Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The end of School IPM in Texas?

In case you haven't heard, a bill submitted to the Texas Senate earlier this month includes a provision that would eliminate all requirements for schools to follow IPM in our state.  Section 13 paragraph (2) of Senate Bill 468, introduced by Senator Florence Shapiro (R) of Plano, Texas, would repeal Section 1951.212 of the Occupations Code, the section of state law entitled "Integrated Pest Management Programs for School Districts".  The presumed intent of the bill is to reduce costs to Texas school districts in this time of very tight budgets.

In response to a number of inquiries we have had from schools and pest management professionals, I and colleagues have put together some facts concerning school IPM in Texas. We are not advocating for or against the provision of this bill that affects school IPM programs, though most readers of this blog will recognize my belief that the school IPM requirements have played an important role in moving our state's public schools toward a better form of pest control.

When discussing the bill with others, you may find the following information helpful in formulating talking points.  If you need more information, go to the school IPM website, Detailed information about the Texas School IPM model can be found by clicking on the “More Information” button on the right hand side of the page. For specific information about successful IPM programs click on the “Awards and Recognition” button, also on the right hand side of the home page.

Economic Impacts of School IPM Laws
  • There is no evidence that the school IPM law and its associated regulations cost school districts significantly more that what they would normally spend on adequate pest control. In a 2005 Texas AgriLife Extension survey of over 500 IPM Coordinators, 53% felt that the IPM requirements had actually reduced long-term costs of pest management. Fifteen percent believed there was no change in cost to the district. Only 18% of districts said that they felt the school IPM regulations had increased the long-term costs of pest control to their district.
  • Increased costs in labor and training for IPM programs appear to be more than offset by long-term reductions in pest complaints, reduced costs of chemicals, and reduced costs for transportation (responding to pest complaints), etc.
  • Additional school district savings, associated with other IPM programs and likely to be true for Texas schools as well, include reduced liability for pest and pesticide complaints, and healthier work environments resulting in reduced student absences and teacher sick days.
  • There is evidence that many schools are finding substantial cost savings with the switch to IPM. Keller ISD, for example, reduced its costs for contractual pest control from $94,000 to $18,000 between 2008 and 2010, due to better management and bringing some services in-house. 
  • A 2005 study conducted in nine North Carolina elementary schools compared conventional pest control to IPM for German cockroach control. Conventional pest control cost $16.92 per service at the beginning of the study and decreased to a stable $7.50 in the final months; compared to IPM service which intially cost $12.63 per service and declined to $6.20 per service (Williams, Linker, Waldvogel, Leidy, & Schal 2005).
Health and Safety Impacts Associated with IPM
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is a leading cause of school absence in the U.S. – more than 12 million asthma-related absences per year. Not only is IPM implementation more effective at controlling pests that conventional pest management practices but it can also lead to long-term health benefits, such as reduced exposure to rodent and cockroach allergens, important asthma triggers. For this reason, the U.S. EPA considers IPM to be an important component of its Tools for Schools program advocating for better indoor air quality for schools. 
  • The IPM law has resulted in a shift from more- to less-toxic pesticide use in Texas schools. A 1994 Texas A&M University study showed that the two most consistently used insecticides for indoor and outdoor pests in schools at the time were diazinon and Dursban, two broad-spectrum, residual insecticides that were associated with numerous public complaints. In the 2005 Texas AgriLife Extension Service statewide survey conducted ten years after enactment of the school IPM law, insect baits, followed by insect growth regulators and low-toxicity inorganic insecticides such as boric acid (all preferred products under state regulations) were the most commonly used products. This significant shift away from conventional insecticides has not been seen in school districts from other states.
  • The school IPM law requires good record-keeping from all school districts. This has resulted in better accountability and provides a way to track improvements in pesticide stewardship not commonly seen in schools in other states.
  • In a Maryland study, the Montgomery County Public School System reduced pesticide applications from  5,000 to 600 per year within three years of implementing IPM. Similar reductions have been reported in Texas since implementation of school IPM regulations.
Quality of Pest Control
  • Texas schools have indicated greater satisfaction with their pest control programs, both in-house and contracted, since implementation of the school IPM law. According to the 2005 Texas AgriLife Extension Service study, schools were 75% more likely to be satisfied with their pest control program compared to 1993, before the law went into effect. In addition, the study found that 75% of school IPM coordinators believe that the state IPM requirements have resulted in more effective pest management in their districts.
  • Similar conclusions were found in a 2001 survey of 292 school districts by the then Structural Pest Control Board. In this survey, a substantial majority of schools felt that IPM had resulted in pest control equal to or better than pest control services before the IPM requirements went into effect.
  • Research consistently shows that whenever IPM is implemented in the urban environment it tends to result in better pest control, generally with the use of less hazardous pesticides and less contaminating application methods. There is now nearly universal agreement among regulatory officials, academics, facilities managers, architects and pest management professionals that IPM represents the best available management approach for dealing with pests. 
Other considerations
  • Texas’ law and regulations strike a balance between encouraging use of less hazardous products and methods, and allowing schools the freedom to do what they need to manage pests. Under current rules, Texas schools can use any pesticide they deem necessary.
  • Many school IPM coordinators report receiving greater support for their programs from district administrators because of this law. 
  • Some school district superintendents may be under the mistaken impression that repeal of the school IPM law will save the district money for the training and licensing of school district employees to apply pesticides. However, eliminating Section 1951.212 will not eliminate the need for use of licensed applicators to apply pesticides in schools. For safety purposes all pesticide applications made to restaurants or other food processing establishments, apartments, day-care centers, hospitals, hotels, warehouses, government buildings and schools must be made by licensed individuals (Occupations Code Section 1951.051).
  • Requiring school IPM coordinators to be trained has resulted in schools being better-educated consumers of pest control services. Many districts demand better service, switching to higher quality service providers or bring pest control services in-house at reduced expense. Nationally the trend is for states to require more, not less, training for school pest management personnel.
      To learn more about what you can do about this bill, contact your local professional association.  The Texas Pest Control Association, Texas Association of School Boards, or the Texas IPM Affiliates for Public Schools are each developing position statements on SB 468.  This is a vitally important issue that needs the attention of anyone involved in school health and IPM-related professions today. 


