Dulaney High parents and teachers talk strategy in wake of school board's rejection of proposed renovation

Dulaney High School parents and teachers gathered last week to discuss short- and long-term strategies to address the aging school's needs in the wake of a March 7 school board decision to reject a contract to renovate the building.

In the meantime, a group of parents, teachers and students who want the county to construct a new Dulaney High School will hold a strategy meeting April 5 at 7 p.m., at 525 St. Francis Road, in Towson, said one of the group's leaders.

The Baltimore County Board of Education was scheduled to vote on a proposed $36.7 million contract to renovate Dulaney High School, which was built is 1964 and has one of the lowest facility scores of any high school in the county. However, no member made a motion to approve the renovation project, meaning the board essentially rejected the project by declining to vote on it.

Some board members cited community sentiment against the renovation as a reason for the non-vote.

The renovation is described in the contract as a "limited renovation" with a goal of updating mechanical, electrical, architectural and structural systems, as well as installing central air conditioning and educational enhancements.

The board's decision was exactly what some members of the Dulaney community said they wanted. Some advocates say the renovation's scope was too small and would not have addressed the larger needs of the 53-year-old school.

Parents and teachers discussed the board's March 7 decision, and what it might mean for the school's future, at a Dulaney Parent Teacher Student Association meeting March 16, which was conducted at the school.

Yara Cheikh, a Dulaney parent who has led the effort to convince county officials to build a new school rather than the proposed limited renovation, said advocates for a new school are looking at developing two strategies in the wake of the school board's action.

First, a short-term strategy must be created to address the immediate concern of the school's lack of central air-conditioning, Cheikh said. That could include raising money to purchase portable air conditioning units for the school, or seeking the donation of units.

Advocates also must develop a long-term strategy to ensure funding for construction of a new Dulaney High School, a process that will straddle current county executive Kevin Kamenetz's term as well as whomever is elected to replace him in 2018, Cheikh said.

The proposed renovation was a part of a $1.3 billion Schools for our Future initiative launched by the executive in an effort to modernize the county's school buildings.

Kamentetz has long said the county can't afford the more than $100 million cost of building a new Dulaney High, which he reiterated in a March 7 statement in response to the school board's action. The money that would have gone to the proposed renovation will be reallocated to elementary school construction projects because of the board's decision, according to a Kamenetz spokeswoman.

Cheikh announced that a group that backs a new high school, called Friends of Dulaney, will hold a meeting April 5 at her house.

At the end of the PTA meeting, Marty Stranathan, a Dulaney chemistry and biology teacher, thanked parents in the group for their effort in pressuring board members to reject the renovation contract.

"You moved an immovable rock," he said.

Participants at the meeting also discussed a letter Superintendent Dallas Dance sent to Dulaney principal Sam Wynkoop March 10, which lays out the next steps for Dulaney High in the context of a larger improvement plan for all county secondary schools.

"Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) will engage with a third party to work with us and each of our communities to conduct an assessment of our middle and high schools regarding our need for capacity at the secondary level," Dance said in the email.

In the letter,Dance said he "projects" that the assessment will be complete by May 2018.

"When BCPS is able to determine the needs as they pertain to middle and high school seats, then, in working with our funding authorities and communities, we will be able to address, not only Dulaney High School, but the needs of the other schools as well," Dance said in the letter.

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