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Peter Franchot. (File)

Hogan, Kamenetz clash over state of schools’ air conditioning

Kerfuffle over air conditioning in schools sets up skirmish between two potential rivals for governor in 2018.

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan said he will request Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and officials from the Baltimore County Public Schools system to come to Annapolis to respond to concerns about the length of time it is taking to add air conditioning to its schools.

“It’s an absolutely disgraceful situation,” Hogan said.

The demand could set up a face-to-face square-off on Oct. 7 between Hogan, the Republican incumbent, and Kamenetz, a potential political rival for the governor’s office.

Hogan’s comments followed Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot’s criticism of county officials — the school system by name and Kamenetz by inference — at a meeting Wednesday of the state’s Board of Public Works.

Kamenetz, a Democrat who cannot seek a third term, is believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018. In recent months he has worked to raise money, including what some sources familiar with the campaign said was a spring event that raised $500,000. He has also has quietly hired Kevin Loeb, a field director for Martin O’Malley’s gubernatorial re-election bid in 2010. Loeb, who went on to serve as director of intergovernmental affairs for both former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, was hired in June as Kamenetz’s policy director.

Baltimore County is home to the second-oldest school stock in the state. Roughly 52 schools — about 30 percent of the county’s school buildings — are without air conditioning. A $1.3 billion county schools modernization plan will not be completed until 2021. In an interview, Kamenetz said Baltimore County is contributing $900 million to that effort, with the state making up the balance.

“I’m sure it’s easy for people not involved in local government to offer opinions from the outside,” Kamenetz said, adding that when he took office, more than 80 percent of the schools were not properly air conditioned.

“That number is now down to 15 percent,” Kamenetz said, taking into account that about two dozen of the 52 schools are projected to receive air conditioning system in the current budget year that started July 1. No contracts for that work have been bid out, he said.

“It’s pretty clear they (Hogan and Franchot) don’t have all the facts,” Kamenetz said.

“If the state gives us more money then I am sure we can reduce the number of schools without air conditioning more quickly,” Kamenetz said. “This year we got less under Governor Hogan than the years under Governor O’Malley.”

But before more money can be provided, Hogan and Franchot would likely want to see a specific plan outlining the expected costs.

Franchot noted that millions of dollars had been sent to the county over the years that could have addressed  the situation, either through renovations or the purchase of window air conditioning units.

“It’s not a question of resources,” Franchot said. “It’s a question of management, leadership and priorities.”

Air conditioning in Baltimore County Schools is not a new issue for Franchot. The Board of Public Works, of which he and Hogan are members, is responsible for approving the expenditure of state money for local school construction and renovation projects.

“I can’t believe we’re still talking about this issue,” Franchot said.

Franchot said he has grown frustrated with what he described as inaction on an issue he said affects students’ health and ability to learn.

“It will change whether we have to do it the easy way or the hard way,” Franchot said. “My message to Baltimore County is hang in there. Help is on the way.”