      Anonymous said...

      Dr Merchant....when does this go to a vote ??

      Mike Merchant, PhD said...

      There will be a hearing on the bill in Austin on Tuesday. Information about the hearing can be found at If you can't attend hearings in Austin, letters can be

      Mike Merchant, PhD said...

      Sorry about the abbreviated comment just now. Continuing...letters can be sent to Senator Shapiro or other members of the education committee. For a list, see

      Anonymous said...

      It is clear that the Keller ISD numbers do not show the cost of the in house employees.

      It is clear that many voters are shifting from the high cost of public employees toward the cost of privatizing services to reduce spending.

      IPM in schools almost sounds like a joke, how many people does it take to kill a cockroach? With IPM it seems to take a lot of people( decision makers down to the front line treatments). When all those people have unions and pensions it is clear this policy may not be economically sustainable in the future if the goal is get money to teach children.

      I tried to look at the IPM program at Plano schools a few years ago and the employee sent me to someone outside the district so I dropped the research. Maybe I should rattle some PISD cages.

      Mike Merchant, PhD said...

      In response to this last comment, the numbers I quoted were the outside contractor costs over the period indicated. It's my understanding that Keller kept the same number of staff, trained them in IPM and secured licenses and brought their IPM activities in-house. The bottom line is that if you ask the Keller maintenance staff, they have saved their district a significant amount of money as a result of learning more about how IPM works, and how they could do a better job in-house.

      As to the comment about "how many people does it take to kill a roach?", we (semi-)jokingly say in our trainings that it takes a village, or in this case, a whole district, to manage pests effectively. IPM is as much about environmental management and sanitation as it is about squishing bugs. And if you've ever seen a cockroach infested kitchen, you would agree that it is no trivial task to correct this kind of problem.

      I'm sorry if you were given the run-around at your school district. If you choose to try again, ask for the district IPM coordinator. One difference between before and after school IPM in Texas is that now every compliant district has one person in charge of pest management. Prior to this requirement you were more likely to get the run around since there were commonly many people in-charge (especially in large districts), and blame could more easily be shifted. Let me know if you want to contact the PISD coordinator. I think you'll find a knowledgeable person who cares about quality pest control.