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APS, UA working on Central-Hower site trade for scholarships

12/13/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

APS board also agrees to change Firestone arts program name


DOWNTOWN AKRON — With its enrollment decreasing, the Akron Public School (APS) District has closed some schools and combined some others. The University of Akron (UA) has long been interested in the Central-Hower High School building, which sits flush up against the UA campus.


The two education entities have worked out a way for the APS to transfer ownership of the building to UA in exchange for scholarships for deserving APS students.


The building was valued at $13.5 million by appraisers from both UA and the APS, according to APS officials.


Even though the APS’ General Fund for operations is suffering deficits, any money received from the sale of school property must go into the separate building fund, not operations, said APS Superintendent David James at the Board of Education’s Dec. 10 meeting.


In addition, Ohio law requires districts wanting to sell a school to offer it first to charter schools, he said.


To get around these restrictions, James said he and UA President Luis Proenza last year went to Columbus to lobby the Ohio General Assembly to pass a law that would permit the APS to “sell” the building to UA for scholarships.


The legislation, House Bill 457, passed and was signed by Gov. John Kasich, James said. It expires Dec. 31.


Several board members wanted more information on the deal’s funding before voting on it at the meeting, such as whether the $13.5 million would be put into an interest-earning account to make it last longer.


James said when the money is gone the scholarships would end, but he hoped the innovative program would jumpstart community fundraising efforts to keep the scholarships going.


Board member Tim Miller said he calculated $13.5 million would underwrite just 337 full scholarships. He moved to postpone the vote until they could get more information.


The motion to approve the agreement was tabled by a vote of 4-3, with board members Miller, Bruce Alexander, Ginger Baylor and Patrick Bravo voting to table. The board will hold a special meeting Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. to vote on the agreement before the legislative deadline.


The Central-Hower building now houses the newly opened APS STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) high school. James said the agreement calls for the STEM school to remain there for the next five years, renewable for another five years.


The scholarships will be last-dollar scholarships, James said, meaning all other scholarships and grants the student is eligible for will be used first.


To be eligible, the APS high school senior must either have at least a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) and a score of at least 27 on the ACT test; or be in the top 10 percent of his/her class and have a minimum 26 ACT score; or have a 3.5 GPA and a minimum 24 ACT score.


Such a student may qualify for a 100 percent scholarship, provided he/she maintains a 3.0 GPA at UA, James said.


He said a student would not be able to transfer to an APS high school in his/her senior year and qualify for one of these scholarships; there will be rules on how long students must be enrolled to qualify.


If the agreement is approved by both the APS and UA, James said students could start earning the scholarships this June. He said there were 38 students from last year’s graduating class who would have qualified.


In other business, the board approved the demolition of the former Crosby Elementary School at 235 Smith St., on the near-west side of Akron.


The school, built in 1923, had most recently been used as an alternative academy and had been vacant for several years, said James. The asbestos abatement has already been done, he said, and demolition would start in the next few weeks. The property will eventually be sold, he added.


The board also heard a presentation by George Bozeka, the president of the Advocates for the Akron Visual and Performing Arts (AAVPA), requesting a name change for the Firestone High School Visual and Performing Arts program.


According to APS officials, the district created the program to nurture students’ artistic talents and prepare them for future success in the arts. The program has launched graduates into careers in everything from live performance to theater management to arts education, according to APS officials.


Every year, approximately 75 students are accepted into the program after auditioning for a spot, according to APS officials. Currently, the program includes 230 students, and students who finish the arts program earn eight credits in arts electives over four years and graduate with a special arts endorsement on their diploma, according to APS officials.


Bozeka explained the group formed in 2007 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has since raised about $60,000 for the program through fundraising and grant writing. The money has been used to buy equipment and fund workshops for the college-level arts program, he said.


The group believes it could raise money more easily if it changed the program name to the Akron School for the Arts, since the students involved are not just from Firestone but from “all over the city and outside the city,” Bozeka said. The majority of the arts students at the school do not live in the Firestone cluster, he said.


The board unanimously approved the name change for the group.


According to APS officials, the program will remain at Firestone and advocates for the new name hope that it will help the community recognize the school as a stand-alone program for students in the area, not just for students who are assigned to Firestone.


When the new Firestone/Litchfield Community Learning Center opens in 2015-16, it will feature a separate wing for the program, according to APS officials.


The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway in Downtown Akron.


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