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—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Baltimore County Public Schools spent $114,460 on signs which advertise the County government’s “Schools for our Future” initiative, a $1.3 billion school construction program started by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in 2011, for what the County says is the most “ambitious school construction initiative in the history of the State.”
The school-funded construction sign project consists of 58 6’x8’ wooden signs that were manufactured and installed at 58 Baltimore County Public Schools for about $2,000 apiece and which advertise school construction projects such as 15 new schools, 11 additions, installation of air conditioning and the elimination of overcrowding.
The signs, which began popping up on school grounds in late 2016, were funded through the school system’s Facility Construction Capital and Site Improvement Funds, records show, and display the names of former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, and County Executive Kamenetz, who announced his bid for governor in September.
Dance left the system in June amid a criminal investigation and has been indicted on four counts of perjury related to failing to disclose income earned while moonlighting.
A review of the County’s 145 polling locations reveal that 21 of the 58 schools with the “Schools for our Future” signs are designated polling sites for the County, including Lansdowne and Dulaney high schools which are in poor physical condition and have the lowest facility scores of all of the high schools in school system.
Advocates for both high schools continue to fight for replacement schools.
Kamenetz announced earlier this month that he would fund Dulaney’s replacement school, however the majority of the Baltimore County Council says it is not financially feasible.
Advocates for Lansdowne, which is slated to be renovated and has the lower facility rating of the two high schools, are asking for equitable treatment and want a replacement school like Dulaney.
As far as the signs that advertise the construction, at large school board member, Ann Miller, sees the timing of their placement as politically expedient and a poor use of school resources. “I am shocked to learn that BCPS paid for signs which could be viewed as political campaign marketing at a time when the system has so many pressing needs,” Miller said. “If expenditures like this can get approved without the full board being aware of it, what else may have been spent on misdirected priorities?”
Miller, who was appointed to the Board in December 2015, which was one year before the system contracted for the signage, was unaware the school system had paid for the signs.
Central to Kamenetz’s political campaign is the school system’s construction program. Since announcing his bid for governor, the county executive has touted the County’s $1.3 billion dollar construction program while hopscotching across the state, campaigning as Maryland’s next “education governor.”
During a recent interview discussing his candidacy at the 2018 Maryland State Education Association conference, Kamenetz asserted, “I initiated the largest, single school construction program in the history of Baltimore County.” He said, “We are building 90 schools, taking kids out of trailers and putting them in modern environments.”
While the signs promote the County’s school construction projects and are not campaign signs, their timing – and especially their funding source – raises questions.
Five full years after Kamenetz’s 2011 “Schools for our Future” announcement, the school system contracted with the sign company. Nine months later, the county executive would announce his run for governor. Ten months from that announcement – this upcoming June – is the election primary.
Yet, the “Schools for our Future” signs are not the only signs on some school grounds. Also at some schools are 6’ x 8’ signs for former Governor Martin O’Malley’s (D) “Building for Maryland’s Future” campaign and Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) “Building Bright Futures in Maryland.”
It is not yet clear which agency paid for the O’Malley and Hogan signs, at what point during their administrations they were installed, how many Baltimore County and Maryland schools have them, nor what they cost taxpayers. The Baltimore Post is awaiting responses to three open records requests.
But, District Six Board of Education candidate, Lily Rowe, was surprised to learn that it was Baltimore County Public Schools which paid for Kamenetz’s “Schools for our Future” signs. “Wow!” Rowe said. “What a waste of money.”
Rowe also sees the temporary signs are ironic, considering the County’s reluctance to find a temporary solution for the lack of air conditioning in some Baltimore County Schools. “So portable AC, according to Kamenetz, is a ‘waste of money,’ but $115,000 of capital improvement money on temporary Kamenetz billboards outside schools (and) before an election is not?” Rowe said. “I wish I could say I’m surprised by the grandiosity… but I’m not.”
Rowe, along with at large board member, Ann Miller, and District Three board member, Kathleen Causey, fought for portable air conditioning units for schools awaiting renovations, replacement buildings or central air installation. They advocated to alleviate heat-related suffering during the warmer months when some classroom temperatures had been recorded at heat indexes of up to 104 degrees.
However, Kamenetz, who felt the temporary fix was a “Band-Aid,” as schools awaited their turns for the installation of central air, said in a Facebook post on his official page that “it would be fiscally irresponsible for the County to spend millions of dollars to put portable units in the few remaining schools for such a short period of time.” He said, “Taxpayers would be outraged at such a shortsighted expenditure.”
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