By Julie Baughman, The Baltimore Sun Media Group
9:20 AM EDT, May 8, 2013
Catonsville parents gathered in the auditorium at Catonsville High School Tuesday to voice their concerns on two major issues facing Southwest Baltimore County schools at the Baltimore County Board of Education meeting.
Parents from the Hillcrest Elementary School overcrowding committee asked the board to spend money allocated in the 2014 county budget for 500 new elementary school seats in Catonsville wisely.
However, Westowne Elementary School parents demanded attention as five of the 10 speakers for the night — selected randomly from all those who signed up to speak — pleaded with the board to provide air conditioning at their school.
A group of about 20 parents and students from the school were present, and stood in unison each time one of their representatives addressed the board.
“I am here to ask you how you will cool our school,” fourth grader Emily Ritzes said as she addressed the board in place of China Williams, a Westowne parent who deferred her opportunity to speak to Emily.
“I find it difficult to concentrate with so much heat,” she said. “Sometimes it feels like the heaters are still on in our building.”
“I deserve a healthy learning environment,” Emily said, just before presenting the board with a petition signed by 600 students, friends and family members from Westowne.
Westowne Parent Teacher Association President Denise Avara said she is the fourth PTA president to address the board on the issue.
“I took the PTA presidency to address this issue,” Avara said.
“We had a big group because we started operation squeaky wheel,” she said of a letter writing campaign recently started by Westowne parents.
She said she was glad to have parents from Hillcrest Elementary present to show their support and said the two groups will be working together to address multiple issues.
“It’s about the children,” Avara said. “Not about our school or their school and who gets what.”
“We really need to be a unified front as taxpayers in the community,” she said.