Enron case tied to school costs

EVERETT – Snohomish County schools have seen their electricity bills jump as much as 80 percent, despite comprehensive energy-saving programs, educators said Thursday.

As a result, local schools are spending money to keep the lights on rather than supporting “our mission, which is teaching children, not paying the PUD bill,” Everett Schools superintendent Carol Whitehead told U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee.

The Washington Democrats said they’ll use the information as they try to force the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to intervene in the Snohomish County PUD’s battle with Enron.

“School districts have not hired teachers because they’ve had to put bigger checks in the mail to Enron,” said Cantwell.

“It wasn’t just Grandma Millie who had money stolen, it was our children,” Inslee added.

Cantwell estimated that Snohomish County school districts have paid an additional $9 million for higher-priced energy as the result of Enron’s alleged manipulation of West Coast power markets from 2000-01, even though all three districts worked with the PUD to find ways to use less energy.

The districts would have to pay an additional $2.5 million if Enron prevails in a lawsuit that seeks to recover $122 million from the PUD, which cancelled its contract with the energy company in 2001.

Enron’s suit against the PUD is “a little like Bonnie and Clyde suing the banks,” Inslee said.

The Snohomish School District is paying an additional $420,000 a year in power costs, Superintendent Bill Mesters said, enough to pay for “all of the textbooks we’d need to renovate social studies for a year.”

To balance the budget, the district has not hired teachers to match the growth in the number of students, and has left vacant positions unfilled, he said. That’s driven up the average class size.

“The quality of education is significantly impacted because of that,” Mesters said.

In Mukilteo, the district has reduced spending for text books and library books and has cut bus drivers, office staff and after-school activities for children, said Carolyn Webb, the district’s executive director for business services.

The district did receive more state money last year, but two-thirds of it went to pay the higher power bill, she said. “Those were dollars intended to buy text books (and) computers and software.”

In Everett, the district was able to slash energy use 12 percent, but the power bill still went up $450,000, Whitehead said. That’s enough to pay for four or five new teachers, she said.

Compounding the problem, the district’s energy bills are going up at the same time that state and federal officials are placing costly new requirements on schools, said Paul Roberts, the vice chairman of the Everett School Board.

“These things really are a death of a thousand cuts,” he said.

Inslee scoffed at President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education program, saying that he has adopted a “leave-no-energy-trading-gouger behind policy … so that this administration can protect their pals at Enron.”

“This evidence is irrefutable,” Cantwell said. “The federal regulators, instead of doing their job … have instead jammed Washington state, our economy and now, we know, even our children with these costs.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.