Piney Branch Elementary School Young Activist Club

FAQ about the Pilot Project Proposal to replace styrofoam trays with a dishwasher and reusable trays

Why is there a huge discrepancy in overall costs projected by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Young Activist Club (YAC)? Why is the total cost for the Pilot year only $11,000 from the Burke Feasibility Study compared to the MCPS Department of Facilities proposal cost of $57,000?

The Burke Feasibility Study (BFS) done for YAC planned for the specific school’s needs, consulted with staff and specialists, and took into account the specific kitchen layout and existing utilities. In contrast, the MCPS proposal was written as if there was no kitchen or facilities in the school already. In addition, the BFS has identified refurbished equipment that is of equivalent (or higher) quality and that costs less than half of new equipment. Specifically, the BFS has not added design consulting charges ($12,000) or existing items (for e.g., 2 garbage cans, $160) to the fee, and has a proposal that reflects the actual MD Health Code instead of suggestions (for e.g., two staff are not required by Code to operate ware washers as stated to Board of Education member Chris Barclay by MCPS; exhaust hoods are not required for low-temperature dishwashers ($15,000 price tag)). Download the Burke Tray Washer Feasibility Study.

What about additional water and electric costs?

The commercial dishwasher that would be installed in PBES uses about 1 gal/per wash cycle of 60-90 seconds. On the busiest lunch day at PBES, ~325 trays will be used; that would be a max of 20-30 cycles or 45 minutes of use (and likely less, as the trays are smaller than ‘normal’ and so less cycles are needed). The estimate for the minimal electric and water costs is about $2/day or less; the YAC is asking for MCPS help in accurately monitoring the pilot year to verify these estimates. The budget includes $25 for dedicated electricity monitoring.

What is the difference between a high-temperature and a low-temperature dishwasher?
High-temperature machines are called for when the level of soil of pans and trays is high (for e.g., in a functioning kitchen where you would find baked-on food and where there is a huge number of items to be cleaned in a compacted time frame). High-temperature machines require a booster heater (220 volts) and a steam exhaust hood. Low-temperature machines are well suited for the PBES kitchen where there is no cooking, as well as a low number of items to wash with low soil level.

How much does MCPS spend now to supply Piney Branch with styrofoam trays and plastic cutlery?

According to YAC calculations, MCPS pays $3,496.80/year for the styrofoam trays, $1,522.40/year for plastic cutlery, $500 (estimate) for the disposal transportation & labor costs, $50 (estimate) for the tipping fee at the waste incinerator. Using the figures from the trays and flatware alone, MCPS would save $5,569.20 during the pilot year, as all Pilot Project Costs are covered by the YAC.

If the project is continued, we anticipate the following annual operational costs will be reduced from current budgets while also improving quality of life, all with no start-up costs to MCPS.

What about the additional labor cost that would be necessary to operate the dishwasher?

The Burke Feasibility Study budgets $3,960 in labor for the year. This represents 1.5 (one and a half) hours work for 1 (one) individual, x $13.32/hour = $19.98/day x 198 days of school year. This hourly wage is from MCPS’s calculations.

PBES has several part-time individuals/para-educators who would be interested in additional hours of work during the school day. If the PTA were approved to run the Pilot Project for the benefit of the entire County to gather information about this proposal, the PTA could offer and cover stipends for this time.

And isn’t it prohibited for the PTA to pay staff to do the work they are hired to do by MCPS?

Since this Pilot Project would benefit the entire MCPS, it would be justifiable for the MC Board of Education to direct the PTA to carry out this Pilot, including necessary staffing, in order to benefit the entire system. Payment from the PTA to staff is prohibited if that payment only benefits the individual school; this visionary project would provide valuable data for the whole system.

Alternatively, MCPS could authorize a para-educator to do the tray washing, releasing them from equivalent time of playground duty, and the PTA could get commitments from parent volunteers to fill in at playground duty for the Pilot Project if needed.

Another potential is to have the County itself support the project through committing some of the savings on less purchasing to providing the labor.

Aren’t there risks for purchasing a used dishwasher?

Commercial dishwashers are built for 20 plus years of operation. Unlike copiers (which MCPS already purchases used), they have fewer breakable parts, and are not operated by inexperienced or large numbers of staff, and have a reputation for reliability.

We were presented with the idea of using a reconditioned machine by other school systems who have already transitioned to reusables through this route with great success. The Burke Feasibility Study includes the cost for a maintenance contract to cover any work necessary; this would be required whether a new or a used machine was installed. The principle behind reusable trays applies to purchasing a reused dishwasher as well!

The PTA would be fortunate to find appropriate equipment at auction. The Burke Feasibility Study budget listed refurbished auction equipment as low as $1,200 (including not only washer but also spray arms, tables, racks, auction services and pickup and delivery). Purchasing at auction is only possible given the flexibility of the space in the PBES kitchen; most commercial kitchens are extremely constrained by size, and therefore have limited potential for finding the requisite equipment at Auction.
Furthermore, if it is decided that the Pilot Project is not successful, the equipment can be auctioned off to recoup a significant part of the initial outlay.

Has the YAC raised enough money to cover the costs of the Pilot Project?

Yes. As of November 23rd, 2009, the YAC had raised $10,115, more than enough to cover the labor, monthly maintenance contract, installation, and start-up equipment costs for the remainder of the school year. The Burke Feasibility Study’s budget for buying and installing a rebuilt dish washer totaled $11,079 for a full school year. The 2009-10 school year is almost half over.

The YAC Pilot Dishwasher Program wins on economics, environment and education!