City Hall takes control over upkeep of schools

Contract brings $3 million in resources to system

March 23, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Cementing an agreement reached a week ago, the Baltimore school board approved a contract last night that gives the city control over the maintenance of city schools.

Under the contract, the city will provide custodial services, perform day-to-day and long-term maintenance, and conduct hazard abatement through August - providing $3 million in extra funding, employees and other resources to the school system.

Although city officials will manage school facilities staff and assign city employees to work in schools, the city technically is serving as a contractor to the school system.

School board members said the agreement does not diminish their authority or responsibilities in the area of facilities.

"What we have is truly a collaboration with a trusted, good partner," board member Douglas Kington said.

One of the city's first projects will be a major cleaning and repair campaign at some schools next week, during spring break. In addition to assuming all maintenance duties, the city plans to provide training to school facilities personnel and expand its 311 call center to process complaints about school buildings.

Many schools are in poor shape and have led to complaints from staff and community members, especially after a financial crisis last school year prompted the administration to cut the ranks of maintenance personnel.

Over the summer, Mayor Martin O'Malley orchestrated a volunteer campaign that made repairs and improvements at about 150 of the more than 180 schools, according to City Hall.

City schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland also has been working on facilities, although she has said she appreciates the city's help. In November, she asked chief of staff Jeffery N. Grotsky to begin an in-depth study of the facilities department.

Results and recommendations have not been presented to the board, but some preliminary findings are that the facilities department's budget is inadequate, that there are too many custodial vacancies and that the department lacks a method of evaluating its personnel, according to Grotsky.

In other business, the school board approved a plan to reopen Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy in September as three smaller schools.

The 1,200-student West Baltimore school, which was disrupted by dozens of arson fires last fall, will house a school focusing on careers in emergency services, tentatively named the Academy of Homeland Security; a business and entrepreneurial school; and a liberal arts school that will aim to put struggling students on a path to college.

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