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APS board OKs sale of Central-Hower to UA

12/27/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education voted 6-1 during a special meeting Dec. 21 to proceed with the sale of the Central-Hower High School building to The University of Akron (UA).

In a deal sanctioned by special Ohio General Assembly legislation, UA will provide $13.5 million in four-year scholarships for deserving APS students in return. According to APS officials, the property, located at 123 S. Forge St., was valued at $13.5 million — the amount that will now fund the Akron Public Schools Innovation Generation Scholarship.

The building now houses the APS’ new STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) high school. Under the proposed offer, the district may lease part of the building for the STEM school for five years, with another five possible.

Board member Tim Miller voted against the offer. He said he had misgivings throughout the negotiations on the deal and read a prepared statement explaining his “discontent” with the contract offer.

He supports UA, he said, and as an alumnus, “I bleed blue and gold.” However, he said as a school board member, he has a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers and objects to the district getting no interest on the principal of the note.

It can be argued, Miller said, that “we are holding this note at a negative interest rate as tuition and fees will increase over the life of this promissory note, so the value of today’s dollar will shrink over time as tuition rises.”

He also said instead of leasing space in the building for the STEM school, the APS should move it to one of the other Akron high schools that “are begging for programming such as STEM.”

After the meeting, Miller said, “There was agreement [among the board members] with my points, but in the end no one else thought we could do any better.”

He added that in spite of his objections, “I am supportive of my peers on the board and will work to make the scholarship successful.”

APS General Counsel Rhonda Porter said after the meeting if the board had opted to sell the property, the district would be prohibited by law from placing the money into a scholarship fund for students.

So the board opted to offer the property to UA for in-kind services, as that is the only way the proceeds could be used to award scholarships from the university to APS students, she said.

Board President Jason Haas said the district tightened the language of the offer slightly, stipulating the awards must be “last-dollar scholarships,” being applied only after all other scholarships and grants the student is eligible for are used. That “will help prolong its lifetime,” he said.

According to district officials, APS graduates who plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree at UA would be eligible for the scholarships if they first meet the following three minimum criteria:

• have a 3.0 high school grade point average (GPA) and score a 27 on the ACT, or

• rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class and score a 26 on the ACT, or

• have a 3.5 high school GPA and score a 24 on the ACT.

Once the minimum criteria are met, then the student must satisfy additional criteria as set forth by the APS Board of Education.

Currently, more than 20 APS seniors who have applied and been admitted to UA for the fall of 2013 may qualify for the APS Innovation Generation Scholarship based on their current GPA and test scores, according to district officials. The board is currently drafting the final set of criteria that must be met for participation in the scholarship program.

Once awarded, the tuition and general fee scholarship is renewable upon maintaining a minimum 3.0 college GPA. Students must attend UA full-time in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, according to district officials.

“This is the first agreement of its kind in the state,” Haas said. “It’s yet another example of how our district embraces innovative ideas to help our students.”

Now that APS has approved the offer, UA has 60 days to vote on it, according to Haas.

According to APS officials, the UA Board of Trustees indicated Dec. 12 the agreement would be acceptable to them.

“One of our top priorities is graduating students who are college and career ready,” said APS Superintendent David James. “This agreement will go a long way toward making that goal a reality by giving students a truly valuable carrot to reach for.”

According to APS officials, the district plans to work with civic and business groups to sustain the scholarship program even after the original $13.5 million is gone.

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

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