PORTLAND, Ore. – Keeping Portland public school students and staff supplied with clean drinking water through the 2016-17 school year will cost the district nearly $1 million.
Lead issues triggered the district’s decision to shut off drinking water sources right before the end of the 2015-16 school year. Portland Public Schools bought a total of 1,066,546 bottles of water for the last eight days of school, costing $151,114, according to district spokeswoman Courtney Westling.
PPS switched over to dispensers and five-gallon water jugs this summer, likely to the relief of environmentally conscious Portlanders. That is costing the district about $50,000 between June and August.
The estimated cost to continue with dispensed water during the 2016-17 school year is $750,000. In all, PPS will spend an estimated $951,000 or more on bottled water by next June.
The district came under fire after tests at two schools found elevated lead levels in water, and internal documents showed some district officials knew about the problem for years.
A further investigation found the district mismanaged lead issues and misled parents. Two employees have been placed on administrative leave and Superintendent Carole Smith retired early to make way for new leadership. An interim superintendent has not yet been named.
Results of a system-wide test taking place this summer show nearly all of Portland school buildings have high lead levels in some water sources. Dozens of students and staff have elevated blood lead levels, but the sources of lead poisoning have not been determined.
A $750 million school measure that includes $200 million for health and safety repairs will likely hit ballots in May 2017. The district has not said what its plan for fixing lead issues in schools would be if that measure doesn’t pass, meaning the million-dollar annual bottled water bill could continue for years.