Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe Hairston's final appearance before the Board of Public Works ended in a heated exchange about air conditioning.
Hairston, who is in the final months of his 12-year career with the schools system, found himself on the bad side of Comptroller Peter Franchot as he asked for $70 million in state money.
Franchot launched into a five minute monologue about the lack of air conditioning in Baltimore County schools.
"I'm kind of tired of saying 'pretty please.' I really am," Franchot said.
Franchot specifically highlighted conditions at Middleborough Elementary School in Essex. Parents from the school attended Wednesday's meeting as they did in October when county officials asked for $7 million in school renovation money.
"For reasons that still mystify me it's still one of the 93 schools that lack air conditioning," Franchot said.
"In spite of these deporable and unsafe learning conditions, the county submited a $7 million capital funding request that didn't include a single dime for air conditioning for Middleborough or any other school," said Franchot, adding later that school system figures were unreliable.
"It was 94 (schools), now all of a sudden miracle of miracles there are only 66," Franchot said. "I don't know how anybody can have confidence in your figures."
In December, parents from Middleborough offered to buy window units for the school's classrooms. The school system rejected the idea, citing, in part, safety concerns.
"As if triple digit temperatures aren't safe," said Franchot, adding that students would be forced to endure continued high temperatures. "I guess because of an idiotic safety policy developed in the bowels of the bureaucracy."
"It's not legally a crime but morally it's completely unacceptable," said Franchot, speaking of the lack of air conditioning at Middleborough Elementary.
But the comptroller called himself an optimist and said he had hope "that someone's going to relent on this irrational and frankly callous unwillingness to provide relief for Baltimore County children."
Hairston said nothing for most of Franchot's comments.
"Thank you, mister comptroller for those encouraging words and I'm here on this afternoon to speak to the 20 projects on this list," responded Hairston, who will retire on June 30 after 12 years at the helm of the county school system.
Hairston and county officials are seeking a total of $70 million in total funding for school construction and renovation projects for the budget year that begins on July 1.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said earlier this month he hopes to provide more than $370 million into school construction funding in the next budget year.
Baltimore County has already been awarded $23 million for the budget year that begins July 1. Last year, the county received a total of $32 million.
The county estimates it would cost as much as $450 million to install central air conditioning in all its schools that currently do not have it.
Don Mohler, a county spokesman and chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said in an interview early Wednesday that the county is working to install air conditioning in schools as part of the renovation process.
The county hopes to add units to four schools—including the new Dundalk and Sollers Point High Schools—this year.
"That's in addition to the 10 we did last year," Mohler said.
"That means there's 14 more schools with air conditioning than when this county executive was elected. That's really significant. This is an important issue and we have to address it in a responsible way."
Meanwhile, Franchot plans tomorrow to announce a petition drive called "Cool Classrooms" aimed at forcing the county's hand.
As part of the effort, Franchot is rolling out a new section of his website to collect electronic signatures. The logo for the Cool Classrooms campaign includes a silhouette of Baltimore County.
"This is a new effort the comptroller is undertaking to bring the people to the bureaucrats in Baltimore County," said Joseph Shapiro, a spokesman for Franchot.
The comptroller encouraged the parents from Middleborough "to carry the fight forward."
"Believe me, they're weaker than you think," Franchot told the parents. "You're in the right and pretty soon we're going to have air conditioning in all the schools in Baltimore County."