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School pests prove hard to control

For the past several years, the Oak Harbor School District has been developing a plan to establish guidelines to prevent weeds and pest problems while minimizing the use of dangerous chemicals.

While the school district is using less chemicals than it had in recent years, workers are spending more time eliminating weeds.

“It’s much more difficult to deal with pests and weeds when you’re dealing with manual extraction,” said Bruce Worley, operations director for the school district, during a recent Oak Harbor School Board meeting.

Some officials are concerned that workers don’t have the resources to meet the requirements of the Integrated Pest Management plan.

“One of the things I hear is that we set them up for failure,” said board president Kathy Jones.

To get an idea of how much work is involved with maintaining school district grounds, the district hired a consultant to analyze the grounds program. The consultant will study the types of equipment workers use, the amount of time workers are spending to maintain grounds, and then recommend better ways to care for the school sites.

“This is to give us an idea if we’re manned properly,” Worley said in an interview after the meeting.

The school district is planning to spend $12,000 for the consultant, who will examine resources, staffing demands and the school sites to determine needs for the school district.

As part of the district’s plan, workers have to try other means to control pests and weeds before resorting to chemicals. With weeds, workers have to use means such as pulling or burning the unwanted plants.

“They key . . . is to use chemicals as a last resort,” Worley said.

When workers resorted to spraying, they did so during the summer when schools are empty. Worley said most of the spraying has been limited to parking lots.

However, officials have found that the limited use of pesticides in 2004 wasn’t effective, according to information from the Oak Harbor School District.

School District employees used 2.4 gallons of RoundupPro herbicide during the 2003-2004 school year, which is about half of what was used during the previous year.

“It’s very little usage for 200 acres,” Worley said, describing the size of school district properties.

Workers found that Roundup doesn’t kill seeds and mechanical means are labor intensive and haven’t worked in eliminating thistle and horsetail.

The school district is considering using “pre-emergent” to help deal with weeds at the two middle schools and the high school.

However, the school district hasn’t found a pre-emergent that meets standards set forth by the school district’s Integrated Pest Management plan. Worley added that workers are also careful about using Roundup because it kills all plants, including the weeds.

The development of an Integrated Pest Management Plan stems from an incident in 2000 where hundreds of pounds of herbicide were found buried on school district property near Memorial Stadium. That discovery prompted an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A committee formed made up of school district officials, residents and representatives from various environmental groups and public agencies. They have been meeting monthly for the past two years to develop the plan.

Their efforts were recognized by the Washington Toxics Coalition last spring. They recognized the school district for banning the use of high-hazard pesticides, providing advanced notice for spraying during school hours and adopting preventive and non-chemical pest control.

Worley said the committee is continuing to meet monthly to develop a manual for the district. After that, he hopes the meetings can be conducted annually.

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