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Arbutus Times: Lansdowne, Dulaney high schools on comptroller's radar ahead of board meeting

When Maryland’s Board of Public Works meets on Oct. 18 to review school construction projects, Comptroller Peter Franchot plans to grill Baltimore County officials on the state of the aging Lansdowne and Dulaney high school buildings, he said Thursday.

“Lansdowne and Dulaney are two schools that I’ll ask some questions about,” Franchot said. “Because frankly, it is an embarrassment, and a disgrace, and a stain upon Baltimore County that Dulaney and Lansdowne have become, essentially, unsafe schools for teachers and students to be educated in.”

Franchot visited Dulaney High School Sept. 25 after what his spokesman, Joe Shapiro, described as a long-standing “open invitation” from the school community. Franchot’s visit last week was a “follow up” from previous visits to “touch base with the community,” Shapiro added.

“Dulaney High School doesn't need to be renovated — it must be replaced,” Franchot wrote in a post on his Facebook page after visiting Dulaney. “Rest assured that this — as well as the rapidly deteriorating conditions at Lansdowne High School — will be up for discussion when the Board of Public Works meets with public school officials from across the state at our October 18 meeting.”

The visit came ahead of the annual meeting in which public school superintendents from across Maryland come before the Board of Public Works — a three-member council that includes the Maryland’s comptroller, treasurer and governor — to justify their plans for school construction projects that receive state funding. The board reviews spending and sets procedures for the state’s Public School Construction Program, which provides funding to local school districts to build new schools. A final decision about construction funding will be made in May.

Baltimore County’s interim superintendent, Verletta White, will appear before the board Oct. 18.

“Ms. White looks forward to attending the Board of Public Works meeting, where she plans to share the capital budget request and various facility needs of Baltimore County Public Schools,” school system spokesman Mychael Dickerson said in an email.

Lansdowne High is scheduled to be renovated over the next few years, but parents have said they want a new school.

The school board turned down a $30 million proposal to renovate Lansdowne High in March, in addition to a $40 million proposal to renovate Dulaney, because parents at both schools thought renovations would not go far enough and wanted full replacements.

Nick Stewart, a school board member who lives in Arbutus and represents Lansdowne, proposed in March that the board consider more funding and a broader scope for the Lansdowne renovation. A new renovation design is currently being drafted, school system spokeswoman Alyssa Alston said.

Last month, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed to include in his proposed fiscal year 2019 budget planning money for two new high schools, one in the Towson area and the other in the central-northeast region of the county. The 2019 fiscal year begins July 1. 2018.

Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said the central northeast school’s placement would be determined by the school system but is expected to alleviate overcrowding at Towson, Dulaney and Perry Hall high schools.

The move angered Lansdowne-area parents, such as Dayana Bergman, who called the announcement a “slap in the face” because Kamenetz did not propose replacing Lansdowne High School.

Kamenetz had previously rejected the idea of building new high schools at Lansdowne and Dulaney; county spokeswoman, Ellen Kobler, said in March that a new building for either school was “not affordable.”

Franchot said that the idea that Baltimore County does not have the funds to rebuild the high schools is “inaccurate,” and called the buildings’ deterioration a “failure of leadership.”

“It’s pretty insulting to the taxpayers and citizens,” Franchot said.

In response to the comptroller’s comments, Kobler wrote in an email: “The County Executive developed a comprehensive school construction program in 2011, and he will continue to implement that $1.3 billion plan.”

That program, the Schools for our Future initiative, put funding into renovating old schools, installing air conditioning and building 16 new schools, according to the county.

The Board of Public Works voted last year to withhold money from the county, as well as Baltimore City, until the districts presented plans to air condition schools that lacked it.

It reinstated Baltimore County’s funding in January after Kamenetz presented plans to install air conditioning in all schools in four years. Lansdowne and Dulaney high school are two of the 13 schools remaining in Baltimore County without air conditioning.

The comptroller will not consider withholding funds to pressure the county into building a new Lansdowne High School until he hears what the county has to say at the Oct. 18 meeting, Shapiro said.

“Withholding funding would be way down the line,” he said. “That would be a last resort.”

Shapiro said the comptroller is not as “definitive” about Lansdowne getting a new school, “because he hasn’t been there firsthand yet.” But from what Franchot’s office has heard from parents, Shapiro said there is a good possibility the comptroller will advocate for a new Lansdowne building as well.

The president of the Lansdowne Parent Teacher Student Association has invited the comptroller to tour Lansdowne, Shapiro said, adding that staff are in the process of scheduling a visit in late fall, after the Oct. 18 meeting.

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