The Department of Public Works has replaced twice as many batteries in school-zone flashing lights across New Orleans this year as it averaged last year.

In January, The Lens found nearly half of the 147 school-zone lights in active school zones were malfunctioning.

City spokesman Brad Howard said this week that city workers have replaced 24 batteries this year. That’s well above the average of six per month during 2014.

Councilwomen Nadine Ramsey and LaToya Cantrell have promised to address the problems — which includes lights flashing at night or  days when children aren’t in school, as well as improperly installed solar panels and low batteries.

Ramsey heads the Public Works, Sanitation and Environment Committee, which met Tuesday morning. Cantrell and Councilwoman Stacy Head were present as well.

Director of Public Works Mark Jernigan again blamed weather for The Lens’ January observations, when he spoke to the committee Tuesday.

“At the beginning of the year, there were a number of school zone flashers that were out,” Jernigan said. “… this typically happens when we have more than 10 days of cloudy conditions.”

But that’s not what the manufacturer says. According to Jeff Smith, a former municipal traffic engineer who now works for Temple, Inc., the company that sold the system to the city, it’s specifically designed to handle months with lower-than-average sunlight.

Jernigan’s presentation focused mainly on street repairs and the city’s residential parking permit system, but it did include a brief four-bullet-point slide on the city’s school lights.

Jernigan did not directly address the incorrectly installed solar panels. According to Carmanah, the manufacturer, it is critical that solar panels face south to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight. The Lens found several cases were panels were not facing south.

Jernigan said there are 161 school zone lights in the city. The list the city provided to The Lens in December listed 163. We researched 147 in active school zones; some schools with lights nearby are empty.

He highlighted the remote programming capability of the system. But that transmitter that controls the beacons via radio is only working intermittently right now, Howard said.

One sign requires a nearby tree trimmed, some lights need reprogramming, and additional diagnostic work is needed at others to determine whether the problems are in the hardware or software.

Jernigan said his department has contacted the manufacturer, the state  highway department, and the city’s technology department for technical help.

“This is something that definitely has my attention,” he said.

Cantrell also plans to address the issue at a Thursday meeting of the council’s Community Development Committee and its Transportation and Airport Committee.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...