—– By: Ann Costantino —–
In February, The Baltimore Post published a story on school construction signs installed at 58 Baltimore County Public schools for which their installation began within ten months before Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced his run for governor. [Are Baltimore County School-Funded Signs Being Used to Support Campaign Platform?]
The Post reported that, in November 2016, Baltimore County Public Schools spent nearly $115,000 on Mr. Kamenetz’ “Schools for our Future” signs, which were part of a $1.3 billion school construction program started by the county executive five years before the signs went up, in 2011.
Mr. Kamenetz, who says he is running as Maryland’s education governor, has touted the county’s construction program on the campaign trail. “I initiated the largest single school construction program in the history of Baltimore County. We are building or rebuilding 90 schools, taking kids out of trailers and putting them into modern learning environments for our kids, for our teachers and for our support staff,” Mr. Kamenetz said at a Maryland State Education Association talk in October. “It’s a $1.3 billion initiative… for every one dollar put in from the state, I put two county dollars in.”
The signs highlight the achievements and goals of the county administration.
As reported previously by The Baltimore Post, the “Schools for our Future” signs were funded through the Baltimore County schools’ Facility Construction Capital and Site Improvement Funds, and display the names of the former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, and County Executive Kamenetz.
Mr. Dance is currently serving a six month prison sentence for four perjury convictions stemming from a failure to accurately report – under penalty of perjury – roughly $150,000 in income earned through moonlighting as he led the nation’s 25th largest school district.
Some time after the story published in February, some of the school construction signs were removed from Baltimore County school property. The Baltimore Post does not have a tally of the removed signs, as that would require visual inspection of roughly 130 schools. However, this follow-up to February’s story provides some detail on other signs that were funded – according to state officials – using school state-construction funds on signs that include the names of former Governor Martin O’Malley (D) and Governor Larry Hogan (R).
County School Construction Signs
As previously reported by The Baltimore Post, Baltimore County Public Schools paid $114,460 to a private contractor for 58 Kamenetz Administration school construction signs.
Including the cost of installation and hardware, each sign cost Baltimore County Public Schools roughly $2,000 apiece for the 6’x8’ wooden signs, and advertised school construction projects such as 15 new schools, 11 additions, installation of air conditioning and the elimination of overcrowding.
Also previously reported by The Baltimore Post was that a review of the county’s 145 election polling locations revealed that 21 of the 58 schools with Mr. Kamenetz’ “Schools for our Future” signs are designated polling sites for the county.
Interestingly, an attorney for the Baltimore County government told The Post that county code does not require the county to place construction signs at the schools.
State School Construction Signs
Also on some school grounds were construction signs with the names of either Gov. O’Malley or Gov. Hogan, their respective lieutenant governors and members of the Board of Public Works.
A state official told The Post that those signs cost roughly $525 for the 8’ x 6’ signs and $325 for the 8’ x 4’ signs. The construction signs were manufactured by inmates at Maryland Department of Corrections facilities.
However, requests to obtain more information came up empty. No one could provide documentation on who paid for the signs, if there was an additional fee to install the signs on school grounds, how many signs had been manufactured and installed, or who installed them.
When requesting the information, the state directed The Post to ask Baltimore County Public Schools and the Department of Corrections. The school system said it did not have information on the state-funded signs, while a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said the school system would be the agency in possession of any such information, but would research it for a fee of $1,400.
Neither requests for public information, nor questions posed to any of the departments, resulted in answers as to the total amount of O’Malley and/or Hogan signs that were installed on Baltimore County school grounds.
Yet, according to a memo obtained by The Baltimore Post regarding Governor Hogan’s school construction signs, the Hogan “Building Bright Futures in Maryland” signs were to be purchased by the school system – in this case, Baltimore County Public Schools – using state construction funds. But, again, Baltimore County Public Schools’ legal department said it lacked responsive records to The Post’s open records request regarding information on both former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Gov. Larry Hogan’s construction signs.
After Gov. Hogan was signed into office in January 2015, new construction signs were immediately created that included the names of the new governor, lieutenant governor, members of the Board of Public Works, and Maryland’s senate president and speaker of the house.
A memo about the state construction signs stated that the signs “should be erected for all State funded school construction projects including all systemic renovation projects, except for Aging School Program (ASP) and Qualified Zone Academy (QZA) projects less than $100,000, and State-owned and locally-owned relocatable classroom building projects.” The memo went on to say, “This policy is consistent with the requirements of the Public School Construction Program Administrative Procedures Guide.”
“Welcome to Maryland” Signs
On an unrelated note, the “Welcome to Maryland” signs throughout the state cost roughly $6,700 each. The cost includes the manufacturing of the placards or overlays, and the labor involved with the installation.
There are nearly 100 “Welcome to Maryland” signs in the state, which come in different sizes depending on the road next to they are placed.
There are 21 large signs along Maryland’s interstates that contain the governor’s name. These large signs change during the beginning of each new administration. There are also 70 smaller signs that simply say, “Welcome to Maryland.” Those signs are only replaced when they are damaged or become faded over time.
Whenever a new administration is set to begin, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway administration (MDOT SHA) produces overlays or placards with the new governor’s name and whatever other language is requested. The placards are then installed by MDOT SHA sign maintenance crews. These placards are generally installed very close to inauguration day and shrouded until the administration completes inauguration day, at which time the covers are removed.
An SHA official told The Baltimore Post that the cost of the “Welcome to Maryland” signs have remained somewhat regular over the last 20 years, during at least four governors’ administrations.
It is not clear why some of the school construction signs have been removed since February. The Kamenetz administration did not respond to a request for comment when The Baltimore Post ran the first part of this story.
—– By: Ann Costantino