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APS bringing back middle school programs

10/24/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

Board also hears update on master plan for school construction

DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Public Schools (APS), facing a large financial deficit in May 2012, eliminated middle school sports, eighth-grade foreign language and the fifth-grade bands and orchestras.

“It was very difficult” to cut those programs, said Superintendent David James, “because they’re feeder programs for our kids.”

But thanks to a better-than-expected financial outlook, APS Board of Education members approved an October five-year forecast calling for the programs’ reinstatement at the Oct. 21 meeting.

APS Treasurer Jack Pierson said this fall’s state-mandated forecast projects a positive balance at the end of five years — the first time since he’s been doing the forecasts, he said. It’s “looking fairly optimistic,” he added.

The changed financial outlook is due to Akron residents approving the school levy in November 2012 and the new state budget “being more generous than we expected,” Pierson said.

He said the district will receive a 6.25 percent increase in state funding this year (fiscal year 2014) and a 10.5 percent increase next year.

His biggest concern, he said, is enrollment, with students leaving the district via open enrollment, vouchers and charter/community schools. He projects the loss of students to other schools to reach 6,300 this year.

“Fifteen years ago we had no students leaving the district” because these choices didn’t exist, he said. Losing 6,300 students equates to losing $44.8 million, Pierson said.

But at present, with the increased state funding and new levy revenue, the board is happy to bring back the elementary and middle school programs, said board President Jason Haas.

“You don’t often see things come back” once they have been eliminated, he said. “We’re grateful to the citizens of Akron for supporting the levy and the state government for passing a budget that was pretty darn good for this district,” Haas said.

Also at the meeting, James and Paul Flesher, APS director of facility planning and capital improvements, provided an update on the master plan for the rebuilding/renovating of all the district’s school buildings into community learning centers (CLCs).

When the project began in 2003, the district had 58 schools. So far in the program, 27 buildings have been completed, three are under construction and one is in the design phase, with 10 buildings not touched yet, James said.

Because of declining enrollment, they have closed or repurposed the other school buildings, he said. Riedinger Middle School, for example, is now the home of the Akron Alternative Academy; Barrett Elementary is being leased to the YMCA for the Phoenix Program; Central-Hower High School was traded to The University of Akron for scholarships for APS students; and Erie Island now houses the district’s licensed practical nursing program.

In the Buchtel cluster, all of the schools have been rebuilt or renovated, James said. In the Firestone cluster, only Case Elementary School remains, and James said it would probably be rebuilt on the same site, with students attending the “swing space” building at 400 W. Market St. during construction.

The King CLC is making good progress, said Flesher. The faulty fluid air barrier has been repaired, and workers started on the brick work on the south side of the building that day, he said. It should be ready for students and staff to move in next fall, he said.

The Firestone/Litchfield CLC should be done by fall 2015, for a move-in of January 2016, he said. The board approved a contract for foundations/deep underground utilities work with Sitetech Inc., of Grafton, for $2.5 million.

Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts might be renovated or rebuilt, James said.

Firestone and Harris Elementary School are the last schools “in the pipeline” until additional funding is secured from the city of Akron for the local share, James said. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, formerly the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), is paying 59 percent of the construction cost, with the other 41 percent coming from a voter-approved 0.25 percent increase in the city income tax.

Flesher said the last time the city sold bonds for the school project was in 2010.

The OSFC projected that APS enrollment would stay up near the 30,000 students it had 10 years ago, but the decline in number of students to 20,137 means fewer schools are being rebuilt, said James.

“Population drives the budget for these projects,” he said. Future building segments will be limited by the amount of money the city has from selling additional bonds, he said.

In other business:

  • Board member the Rev. Curtis Walker was presented with a plaque for his outstanding service to the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA). OSBA Deputy Executive Director Rob Delane said Walker “has done an amazing job” as a member of the OSBA Board of Trustees, president of the OSBA Black Caucus and a member of the Northeast Region’s executive committee.
  • Firestone High School has been named a 2013 School of Promise by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross made the announcement Oct. 16 at the district’s Akron Early College High School (AECHS), which was honored as a High Performing School of Honor based on last year’s state report card.
    Firestone’s School of Promise designation was earned for its academic success “for sustaining high academic achievement among their students, including many from economically disadvantaged homes,” according to an ODE press release.
    Of four schools in Summit County to be recognized as Schools of Promise, three were in the APS District. Besides Firestone, the other schools are AECHS and Ritzman Community Learning Center.
  • The board approved renaming the art gallery at Miller South at the request of the school’s Art Booster Club. It will now be the Susan Yingling Gallery, after the art teacher who taught there for 20 years before retiring last year.

The board’s next meeting is set for Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St.

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