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APS drops Digital Academy sponsorship

5/23/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

DOWNTOWN AKRON — The charter school started by the Akron Public Schools (APS) in 2002 to capture some of the students leaving to study online will no longer be associated with the APS.

The APS Board of Education voted unanimously May 20 to terminate its sponsorship of the Akron Digital Academy.

APS Superintendent David James said a change in the law prevents a sponsor from having a member on the Digital Academy’s board, and both he and Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams sat on the charter school’s board.

“It’s time to part ways with them,” James said. “It would behoove them to look for another sponsor.”

He said the Ohio Revised Code requires the sponsor to give the charter school 90 days’ notice of termination, and the administrators of the Digital Academy could appeal the decision to the Ohio Department of Education.

The Digital Academy’s students have shown weak performance on mandatory tests, according to James, and the school announced in a letter on its website May 2 it will close its kindergarten-through-fifth-grade program. The charter school — with 580 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to its website — can’t afford the expenses associated with the new state-mandated Common Core academic requirements, the letter stated.

James said the staff at the Digital Academy “can run it any way they see fit — the feeling [to separate from the APS] is probably mutual.”

The APS will not open another digital school, James said, as the district is moving in another direction with its focus on opportunities to help students become college- and career-ready, such as the new dual-enrollment partnership with Stark State College.

In other business, the board voted to cut 42 jobs. James explained every spring the administration studies the projected enrollment for the next fall with an eye on staffing requirements, although “it’s very difficult to project enrollment.”

It is easier to bring staff members back in the fall if enrollment is higher than anticipated than to try to reduce staff once school starts, James said, so they “want to err on the side of caution.”

He proposed cutting 17 elementary teachers and 15 secondary and said attrition will eliminate those positions. The other 10 jobs affected will be in operations/maintenance, he said, which includes seven five-hour custodians, one assistant custodian, a plumber and an audio-visual repairman.

In addition to “right-sizing” the staff, eliminating those positions will save the district $2.25 million to $3 million, James said.

In other financial news, Treasurer Jack Pierson said the district must submit an updated five-year forecast to the state by the end of May. Since the Ohio legislature has not finalized the next two-year state budget yet, he said he would present the board members with two options: one assuming the district will receive a 6 percent increase in state funding and a second based on a 3 percent increase.

The board scheduled a special meeting May 30 at noon to vote on the forecast.

This past September, the APS learned it had received $3.2 million in tax revenue it should not have received. The city of Akron had offered tax increment financing (TIF) agreements to businesses to encourage them to come to or stay in Akron, but the necessary approval of the agreements by the state took years to accomplish.

Last summer, the state approved several TIFs dating back to 2007 through 2010, resulting in Akron having to pay the city back the $3.2 million it had received without knowing the TIFs were pending.

At the May 20 meeting, the board members approved establishing a fund to set aside money that will eventually need to be paid back to the city once more TIFs are approved.

Pierson said there would be about $900,000 put into the fund this year, and he knows of several more TIFs that are awaiting approval in Columbus.

Staff member Mark Yokum is retiring after 32 years of service, James announced, the last 20 of them on lunch duty at Schumacher Elementary School (now Community Learning Center).

In his honor, the board voted to name the new school’s cafetorium (cafeteria/auditorium) the Mark Yokum Cafetorium.

The board’s next meeting will be the special meeting May 30 at noon to vote on the five-year forecast. The next regular meeting is scheduled for June 10 at 5:30 p.m. Both meetings will take place at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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