Dishwasher Update (As of February 2013)

Goal: We want to replace the wasteful and toxic polystyrene lunch trays at Piney Branch Elementary School with 350 durable lunch trays and a tray washer (also called a ware washer). Once the ware washer is installed, we want to track the costs and benefits of moving away from disposables and toward reusables. We want this project to be a test or pilot for the county school district and then, if successful, a model for other schools anywhere in the country.

Money Raised to Date: We have raised $10,115 to pay for a rebuilt dish washer and durable reusable trays to replace the disposable polystyrene lunch trays.

Status: Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) administrators have denied our request to proceed with a pilot project. In a December 23rd, 2010 memo to the MCPS Board of Education, then School Superintendent Jerry Weast cited cost reasons for his opposition to the project. His staff continue to insist we need a $27,000 new ware washer, that installation costs are a whopping $12,000 (not true), and that two staff are needed to operate a ware washer in Maryland (also not true). We have since talked directly to ware washer manufacturer and provider, Hobart, as well as to our kitchen design consultant Burke Design, and gathered additional information that confirms the accuracy of our projected costs and budget. More recently we have investigated leasing a dishwasher over buying one. A third expert has visited our kitchen and confirmed we have raised enough money to cover costs for one year. In July, we held a webinar for the BoE to learn from the experience of a school in Oak Park, IL, which saved money by installing a dishwasher. Again, we have shown that it can be done. We will continue to appeal the decision and to present evidence justifying the merits of our pilot project which will save MCPS money during its operation, not cost money. We are now asking new Superintendent Joshua Staff to meet with us so we can discuss the benefits of our project and seek his support to move forward.

We held a community forum March 23rd, 2010: “Resolving the Food Fight: Community Forum on Lunch Trays and Healthy Schools.” At this forum, our Board of Education representative, Christopher Barclay, stated that he would not fight for this project although he acknowledged that the styrofoam trays are a problem. The community feels let down by Mr. Barclay. County Council member Valerie Ervin was strong in her support for our project.

Without responding to our February 2010 rebuttal, then School Superintendent Dr. Weast and former School Board Chair, Mrs. Patricia O’Neill reiterated their position in a letter to several County Council members. This letter is attached at the bottom of this web page. To see our response, go to: Response to April 2010 BoE Letter

More recently, in July 2012, Mr. Barclay introduced a resolution (which passed) for MCPS to assess its carbon footprint. The resolution to assess the school system’s carbon footprint represents inaction not action on finding alternatives to the problem of wasteful styrofoam trays in our schools. Staff have already pre-determined that the lunch trays represent 0.2 percent of a typical elementary school’s carbon footprint and have used their analysis (uncited by the way) to conclude that eliminating the trays is not worthwhile. (See the April 2010 BoE letter mentioned above.)

In the fall 2012 BoE candidates’ forums, both Mr. Barclay and BoE member Phil Kaufmann stated that they do not believe the BoE should be deciding about individual school projects nor be involved in operations, that instead that is the role of the Superintendent.

We are now renewing our efforts to meet with Superintendent Starr. At his State of the Schools address November 12, 2012, Dr. Starr said that we need to create a system where kids are taught to be innovative thinkers, creative problem solvers, apply academic skills to real problems, and have grit and character, and that the school system needs to collaborate with others and commit to community. We definitely agree. Our proposal to pilot a dishwasher at Piney Branch ES meets all of these stated goals.

Our Supporters: We have the support of our PTA, our principal, our school lunch room manager, our school building superintendent, our local City of Takoma Park Mayor and City Council, our state senator, Jamie Raskin, and six of our nine county council members! At our suggestion and request, the Takoma Park Mayor and City Council passed a resolution, June 7, 2010, to ban use of city funds to purchase polystyrene food service ware. Click here to see the resolution. In the previous year, following our testimony, they passed a resolution June 2009 supporting us and our project, and calling on the county to support us. To see the resolution, go to:

To read Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin’s statement of support, click here.

To see the letter of support to the Board of Education from our six Montgomery County Council members, see attachment below.

More Background: Previously, Joe Lavorgna, acting director of the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Department of Facilities and Maintenance, thinks the project would cost $57,000, not $10,000 (MCPS has since further inflated the cost of our project to more than $70,000). He offered a compromise involving use of recycled paperboard trays. He wants us to use the money we have raised for our ware washer for this compromise project. Because the paperboard trays are three times more expensive than the polystyrene trays and are only used once, we have said no to this compromise. We want to use the money we have raised to test the economics of a reusable system, not a single-use system which we know to be more expensive than polystyrene. We testified before the Montgomery County Board of Education in July asking for their help in moving our project forward. In order to resolve the disagreement concerning the costs of our project, we agreed to use some of the money we had raised to pay for a professional feasibility study that would document the costs of installing and operating our project. We hired Burke Design and they toured our school in late August, taking measurements and assessing electricity, water, and other installation needs. They submitted their feasibility study in November (available for download below). The study included a budget of $11,079. As the school year is half over, we have raised more than enough to pay for equipment, installation, and monthly maintenance. We testified once again before the Board of Education, this time at its public hearing on Facilities and Boundaries, November 11, 2009. We asked the Board to unanimously approve our pilot tray washer project at its December 8th meeting and direct staff at MCPS Facilities & Maintenance to work with the PBES PTA and principal to address any remaining obstacles. At the hearing, Board members directed staff to respond to the feasibility study. Superintendent Weast responded in a December 2009 memo. Click here to see our rebuttal to this memo and to download a copy of the original memo.

On February 3rd, 2010, 15 members of our club participated in the first Youth Town Hall Meeting, sponsored by the Montgomery County Council, in Rockville, Maryland. The meeting was packed with standing room only; only a handful of youth were selected to ask their question(s) of the County Council. Third grader Anna was fortunate to be selected and presented our position and request for help. She garnered the biggest applause of the evening and the Council promised to talk to Dr. Weast. They did follow up with a letter to Dr. Weast. See this letter.