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Reading summer school planned for third-graders

5/15/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

DOWNTOWN AKRON — The new Ohio Department of Education third-grade reading guarantee requires students who do not achieve a certain score on a standardized reading test to repeat third grade.

Following fall and winter testing, 23 percent of Akron Public Schools’ (APS) third-graders have not yet tested proficient.

At the APS Board of Education meeting May 12, Director of Elementary Schools Mary Outley-Kelly explained the pupils must score at least 392 on the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) in reading. The state also will accept a score of 190 or higher on the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test, she said.

The children just took the OAA test May 1, she said, and results will not be learned until June 16. The MAP test is given three times per year — in September, January and May — and will be given next week, she said.

But results from last fall and January indicate that 369 of the district’s 1,597 third-graders have not passed one of the tests.

Among West Akron schools, those who might be retained include 16 of Case Elementary School’s 49 third-graders, 30 of Crouse Community Learning Center’s (CLC) 59 third-graders, eight of King Elementary School’s 87 third-graders, 33 of Portage Path CLC’s 70 third-graders, five of Resnik CLC’s 78 third-graders and 18 of Schumacher CLC’s 60 third-graders, according to Outley-Kelly.

The district is offering a summer Reading Academy for these children to help them pass the test and move on to fourth grade in the fall. The four-week summer school, which begins June 16, is mandatory for those children, said Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams.

Teachers and principals have been contacting the parents of these children about the summer intervention help, but 75 of the students have not yet signed up for the summer school, said Outley-Kelly.

Carla Sibley, director of community relations, said school officials have been working to set up partnerships to help the students. The Akron/Summit County Public Library system, for example, will have AkronReads tutors to help the children, she said, especially at eight library branches in areas with the greatest need.

School board members discussed the need to get the children into the program for reading help. Board President Lisa Mansfield noted it is a citywide problem and a problem of poverty.

“How many books are in [these children’s] homes?” she asked.

Board member Bruce Alexander acknowledged it’s a community problem but that parents are especially important.

“Please get involved in your kid’s education,” he said.

The students will have one more chance to take the OAA and MAP tests again in the summer, according to district officials.

In other business, the board and administrators discussed that one reason for students leaving the district and enrolling in charter schools is the APS is required by the state to provide busing for charter school students who live in the APS district.

Both the loss of the students and paying to bus many charter and parochial school students to other schools costs the APS thousands of dollars, according to Treasurer Jack Pierson.

Board members have asked whether increasing eligibility for Akron students to be bused might keep more of them from leaving the district to get free busing. Currently, the APS provides busing for kindergarten through eighth grade for those who live at least 2 miles away from their schools.

Business Affairs Executive Director Debra Foulk reported on the costs involved in expanding busing to kindergarten through eighth-grade students who live more than 1 mile from their school.

The state does not provide any funding to bus students who live closer than 2 miles, Foulk said, so that expense would have to be borne by the district.

Currently, 2,443 APS students and 2,087 nonpublic and charter/community school students are eligible to be bused, she said. Charter schools attract students by promising free busing — on APS buses — she said.

Expanding the eligibility distance to over 1 mile would add 2,124 APS students and 2,625 nonpublic and charter students, for a total of 9,279 to be transported in yellow buses, more than double the current number, according to district officials.

Busing these students accounts for little more than half of the APS transportation budget, with a nearly equal amount going to transport special education students, Foulk said.

To meet the expanded need, APS would need to buy 75 more buses at approximately $99,000 per bus, or $7.4 million, she said. This total does not include insurance or licensing costs, she said.

Maintenance would cost about $200,000 per year, and 65 more bus drivers and other staff, such as mechanics, would add another $1.5 million in personnel costs, not including benefits.

Charter buses would be needed to transport community school students who refuse schedules around APS start and end times, she said, costing another $722,000 each year.

“We never said this would be cheap,” she said.

The bottom line, she said, is that for the district to expand busing for kindergarten through eighth-grade students who live 1 mile or more away would cost a minimum of $9.9 million just to begin the process.

In fiscal year 2012, state reimbursement to the APS for transportation was $6.7 million, according to district officials. This year’s budget for transportation is nearly $8.2 million, she said, and the ODE will contribute just 73 percent of that. The state does not help fund the purchase of new buses at this time, she said, and there is no money in the APS budget for new buses.

This “would be on our dime,” she said.

Board members asked whether expanding busing service would bring students back to the APS. Foulk said she had no way of knowing, but she had learned that after Canton City Schools expanded its busing, they lost more students.

Despite the busing cost beyond the APS’ financial reach, board members remained concerned about the safety aspects and loss of enrollment due to busing only those living more than 2 miles away.

In other business, the board approved an increase in tuition for the Akron School of Practical Nursing effective next fall. To meet the program’s expenses, tuition will increase $1,000. The full-time, 10-month program prepares students for the state licensing exam to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

The nursing program is the district’s only adult vocational program, said Howard Lawson, director of career education. It was started in 1950 with support from area hospitals. Since the hospitals withdrew their support in 1985, it has been mostly tuition funded, he said.

Interim Director Barb Dawson said tuition has not been increased since 2004. In the past four years, she said, 100 percent of the students have passed the state board, and their job placement rate is also 100 percent. Doctors’ offices, rehabilitation facilities, home care organizations — “lots of people like to hire our grads,” said Dawson.

There are currently 92 applicants for next fall’s class, and the maximum they can enroll is 65. The program is housed at Erie Island School. With tuition and all fees, the total cost will be $13,950 to get the LPN degree in 10 months, she said. There is a great deal of financial help available to students, she said.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for May 27, a day later than usual due to Memorial Day, at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St.

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