How LAUSD’s Chocolate Milk Ban Became an Environmental Disaster

chocolate-milkThe Merriam-Webster dictionary defines idiocy as “extreme stupidity; something that is extremely stupid or foolish.”

That’s the best thing that can be said about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision in 2011 to ban chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk. It might be worse than idiocy, but let’s go with that.

LAUSD has more than 640,000 students enrolled, a population that would make it the 26th largest city in America. When the district discards its trash every week, it’s an event.

Republic Services, the company that has had the LAUSD rubbish-hauling contract for nearly five years, estimated last year that the district throws out 600 tons of organic waste, including liquids, every week. Most of that is uneaten food. The liquid is unconsumed milk. White milk.

LAUSD serves milk to students from kindergarten through 12th grade every day for breakfast and lunch. The “milk options” on the menu are “White Low Fat 1%,” “White Fat Free” and “White Non-fat Lactose Free.”

But this segregated milk policy is a failure with the students and a hazard for the environment. It’s not easy to throw away two servings of milk per day for the population of the 26th largest city in America.

At a recent meeting of the LAUSD school board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, board member and committee chair Monica Ratliff asked Robert Laughton, director of the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, about a photo in his report that showed students pouring milk into a trash can.

“Do we throw it down the drain?” she asked. “Where does it go?”

“Originally, they poured it down the drain,” Laughton said, “but the city didn’t like milk going down the sewer system. You can’t put it down the storm drain, that’s against the law. The city isn’t crazy about it going to Hyperion (the wastewater treatment plant) either so now they’re pouring it into black trash bags and putting it into the trash bin. So it’s pretty much going across the counter and into a trash can.”

From there, the milk in the trash bags is hauled to local landfills. That probably includes the notorious Sunshine Canyon, a city- and county-owned facility operated by Republic Services, which takes in about a third of L.A. County’s garbage. It has become Granada Hills’ most obnoxious neighbor due to worsening odors.

If milk is causing problems at Sunshine Canyon, the situation may improve next year. That’s when LAUSD plans to start hauling its organic waste to another county in order to comply with new state regulations for mandatory organic waste recycling. The issue was before the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee because it’s going to cost a lot of money to haul 600 tons per week of organic waste to a composting facility as far away as southern Kern County.

The district would like to reduce food waste. Board member Scott Schmerelson said he’s been trying for a year to help nonprofits pick up unserved meals for food banks. “It’s the most convoluted and difficult process to have the correct insurance to be able to do that, and people just give up,” he said.

Different menus might help. If there’s one thing that’s certain about a “Turkey Pastrami Croissandwich with Cheese” (lunch, grades 9-12, September 27), it’s that a carton of white 1-percent milk will not pair well with it. …

Click here to read the full column from the L.A. Daily News

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley. 

L.A. Unified In Danger of Bankruptcy

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDHere’s an old tune you’ve heard before: The Los Angeles Unified School District could face bankruptcy with one of the chief contributing factors being high pensions and health care costs for retired employees.

The L.A. School Board will discuss a new report raising that ominous red flag this week.

Pensions are not the only issue driving the school district toward insolvency. The report cited declining enrollment as a factor driving down revenue. Enrollment is falling due not only to fewer potential school age children but the fact that many students have decamped to independently operated charter schools.

Still, the pension issue is cited as part of the problem as it has been with so many financially struggling government agencies.

One year ago this week, the University of California announced it would have to seek a series of tuition increases. At the time, the UC Chief Financial Officer cited retirement costs in explaining the need for tuition increases. He said tuition hikes could be avoided if the state helped with retirement costs.

City bankruptcies or near bankruptcies in California also highlighted the pension burden. Stockton, for example, was spending $13 million in pensions at the turn of this century, a decade later the cost was $30 million and was predicted to double again in only a few years.

The possibility of the state’s largest school district facing bankruptcy will play into the push to extend the Proposition 30 tax increases beyond the date the so-called temporary taxes were to end. Voters won’t hear much from supporters of the tax extension about funding pensions – the campaign rhetoric will be about the students – but pensions are a major factor for those supporting the extension.

Last January, the Manhattan Institute’s Steve Malanga wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that a good portion of the original Prop. 30 tax increase was dedicated to pensions. (Disclosure: I was quoted in the article.) He wrote that the problem of school pension costs would continue and an effort would be made to continue the Prop. 30 tax increase to cover those costs.

Now it is almost certain a form of the Prop 30 extension will be on the November 2016 ballot just as he predicted. Malanga concluded his piece: “It’s a reminder that in some places the long struggle to pay off massive government pension debt is just starting.”

It is not starting but continuing in the Golden State.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily