How often are Baltimore school buildings closed?
In response to the questions last week about how often city schools have to close because of malfunctioning boilers and other building problems: From last summer through Friday, the system reports, 34 schools -- about 17 percent of those in the city -- had to be shut down at least once. The closings occurred on 23 days -- in other words, some days saw multiple school closures. That averages out to around once a week that a building has to close. But the closings tend to happen in spurts, either because of ongoing problems at a building (a la Poly/Western) or because multiple problems occur during a week with extreme temperatures.
Since this is a topic that so many of you in the schools feel so passionately about, I thought I'd also offer a little perspective on what the system's facilities department is up against in trying to keep the heat running across the city.
For decades until a few years ago, the school district did little preventative maintenance on its buildings. Those years of neglect are showing now in the form of all the boiler failures, inoperative windows, etc.
The school system must rely on the state for most of its capital dollars. The state never has nearly enough money to go around, but what money it has must be spread among Maryland's 24 school districts, even though Baltimore has the oldest buildings that require the most repairs. (We learned Friday of the federal stimulus money that will go to the school system's operating budget, but I haven't heard yet whether any of the governor's discretionary funds will go to school renovations.)
The state requires that a school be more than 60 percent utilized -- currently and projected for seven years into the future -- to be eligible for capital funds. This is a big problem particularly for the city's high schools, where enrollment was declining for a long time until this year.
In response to the comments left here last week alleging that citywide schools get preferential treatment, officials in the facilities department insist that is not true. There simply is not enough money to meet all the needs, and in the case of the under-enrolled schools, to a large extent their hands are tied. And when a building has temperature problems, they anger people no matter what they do: If they close, it's lost learning time; stay open, it's inappropriate learning conditions.
I don't envy their job.