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Closed Essex building becoming APS preschool

6/26/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

WEST AKRON — Essex Elementary School has sat nearly empty since it was closed in June 2012 because of dwindling enrollment.

But the school will hear the sound of little feet again next fall thanks to an expansion grant from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) that will help the Akron Public Schools (APS) expand its preschool program.

At the APS Board of Education meeting June 23, the board approved a recommendation from Superintendent David James to spend nearly $5,000 to install and relocate wireless access points at Essex. Business Affairs Director Debra Foulk said the building is being cleaned up and some repairs are being done to the roof in anticipation of the ODE’s increase in preschool grant funding.

The state currently funds 157 preschool seats by grant, said Special Education Director Karen Liddell-Anderson, and may increase that by 100. Many of the APS elementary buildings have one or two preschool classes, she said.

The former Stewart Elementary School is a current hub for the Early Learning Program, said Foulk, and most of the students are bused there. The parking lot is small, though, and too crowded for all the vans that transport the special education students, she said. It would be even more crowded if the extra grant funding comes through, enabling the APS to add another 100 children to the program.

That makes Essex an ideal solution to the overcrowding, since it is available and has parking, Foulk said. The preschool can use the kindergarten wing on the right side of the school, she said. The Firestone High School marching band is currently using rooms on the left side and practicing marching behind the school while the Firestone-Litchfield Community Learning Center (CLC) is being built on the former Firestone track and soccer field area.

Liddell-Anderson said Essex also has observation rooms, which are an advantage for a preschool.

“I’m thrilled to have the building, with the observation rooms and the traffic pattern for the vans,” she said.

The district will have no trouble filling preschool seats, she said. The ODE prefers about a 50-50 mix of disabled and “typical” nondisabled children, she said. The district provides vans for the disabled children, while the others must provide their own transportation.

There are currently some 80 openings for “typical” students, she said.

Foulk said Essex will open as a preschool hub, with about 100 students, the day after Labor Day, and Stewart also will remain a hub. Those interested in the Early Learning Program should call the Administration Office at 330-761-1661.

In other business, the board hired an interim treasurer to fill in after Jack Pierson retires in July until they find a suitable replacement for the 21-year veteran treasurer.

Clifford Reinhardt was unanimously approved for the position. According to board President Lisa Mansfield, he has 24 years of experience as a school district treasurer in Mogadore, Black River, North Royalton and Willoughby-Eastlake school districts, as well as business financial experience.

Human Resources Director Kathy McVey said Reinhardt’s contract is for up to three days per week, at $400 per day, until the district finds a permanent treasurer.

The board also approved paying The University of Akron (UA) $450,000 for operational expenses for next school year for the district’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) High School housed in the former Central-Hower High School.

The vote was unanimous but not without dissent. Board member Tim Miller, a vocal opponent of the December 2012 deal to “sell” the building to UA in exchange for $13.5 million in UA scholarships for APS students, said, “With all the room we have, we shouldn’t be paying rent for classroom space.”

Board member Patrick Bravo said, “We need to come up with another solution — that’s nearly one-half million dollars a year.”

Board member the Rev. Curtis Walker added, “That’s a lot of money; can we revisit it?”

The 10-year contract with UA has an opt-out clause after several years, Foulk said.

In case of winter weather that closes schools up to three days longer than the allowed number of calamity days, the board approved a work make-up plan for 2014-15 that includes “blizzard bags” and online lessons to substitute for adding days to the school year.

That is what the district did this year after losing eight instructional days to weather. The plan will be filed with the ODE, according to James’ resolution.

The board certified the June graduation of 1,135 APS seniors, including 113 from Buchtel CLC and 271 from Firestone High School.

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

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