The two candidates running for Baltimore County Executive agree on this: it’s going to cost a lot to modernize the schools.
There’s another thing they have in common: Republican Al Redmer and Democrat Johnny Olszewski aren’t providing many details on how to pay for promises they’re making.
Olszewski recently toured Dulaney High School in Timonium with Principal Sam Wynkoop and parent Yara Cheikh. They stopped in a typical classroom: hot, stuffy, no air conditioning.
“You can just kind of feel it in here,” Wynkoop told Olszewski.
“Smell it,” Olszewski added.
“And there aren’t 30 kids,” Cheikh said. “You remember what that smells like, too.”
Dulaney, now more than 50 years old, is a political poster child. The governor’s toured it. So has Redmer, Olszewski’s Republican opponent.
They have heard about discolored water and burst pipes, and seen where walls have separated from ceilings. Wynkoop said students bring up Dulaney’s conditions in graduation speeches.
Wynkoop said, “Where it’s a tongue and cheek, ‘brown water.’ Or it’s a tongue and cheek, ‘We sweat through,’ you know, all this metaphorical stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s in there. They’re feeling that every day.”
Olszewski and Redmer are pledging, if elected, to build a new Dulaney, as well as new high schools for Towson and Lansdowne.
School officials say each would cost around $125 million. Meanwhile, officials warn that the county’s budget is tight after spending hundreds of millions of dollars renovating and replacing other schools across the county. And still more schools need to be replaced or renovated due to overcrowding or failing facilities.
Redmer said the county needs to think creatively.
“Whether it’s privatizing the cost of construction, what have you,” Redmer said. “I think we need to put everything on the table.”
Similarly, Olszewski seeks to leave all options open.
Both Olszewski and Redmer say they can get more money out of the state. But there are no guarantees. Redmer banks on a strong relationship with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, although Hogan has to get reelected for that to pay off. Olszewski is a former state legislator who’s counting on friends in the General Assembly to come through with roughly a billion dollars.
Both say they will also root out waste in the county budget.
Olszewski said cutting just a small portion of the existing budget would go a long way.
“For every 1 percent we identify in a $3.2 billion budget, we’re talking over $3 million a year annually that we can reinvest in our students and in our people,” Olszewski said.
But county officials say the budget is already pretty lean.
Redmer said he will not raise property taxes to pay for schools. Olszewski sees that as a last resort.
However they get the money, the candidates differ in how to spend it.
Olszewski spelled out some specifics. He said he would spend up to $2 billion on new and renovated schools, raise teacher pay by 20 percent and hire more social workers and psychologists.
Redmer scoffed at that.
“My opponent likes to talk about his bold vision for Baltimore County and what he means is his bold, expensive vision,” Redmer said.
Redmer said he will come up with a countywide, long-term plan for the schools, but he hasn’t offered any details yet.
Olszewski said that doesn’t address an immediate need.
“I have a much greater urgency about meeting those needs tomorrow and next year, as opposed to waiting 10 years to see that happen, Olszewski said.”
Both candidates say their personal experiences with the school system better help them understand its needs. Both are graduates of county schools — Olszewski from Sparrows Point High School in Dundalk, Redmer from Perry Hall High.
Olszewski also taught in the county schools and has been endorsed by the county teachers union.
Redmer’s oldest granddaughter is a student at his old school, Perry Hall Middle.