Almost as soon as Joni Engelbretson finished her pitch yesterday for money to help get air-conditioning at Arundel Middle and Arundel High schools, county school board members gave their answer: There's no money for her.
"There are no real loose dollars hanging around," said Superintendent Carol S. Parham. "If the board directed me to find the money, yes [I could], but it comes from someone else, from someone else's project."
Engelbretson and a committee of west county parents have been working for months to raise money to cool the two schools. Arundel High is the only high school in the county without air-conditioning.
The parents have raised $12,000 toward a permanent window-unit system at the middle school. About $3,000 has been raised for temporary window units at the high school, which is scheduled for a central air-conditioning system by 2004.
The total cost of the window-unit projects at both schools would be more than $260,000. Both need wiring or upgrades to support the added strain on the electrical system.
The money would also pay for 70 temporary air-conditioners for the high school.
The middle school project would cost about $30,000. Engelbretson said she thinks the school can place window units in all of the school's second-floor classrooms, despite the board's unwillingness to help financially.
Engelbretson is hoping to find a "rich benefactor" to cover the $235,000 cost of the high school temporary project.
The health of the teachers and students of west county are at stake, she said.
Thirty-eight of the county's elementary and middle schools lack air-conditioning.
Last year, the school board added Arundel High School's central air-conditioning project to its proposed budget for the 2002-2003 school year. That project - if the county pays the $8.9 million cost - won't be completed until fall 2004.
"It's easy, in an air-conditioned room, to say, `Yes, this is important. [But] we don't have the money right now,'" Engelbretson said in an impassioned speech that brought her to tears. "It's just a crying shame."
Board members said they have no taxing authority and that their money comes from requests to the state and the county. They said it wouldn't be as simple as having Engelbretson go to County Executive Janet S. Owens to ask for the money because she, too, is restricted by a tight budget.
In addition, other projects have priority, members said.
"We can't just arbitrarily take money from one project and use it for another," said board President Paul Rudolph. "The kitty is only so large. There's only so much money."