School facilities bill had strong support at the polls
An overwhelming majority of Baltimore city voters cast ballots in favor of a charter amendment that will establish a fund to support school facility improvements, according to unofficial poll figures, and education advocates said Wednesday that they see the vote as a "call to action" from the public.
Transform Baltimore, a group of education advocates and school leaders from around the city that have joined the ACLU of Maryland in calling for a funding solution for the estimated $2.8 billion in improvements needed in city school buildings, celebrated the almost 87 percent of voters who voted in favor of the amendment.
The charter amendment received the highest overall percentage of votes in the city-wide, contested races, though not the highest raw number of votes. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake received 84 percent of votes.
“The vote sends a clear message that Baltimore citizens support our students’ and teachers’ right to have decent, modern, and well-equipped buildings and that funds need to be allocated for that purpose," said Frank Patinella, of the ACLU and Transform Baltimore campaign, in a release sent by the group Wednesday.
The group held a "Speak Out" event last week, where hundreds of teachers, students and parents sounded off about the abysmal conditions of their school buildings, which are owned by the city, not the school system.
The Transform Baltimore campaign also met with Rawlings-Blake last week to pitch a funding model that has helped to rapidly modernize and improve school buildings in South Carolina. You can read a letter the group sent on Nov. 2 by clicking here.
One of the drawbacks of the charter amendment is that the mayor's finance team opposed granting the City Council authority to designate taxpayer money to the fund once it was established. The finance department said that granting such a power (the mayor is the only official who can allocate funds) could infringe on future administrations' priorities.
The mayor convened a task force last fall that was due to release a report in April with recommendations for how to address the $2.8 billion need. That report has yet to be released, but the mayor's spokesman said there could be developments in the next two weeks.
Under the charter amendment, the fund can however be endowed with grants and donations, and city officials said that is now where the attention should be focused.
“The overwhelming public support in favor of the charter amendment is proof that we should maintain a laser-like focus toward building state-of-the-art facilities for all of Baltimore’s children,” said Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who authored the charter amendment along with Councilman Jim Kraft. “We now need to turn our attention toward building a fund capable of producing first-class facilities for students.”