Gov. Martin O'Malley said Monday that his administration proposes spending $336 million on school construction aid next year, including $25 million to add air conditioning to older schools.
At a news conference at Overlea High School —- more than 50 years old and without air conditioning — O'Malley said the construction spending would yield an estimated 8,199 jobs. The money set aside for air conditioning addresses an issue of particular concern in Baltimore County, which has about 65 of the 180 schools in the state that lack cooling systems.
While the governor stressed the importance of investing in modern facilities to improve learning, he was noncommittal about a plan advanced by the administration of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to put Baltimore school renovations on a fast track. The city wants the state to agree to a multi-year funding stream that would let the school system borrow enough to launch a $2.4 billion renovation program.
In response to a question, O'Malley said he was open to the idea and looked forward to learning more about the proposal. School officials in Baltimore County are considering a similar plan.
The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and members of Baltimore County's General Assembly delegation for the announcement, one of several he will hold this week to unveil plans for the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.
The amount he is allocating for school construction in his proposed budget for next year is well above the $250 million recommended by a commission headed by state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp in 2004 but is less than the $396 million devoted to school construction this year — the second-highest amount on record.
Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the amount proposed for school construction each year varies based on factors, including local needs. The governor said the $25 million specifically set aside for air conditioning is the largest ever proposed for that purpose.
While the problem of schools without air conditioning is a statewide issue, it has received particular attention in Baltimore County — from Comptroller Peter Franchot among others. Kamenetz said 54 percent of the county's schools lacked air conditioning when he took office after the 2010 election, but that plans already in place will cut that number to 36 percent within two years.
While the governor went to Overlea High for the announcement, there is no guarantee that the school, built in 1961, will be among the beneficiaries of next year's allocation. County Superintendent Dallas Dance said a full renovation of the school — including the addition of air conditioning — was on the list of projects the county requested from the state agency that doles out construction dollars.
Because the agency left Overlea off its list of priorities, the county will appeal that decision to the Board of Public Works, made up of O'Malley, Franchot and Kopp.
Asked whether freshmen at Overlea will have air conditioning by the time they graduate, Dance said he hoped so but couldn't give any guarantee.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun