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Rally to release City schools construction money

Posted at 6:20 PM, May 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 18:22:29-04

Baltimore education advocacy groups held a rally in front of the Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary school Tuesday asking that the Board of Public Works release money for school construction projects.

A showdown over state capital improvements funds and air conditioning in Baltimore City and County has been going on for the past month. The Board of Public Works voted on May 11 to withhold $5 million from the City and $10 million from the county until all portable A/C units are installed in schools still lacking cool air.

Following the rally, the more than 50 people marched to the State Center to demand that the Board of Public Works release funds needed for critical repairs that they said pose health and safety risks to students.

“This is the focus of the school system and I don't think it's right for the governor or the comptroller to exercise their authority in telling them that portable AC should be the priority,” said Frank Patinella, a senior education advocate for ACLU of Maryland, and co-chair of the Baltimore Education Coalition.

Governor Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted to withhold the school construction money until portable air conditioning units are installed in all classrooms before the start of the next school year.

“It should've be done six years ago. They've dropped the ball, so now we've stepped in and we’re going to get the job done,” said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

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The Baltimore Education Coalition called Governor Hogan and Comptroller Franchot’s actions an overreach and believe the schools should be able to spend the money on projects already approved.

“These are all health and safety issues, building code issues that have to be repaired – heating and air systems, windows, fire alarm systems, and roofs make up the majority of the projects,” Patinella said.

He added that air conditioning is a priority but right now there are more pressing projects.

“This is something the school system is working on. They are putting HVAC systems in, repairing HVAC systems, and looking at couple other options other than portable AC units,” said Patinella.

Seventy-six schools in the City still lack air conditioning.

 “Do you think there's a single elected official in the Baltimore region that doesn't have air conditioning in their office? What about these 40,000-50,000 kids, don't they deserve that?,” Comptroller Franchot said.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz recently said he would expedite central air in all remaining schools by fall 2017 but that they would not comply with the portable AC mandate.

 A Baltimore City Public Schools spokesperson said they're also working to improve air conditioning in their schools without there being a negative impact on other important life and safety projects.

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