September 20, 2015

Rascovar: Hogan vs. Kamenetz, a preview of 2018?

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, right, and Superintent of Schools Dallas Dance at Sparks Elementary School from the county's Facebook page.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, right, and Superintent of Schools Dallas Dance at Sparks Elementary School from the county's Facebook page.

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

In a bizarre twist, we might witness a preview of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign at the next Board of Public Works meeting.

Then again, a threatened confrontation between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and Democratic Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz may never occur.

Even more bizarre is the issue that could bring these potential foes into a debate arena: air-conditioning.

Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, D, his tag-team partner in beating up on unsuspecting officials at BPW meetings, blame Kamenetz for allowing thousands of county children to swelter through hot, early- and late-summer days because their schools lack A/C.

Four dozen Baltimore County schools have no air-conditioning, which is shameful.

But Kamenetz is not to blame, nor is current county school superintendent Dallas Dance.

Hogan and Franchot are pointing accusing fingers at the wrong individuals.

$1.3 Billion in Upgrades

If the two men did some basic research they would find that Kamenetz and Dance are trying hard to rectify this sorry situation, which has been festering for decades.

They have embarked on a $1.3 billion school renovation program that will bring A/C and other upgrades to 99 percent of county schools within a decade.

Accelerating the county executive’s remediation plan – and how to do it — ought to be the focus of this debate.

More likely is a battle of angry words with Hogan and Franchot having a field day criticizing Baltimore County’s mistreatment of school kids.

On the surface, Hogan and Franchot are right. No child in today’s public schools should have to sit all day in classrooms that top 90 or 100 degrees.

But what are Hogan and Franchot doing to eliminate this intolerable situation other than voice displeasure?

Neither official has lifted a finger to bring A/C to more schools in Baltimore County.

And what about Baltimore City, where over half the schools lack air-conditioning? Why aren’t Hogan and Franchot livid about that even more appalling situation?

The reason is politics.

2018 political foes?

Frachot Hogan Kopp Brogan BPW

At Sept. 16 Board of Public Works meeting, from right, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Gov. Larry Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and Deputy Treasurer Susanne Brogan.

Hogan sees a chance to embarrass a likely opponent in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Franchot sees an opportunity to tarnish a potential rival for the 2018 Democratic nomination for governor.

Odd bedfellows, indeed.

The two men not only denounced Kamenetz for Baltimore County’s un-air-conditioned schools, they requested that he and Dance appear before the Board of Public Works in early October.

But there’s nothing on the board’s agenda that requires Kamenetz and Dance to show up in Annapolis on Oct. 7. Neither the governor nor the comptroller can force such attendance.

Still, it makes for good theater when politicians call-out a potential foe.

If the confrontation takes place, it may not be a propaganda victory for Hogan and Franchot. Indeed, they could end up with egg on their faces.

Problem-solver

Kamenetz complained about the lack of air-conditioning when he ran for county executive five years ago. Since taking office, he has reduced the percentage of no-air-conditioned schools from 52 percent to 20 percent with enough money appropriated to lower that figure to 15 percent.

By 2021, he wants A/C in nearly every one of the county’s 173 school buildings, or at least have the money in hand to begin the work.

Clearly, Kamenetz and Dance are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

If Hogan and Franchot want to blame someone, they should chastise former Baltimore County school chiefs and former county executives Jim Smith and Dutch Ruppersberger. They are the ones who dropped the ball and failed to make air-conditioned schools the county’s highest priority.

Indeed, the real culprits are bureaucrats in the county’s school system who made some astounding blunders beginning 15 or 16 years ago.

Back then, school officials hired an out of state company to analyze the physical defects of county schools. The estimated repair costs, including air conditioning: $130 million.

But county officials delayed acting on those expensive recommendations. Each year, work was put off. Nearly a decade later, the county asked the state for funds to begin the long-overdue school renovations.

Yet no one updated the original report to account for soaring construction costs.

Lack of funds

Thus, when engineering firms were hired to start the school repairs, the county found itself woefully short of funds.

Then the county goofed again, asking the engineers to fix only the highest priority items at each school. Plumbing defects, leafy roofs and dangerous electrical wiring took precedence, not air-conditioning.

The engineering firms complained that this made no sense. Why not use available funds to totally renovate the schools in the worst shape and ask the state for more money to renovate the other county schools over the next few years?

Those complaints were ignored.

A renovation at Ridgely Middle School under Smith’s administration somehow managed to overlook the need for air-conditioning and windows that opened for ventilation. Franchot heard about that debacle and showed up at the school to lend support to the angry parents.

Not until Kamenetz arrived as county executive in 2010 did air-conditioning become a priority.

Solutions, not complaints

At this stage, what needs to happen is for Kamenetz and Hogan to agree on a speed-up of the county’s air-conditioning timetable. How that will be financed is the key question.

Both of them must put more school construction money on the table, even if the money goes toward window air-conditioners in some schools until a more permanent fix is completed. (Anne Arundel County air-conditioned 20 of its elementary schools with window units, getting a huge discount by making a bulk purchase of commercial air-conditioners.)

Hogan, though, has been Scrooge-like in spending state dollars. Kamenetz, too, has shied away from spending that could mean a tax increase.

The time has come to fashion a solution rather than using school children as political pawns.

The campaign for governor can wait. There’s no reason to begin the blood-letting at this early stage.

