Baltimore County Council opposes building new Dulaney High School

Dulaney High School appeared to be on track last week to get a brand new building. This week it seems maybe not.

A majority of the Baltimore County Council wrote a letter Tuesday to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz saying they oppose his recently announced plans for a new school building.

The council members said the cost of building a new school would put the county in a “difficult financial position.”

“We are very mindful of the pressing needs of Dulaney and other deserving schools and we recognize the political landscape has changed,” the letter said. “But, so too, has the fiscal landscape.”

The action comes less than a week after Kamenetz announced he would include funding in the county budget to plan for building the new school. The existing building has substantial structural problems, lacks air conditioning and has old plumbing and pipes that burst frequently. It is also projected to be overcrowded in several years.

Kamenetz initially wanted to renovate the building but parents and other community members pressed instead for a new building. They also argued that the renovation plan was less comprehensive than the renovations other school buildings were getting.

When Kamenetz reversed course and announced that Dulaney would get a new building, the decision infuriated elected officials and a school board representative from Lansdowne. They had lobbied for a renovation for Lansdowne High School after being told by Kamenetz that there was not enough money to pay for new high schools for Dulaney and Lansdowne. They said they were “shocked” by Kamenetz’s reversal on Dulaney and called for a new high school to be built for their community as well.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the Lansdowne area, said the county executive didn’t build consensus among the council before making his decision.

In their letter to Kamenetz, the County Council members suggested the next county executive and council, who will be elected in November, should make the decision about which high schools to build because they will have to find the funds to pay for them. Quirk believes the funds can’t be found unless the council makes cuts elsewhere in the budget or raises taxes.

“I refuse to allow the county executive to get all the credit, while pushing the funding issue to the next county executive and County Council,” Quirk said. “It is politics at its worst.”

Kamenetz’s office responded to the council members’ letter Tuesday afternoon, explaining that he had expressed his intention in September to add two new high schools in the central and northeast sections of the county because of increasing enrollments.

“Recent projections suggest that the central corridor will need more than 1000 new high school seats in the next 10 years,” wrote Donald Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff, in the response.

Adding 350 new seats at a new Dulaney High School, as well as additional seats at a new Towson High would be the “most cost-effective solution,” Mohler noted.

In contrast, Mohler said, Lansdowne is not projected to need more seats.

Mohler said Kamenetz looks forward to a full discussion of the budget when he submits it to the council in May. The school system’s capital budget was submitted to Kamenetz, who must release his budget to the public in April. If Kamenetz includes planning funds for the new Dulaney building in that budget, the county council can cut it.

The only member of the council not to sign the letter to Kamenetz was Wade Kach, who represents the Dulaney High School area.

“I am outraged and very upset with the six council members who signed the letter,” Kach said.

The organization that fought for the new school, Friends of Dulaney, “have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt” that Dulaney needs a new school building, he said. “It’s just such a slap in the face to our community.”

He believes that renovating the large school would be a poor use of taxpayer money.

Friends of Dulaney member Jennifer Tarr, said the group has “never been interested in pitting one school against another. … Tom Quirk’s current politics are keeping communities stagnant and ruining educational opportunities.”

Tarr said she believed the county executive’s decision to replace Dulaney was “not haphazardly thrown out” and was based on four years of information gathered about the deteriorating conditions.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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