.

“At this point, no, $15,000 a year is not enough for us to reconsider that type of programming,” said Neary.

The spreadsheet was attached to an email signed by RSD Operations Chief of Staff Tiffany Delcour. Data collected from the 2012-2013 school year shows that six school meters registered between three and five million gallons; six meters measured more water than that.

The spreadsheet shows that 19 water meters measured between one and three million gallons last year.

According to the data, 60 meters indicated use between 100,000 gallons and one million gallons, and 35 meters measured between 100,000 and 100 gallons. Ac­cording to the spreadsheet, several buildings that were closed didn’t use any water, but some open schools were also listed as having consumed zero gallons.

This article originally published in the August 5, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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