Castaic school district, landfill working on air quality mitigation 

Castaic Union School District Building. Dan Watson/The Signal
Castaic Union School District Building. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Castaic Union School District is working with Chiquita Canyon Landfill to ensure that school sites are equipped to handle the odors that have been emanating around the Val Verde and Castaic areas. 

According to district Superintendent Bob Brauneisen, the landfill has paid for improved carbon HVAC filter and air purifiers in each classroom. He added that he’s waiting for a response from state and federal agencies on whether the filters that are now in place are of high enough quality or if better ones will be needed. 

The mitigation efforts have been ongoing since October, Brauneisen said, roughly six months since the complains and violations regarding Chiquita’s issues first became public. 

All students are also allowed to remain inside at all times, with adult supervision, if they are bothered by the air quality. An air monitoring system is also set to be in place that will cover the areas for Castaic Middle School and Castaic Elementary School. Brauneisen said the district is looking at acquiring other monitoring systems in other portions of the district. 

The issue the district is now facing, Brauneisen said, is that companies are aware that the district is seeking protection against the air quality and are offering services, for a fee. He said the district needs to consult with experts to see what is necessary and what the correct costs would be. 

“There’s a lot of people out there that see a crisis and they want to sell us multiple things,” Brauneisen said. “I had a quote for air filters, a three-year contract for $650,000. I’ve had a quote for monitors for air sensors for about $50,000 a site where you have outdoor ones and indoor classroom ones. And really for me, it’s just a matter of getting the experts to analyze them and is this a good use of money. So far, we’ve been fortunate that the Chiquita landfill has paid for our upgraded air filters, they paid for any additional air purifiers we put in the classroom.” 

A meeting was set for Friday where Brauneisen was hopeful he would get some of the answers he was seeking. 

“We are working on it. We are being proactive,” Brauneisen said. “We’re trying to mitigate any issues that we have control over. We can’t control what comes to us but we’re trying to control our environments in our schools and our facilities.” 

Board member Laura Pearson asked for a resolution to be created for the board to review at its next meeting that would have the district take an official stance on the landfill and the issues arising throughout the district as a result of it. 

Transportation update 

The district is still looking to fill out its transportation department to ensure students can be transported to and from school. 

The district presented the governing board with three options earlier this year, two for outsourcing transportation and one that would have the district use its own drivers and buses. According to Irene Boden, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, the district cannot afford the costs for outsourcing, with quotes higher than what the district is currently paying. She added at Thursday’s board meeting that for the in-house transportation to work, two more drivers and a driver trainer would need to be hired. 

Brauneisen said one driver was close to being hired before backing out due to the salary being offered being lower than what is being offered by private companies. 

A memorandum of understanding is currently being looked at by the district and California School Employees Association Chapter 401, which represents Castaic district classified employees, that would guarantee eight-hour work days for bus drivers, Boden said. 

The district currently has the personnel to facilitate one bus route and the district’s legal obligation to transport special education students, Boden said, but that would leave an entire bus route without an option for transportation. 

“You can’t say, ‘I’m taking care of this area, not this one,’” Boden said. “And so it’s kind of that situation.” 

The other issue that Boden mentioned was that if any of the drivers call out sick or are on vacation, there are no backup options at this time. 

“We’re trying as much as we can to build up our department,” Brauneisen said. “But when it comes to, we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions, budget-wise, because we have to get kids in school.” 

The district typically sends out applications for families to sign up for home-to-school transportation in early May, but Brauneisen said that application probably won’t go out until later in the year when the district has a better idea of what the transportation system will look like. 

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