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Maryland schools 'begathon' set for Wednesday

Public school superintendents will converge on Annapolis Wednesday for a ritual known as the "begathon," which the governor reinstated after state lawmakers attempted to cancel it.

Leaders of public school systems will appear before the state's Board of Public Works to justify their school construction plans that receive state money.

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Lawmakers attempted to put an end to the practice through legislation last year, after some said that school officials were treated in a demeaning manner at the meetings.

But Gov. Larry Hogan, who chairs the Board of Public Works, maintains he has the authority to summon superintendents to the meetings. Hogan sits on the board along with Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

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At last year's meeting, school leaders from Baltimore city and Baltimore County were grilled by Hogan and Franchot for not installing portable air conditioners at schools. The school districts have favored installing central air conditioning, which costs more but lasts longer.

The Board of Public Works later withheld $10 million of construction money from the county and $5 million from the city over the air conditioning issue.

Baltimore County has since accelerated its plans for adding central air conditioning to schools. At the start of the next school year, 13 schools will be without air conditioning.

On Tuesday afternoon, the county posted a video touting that progress, concluding with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and a group of children sitting cross-legged in a classroom, cheering "Schools for our future!"

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Franchot, in an interview on WBAL radio on Tuesday, said air conditioning won't continue to be an issue at the Board of Public Works if the county and the city offer acceptable plans for cooling their classrooms.

"It's not behind us until the governor and I see plans for Baltimore city and Baltimore County to air-condition every classroom the kids are in … It's going to be front and center until it's proven that these kids are taken care of," Franchot said.

Lawmakers last year put wording in the statewide construction budget bill eliminating the begathon. But an attorney for the Board of Public Works advised the governor that lawmakers only got rid of the original reason for the begathon, which was for superintendents to appeal decisions by the Interagency Committee on School Construction.

Superintendents can no longer appeal those decisions to the Board of Public Works. But the board can still seek information from superintendents, according to the board's lawyer.

The Board of Public Works meets at 10 a.m. in the State House. The board also has a full agenda of state contracts to review and approve.

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