Jan 8, 2018
About 60 out of 160 public schools in Baltimore City had insufficient heat on the first two days of school following the Christmas/New Year’s break. On the evening of January 1, school officials tweeted that, “School buildings were monitored for heat and water issues throughout the holiday break,” and that all but two schools would open up “on time.”
But the next day, many students and teachers across the city arrived at their schools to find classrooms flooded from cracked water pipes, and temperatures that were barely above freezing. “It was miserable. The kids had their coats, hats and gloves on all day,” said a teacher at one high school. The teachers’ union called for all the schools to be closed until the heating problems were dealt with. Yet all but four of them were officially open the next day until finally all the schools were closed on January 4 and 5 after a snow storm brought even colder temperatures and high winds.
How did Baltimore’s public schools end up in such terrible shape? Decades of under-funding for both teaching and building maintenance. Baltimore has on average the oldest school buildings in Maryland. For many years it has not had enough money for building maintenance and construction. In addition, the city has been forced to return millions of dollars for school maintenance and construction to the state because projects were going to cost far more than originally projected or were taking too long to get started. Thirty million dollars was returned to the state for these reasons last year alone.
This is mainly because the building maintenance department is under-staffed. Most school systems have one building engineer for every school. But Baltimore – with more old schools requiring more maintenance than any other jurisdiction in the state – has only one building engineer for every eight schools!
Money for building engineers has been used instead to hire more teachers, because there hasn’t been enough funding for teachers as well as building maintenance.
Most schools in Baltimore serve working class students, most of them black, many of them poor. The conditions in many Baltimore public schools are an attack on these students and their families.