The Dulaney High School community celebrated a victory when Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans to build a new school to replace its aging facility.
Across the county, though, the decision left parents of students at Lansdowne High School feeling betrayed and angry. They asked: What about us? And demanded answers from county officials.
Lansdowne parents and school officials had been told they should accept a $60 million renovation of their school, which has had significant structural and other problems, because getting funding for a new school would take a decade or more.
Dulaney High parents had been told the same last year before Kamenetz changed course and approved a new school.
In announcing last week that he would include additional money for planning for a new 2,300-seat Dulaney High in the coming year’s capital budget, Kamenetz said he changed his mind because student enrollment projections for the Dulaney area showed the need for more seats. No estimate is available for what the new school will cost.
Nevertheless, Lansdowne’s parents see the change as politically motivated — Kamenetz is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018 — and say they also want a new school instead of a renovation. Parents of Dulaney students had lobbied hard for a new building and had the support of the school community, their state legislators and county council members. The Greater Timonium Community Council, representing 60,000 residents, had also opposed the renovation and supported a new school. Kamenetz’s announcement came just a week before Gov. Larry Hogan was set to visit Dulaney, leaving open the possibility that Hogan would criticize Kamenetz for failing to replace the school.
Tom Quirk, chairman of the County Council and a Democrat who represents Lansdowne, said he was “deeply disappointed and shocked” that Kamenetz decided to support a new building for Dulaney, but not Lansdowne.
“A year ago, the county executive said he wasn’t going to build a new high school at Dulaney,” Quirk said. “If Dulaney deserves a new high school, Lansdowne deserves a new school.”
Baltimore County has spent about $1.3 billion in the past decade to upgrade and build new school facilities. Still, spending has not kept pace with needed renovations and a growing enrollment. The county is adding about 1,000 new students each year.
The northeast section of the county will need more high school seats soon, as will Towson High School, which now has a rapidly growing enrollment.
Dulaney and Lansdowne were two of four high schools scheduled to be renovated in recent years. Dulaney has had various problems including a string of burst pipes that have filled its auditorium orchestra pit with water and left water flowing through its halls. Earlier this year a fence around one of its sports fields became electrified when a damaged wire came in contact with it. Officials say the school also needs air-conditioning and a general upgrade of facilities.
Lansdowne has similar issues, including cracking walls, a sagging floor in its music room and sink holes on its grounds. When Kamenetz said a year ago that he would not build new high schools for Dulaney or Lansdowne and advocated renovations, Dulaney parents balked — they lobbied the school board not to go ahead with a renovation plan, saying it would not solve all the school’s problems.
The Lansdowne community, however, largely accepted an expanded renovation that would resolve structural problems, add two new classrooms, renovate the school media center and create a new front entrance.
In September, when the renovation for Lansdowne came before the school board for a vote, school board member Nick Stewart argued passionately that his community was satisfied with a renovation, even fighting back an attempt by others to hold out for a new school.
Stewart said at the time it would be a “grave mistake” if the community turned down the renovation because it would be years before a new school would be funded.
Amanda Green, the PTA president at Lansdowne and the mother of a sophomore, said she felt Kamenetz had told the community “‘we don’t have the money and you have to accept this renovation.’
“Then all of a sudden Towson and Dulaney get new schools,” she said.
She said Lansdowne has wonderful teachers and students, but described the school building as “awful.” She said the renovation won’t change problems such as narrow, clogged hallways that are difficult for students to negotiate when they go from one class to the next.
“As a parent, as a taxpayer, how do you let a school get this bad,” she said. “I am not a political person. I want a new school. This is ridiculous. Lansdowne is a political pawn. I don’t understand why we have to fight for something that should be given to us.”
James Melia, a Lansdowne teacher, said he is encouraged to see Towson and Dulaney getting new buildings — and believes a renovation won’t solve all the issues at Lansdowne.
“That money would be better spent constructing a new building,” Melia said. “We urge the Board of Education to stop the proposed renovation at the next meeting.”
County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Democrat who is running for county executive, said she is concerned about promises Kamenetz is making that may not be fulfilled without identifying a funding source. She said she would not be in favor of raising taxes.
“My concern is all the promises being made are going to be up to the next county executive,” Almond said. “I think there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed (people) in 2019.”
Quirk and Stewart said they support a new high school for Lansdowne. Quirk said he believes decisions on new school projects should be made by the next county executive, not by Kamenetz.
“It is irresponsible for the current county executive to make huge promises without assuring the necessary dramatic cuts to spending or increase in revenue to allow for such promises,” Quirk said. “The fact of the matter is the Baltimore County capital budget is tapped out.”