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Former teacher makes school district his classroom

Skott Hutton shows staff, students how to save energy
By: Gloria Beverage, Placer Herald Editor
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Skott Hutton has turned the Rocklin Unified School District into his classroom. The former elementary school teacher turned energy education specialist now spends his work days teaching district staff and teachers how to save energy and conserve water. “It makes me proud to be part of the district that was tired of cutting costs in terms of labor,” Hutton said. “I look at myself as an agent for change.” As one of the newest teachers in the district, Hutton said, he received “pink slip” notices of possible layoff each of the four years he taught in Rocklin. When he received the fourth one, Hutton started looking around for another career. Then he learned the Board of Trustees had agreed to hire someone who could find ways to cut the district’s utility bills. After he landed the job, Hutton began studying the district’s energy and water usage patterns. “They spent $2.5 million last school year,” he said. “My role is to educate teachers and district employees that there are opportunities to save money and show them how we’re going to do it.” In his first week on the job, Hutton noticed that Rocklin High School’s PG&E bill was three times higher than it had ever been. “It was staggering,” he said, particularly since the campus was closed for the summer. After some further checking, PG&E determined the meters on the campus were defective and gave the district a $20,000 credit, Hutton said. Hutton has been bringing a PowerPoint presentation on energy conservation to school staff meetings and visiting with the school custodians to encourage energy-saving efforts. One of his first requests was to ask teachers to stop propping the classroom doors open. By showing a picture of an open door stuffed with basketballs, Hutton gave the teachers a visual “demonstration” of the amount of energy being wasted. He also adjusted the timers on the classroom thermostats to provide optimal comfort during the school day, but shutting down 90 minutes after school ends. “Teachers can push the override button and get another 30 minutes (if they’re staying later),” Hutton said. “Not only do we have to save money in the classroom,” he said. “but we also have to share it with the students so they can save at home. It’s an opportunity to spread it through the community.” He jokes that he has turned students into “vampire slayers.” “Every appliance is a vampire. It sucks electricity when it’s not on,” he said, adding he’s asked each classroom to make someone responsible for turning off computers and electrical equipment at the end of the day. Laurie Magner’s fifth-graders at Twin Oaks Elementary School took the challenge seriously. Hutton had suggested that installing power strips in each classroom would make it easy to turn off all computers and appliances at the end of the day. “The principal was going to go out and buy them,” Magner said. “Then my kids decided they would go home and ask their parents to donate power strips.” Not only did the parents donate enough power strips to use throughout the campus, Magner said, but they also donated other energy-saving items. “They saved the school quite a bit of money,” she said. Hutton has also focused on ways to save water on the Rocklin school campus. While the campuses have landscaping that requires minimal watering, Hutton believes there is room to reduce usage – even if it is 10 percent. He proudly notes that in the 13 months he has been on the job, the district-wide savings is approximately $352,000. “As you know, we had an extremely dry winter and we actually had to use more water than during any other year, which was a $26,000 impact,” he said. And now he’s planning a larger cost-savings measure — the installation of solar panels and replacement of lighting on the seven-year-old Whitney High School campus. Hutton believes he has found his niche – a job that offers plenty of opportunities to teach. “I’m a bit of a data nerd,” he explained, adding he earned a multi-subject teaching credential with a focus on math and science. His wife of 16 years, Michelle, is a sixth-grade teacher at Rock Creek Elementary. Their two sons — 14-year-old Jacob and 12-year-old Skyler — attend Rocklin schools.