By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun
6:02 PM EST, January 25, 2012
State Comptroller Peter Franchot plans to post an online petition on his agency's web site Thursday to help Baltimore County parents put pressure on the county school administration to take action to put air-conditioning into schools that now offer no relief to sweltering students.
Franchot vowed to post the "Cool Schools" petition after hearing a presentation Wednesday from the school administration on school construction priorities during the annual Board of Public Works ritual that Gov. Martin O'Malley calls the "Hope-a-Thon" but that virtually everyone else knows as the "Beg-a-Thon." During that marathon meeting representatives from each county's schools come to Annapolis to present its plans to the board, hoping (or begging) for an edge when the board makes the final cut in its distribution of school construction funds.
The comptroller raised the issue of a lack of air conditioning in county schools at a previous board meeting in October, pointing out that the county had the second lowest rate of air conditioning in public schools after Garrett County -- where there's a high degree of natural air-conditioning.
After Wednesday's meeting, Franchot said he was dissatisfied with the answers he received from school administrators, including Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.
"The response today by the Baltimore County bureaucracy was the worst example of government arrogance and callous, irrational behavior I've ever seen in politics," Franchot said.
Franchot pointed to a letter from parents of children at Middleborough Elementary School in December offering to pay for 25 window air-conditioning to provide relief in the absence of a full upgrade if the county would pay for installation. In a return letter, the county schools turned the offer down , saying it would be counterproductive to use window units instead of central air conditioning. The letter from Michael G. Sine, executive director of the Department of Physical Facilities, suggested the parents put in a request for the following year. Alternatively, he suggested the parents and community could come up with the $1.6 million it would take to install central air conditioning.
One could make a case that Franchot, a prospective candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, is playing politics with the issue. But one could also make a strong argument that it's pretty effective base-broadening politics for a former Montgomery County delegate to take an interest in Baltimore County kids and teachers.
"The politics are kids drenched in sweat every day falling asleep because of the heat," Franchot said. "Every politician in Baltimore County has air-conditioned offices. So does every administrator."
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