Sharon Schara, a teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in Glendale, poses… (Stefano Paltera / For The…)
When the bell rings at 7:15 a.m. at Glendale's Roosevelt Middle School, Sharon Schara begins teaching a remedial math class. Throughout the day, she leads 120 students through the maze of math and often works through lunch. And, after the last bell rings, she might remain in her classroom for hours into the evening with members of the Robotics Club.
Beside her desk in the rear corner sit a refrigerator and microwave that give her easy access to Lean Cuisines, water and the four colas she often drinks to make it through the day.
Schara, like some of her colleagues at Roosevelt and other schools, depends on having easy access to food and snacks since she can't leave students unattended and the teachers lounge is at least a five-minute walk from her bungalow.
But as part of a new energy policy in the Glendale Unified School District, teachers must remove most personal appliances from their classrooms.
The rule was approved as part of a broader energy policy last summer, and district officials say cutting those appliances will save $60,000 per year. The wider program has saved $2 million, the district said.
"It's such a bad idea," Schara said. "I just can't get over what a bad idea it is."
Trying to reduce energy costs is hardly new for school districts, but as the need to cut expenses and the pressure to think green increase, some school districts are getting more creative -- beyond the basics of recycling bins and turning off the lights at night.
In preparing its rules, Glendale's energy committee examined 18 other energy policies and borrowed ideas to set hot-water temperatures and turn off computers at night, as well as the appliance ban.
The Rialto Unified School District, in San Bernardino County, once charged teachers and staff members a fee for the use of appliances. Now teachers must receive approval for such items as refrigerators, microwaves and space heaters. Deputy Supt. Joseph Davis estimated that about 90% of teachers no longer have the appliances, though the district hasn't taken an official tally.
The Jurupa Unified School District recently instituted an annual fee policy that will go into effect next year: $40 for refrigerators, $10 for microwaves and $10 for coffee makers.
The Val Verde district has banned the appliances outright.
Merrilee Harrigan, vice president of education at the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of business, government, environmental and consumer groups, said that although a ban on appliances will save money, she doubted whether it was the best policy.
"If you just kind of do a knee-jerk thing like no one can have microwaves or coffee makers, you're alienating the teachers," she said.
Still, she said, for districts that have already taken other energy-saving steps, it might be necessary.
Energy Education, a Dallas-based consultant for school districts, shares the alliance's sentiment of not wanting to pit teachers against the energy program. In addition, it might not be a fight worth picking, given that appliances account for a small percentage of energy costs, said spokesman Mike Gullatt.
But Scott Price, Glendale's business services administrator, said the energy committee decided that it needed a policy or "nothing will happen."
The Glendale Teachers Assn. came out against the ban and instead pushed for a voluntary policy.
Some teachers might go an entire day without stepping outside their classroom door.
"I teach bell to bell, I'm flying bell to bell, every day," said Pat Rabe, a math teacher at Crescenta Valley High School. "And when we don't have access to these things immediately, we don't eat."
The refrigerator in Rabe's classroom is shared with another teacher; the policy allows appliances in areas far from the lounge or cafeteria.
But teachers say they now have to coordinate schedules because the door must be locked if a teacher isn't in his or her classroom.
Like others, Rabe often spends lunch doing extra work with students in her classroom but wonders if the ban will put an end to that.
"The students ultimately are going to lose," she said. "Because a lot of times if I have to choose between eating and helping a student . . . I'm going to choose to eat."