A debate over whether Baltimore-area schools can spend money on portable air-conditioning units has mushroomed into a power struggle involving some of Maryland’s top elected officials.
The Board of Public Works, which oversees state funds for school construction, voted 2-1 Wednesday to withhold $15 million in capital funds for schools in Baltimore city and county until those jurisdictions produce plans to use window-box air-conditioning units as a short-term fix to address a lack of cooling systems in their schools.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) voted to withhold the money, over objections from fellow board member and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D).
In a separate 2-1 decision, the panel voted to finalize a rule change that would allow school districts to buy portable air conditioners despite a state policy that prevents the use of state or federal money for such purchases, in part because of energy-efficiency concerns.
Franchot blasted Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) for trying to prevent the rule modification by passing legislation earlier this year that effectively nullifies any Board of Public Works decision on school construction funding-policy made after Jan. 1, 2016.
Franchot called the legislation a “highly charged, highly irregular, highly unusual intervention by the most powerful politicians — other than the governor — in the state.”
Busch pushed back Wednesday, saying it is the state legislature’s job to set policy.
“The Board of Public Works’ job is to do procurement, so I think it’s clear that policy initiatives come from the General Assembly,” he said.
Attorneys for the Board of Public Works and the legislature have traded letters arguing their positions on which body has the final say in the matter.
Hogan and Franchot described the stifling heat in Baltimore city and county schools — the only jurisdictions in the state that have a significant number of classrooms that lack air conditioning — as an issue that could affect students’ health and ability to concentrate.
Teens testifying at Wednesday’s board meeting agreed.
“It’s hot, and it’s hard to learn,” said Keami Sullivan, 17, who attends Baltimore County’s Kenwood High School.
Kopp accused Hogan and Franchot of using “fear and demagoguery” to affect local decisions. “It may be good theater, but it’s a very bad mistake,” she said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D) has rejected plans for using $10 million in county surplus funds to install portable air conditioners.
He insists that the money would be better-spent on a plan he laid out for adding central air conditioning to all of the jurisdiction’s schools by the end of 2019.
Via Washington post