Schools coping with new law

By Dick Mason, The Observer November 30, 2012 01:45 pm

State mandate over pesticide application causing additional expense

The sight was surprising and alarming.

About a month ago, people walking into the staff lounge at Greenwood Elementary School were greeted by nearly two dozen yellow jackets. The wasps, most of which were lethargic, had come in from an outside nest attached to the Greenwood building. The wasps were entering the lounge through a tiny opening in the building.  

The problem was quickly addressed when the opening was sealed and a licensed commercial pesticide applicator came to Greenwood to destroy the yellow jacket nest. Fortunately, the nest was eliminated before anyone at Greenwood was stung. 

The process went smoothly but was more complicated than it would have been just five months earlier, before a new state law regarding the use of pesticides in schools took effect. Before this the school district’s maintenance staff, not a commercial exterminator, would have eliminated  the yellow jacket nest with chemicals.

This can no longer be done because the new law prohibits school districts from having certain pesticides and toxic chemicals on their grounds, including any which have warnings stating they can cause cancer. 

The statute also does not allow school district employees to apply any chemicals to eliminate pests on or in  buildings. This means that whenever chemicals must be used to eliminate pests like insects or rodents in public school buildings a certified commercial or public pesticide applicator must be called.

The new law does allow school district employees to apply chemicals to remove pests which are not on or in buildings. Only employees who have state certification can now do this. The new law is making things more complicated for school officials, but La Grande School Director of Business and Operations Chris Panike said it has its strong points.

“We are doing everything we can to provide a healthy environment for kids,” Panike said.

The La Grande School Board is close to adopting a policy to help it comply with the new law. The proposed policy closely resembles one developed by Tim Stock, coordinator for the Oregon State University Integrated Pest Management Program. It is titled “Model Integrated Pest Management Plan for Oregon Schools.”

The proposed policy focuses on the “long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems through economically sound measures,” which protect the health of students, staff and faculty; protect the integrity of buildings and grounds; maintain a productive learning environment and protect local ecosystem health.

Dealing with pests is not as big an issue in this region as it is in other parts of the state, said Jim MacKay, maintenance supervisor for the La Grande School District.

“We are lucky, we do not have many pest problems here,” he said. 

Panike noted insect problems are fewer in Northeast Oregon than Western Oregon in part because this region receives less moisture.

 Most of the pest problems the La Grande School District has involve an occasional rodent, yellow jackets and ants. 

Ants are among the pests the Imbler School District had to deal with earlier this year when its  new elementary school building opened. Ants were found in the new school because of dirt around the building due to project work. Once the dirt was removed the ant problem went away, said Imbler School District Superintendent Doug Hislop.

The Imbler School District, like the La Grande School District, will be adopting a policy to help comply with the the new school pest control law. The statute is one a number of local school leaders have reservations about because it provides more regulations for districts to conform to and will cost them additional money because commercial applicators will have to be brought in. Enterprise School District Superintendent Brad Royse is among those who feel this way. Royse said that in the process of going though the hoops needed to comply with the new law, school districts will use time and money that otherwise would have been directed toward education in the classroom.

Panike, noting that the state will not help schools deal with the additional expense they will face because of the new law, shares a similar sentiment. 

“It is an unfunded mandate,’’ Panike said. “It is another financial requirement at a time when resources are scarce.’’