With San Francisco (like much of California) being such a bastion of healthful living, it was only to be expected that The City would pioneer wholesome school cafeteria fare — including the removal of sweetener-loaded drinks, foods and snacks. San Francisco first adopted a wellness policy in 2003. Unfortunately not enough attention was paid to the other side of the equation.
If kids couldn’t get their favorite colas or artificially flavored fruit drinks at the school lunch line, what healthy alternatives would be available instead? The San Francisco Unified School District’s lack of a practical answer to that question became embarrassingly obvious July 1.
That’s when a new state law took effect requiring California school districts to provide free tap water in all cafeterias. According to the text of Senate Bill 1413, it was necessary to mandate that water be available to students at lunch because 40 percent of California schools are without cafeteria tap water.
Aging pipes are a common reason why schools might not have water available. And the SFUSD unfortunately is not immune. As many as eight San Francisco schools are known to be paying for costly bottled water because of bad pipes. In fact, the district is not quite sure how widespread its bad-pipe problem really is.
This summer it plans to survey how many of the schools provide water and then develop a plan to get water in all 120 schools. Also this summer, five SFUSD campuses are scheduled to install fountains — Jose Ortega Elementary School, Horace Mann Middle School, Visitacion Valley Middle School, Ida B. Wells High School and Lincoln High School.
Along with this, the SFUSD is asking the state for more time to meet the new water availability requirements. The Board of Education passed a resolution asking for a waiver until the 2015-16 school year — four years away.
The excuse given was that the SFUSD is suffering fiscal constraints. The district was forced to cut nearly $20 million from its budget this year, reducing it to $622 million. As one of its responses, the school board is placing a $531 million bond on the November ballot in hopes of fixing widespread infrastructure problems.
The San Francisco Examiner can well understand that the SFUSD, like most school districts today, is consistently short of money and will continue that way indefinitely. But still, there are certain basic infrastructure functions that any responsible education agency cannot allow to break down.
These basics would include providing students with classrooms that have unbroken windows and floors, ceilings that don’t leak, working electricity and wintertime heat — plus drinkable water buildingwide, and especially in school cafeterias. It is bizarre that our taxes are buying bottled water for some city schools because the pipes don’t work.
If the SFUSD has any bells and whistles left, now is definitely the time to cut back and get the water flowing as quickly as possible, bonds or no bonds. The district could probably get along just fine with fewer of its high-paid