St. Louis schools to seek funds to reduce lead paint

Thursday, December 4, 2008 | 8:39 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis school district will seek at least $4.5 million to $5 million in outside funds to correct potential lead paint hazards at 27 elementary schools.

School board CEO Rick Sullivan told The Associated Press on Thursday that the three-person board appointed last year to oversee the troubled school district became aware of the problem and its significance in the last 60 days.

Sullivan is the chief executive officer of the district's special administrative board.

He said city inspectors and a consultant have suggested immediate steps for addressing the problem while the district pursues a permanent solution.

"I'm relying on the experience, knowledge and expertise of two independent parties on lead abatement to give us the advice we're following," he said.

Initial estimates put the cost of removing lead paint from the schools at about $2.8 million, but Sullivan said it now appears more money will be needed. "We're still trying to gather as much information as we can about the full estimated cost," he said.

"We believe when we find the funding, the problem can be corrected in a relatively short period of time," he said. Sullivan said he could not say specifically where the money might come from, nor estimate how long it would take to abate potential lead paint hazards once the funding is found.

The St. Louis schools are in a unique position, after academic and financial problems prompted the creation of an appointed school board last year. The district will be under state supervision into 2011.

The elected school board no longer has decision-making power over the district, but its members remain vocal.

Elected school board member Donna Jones said Thursday that she hadn't yet heard that the appointed board would seek new funds to abate lead, but said she was glad to learn of it.

"I certainly hope they can get the money because students deserve an environment that is toxin free," she said.

Jones was among about two dozen people who took part Tuesday in a rally about the issue outside Roe Elementary School. Participants demanded that the district remove lead paint from grade schools. Peeling paint was visible around windows on the building exterior, including those directly above children's play areas.

The school district's director of operations, Roger CayCe, said in a phone interview earlier this week that vacuums with special filters are already in use to collect possible lead dust or paint chips at schools that have not had lead abatement.

Twenty-two schools in the district had lead abatement work done from 2004 into 2007. CayCe said earlier this week there was no money in the budget for lead abatement, but he said work was being done to identify a funding source.

The YMCA of Greater St. Louis said it could not accept preschool-aged children into a before- and after-school care program at Roe this year after a state inspection showed lead. Students at the school used to attend Wilkinson Elementary, but were moved to Roe this year.

Children under age 6 are particularly at risk for harmful health effects from peeling lead-based paint, which they may ingest if they put an object covered in lead dust in their mouths, or if they eat lead paint chips. Because their brains and nervous systems are still developing, too much lead exposure can lead to learning disabilities, behavioral issues and physical problems, such as kidney damage.

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