Water bill would put pressure on schools

GLENDALE — Legislators want more fresh water in schools, but they won't pay for it.

They moved a bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this month that, if signed, requires schools to make fresh water more available to students before next summer.

The bill's intent could be satisfied by providing disposable cups and pitchers of water, or bottled water to students during mealtimes.

Advocates said making water more readily available would set children on a path for healthy habits throughout their lives, and help their learning and focus in the classroom.

But the unfunded requirement poses thorny questions for cash-strapped school districts in Glendale and Burbank, officials said.

"I think the bill's intention is good; however, this is an unfunded mandate to the school district," said Agnes Lally, who administers food services in Glendale Unified. "I have no issues with …providing water, but it'd be nice to have some kind of funding to help the district comply."

Drinking water mostly comes from water fountains scattered across each campus, but the bill would force schools to go further. Since Schwarzenegger sponsored the bill through the legislative process, it is expected to get signed, officials said.

Though a simple premise, ongoing expenses of a few cents for every cup, and the ensuing waste generated from more than 26,700 students in Glendale schools could take its toll, said Mary Boger, a Glendale Unified board member and vice president of the California School Boards Assn.

"I am hard-pressed to believe this needs to apply to our district," she said. "Once again the state is talking about passing legislation that encompasses every district without seeing which district really has this problem or has this need."

A provision in the bill allows districts to opt out of the law if the local Board of Education can demonstrate a financial drain.

"I don't think we'd have trouble to demonstrate an inability pay for much of anything these days," Boger said.

Many school cafeterias in Glendale and Burbank have water fountains, unlike some of the campuses cited by the bill's advocates.

"Proponents for this are really pushing for water to say, when they say available, it's almost like being served," Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa said. "They are acknowledging a water fountain in a cafeteria isn't enough."

No one disputes hydration's value in child development and learning, he said.

"We want to do what's good and healthy for our kids, and we know water is a big part of that," Carrizosa said. "We're not excited about any new unfunded mandate, for sure, but we're certainly looking for better ways, if this is indeed implemented, better ways to [make drinking water] easier and accessible."

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