Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski put seed money in his proposed budget for a new Lansdowne High School.
That has supporters of new high schools for Dulaney and Towson wondering why they were left high and dry.
Olszewski recently toured Lansdowne High. In his budget message to the County Council on Monday, Olszewski said Lansdowne is a building that is literally crumbling.
“The building is so ill-equipped that it can’t accommodate students in a wheelchair,” Olszewski said. “In fact, students who use wheelchairs are being forced to attend another high school.”
Olszewski’s budget includes $15 million for planning and designing a Lansdowne replacement. But there is none of that for Dulaney and Towson, two other old high schools that Olszewski promised to replace while running for county executive last year. That did not go unnoticed by Republican Councilman Wade Kach. Dulaney is in his district.
“I’m very disappointed in that,” Kach said.
Ditto for Republican Councilman David Marks. Towson High is in his district.
“My constituents are profoundly upset that the school construction projects have been delayed” Marks said. “And it’s very tough to ask them to shoulder an income tax increase when you don’t see those schools moving forward.”
Olszewski’s proposed budget includes an income tax hike, as well as a new tax on cell phone lines, impact fees on developers and an increase in the hotel tax.
Lansdowne scored lower than both Towson and Dulaney in a countywide physical assessment of school buildings.
Olszewski said, “We want to do what we can for all of our schools and we have to start somewhere.”
Olszewski had hoped to get additional school construction money out of the General Assembly. That didn’t happen and he said that is delaying school construction.
Olszewski is a Democrat. Lansdowne is represented by Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk, while Towson and Dulaney are represented by Republicans Marks and Kach. But Olszewski said politics did not enter in to his decision to pick Lansdowne.
“This is a bipartisan budget,” Olszewski said. “I hope to have bipartisan support. We will address the needs of all of our schools.”
Olszewski said he is committed to finding seed money for two new high schools in 2022.
Olszewski’s proposed budget also includes a pay raise for teachers. There is money for 70 additional classroom teachers, as well as more counselors, social workers and psychologists. Olszewski is raising taxes and fees to close an $81 million deficit, and at the same time have money to spend on new initiatives, particularly in education, which makes up about half of the county’s budget.
Abby Beytin, the president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said Olszewski did the right thing by raising taxes so he could spend more money on schools.
“He really tried to make sure that we were moving forward, but he also understood the constraints he has,” Beytin said.
Olszewski also is proposing to roll back part of STAT. This is the controversial program that provides laptops for students. Olszewski wants children in kindergarten through second grade to have to share fewer devices. Olszewski said this would save $1 million. And he told the County Council it makes sense in the classroom as well.
“There is considerable evidence that raises concerns about the links between screen time and child development,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski’s budget is now in the hands of the County Council. It can cut his budget, but cannot add money to it.
Council holds a public hearing on the budget April 30.