"It’s been a long journey and I’m glad we’ve all arrived at the same destination."
Six of the seven members of the Baltimore County Council signed a letter today stating their opposition to the addition of planning money for a new Dulaney High School in the county executive’s FY19 budget.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz reversed his previous position and said last week that he supports a new building for Dulaney High, instead of simply a renovation, and indicated he would add planning money to his upcoming budget.
But that is not sitting well with most council members.
On his Facebook page, Councilman Tom Quirk wrote today:
“Less than a year ago County Executive Kamenetz stated in regard to building a new high school at Dulaney, ‘The facts are that we would love to build a brand new school, but this is not a school where we would be adding seats, so it’s not like we’re gaining capacity for that substantial investment.’
We have many high schools with aged out infrastructure including Lansdowne High School. This very important decision should be decided by the next County Executive and County Council. If Dulaney gets a new high school then Lansdowne must get one too since it’s in the worst shape of any high school in the county.
We need a written 10 year plan for all of BCPS based on planning and merit. We must take politics out of these critically important decisions. If we want great schools we also need to pay for them instead of just passing the bill to the next Executive and Council.”
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said he signed the letter because Kamenetz had committed planning money for a new Towson High School and for a second high school, to be determined after a comprehensive study.
“The County Executive abruptly changed course, leaving no hope for my constituents in the northeast, where Perry Hall High School will be 20 percent overcapacity by 2024. We had a process in place that was abruptly upset by the County Executive,” Marks said in a statement. “I am sympathetic to the Dulaney parents, and yes, I would like for them to have a new high school—but my first priority is for my constituents—and they attend Towson and Perry Hall High Schools.”
Two years ago, Kamenetz rebuffed pleas from parents and community advocates who were asking for replacement buildings, not renovations, for Dulaney and Lansdowne high schools.
“We can’t afford to do [new buildings for Dulaney and Lansdowne] and everything else,” Kamenetz said in an interview with the Sun in April 2016.
“It is deeply unfortunate and short sighted that my colleagues have decided to oppose planning and design money for a new Dulaney High. By any measure, Dulaney ranks among the worst high school facilities in Baltimore County. It is clear to anyone who is even acutely aware of these conditions, and who understands the overcrowded projected future enrollment for the area, that Dulaney needs a new school.
The letter announcing this position, signed by the six other members of the Council, is also a very surprising development considering that some members of the Council who signed their name to the letter are on the record previously as supporting a new Dulaney. The Friends of Dulaney, the greater Dulaney community, and I have been stalwart supporters for efforts for new high schools in other parts of the county where warranted, such as Towson High in Councilman Marks’ district as well as Lansdowne in southwest Baltimore County. Given this, the sense of betrayal is palpable.
As it is, the County Executive announced today in response to the letter opposing a new DHS that he still intends to put forward planning and design money for Dulaney in this year’s budget. While the County Executive and I disagree on particular issues, where we do agree concerns Dulaney. Given the facts presented to us by Friends of Dulaney High School, the only option for Dulaney is a new school. I will continue to work with the Friends of Dulaney High School, the Administration, and my colleagues toward making this goal a reality.”
Quirk last year supported a renovation of Lansdowne instead of a new building.
“It would be easy to say, ‘yeah, of course, we want new high schools everywhere,’” Quirk told The Baltimore Sun. “But I’m also fiscally responsible, and I also know how to read a capital budget, and I refuse to be a grandstander and just tell people what they want to hear,” he said.
In response to the council’s letter, Don Mohler, Kamenetz’ chief of staff, penned a letter to the council today saying:
“Last September, the County Executive announced his intention to include planning money for two new schools in the central/northeast corridor in his FY 19 budget submission. Also in September, the School Board unanimously passed a budget that includes schools for both Towson and Dulaney. Recent projections suggest that the central corridor will need more than 1000 new high school seats in the next 10 years.
In light of that information, a new Dulaney High School with 350 additional seats [for a total capacity of 2,300], along with a new Towson High School, is the most cost-effective solution. According to BCPS enrollment data, no additional seats are needed in the southwest area, which includes Lansdowne High School. However, we fully support an extensive renovation similar to recent renovations at Pikesville and Hereford.”
When asked where the other 650 needed seats would go, Mohler said that “during the planning phase, BCPS will decide how to allocate the overcrowding in the central area.”
BCPS school board member Nicholas Stewart put out a statement calling Mohler’s statement “inaccurate.” Stewart said:
(1) Both Lansdowne and Dulaney were built around the same time, have similar enrollment needs, and have similar poor facilities (Lansdowne is worse);
(2) In late 2016/early 2017, the County Executive treated Lansdowne and Dulaney similarly by proposing similar renovations for both schools;
(3) The County Executive said there is no money for new schools and that rejecting the renovation would mean no new school for 15-20 years;
(4) In March 2017, Dulaney rejected their renovation, and the Board agreed to put Dulaney at the very end of its capital plan for replacements (where it was supposed to wait for another 15-20 years);
(5) The County Executive cautioned Lansdowne not to do the same thing because there is no money for new schools;
(5) Lansdowne worked in good faith to expand the scope of its renovation, believing there was no money for new schools; the final vote for the Lansdowne reno has not taken place yet (due March 2018);
(6) In September 2017, the County Executive changes course and says there is money for a new school in the northeast; however, the placement of the school would be determined independently by the school system using a 6-month enrollment student that is currently underway (due May 2018; cost ~$200,000);
(7) On February 7, 2018, the County Executive short circuits that process and selects precisely where the new school will be placed; it will be Dulaney; this is 5 days before the Governor is scheduled to visit Dulaney;
(8) The County Executive bases his decision off of 2016 Students Count data. The 2017 data is supposed to come out in a matter of days;
(9) The County Executive says: (a) we need to alleviate overcrowding in the “central corridor,” (b) this is the most effective strategy, and (c) this is the most “cost-efficient” way to do it. However, we need to alleviate overcrowding in the northeast and southeast, and this is not the best way to address that. No cost analyses showing efficiency have been provided;
(10) Our school system has not agreed to this plan, nor did Councilwoman Bevins who represents significant portions of the area. Neither were informed of this edict before it came down;
(11) 6 of 7 County Council Members disagreed with the County Executive’s decision.
Planning money has also been promised for a new Towson High School building; in September, Kamenetz indicated that county officials would not decide on the site of a second school in the area until a capacity study had been completed. That $200,000 study was approved by the Board of Education in January and is now underway.
“The location of a second new school to alleviate overcrowding in the central-northeast corridor will be influenced by the pending high school enrollment reassessment currently being conducted by the school system. Nevertheless, it is clear that we need to fund two new schools to resolve overcrowding,” Kamenetz said in September.
The Towson Flyer