Too many of Baltimore County’s public schools are dangerously overheated, public health officials and angry parents of students both agree. The issue has been a public health concern for quite some time, but when it comes to resolving the air conditioning crisis that many Baltimore County public schools currently are facing, little progress has been made until recently. Together, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and Governor Larry Hogan have put financial pressure on Baltimore County to provide adequate central air conditioning to all of its schools, but will the new plans stay in effect?
Baltimore County schools have a history of exposing their student population to the seasonal elements, and these extreme temperatures are not limited to summer months. In December of 2015, the Deep Creek Middle School was forced to close early due to near-freezing temperatures. Deep Creek has one of the oldest infrastructures in the entire state, and many other schools in the surrounding areas are not in much better shape. Some of these schools have not had central air conditioning in more than 10 full years.
As of June of 2013, more than 47 thousand students in Baltimore County schools had no air conditioning whatsoever, roughly 10 thousand less than students who had air conditioning.
Governor Hogan and Comptroller Franchot have grown tired of bureaucratic delays and have taken it upon themselves to formulate a plan that puts pressure on Baltimore County officials to rectify the situation. Each of them hold a seat on the Board of Public Works, the third and final seat belonging to state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. In May, the board voted 2 to 1 to deny $15 million in school construction funds to Baltimore and Baltimore County. The school officials could receive the funding only once they had presented a plan to get central air conditioning back into all classrooms by the end of August 2017.
The board also voted to use $45 million in surplus money from Baltimore County’s treasury to purchase temporary window air conditioning units for the schools as a relief measure. State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp objected to this measurement, but was outnumbered 2 to 1. Since then, the Maryland Schools Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance has contributed a total of $20 million in surplus funds towards temporary window air conditioning units as well.
These measures have prompted extreme reactions from Baltimore County officials. Maryland school-construction chief David Lever has since resigned in the wake of the board’s decision, but not without first accusing Hogan and Franchot of exercising “blunt authority” without appropriate discretion. Baltimore County Exectuive Kevin Kamenetz equated the $15 million denial in school funds to holding a “ransom”.
Despite his protests, Kamenetz announced a new plan in which middle and elementary schools would have air conditioning by 2017. All high schools will have air conditioning by 2018. Originally, Kamenetz wanted all Baltimore County schools to have air conditioning by the end of 2019, but has since relented on this stance.
Four schools will not be included in this time frame due to other scheduled renovations in addition to installing air conditioning units, including fixing cracking floors, burst pipes and other issues. These schools are Lansdowne High School, Patapsco High School, Woodlawn High School, and Dulaney High School. The parents are largely unsatisfied with these renovations, however, which they say won’t address other problems such as dirty water and sinking foundations. Instead, they are calling for the construction of all-new schools entirely.
Until the new air conditioning units have been implemented, Baltimore County school officials have drafted a new police that will have closures announced the night before whenever the heat index is to rise above 90 degrees, amongst other procurements aimed at keeping students out of the excessive heat.