Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is embracing a 15-year plan to renovate public school buildings that does not include a total replacement for Towson and Dulaney high schools, but called for the state to provide more funding for school construction.
In a letter to state officials Monday, Olszewski withheld his support for local funding requests that did not align with the Multi-Year Improvement Plan for All Schools, a master plan for public school construction in Baltimore County developed by the consulting firm CannonDesign. The consulting firm, hired jointly by the school system and county government, was charged with spreading limited local and state funds for construction equitably across Baltimore County’s schools.
The plan has drawn ire from some lawmakers and communities who are frustrated that Towson and Dulaney high schools were not targeted for replacement. School advocates have complained for years about burst pipes, dilapidated conditions or overcrowding at the two schools.
Baltimore County school board members narrowly approved a capital improvements budget request to the state in September that included the total replacement of those aging schools. Olszewski’s letter to the state Monday counters the school board’s request.
The county executive said his job is to find solutions to problems that do not compromise the needs of students.
“I know how transformational a good school experience is,” Olszewski said Monday.
He said the MYIPAS plan will address capacity issues and school building conditions in an equitable way over the next 15 years.
However, Olszewski also published an open letter Monday to Baltimore County parents stating that the plan was written based on existing funding and must go further. It does not reflect what the school system needs, he said.
“It meets the basic requirements of our high school communities, but doesn’t provide for the enhanced renovations, additions or new buildings that many have long sought,” he said in the letter.
Olszewski said his top priority during the upcoming legislative session is to secure more funding for line items the budget does not cover, such as new pre-kindergarten classrooms, security vestibules in each building and new furnishings for older buildings.
“I am writing to you today to ask for your help,” his letter states. “This additional funding will be my top priority in Annapolis this year — but lawmakers also need to hear from you. When constituents communicate with lawmakers, it makes a difference.”
Dulaney High School PTSA president Yara Cheikh, who has advocated for the Lutherville-Timonium school’s replacement, said she was encouraged by Olszewski’s letter.
“While my community would have liked to have the full support of the county executive to fund a replacement school this year, it is encouraging that he acknowledges that MYIPAS is only the baseline of need,” Cheikh said. “We will need more dollars and replacement schools, and not inadequate renovations, to meet the needs of all of our students.”
Meanwhile, State Senator Chris West, who represents portions of Baltimore County that include the two high schools, called the county executive’s announcement “career-defining.”
After watching Olszewski make promises about the schools during his campaign, West said he considers the county executive to have broken his word.
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“Never in my lifetime of closely observing Maryland politics have I witnessed such a shocking breach of promise by a public official,” West said.
West called Olszewski’s calls for more state funding vague, adding that he wants assurances that any additional money will go toward replacing the high schools.
“I’m happy to bend every ear possible in Annapolis to get more money for Baltimore county schools, but I need to know how much money we’re talking about and I need assurance [Olszewski will] keep his word and not renege,” West said.
In a response to West’s comments, the county executive’s spokesman Sean Naron said, “we hope the Senator agrees that every student across Baltimore County deserves investments and we look forward to his support to deliver results for our communities.”
Other lawmakers also have weighed in on the debate over the Multi-Year Improvement Plan for All Schools. In August, West joined State Delegates Cathi Forbes, Michelle Guyton and Nino Mangione and County Councilmen Wade Kach and David Marks to deliver a five-page memo to school board members arguing the consulting firm’s study contained serious flaws.
Another 15 Maryland General Assembly members for Baltimore County shared their support for the consultants’ plan, according to a Nov. 9 letter sent to the county’s planning board.
Capital improvements to public school buildings typically are funded through a combination of state and county money. The Maryland Interagency Commission on School Construction is considering the board’s proposal along with the county executive’s comments. Separately, county officials will consider funding for the projects based in part on how much the state decides to award.