While an electric fan droned in a sultry gymnasium at Westowne Elementary School last Wednesday night, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot spoke with members of the school's Parent Teacher Association and urged parents to take action to bring air conditioning to the 62-year-old facility.
"Get the government to do something for you," Franchot said. "Do it. You have the power."
Parents of students attending the school, located at 401 Harlem Lane, between Edmondson Avenue and Baltimore National Pike, expressed frustration that nearby schools—including Arbutus Elementary and Catonsville Elementary—have been scheduled for air conditioning while their own facility has been looked over.
"We see these new schools in Baltimore County with all these bells and whistles, and the question is, when will it be our turn," said Cathy Fu, the mother of a Westowne fourth grader. "We're an older school in a great community. When will it be our turn?"
Forty-six schools are on the county's "priority list" for air conditioning.
The lack of air conditioning is "an obvious public health issue," Franchot said. "It's unsafe for our teachers, [and] it's unsafe for our kids."
Franchot disputed estimates from school system officials that range up to $600 million to equip all schools in the county with air conditioning.
"In a little over a year, every classroom in Anne Arundel County was outfitted with window air conditioners that cost about $120,000 per school," he said. "Baltimore County schools could be air conditioned for $15 million."
The reason why some schools have been slated for air conditioning and not others "is because of the political pressure from parents and teachers," he said.
Franchot exhorted parents attending the meeting to apply pressure on their elected officials—even to the point of picketing the house of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
"Kevin Kamenetz is the key to this," he said. "Get signs and picket in front of Kamenetz's house."
"Get hot under the collar," Franchot said. "Stand up and take a position. You've been nice. Stop being nice. It's not going to happen by going hat in hand and asking nicely."
Westowne Parent Teacher Association President Denise Avara said that the meeting with Franchot was a positive sign.
"His office has decided to champion our cause," Avara said. "We're pleased that he's listening to us. I'm hoping there's something definitive people can hang on to."