Will Portola High Testing Cost IUSD Measure E Votes?

Irvine High School #5 Site A

Irvine High School #5 Site A

Measure E, a significant bond measure aimed at shoring up older schools in Irvine, is on the ballot for June 7.  During the Great Recession and California’s budget crisis from 10 years ago, money for needed repairs just wasn’t there and Irvine’s current State Assembly and State Senate team have already told the city’s education leaders they won’t lift a finger to get Irvine any additional tax dollars.

While Measure E has broad support from the city’s pro-education community (City Council member Beth Krom is backing it but not yet listed on the endorsements page), a group of parents who were for Measure E has reached out to TheLiberalOC to say the district’s handling of the retesting at Portola High School is leading them to vote “no” on the bond to send a message to a school board and superintendent who aren’t taking concerns about possible toxics at the new school site seriously.

Last month, IUSD superintendent Terry Walker sent a note to parents saying the new testing had affirmed the safety of the Portola High School site.  He wrote:

I am pleased to inform you that the Portola High School site has been affirmed safe by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).  Today, DTSC provided the District with the environmental site approval, also known as a “No Further Action” notice.  This designation affirms the site is environmentally safe for students, families, staff and the community, and supports the 2014 and 2015 environmental site approvals previously granted by the DTSC.  To read the final report, click here

During this third series of testing, 17 additional locations were selected throughout the school site by DTSC with more than 100 tests conducted at two depths of five and 15 feet, which is the industry standard.  To date, more than 300 tests have been conducted at more than 100 locations site-wide.  Below is a map with the comprehensive test locations and information. 

IUSD expected the final report at the end of April; however, during a March 22 Special Board Meeting, after hearing feedback from the public, the Board of Education requested that DTSC identify additional test locations beyond the eight the state agency initially selected.  The additional locations expanded the timeframe and the time needed for DTSC to review the data and make its own independent determination.

“A second outcome might be that contaminants are discovered but at very low concentrations.  So low as to constitute no health risk to occupants of the school.  That’s the current status of the site – our current conceptual model that there are very low concentrations of some contaminants – scattered areas underground.

These contaminants that do exist are sometimes as low as 600 times below the health concentrations, so I’m talking very low concentrations. A few scattered concentrations of low level contaminants would confirm the current conceptual site model that there is no risk to future occupants of the school.  Very low levels of contaminants in the soil do not trigger cleanup requirements, because walking or running on a field, playing on the ground, or sitting inside rooms with concrete floors and walls do not result in any exposures that are a health concern.

In this case again, the concerns of DTSC would have been met and no further action will be requested of the School District.”

The testing was supposed to be done independently, but the District used the same environmental consultant they hired to do the first series of tests.  It is the opinion of this parent’s group, the same consultant is not a credible independent source.

“What are they going to do?  Report they screwed it up the first time?” said one parent who asked for anonymity.  “It’s like the NFL asking the New England Patriots to self-investigate ‘Deflate-gate.’  Oh, those balls were fine.  Tom Brady has such strong hands.”

This is a small group with children who will attend Portola High in the future; some fear retaliation from the district if their names became public.  They have a point. There message is simple: if you don’t like how the district managed the testing and retesting at the Portola High School site, don’t vote for Measure E.

And while the District and the IUSD Trustees can all insist everything is fine at the high school site, they must concede two points.  The re-testing wasn’t independent; hiring a different firm to test would have made certain the tests were independent but that didn’t happen.  And two, the bronze plaque that will be affixed somewhere on school grounds with have the names of the entire school board and the IUSD administration engraved on it.  Should teachers and students develop a series of health problems that can be traced to the environment at the school site, it’ll be easy to affix blame.