www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/catonsville/ph-ca-air-conditioning-reaction-20130826,0,3332242.story

baltimoresun.com

Five Baltimore County schools to receive air conditioning, but none in Catonsville

By Julie Baughman, jbaughman@tribune.com

3:57 PM EDT, August 26, 2013

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With a new school year in progress, parents of students at Westowne Elementary have resumed their battle to obtain air conditioning at the school.

So members of the group were surprised and disappointed to learn that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said on Aug. 21 that he will ask the County Council for $17.2 million to fund air conditioning at five county schools, a list that did not include Westowne.

"It's just surprising that we don't get counted," said China Williams, whose son Felix Baum started first grade at the school on Harlem Lane Aug. 23.

"We've been dismissed, ignored and what not," Williams said. "How are we so invisible?"

The funds request by Kamenetz will provide air conditioning at Parkville Middle School and at Featherbed Lane, Hawthorne, Scotts Branch and Wellwood International Elementary schools.

The $17.2 million supplemental appropriation represents the county's share of the $29.2 million cost of installing air conditioning in these schools.

The state Board of Public Works approved $11.7 million for air conditioning of county schools on Aug. 21.

If approved by the council, the new funds would mean only 23 percent of the county's schools are without air conditioning, according to a release from the county.

Much to Williams' dismay, Westowne Elementary will remain within that 23 percent for another school year.

"If they [Baltimore County Public Schools] explain to me why some schools get it [air conditioning] and we don't, I would understand," she said. "But they don't seem to be consistent in their answers.

"From what I can tell, they don't deem our building worth the investment," she said.

Denise Avara, president of the Westowne Parent Teacher Association, also expressed disappointment in the county's lack of action at Westowne.

"Up until now there's been no transparency, and there still is no transparency, with Baltimore County Schools," Avara said. "That has been the biggest beef [parents have]."

Avara said she thinks First District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, is working with Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance to find a solution to the lack of air conditioning at Westowne and Catonsville elementary schools and also to solve general overcrowding problems in Catonsville area schools.

"I think that the current folks in power, if you will ... are trying to clean up an issue that really wasn't theirs to begin with," Avara said. "They're cleaning up a mess that's been there for a long time."

While county officials look at the issues, Avara said parents in Catonsville need to continue to present a united front at School Board meetings and addressing both politicians and employees of the school system.

"I'm trusting that the powers that be are looking at the whole [area]," she said. "The time for it to be our school versus your schools versus another school is over."