But there is every reason to try to come up with a solution that will bring air-conditioning to every classroom, not only in Baltimore County but in all Maryland schools.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com

 

  • Dale McNamee

    Why doesn’t somebody look into installing ductless air conditioning in the schools instead of the more traditional type ?

    I read about the renovation that overlooked opening windows and AC… Hopefully those morons and others like them won’t be anywhere near the schools as the schools are upgraded…

  • Lisa Moore

    A few years ago, the State (Mr. Franchot) gave EXTRA money to several counties. What did Baltimore County do with the money they received? Did they bother to air condition a few schools or did they waste the money on high end upgrades for the wealthier schools? I believe Kamenetz and Dance were around at that time.

  • Len Foxwell

    This is such an important issue, and I really wish that Barry had taken time to do his homework. Comptroller Franchot has been working diligently on this issue for years. In fact, had Barry taken a moment to review the Maryland Reporter’s press clippings, he would have found an article written by Megan Poinski, dated October 19, 2011, in which Peter chastised the Baltimore County Public School system for spending a $7 million supplemental state appropriation on everything BUT air conditioning in older schools.

    Over the past six years, the State has appropriated nearly $270 million to the Baltimore County Public Schools through the Public School Construction Program, and another $27 million in supplemental funds for aging schools, and yet the problem still persists. As a result, children and teachers have become sick and have fainted, equipment has malfunctioned and meaningful education has ground to a halt in these classrooms on hot days.

    Peter doesn’t really care who was in office during which years, and he couldn’t care less who might or might not be running for higher office three years from now. He is frustrated because nobody should have to live or work like this, particularly when there is an affordable and timely solution — portable box units — that have been proven to work. So with all due respect to Barry’s efforts to turn this health and safety issue into an inside political game, this effort will go on until every classroom in Baltimore County is air conditioned. In the meantime, I’d encourage Barry to actually go out into one of these classrooms on a 90 degree day — or even an 80 degree day — to see how much of a game this really is.

  • Michael Darenberg

    Barry, are you new to Maryland?????? In 2011 I sat through the a board of public works meeting when the state had extra funds from the alcohol tax, Comptroller Franchot asked County Commissioner to please put this extra money towards air conditioning. Instead he put it towards replacement lockers and new stage lighting for an elementary school, back then he and his chief of staff Don Molher felt a/c was not needed in schools because there was only 7 hot days during the school year. When the Comptroller asked how and why those western Baltimore county schools were chosen , County Commissioner Kamenetz said he wanted to REWARD those legislators who voted for the alcohol tax. What I dont think you get or understand about the Governor and the Comptroller is that they Govern for all the people they represent not just the ones who voted a certain way.

  • Alan Southworth

    Mr. Rascovar, when writing an article on the important issue of school air conditioning, whereby you condemn others of not conducting some “basic research” on this matter, may I kindly suggest that you practice you own advice prior to submitting your piece? If you had, you may have found that Comptroller Franchot has been championing efforts to have all of Maryland’s schools air conditioned dating back to the Spring of 2011. I’m well aware of this because it was in May of 2011 when I was told directly from Mr. Kamenetz’s Chief of Staff Don Mohler that installing air conditioning in the then current Baltimore County Public Schools that weren’t yet air conditioned wasn’t a priority because the schools, students, and their staffs only had to endure extreme heat-related temperatures on an average of 17 days per year. Keep in mind Mr. Rascovar, that on this particular morning, it was 94 degrees in my daughter’s 1st Grade classroom at 7:30 AM. This was over an hour before her school, Middleborough Elementary, officially opened. Thankfully, our children attending Middleborough Elementary only had to endure another 3 full years before construction to install air conditioning finally began in August 2014. Yet you say that Comptroller Franchot hasn’t lifted a finger? If not for Mr. Franchot, Middleborough Elementary’s students and faculty would still be suffering whenever these extreme heat-related temperatures increasingly arise. But please, don’t take my word for this Mr. Rascovar, do some basic research. Perhaps watch the Channel 13 News Report from September 22, 2011 where Mr. Franchot speaks out about the lack of air conditioned classrooms. Better still, read Mr. Kamenetz’s own MD Board of Public Works testimony of October 19, 2011 whereby he states that air conditioning isn’t a priority because it’s only “10 days out of the year when conditions are agreeably unbearable” (down from the 17 days his office stated in May earlier that year). When out-going Baltimore County Superintendent Dr. Hairston was asked by Comptroller Franchot what the criteria was for determining when schools needed to close during extreme heat, he responded “when the heat index reaches 105 degrees”. That fully explained why my then 6 year-old daughter got off her school bus with her face flush, hair matted to her head, and her clothes so soaked through with sweat, that her toes were shriveled up when I removed her shoes and socks. Taking a hard stance on air conditioned classrooms for every child in Maryland is, has been, and always will be about our moral obligation to ensure every child is provided with the same opportunity to learn in an environment that is comfortable (not simply tolerable) and conducive to learning. Comptroller Franchot understands this and he has our community’s utmost gratitude for all of his efforts and support. You would’ve known this also Mr. Rascovar, had you just heeded your own advice and conducted some basic research on this matter.

  • I remember when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was expected to be Hogan’s opponent in 2018. Look how that one turned out. KK better hope that there is no jinx.