By Nick Ferrara
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore County Board of Education Tuesday adopted a $246.2 million capital budget for the 2017 fiscal year that includes plans to fix schools and add central air conditioning to 12 locations.
The capital budget – $49.9 million of which is state funded – represents an $11 million increase from the current spending plan.
It includes funding for all elementary and middle schools to be air conditioned by next fall except for several schools that are set to be moved to new facilities.
All high schools would get air conditioning installed by the fall of 2018 except for Dulaney, Lansdowne, Patapsco and Wooodlawn, which are receiving major renovations and are scheduled to be completed in fall 2019.
During the meeting, the board was given an email from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in which he stated that he is attempting to get a waiver from the state that would allow him to move forward with central air conditioning in 12 schools.
The waiver will be viewed and considered by a state school construction panel on the Wednesday following the board of education meeting.
If this waiver is denied, the 12 projects must wait until the beginning of next school year to be reconsidered in next year’s budget. If that is the case, the design phase of the project will continue throughout this year until funding is made available.
Board member Ann Miller proposed that the board wait until its next meeting to vote on the capital budget so that it could hear whether the county received the waiver.
The board rejected that proposal and voted 9-2 to approve the 2017 fiscal year school budget.
“I don’t believe in voting on things without all of the pertinent information,” Miller said. “We would have gotten the information in two days time and we’ve got time in our schedule to push back the vote to the next meeting.”
One of the most discussed solutions by the board members was to bring in portable air condition units as part of a temporary solution.
While this would assist in cooling down sections of each school, several board members said there will be no county funded portable air conditioning units.
Miller said portable units could not only be part of the current solution, but the long term solution as well.
“It will be a lot faster to get the portable units into schools while we wait for a more permanent solution of central air conditioning,” Miller said. “Portable units can actually be integrated as part of the permanent solution so you can have portable units in some rooms and central air conditioning for the main portions of the building.”
Baltimore County has 36 public schools without any central air conditioning, causing schools to close when temperatures rise to 90 degrees.
The county hopes to cut that number down to 24 schools by the beginning of the next academic year with the help of the new budget that will be implemented for the 2017 school year.
Charlie Saroff, a senior at Franklin High School, said that it is difficult to learn on hot days in school buildings without air conditioning.
“It’s really difficult to function in classrooms when they get that hot,” Saroff said. “For me, I often get sleepy in those conditions, which results in me not being able to get my work done.”
School board members at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday said that closing schools due to hot conditions is causing students to not only miss valuable class time, but also after school athletics and other activities.
Student board member Aislinn Bratt, who is a senior at Towson High School, said she has been receiving emails from students of all ages.
Bratt said the students feel they are missing too much school and that some students even said they wish going to school was made optional on days in which the temperature exceeds 90 degrees.
Many parents have also voiced their concerns with this issue, including retired Elmwood Elementary School teacher Sharon Saroff.
“Right now the policy is, on a hot day, schools without central air conditioning don’t go to school,” Saroff said. “My son is in his senior year and he is yet to have a complete week of school.”