A contentious debate is taking place between Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot as the state officials have criticized the county for not fixing sooner its schools that lack air conditioning.
The county executive has gone on the defense, saying that he is fixing a problem he inherited, with a plan to have air conditioning in 99 percent of county schools by 2021.
“There is no resource problem. There is no money problem. It’s a lack of leadership, it is a lack of priority,” Franchot told The Jewish Times. “It’s an issue where we left tens of thousands of kids behind.”
Franchot’s suggestion is to outfit classrooms with window units as renovations take place, something Kamenetz attacked at a recent news conference held with Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas S. Dance.
“I know the comptroller is very interested in this subject, but most interestingly, the state doesn’t authorize funding for room air conditioning,” Kamenetz said. “So he’s sitting there telling us to add room air conditioning, and by virtue of the state rules they’re going to pay for zero. So really it’s not a well-thought-out position when you kind of look at what the facts are.”
He added: “It’s really putting a Band-Aid on a problem when we’re offering a long-term cure.”
Kamenetz and Franchot are both viewed as potential Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election, adding a political undertone to the debate that Franchot said has “twisted” the issue.
“This is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind,” he said. “I don’t really care where the blame lies. I want the problem fixed.”
Hogan said Dance and Kamenetz should explain the air-conditioning situation at the next Board of Public Works meeting on Oct. 7, according to The Baltimore Sun. Kamenetz told the newspaper he hadn’t received an invitation and would not say if he would attend, adding that Hogan is welcome to meet with him at his Baltimore County office.
At his news conference, Kamenetz highlighted that projects are completed or fully funded to reduce the number of schools without air conditioning to 15 percent this year. Fifty-two percent of schools lacked air conditioning when he took office in 2010. He has asked the state for additional funds to expedite the county’s Schools for Our Future program, a 10-year $1.3 billion program of which $900 million are county funds and $400 million are state funds.
“Customarily, the state requires the county to provide a dollar-for-dollar match. We are providing more than $2 for every $1 of state funding,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “We need the state to step up and equally match our county contributions so we can expedite the air-conditioning projects at the remaining schools.” At the end of the program, 99 percent of county schools, including all middle and elementary schools, will have air conditioning.
Locally, Pikesville High School is in the midst of a $44.9 million renovation that includes a new HVAC system, a new roof, accessibility upgrades, new classrooms and technology. The project is expected to be completed by the 2016-17 school year.