Polk Education Association holds class action grievance hearing over broken A/C units at schools

The Polk Education Association held a class action grievance hearing with district leaders Friday with dozens of schools dealing with broken or malfunctioning air conditioning units.

The district confirmed there are more than 1,400 open work orders for AC issues and roughly half of them are considered priorities, because the units aren't working.

The teachers’ union believes the conditions constitute a violation of its contract with teachers.

READ: Air conditioning issues at Hillsborough County schools keep HVAC technicians busy

"It makes people feel physically ill," said Stephanie Yocum, the president of the Polk Education Association. "If you think that learning is important, which we're in the business of learning, you can't learn in an environment that's 80, 85, 90 degrees. It's just not conducive to teaching and learning."

The AC issues are spread out across at least 60 schools, Yocum told FOX 13. She wants the issues repaired as soon as possible and policies established to ensure these issues aren't as widespread in the future.

That's what led to a two-hour meeting Friday between Yocum and Jason Pitts, a Polk schools deputy superintendent.

"Policies and procedures have to change moving forward and that's one of the things that we're addressing through this grievance is that it has to change, so this doesn't happen," said Yocum, adding lawmakers share the blame for allowing Florida to be near the bottom in the U.S. in education funding. "Part of this is Tallahassee not funding us appropriately so that we have money to fix our buildings."

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Following the meeting, Pitts said the district is doing everything it can to address AC issues, including hiring outside contractors to assist its own technicians. The district is also using all of its portable AC units and expects more to arrive in the first week of September.

Pitts added, in about half of the open work orders, the AC systems are working to manufacturer specifications, but they just aren't cooling to a satisfactory level.

"We agree that a temperature over 78 is not a conducive learning environment. That's why we're moving them into other classrooms where the AC's are working and that way they can be in a better learning environment than the classroom that they walked into that morning," said Pitts, while asking for patience from families and teachers. "It's going to be a long process to get all of the schools with the funding that we're receiving."

The district plans to spend $60-70 million during the next five years to address deferred maintenance on AC systems.