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The issue of air conditioning in public schools is expected to heat up again at Wednesday's meeting of the state Board of Public Works.The three-member board — which oversees state contracts — is scheduled to give the final OK to a policy that...

School air conditioning debate to continue in Annapolis Wednesday

The issue of air conditioning in public schools is expected to heat up again at Wednesday's meeting of the state Board of Public Works.The three-member board — which oversees state contracts — is scheduled to give the final OK to a policy that...

School air conditioning debate to continue in Annapolis Wednesday

The issue of air conditioning in public schools is expected to heat up again at Wednesday's meeting of the state Board of Public Works.

The three-member board — which oversees state contracts — is scheduled to give the final OK to a policy that would allow state money to be used for portable air conditioners.

But the General Assembly took action to block that policy, setting up a potential battle between the Board of Public Works and the legislature over who gets the final say on how school construction money is spent.

"We think that it is clear that the Board of Public Works sets the rules for what school construction funds can be spent on, and we made it clear that window air conditioning units are perfectly acceptable expenditures," said Peter Hamm, a spokesman for Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who sits on the board with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat.

State legislative leaders disagree.

"The Board of Public Works is a procurement committee," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat. "The policy of the State of Maryland is set by the General Assembly and the governor. The Board of Public Works is required to follow the policies of the General Assembly that are signed into law by the governor."

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot plan to summon Baltimore County leaders to Annapolis to explain why so many school children are still sweltering in classrooms with no air conditioning.

The governor called the situation “absolutely disgraceful and unacceptable,” saying “there's no...

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot plan to summon Baltimore County leaders to Annapolis to explain why so many school children are still sweltering in classrooms with no air conditioning.

The governor called the situation “absolutely disgraceful and unacceptable,” saying “there's no...

Lawyers for each group have written letters supporting their own interpretation of the law.

The power struggle between the Board of Public Works and the General Assembly is the latest in an ongoing battle over air conditioning in public schools.

Baltimore City and Baltimore County are the only remaining jurisdictions in Maryland that have significant numbers of classrooms without any air conditioning. Franchot and Hogan have blasted both jurisdictions — but mostly Baltimore County — for their slow pace in cooling off classrooms.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has refused to install portable air conditioners, saying it's a poor use of tax dollars because it's a short-term solution. He also notes that some schools are so old, their electrical systems can't handle the air conditioners without upgrades.

School districts are closer to being allowed to use state money for portable air conditioners, a change in policy intended to spur installation of such units in hot schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The Board of Public Works — which is comprised of the governor, comptroller and treasurer...

School districts are closer to being allowed to use state money for portable air conditioners, a change in policy intended to spur installation of such units in hot schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The Board of Public Works — which is comprised of the governor, comptroller and treasurer...

He has also pointed to a state rule that banned the use of state money on portable air conditioners. School construction projects are funded by a combination of state and county tax money.

Counties that have already installed portable air conditioners had to use county money to do so because of the state rule.

The Board of Public Works changed that rule in January to allow state spending on portable air conditioners and is set to formalize the adoption of the new rule Wednesday. Baltimore County parents are expected to attend the meeting in support of the rule.

But in the meantime, state lawmakers inserted language in the state's capital budget saying state money can only be spent under the Board of Public Works rules that were in effect on Jan. 1 — before the board's policy change to allow spending money on portable air conditioners.

Busch said the Board of Public Works has to follow what the General Assembly decides and can't "pick and choose" which parts of the laws to follow.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Southern Maryland Democrat, said the Board of Public Works' duties are defined by the General Assembly.

"These are precious taxpayer resources. They are not to be used for political purposes," Miller said. "They're to be used to build schools — bricks and mortar. If the counties want air conditioning, that's fine … They can come up with the icing on the cake. It's our job to build the cake."

The Board of Public Works meets at 10 a.m. at the State House in Annapolis. The board also is scheduled to approve the final batch of school construction money for next year.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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