Of Air Conditioners and Tablets

In 2013, Dr. Dance rolled out the “One to One” initiative in Baltimore County. The initiative was approved in 2014 with a $205 million budget. The initiative is innovative and widespread, placing tablet devices into the classrooms with the eventual goal of every student in Baltimore County being able to use at school (and at home in later grades) a digital device which is tailored to the student. It’s ambitious, and I commend the young Superintendent of Schools for bring out something big to try to help our students to better learn in our digital age. But, was that the best way four our County to spend $205 million? Let’s fast forward ahead to today…

Today, Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz (D) alongside Dr. Dance unveiled his plan to finally improve the air conditioning systems in the Baltimore County Public Schools by 2019. There are many without air conditioning units altogether leading to a number of days early in the school year where schools had to be closed due to excessive heat index. Without those air conditioners, the entire school system shut down to prevent the students from overheating. The problem? First, their plan doesn’t fully get implemented until 2019 and secondly, their plan relies on $175 million they do not have and need from the State of Maryland to finance.

Now, as a parent in Baltimore County with children in the school system right now I have one question – why are “one-to-one” devices more important than air conditioning units in our schools? If, in 2013, Dr. Dance and County Executive Kamanetz had instead focused on replacing, repairing, and installing air conditioning units instead of these devices and secured the funds by 2014 (as they did with the tablet devices), by now they’d be a year into the upgrades and some schools would already have the units.

I get it, technology matters and we are now more than ever in a digital world. But which is more important for the wellbeing and education of my 1st grader – having a touchscreen tablet for some of his classwork or ensuring his school is at a safe temperature in late summer so they don’t have to shut the entire County school system down? I’d assume the latter, yet the former is fully funded. I also get that the money doesn’t come from the same pot – but the point remains. We need to reassess our priorities in Baltimore County and this is merely one of many misplaced priorities we’re seeing which need to be fixed. Air conditioning isn’t sexy, but it’s needed. Sadly, our overheated schools will have to wait to be cooled so students can get fancy tablets.

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