Out with status quo

It wasn’t a surprise when the second-in-command of Harford County Public Schools recently said some schools may have to close temporarily to allow major repairs to be done to some of the system’s aging buildings.

For decades, we have cautioned about the long-term impact of Harford County Public Schools deferring, year after year, the maintenance on many of its buildings.

By the time the school system got around to building the new Bel Air High School, which isn’t so new these days, the list of deferred maintenance items on the old high school was long and appalling.

Parents worked to publicly shame the school system about the woeful condition of many parts of the old Bel Air High School, which was in use from 1950 until 2009 when the new Bel Air High School opened. From windows to electrical service to HVAC systems, the building, while structurally sound, was outmoded. Parents let school leaders hear about it. Since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, Bel Air was soon in line for a new high school building.

The need to build a new Bel Air High School is but one specific example of the extreme results of deferred maintenance.

Obviously, money is the issue. Harford County Public Schools never receives the government funding it says it needs and one easy solution to that budget problem is putting off the repairs and upgrades that the school system doesn’t have the money for anyway. Year after year after year of that and there’s not only a backlog of costly repairs, but also new ones added each year to the growing list.

We have long encouraged Harford County Public Schools to change its philosophy and approach to how it operates. The school system continues operating in a way that appears to seek to preserve the status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo left a long time ago.

For example, as the school system looks at replacing Havre de Grace High School at one end of its Route 40 corridor and needs to do the same at the other end of the corridor, it should reconcile the fact that a lot of over capacity exists within HCPS’s 50-plus school buildings.

According to numbers posted on the school system’s web site, there’s a high school’s worth of empty seats throughout the system.

The approximately 1,456 empty seats on the high school level could accommodate the enrollment of every high school in the county, except Bel Air and C. Milton Wright high schools. Bel Air’s enrollment, if jammed into a 1,456-seat school building, would only be 7.3 percent over capacity. In comparison, Harford Tech, the county’s only over capacity high school, is 1.12 percent over capacity. Tech has 1,026 students in its building rated for an enrollment of 920.

What it means is the Harford school system should start taking a hard look at everything in play – from salaries to new air-conditioning systems – and make the tough decisions about how to move forward with its physical plant.

We’re not advocating the closure of schools, but it has be considered. Why spend millions of dollars on repairing buildings that should be considered for permanent closure?

No one wants to hear about any school being up for closure, for any reason, because it might be their school being closed. Someday, however, that might be the obvious choice, if for no other reason than it doesn’t make sense continuing to operate the way the school system has always.