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Kaneland OKs contract with energy conservation company

Board member Rivas questions cost, wonders why district can’t save energy on its own

SUGAR GROVE – The Kaneland School Board on Monday night approved a five-year contract with an energy conservation company, but the move was not without debate, with one board member voting against the agreement.

The contract is with Cenergistic, a company that offers energy management and conservation programs to school districts throughout the country. The company was represented at the meeting, and at a meeting earlier this month, by Bob Davis, a regional president, as well as Jack Barshinger, the former Batavia School District 101 superintendent.

The company promises significant energy savings, as much as $98,000 in the first year, and access to its experts, who make recommendations after learning how a district operates.

It would have an energy specialist work with the district, and the aim is to “embed ourselves in your culture,” Davis said. The cost to Kaneland is $9,000 a month. The district, in a memo, noted that energy savings are “expected to exceed all costs during this time period.” Davis said the goal is “to reduce what you are spending” on electricity, gas and water.

Board member Pedro Rivas said that while it is suggested the district ultimately would save $2 million as a result of the agreement, there would be a cost of more than $500,000. He said the district could opt to save the cost and try to implement changes that would lead to energy savings.

“If we do nothing, it saves us $500,000,” he said. He said he understood there was “a wealth of information they are giving us,” but he said the district probably could save energy without the agreement.

“Why should I pay them a half-million dollars when we can try it ourselves?” he said.

Rivas was the only board member to vote against the proposal, although Tony Valente said he did not necessarily disagree with Rivas. Valente said he was familiar with the process from time spent in another district and, of the energy specialist, Valente said “that person went around turning off lights.”

Valente, however, said he was voting for the agreement. Another board member who voted for the agreement, Peter Lopatin, said he supported the decision, but said he was unclear about some of the details and language in the contract. For instance, he noted that Cenergistic would determine the compliance on some implementations and said he couldn’t tell how the district would be held accountable.

“As a nitpicker, I have little questions … none of which are real deal breakers,” Lopatin said.

In another decision, the board did not approve the restoration of an assistant track coach position at Kaneland High School. At a previous meeting, there was discussion that indicated several assistant coaches in the district were volunteering their services.

Superintendent Jeff Schuler said it is a bigger issue that should be dealt with districtwide, and “not in isolation.” Lori Shroka, an assistant track coach at the high school and the president of the Kaneland Education Association, spoke in open session, saying that as many as 21 assistant coaches in the district are working for free. She said that needed to be addressed.

“These programs wouldn’t exist without these volunteers,” said Shroka, who told board members and administrators that she would “want you to expedite that process.”

“It shouldn’t take you a year,” she said. “You’re asking these coaches to work for free another year. What is their motivation?”

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