Thermostat covers may thwart cold teachers

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Wet paper towels will be met by locked covers, as the Rome school district seeks to counter some staff members’ efforts to bypass thermostat settings in rooms and turn up the heat on their own.

Having locked covers on school rooms’ thermostats, with custodians having keys so they can respond to complaints and make adjustments if needed as a first step, was discussed by the Board of Education’s buildings and grounds committee Monday.

The measure was addressed by district Director of Facilities III Alex Rodriguez, who explained that some teachers and others have gotten “creative” in placing wet paper towels on thermostats to “trick” them into “turning on heat.” Calling it an “ongoing concern,” he said the district as a result has gotten some calls about thermostat malfunctions, overheated rooms, and some instances where the system “tries to turn on air-conditioning.”

The district’s centrally controlled thermostat settings are in the approximately 68-degree range at a minimum, Rodriguez said after the meeting. He noted they are above the state’s requirement for 65-degree settings at a minimum.

The district will test the effectiveness of the thermostat covers before placing them on all of the approximately 500 thermostat units that would be involved, said Rodriguez. He estimated they would cost less than $10 apiece, and the district would install them. In addition, the district will “make sure thermostats are all calibrated” properly, he observed.

Rodriguez said there have been issues at every district school regarding attempts to override the thermostat settings. The initial thermostat covers will be tested at Strough Middle School, he added.

Board member Lawrence Posselt said he recently overheard some staff members at a restaurant complaining about the thermostat issues. He commented that he urged them to follow procedures if they had concerns about thermostats and to use the “chain of command” in contacting district officials. He said they indicated they got no response to their complaints in the past, but he pointed out to them that the buildings and grounds department has a new director in Rodriguez; he was appointed effective last July.

Rodriguez said the district “wants to make people as comfortable as possible” in classrooms, so that the learning and educational processes can be successful. But the district “has to balance that” with concerns “if we gave everybody complete control” over the room heat settings, including “costs through the roof,” he added; he referred to “walking a fine line.”

Board member Paul Hagerty, who chairs the buildings and grounds committee, suggested that “maybe a little education” for staff regarding the issue would be helpful. The committee’s discussion noted that people can have varying ideas of what they consider to be cold temperatures. Rodriguez also said temperatures may have some variation in different parts of a room, such as being cooler in front of a window.

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