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Baltimore City Parents Ask Why Their Schools Are Cold… The Answer is $$$$

January 5, 2018

The Arctic weather the eastern seaboard is experiencing is driving home the inequities in school funding… and also underscoring the importance of making the funding of maintenance a priority year in and year out. An article in yesterday’s NYTimes described the protests and laments from Baltimore City parents regarding the deplorable conditions the students are encountering in schools with poor heating system and inefficient insulation, most notably from leaky windows. The Superintendent of Baltimore City, in an effort to ameliorate concerns and reach out to the teachers and parents who were protesting went onto Facebook. The results were not good:

As Dr. Santelises spoke on Facebook Live, parents and educators weighed in through the comments section, asking where the funding has gone for facilities that primarily affect children of color, and why their children should shiver in cold classrooms while adults figure it all out.

Ayanna Barmore, 31, one of the parents, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that her sons, who are in fourth grade and kindergarten, have been wearing full winter gear indoors and were marched back and forth between cold classrooms and a common area that had heat to warm up periodically.

“They said half of the school was without heat,” she said. “I don’t understand why they do not have a plan to fix it.”

Here’s my hunch: year after year the Superintendent asks for maintenance funding and for capital improvement funds from the state. When the rubber hits the road, the voters don’t want to provide enough funds to operate the schools and the school board and superintendent have to make tough choices. The teachers’ contract needs to be honored, retirement costs need to be paid, class sizes need to be maintained, and materials and supplies need to be provided. All of these budget line items have vocal advocates. No one speaks for the school buildings, though…. so maintenance budgets are chopped. And at the State level, because funds for schools compete against other infrastructure projects, funding for schools is either frozen or cut. And because suburban school districts are growing while urban districts are relatively stagnant and their taxpayers pass referenda that provide local funding, the scarce state dollars go to new buildings instead of the renovation of old ones.

In the final analysis, then, cold classrooms are a manifestation of inequities that are baked into state funding mechanisms for facilities and school operating costs… and the voters who reside in districts where classrooms are warm and plentiful see no reason to help their neighbors who can’t afford to repair their schools.

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