Franchot dials back criticism of Baltimore County school air conditioning

Franchot said he'll consider whether to revisit its vote to withhold school money over the air conditioning.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot on Thursday dialed back his criticism of Baltimore County's school air conditioning plans, which officials are now accelerating.

Franchot, who has been the chief critic of the county's efforts to air condition classrooms, said he's "cautiously optimistic" the county's latest plans will be acceptable.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and schools Superintendent Dallas Dance announced plans this week to speed up the installation of central air conditioning, using surplus money to pay for the projects. The county will ask the state to reimburse some of the money.

Under the plan, most elementary and middle schools will have central air conditioning by fall 2017, while most high schools will have central air by the fall of 2018. The exceptions are schools that are in the process of getting replacement buildings, as well as four high schools that are about to undergo extensive renovations: Dulaney, Lansdowne, Patapsco and Woodlawn.

"We really have to look at the details," Franchot said in an interview. "I am cautiously optimistic this is a step in the right direction."

Kamenetz, who has been the target of Franchot's ire for months, declined comment.

Franchot said he will have staff from the state Board of Public Works review Baltimore County plans to determine if they are sufficient. If so, Franchot said he'll discuss with Gov. Larry Hogan whether the board should revisit its vote last week to withhold school construction money from the county over the air conditioning issue.

Hogan and Franchot hold two seats on the Board of Public Works, which voted to withhold $10 million from the county and $5 million from Baltimore City, unless those school districts install portable air conditioning by this fall.

They've both been proponents of using portable air conditioners as an immediate measure to offer relief to overheated students and teachers. Kamenetz has maintained it's a poor financial move to spend money on portable air conditioners that don't last and won't provide a long-term solution.

Franchot took credit for prodding Baltimore County to accelerate its air conditioning program.

"For six years, I've dealt with foot-dragging and excuses why they couldn't do things. Obviously they have the money," he said. "I think it was just a lack of political will."

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