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The Tentacle


May 4, 2011

Schools Health & Safety An Empty Tool Kit

Norman M. Covert

It is difficult to imagine that Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) facilities Services Division Director Ray Barnes can’t wring enough budget fluff from the $506 million operating budget to make simple repairs at schools like North Frederick and Emmitsburg Elementary or Frederick High School where health and safety is a genuine issue.

 

Apparently the appellation “budget fluff” doesn’t exist, no matter who is in charge. A clogged commode in the boys’ lavatory becomes what the U. S. Army calls “first echelon maintenance.” Reality, too, is that if that same pipe is leaking water an FCPS Mr. Fixit may not get there for days or weeks. Enter the principal, we suppose, or the custodian to turn off the valve.

 

Mr. Barnes apparently works from a list of health and safety grading priorities. His annual budget request is a guess-and-by-gosh figure on how much he will need to do the job. It is up to FCPS money managers and Frederick County Board of Education smart folks to respond positively.

 

There are numerous “fenced” items – local, state and federal dollars, and permitting issues influencing the process. It is probable Mr. Barnes and Robert Wilkinson, chief of the Maintenance and Operations Division, are in the category of negotiable line items. Leaking pipes don’t generate positive news coverage.

 

As part of our follow-up discussion on FCPS issues, Board of Education President Brad Young responded in a Facebook™ message that North Frederick “still leaks” in the face of big bucks being spent to hire a new superintendent.

 

“You’re right,” Mr. Young said. “North Frederick is the same as it was four months ago, but it has been moved up on the funding list because we used savings to move Oakdale Elementary up a year.

 

“…I attended North Frederick for six years as well. I did visit and it is in poor condition. Closing it is not an option…there is nowhere that we could transfer that many students without severe implications of over-crowding.

 

“The staff is working hard to face any problems in the school but it is old,” Mr. Young continued. “The price tag to replace it is $23-25 million! I would love to have that happen next year but the likelihood is that it will be 5 years before the state and county come up with the money. Frederick High is also in horrible shape and that is a $75 million dollar project.

 

“The facts are that we cannot undo 20 years of neglect overnight,” he asserted. “Previous boards have left us in bad financial shape and we are working hard to correct that. But with no funding authority, we are at the mercy of the state and county for our building funds.

 

“Trust me, I am doing everything I can in my power to get this done, but we need the community to speak up and ask our officials to fund more if they want it done sooner,” Mr. Young concluded.

 

The North Frederick Parent-Teacher Association went on a media blitz last December making an impressive presentation to the newly elected Board of County Commissioners, senators and delegates at the joint legislative public hearing at Winchester Hall.

 

They weren’t talking about a new school with athletic field lighting, or an atrium for the main entrance. They were talking maintenance and repair; health and safety.

 

Apparently no one understood the parents’ message. Leaking pipes, mold, non-functioning heating/air conditioning system, and broken windows are health and safety problems! We also suppose the school has asbestos, which has been encapsulated to make it safe – but that’s just a guess.

 

When my children attended North Frederick (1978-90), it was a good school despite the physical plant, which was struggling to close off classrooms from the failed “open space” experiment.

 

“Health and Safety” is the trump card in the playbook of each public and private maintenance and repair division chief – except here apparently. We spent millions on needed new school plants, some featuring expansive athletic facilities, which are an extension of county parks and recreation. Mr. Barnes can’t touch that money.

 

Consider that two of the problem schools are in the City of Frederick. I am told that Frederick High is a mess, no classrooms doors, dressing rooms don’t work, the walls are still temporary and the core plant is simply antiquated. Again, don’t build a new one right now – do some maintenance!

 

It may be time to put together a team of volunteer dads/moms with tool kits and donations for parts, get the City of Frederick’s inspectors to take a vacation and make our school safe “for the kids.”

 

With apologies to Mr. Young, Mr. Barnes and the county commissioners, let’s take back our schools. Fenced dollars, politics and personalities be damned. Let’s git ‘r done!

 



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