School infrastructure a key issue in Baltimore County Executive race

Posted at 5:08 PM, Sep 25, 2018

One of the tightest contests in our area is expected to be the race to become the next Baltimore County Executive.

The previous executive, Kevin Kamenetz, died suddenly of a heart attackearlier this year. His chief of staff, Don Mohler, took over the office, but Mohler is not running, so there is no incumbent in this race.

Both the Democrat, John Olszewski Jr., and the Republican, Al Redmer, who are running had to get through tough primary battles. Now they’ll have to slug it out head-to-head with some key issues dominating the news in the county.

There are a lot of similarities between these two candidates. They're both lifelong residents of Baltimore County. Redmer is from Perry Hall; Olszewski is from Dundalk. Both served in the House of Delegates – Olszewski for eight years, Redmer for 12.

So how do they differentiate themselves from each other so that voters in Baltimore County can make their decision?

One contentious issue in the county is education, particularly the funding of school infrastructure.

For 10 schools in Baltimore County, the first day of school came in the second week of September. Dulaney High School, and nine others - don't have air conditioning. 

Hot temperatures kept the doors shut and opened a hot topic in the race to become the next Baltimore County Executive.

Olszewski says one issue leading to crumbling buildings was a spending decision made by the county's previous school superintendent.

“I’m all for use of technology in the classroom,” Olszewski said, “but we spent $300 million on a laptop program for all of our students at a time when kids didn't have air conditioning fully up and running; we have schools with brown drinking water“ 

Republican Al Redmer says the 10 schools could still have opened on time, if the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz had accepted an offer from Governor Larry Hogan to provide portable air conditioners as a short-term solution.

“Our county executive, who was running for governor, did not want to be in a position where he was subservient to the governor even though it was the right thing to do for the children of Baltimore County,” Redmer said. 

Both candidates say if elected, one of their first priorities would be to bring the county's old school buildings into the present day.

“Under a Redmer administration, those partisan political battles are not going to happen,” Redmer said. “We’re going to seek common sense solutions and do what's best for the citizens of Baltimore County“ 

“What we need is leadership who is willing to become transparent but also prioritize those needs and be very clear about where those dollars are going so that it doesn't become political,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski is a former teacher, and he's been endorsed by the union representing teachers in Baltimore County.

“By investing in our schools we're going to see more people move here, stay here,” Olszewski said. “We'll see property taxes rise. We’ll grow our county. That's the first point. and if we don't invest we're going to see, I think, a decline because the first question people ask when they decide to move or stay in a community is 'what are the schools like?'“ 

To avoid raising the property tax rate to fund that investment, Olszewski says he would work with the state to secure money that's been promised for education, while also finding efficiencies in Baltimore County's $3.2 billion budget.

“I think taxes should be the absolute last thing that we should turn to, and part of why I’m running for executive is to make our budget more open and accessible and transparent,” Oslzewski said, “putting it online, showing people where the revenue is coming from and how it's being spent“ 

Al Redmer is trying to become the first Republican to serve as the Baltimore County Executive since 1994.

“Folks are unhappy about what's going on in Baltimore County,” Redmer said. ‘They're unhappy about the increase in crime. They're unhappy about the condition or the quality of education in their school“

Redmer is Maryland's Insurance Commissioner, but he says if elected he would lean on his experience in the private sector, starting and running companies in Baltimore County.

“What is it that should have been done that has not been done?” Redmer asked. “Step two, we need to quantify; we need to put a price on what it's going to cost to fill those unmet needs“