Superintendent Dance To Address Air Conditioning Issues
About 40 percent of county schools lack air conditioning in some classrooms.
The Board of Education has asked the new superintendent to address air conditioning issues at county schools.
Board President Larry Schmidt said Superintendent S. Dallas Dance agreed to provide a systematic review of air conditioning and other infrastructure issues at school facilities in the next couple of months at a board meeting.
"[Lack of air conditioning] is a top, top priority," Dance said.
At this point, Board President Larry Schmidt said about 40 percent of county schools have heat issues. By comparison, all Howard County public schools are properly air conditioned, said Linda Long, a representative for the neighboring county's school system.
"We have the second oldest stock of schools in the state," Schmidt said. "Solutions aren't as simple as people may think. In some cases you have to ask...can the infrastructure in the school support air conditioning?"
Baltimore County Public Schools provided Patch with a document from July 27, 2011—which is attached to this article—that breaks down the air conditioning status at every school.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's budget for fiscal year 2013 has allotted money to provide air conditioning for 12 public schools. Patch county politics reporter Bryan Sears previously reported that county officials have said it would cost between $400 and $450 million to install air conditioning in schools that are without it.
Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said it's too early to say which schools will receive funds in fiscal year 2014.
"We choose the ones that can get [air conditioning] the most quickly, at the lowest expense," Kobler said. "This way, the most schools are being taken care of."
This is little comfort to Denise Avara, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Westowne Elementary School in Catonsville.
As an older facility—Westowne opened in 1951—Avara is concerned that the school system will continue to overlook the elementary school.
"Our kids are really suffering," Avara said. "This is really not fair to them."
Avara said parents at Westowne are concerned that the heat makes it difficult for students to concentrate and they are returning home dripping in sweat.
And the situation could get much more dangerous, said Jean Suda, an advocate for air conditioned classrooms.
In September 2007, Suda's son was hospitalized at Greater Baltimore Medical Center for chest pains.
The boy had spent the day at Ridgely Middle School, where he was a student. At the time, the school had classrooms without air conditioning.
"We were scared that he was having a stroke or a heart attack," Suda said. "It was in the high-90s outside, so it felt much worse in the school."
Suda said her son was diagnosed with dehydration and released from the Towson hospital about three hours after admission.
Although her son has since graduated from Ridgely—which received air conditioning in fall 2011—the experience was enough to make Suda a staunch advocate for heat issues in Baltimore County public schools.
"It took four years after I started advocating for Ridgely to get this problem resolved," Suda said. "It's unacceptable."