The state’s Board of Public Works reinstated $10 million of school construction money for Baltimore City and Baltimore County Wednesday, after the school districts presented plans to install air conditioning in overheated classrooms.
The decision came as the board, which includes Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, held its annual “begathon,” in which superintendents from around the state are summoned to Annapolis to discuss their requests for school construction money.
According to The Baltimore Sun,
The city plans to cool all of its schools within five years, and the county has plans to install air conditioning within four years.
“We really appreciate the effort,” Gov. Larry Hogan told city schools CEO Sonja Santelises.
But Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot were less enthusiastic about Baltimore County’s plans.
“I have some healthy skepticism … I think the jury is still out,” Franchot told county schools Superintendent Dallas Dance.
The total state budget for school construction is $334 million. The board was discussing the first 75 percent of that amount — $213 million. The requests are for the budget year that begins July 1.
School superintendents were called before the board in alphabetical order to pitch their plans and answer questions, a process expected to last well into the afternoon.
In the current budget year, the board withheld $5 million from the city and $10 million from the county over the lack of air conditioning in schools.
After the meeting, Santelises said she was pleased to receive the $5 million that had been withheld.
“The real win is for the city, and that we now have an example of what it means to come together around something,” she said.
Santelises said the school system will need to figure out which projects to spend the money on.
“The release of this $5 million will allow us to get some vital infrastructure projects done,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”
Baltimore County, likewise, will need to evaluate how to spend the money that is being released, Dance said. He said he plans to return to the Board of Public Works to offer more details on how the final 13 schools will get air conditioning, in hopes of getting the rest of the money that was withheld.
“We’re excited to get the $5 million back but as I shared with the governor, I hope we can add $5 million to that very soon,” he said.
While money was restored for Baltimore city and Baltimore County, the board withheld from Howard County $9.6 million of next year’s school construction money.
Hogan said he was not satisfied with Howard Superintendent Renee Foose’s answers to questions about how a mold problem at one of the county’s schools has been handled.
Hogan indicated the money could be restored after the board reviews a report on the issue that’s forthcoming and “we can really assess what’s going on with the mold issue.”