Contracts Scrutinized at SMMUSD Meeting

Malibu Surfside News

Concerns regarding the generality of a contract between the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District – for the former’s oversight of environmental testing at local schools – were raised Thursday, Feb. 6, during a SMMUSD Board of Education meeting.

The District’s contract with the DTSC is still in its drafting phases, but by-and-large, the statewide agency would act as an overseer as the District undergoes testing and cleaning of other schools in Malibu – including Juan Cabrillo Elementary School – affected by polychlorinated biphenyl and other possible contaminations.

Assisting the District with the actual development and implementation of testing and cleaning plans would be Environ International Corporation, an engineering firm that has assisted the District with addressing environmental concerns in Malibu’s schools.

“We [hire] the people who will be conducting the testing and preparing the reports, the DTSC’s role is more of an oversight agency,” Assistant Superintendent Janece Maez said. “This sets the stage for Environ – and it will be their [Environ’s] plans that will be vetted publicly – but it will be the DTSC that moves forward and asks if what’s being done is appropriate.”

While a contract with Environ has yet to be drafted, the so-far lack of specificity regarding Malibu’s schools in the draft contract with the DTSC irked some members of the community.

“With the DTSC, I got a contract from them that I read and it was very general,” said Jennifer Denicola, a Malibu parent who was on the environmental task force that investigated the PCB contamination at Malibu High School. “It’s just their [the DTSC’s] standard contract and there’s very little information about Malibu.”

While “Exhibit C” of the contract laid out the scope of work to be performed by the DTSC, it does not include language or terms pertaining to Malibu’s schools or the environmental concerns at them.

Board member Oscar de la Torre said he was also concerned about the contract’s lack of specificity regarding scope of the testing that would be conducted in Malibu schools.

“One thing I wanted to know in terms of soil testing, the [Environmental Protection Agency] is looking at indoor air quality and building materials such as caulking, but then DTSC is going to be focusing on soil, so what about water?” he said. “I think it would be important to ensure we have comprehensive research to capture all of that in the scope of work.”

SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon, however, indicated that she felt the Board members may have been jumping the gun with concern over the specifics of testing plans that have yet to be developed with Environ, and which the DTSC would oversee.

“At this point, to start talking about what a testing plan might look like, we’re a little bit ahead of ourselves,” Lyon said. “That’s why we’re waiting to get the contract finalized with Environ.”

Speaking to de la Torre, Board member Laurie Lieberman said she shared his underlying concerns, adding that the vagueness found in the DTSC contract might also be mirrored in the Environ contract during their initial stages, but that imprecision could be resolved when the DTSC and Environ begin working together.

“A lot of this is vague and I think this makes everybody uneasy with good reason, but I think we’re going to have to go forward and work with the experts who have worked with the DTSC experts for years,” she said.

Prefacing that he is “suspicious of anyone that calls themselves an expert,” de la Torre said in response to Lieberman that he wants to ensure the Board members have an opportunity to review the Environ contract, as well as the scope of services contained within, before finalization.

“I feel confident that we hired someone [Environ] that has a good reputation to do the work, I just want to make sure that the board of education understands the scope of the work and that we have influence over the scope of the work,” he said.

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