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Akron Council, BOE delve into issues

4/20/2017 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Overdose stats, high school academy plans shared

DOWNTOWN AKRON — From the continuing challenges of the opiate epidemic to an overview of new housing and education initiatives in the city, members of Akron City Council and the Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education (BOE) delved into a range of issues at a joint meeting April 12.

While the last meeting of the two elected boards six months prior focused on the controversial decision to merge Garfield and Kenmore high schools, this time the two groups talked about some of the more positive efforts they are behind in the city.

Akron Fire Department Deputy Chief Charles Twigg shared some of the more sobering news of the day: The city had 165 drug overdose deaths in 2016, compared to 47 the year before. Many of those came in July, when a sudden spike in overdoses resulted from the introduction of synthetic additives in heroin.

“That was a big eye-opener,” Twigg said.

Since then, city safety forces have begun to address the problem in several ways, from adding opiate antidote Narcan to police cruisers to creating a Quick Response Team (QRT) that visits those who have overdosed a few days later to offer information on resources and help.

Twigg said since the QRT was formed in February, it has visited 60 people in their homes. Thirteen took information from the team and seven signed up for their first intake interview with an addiction service provider, Twigg said.

As of the date of the meeting, Twigg said the city has recorded 27 overdose deaths so far in 2017. And he added the previous day’s daily report — for the first time in months — noted that there had not been any OD calls that day.

Typically, emergency medical crews are dispatched to two to three ODs a day, he said, with weekends seeing that number climb closer to a dozen. Those numbers are more in line with what was happening before last July’s rapid increase, Twigg said.

“Normal is not a good thing, but it’s better than it was,” he said.

APS board members asked about school-age youth and the opiate epidemic, but Twigg said the department is very rarely seeing young people on calls. He added that Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan has visited all city high schools to address senior classes about the opiate epidemic.

City Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples (D-Ward 5) said she would like to see the city doing more to reach teens, citing research that says those who use opiates often report starting as young as 13.

“We need to have conversations with them early on,” she said.

Also during the meeting, APS BOE members Lisa Mansfield and Debbie Walsh took the floor along with APS officials to explain the newly adopted College and Career Academies of Akron (CCAA) plan. Tamiko Hatcher, APS’ director of specialty programs, said the new model encompasses three areas: small learning communities, thematic learning and engagement with the business community.

To develop the plan, APS officials and community leaders visited and studied McGavock High School in Nashville, which has used the academy model for more than a decade and with much success, Hatcher said.

The academy model has already been rolled out with North High School’s freshman class this year. Once Ford Next Generation Learning approves the program, expected to happen in May, plans call for extending the academy concept to all grades at North in the fall. Freshmen at the other APS high schools would begin to follow the academy model in fall 2018 and all students in all high schools would be part of an academy by fall 2019.

Academies will be organized around potential career groupings, APS officials added.

City Council members talked about a plan to offer property tax abatements for new residential construction or improvements. Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large), who chairs Council’s Planning Committee, spoke about the plan, which would abate taxes for 15 years for housing construction and renovations over $5,000, although there would be some tax revenue coming from the value of the land on which homes are built.

“It’s a bold step, but I think it’s a positive step,” Fusco said. “It’s meant to attract people.”

Mansfield said she understands the goals of the project but questioned the loss of additional tax dollars that could come to the district if the program is rolled out.

Fusco said the program would increase the market value of properties in the city overall, so that properties near improved or new ones would see a bump in value, and that would increase tax collections.

APS Treasurer Ryan Pendleton said since 2008, the only growth Akron has seen in property values has been in the commercial sector.

“We are not keeping up with inflation now,” he said of residential growth. “Any investment in this area is welcome.”

“This would be great if it encourages people to move into the city,” said APS BOE President Patrick Bravo.

BOE members also briefly talked about the Imagine Akron Community Learning Centers (CLC) school construction project, which is wrapping up. BOE member the Rev. Curtis Walker said students are expected to move into the new Case CLC in West Akron at the beginning of 2018.

Councilman Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) asked school officials to consider maintaining the playground at the closed Rankin Elementary School in his ward. It’s the only playground in that neighborhood, he noted.

APS Superintendent David James said the district is continuing to look at its inventory of empty buildings. Among the considerations is whether the property at the former Perkins Middle School on Mull Avenue should be sold for housing or another use, he said.

Bravo said the BOE and City Council plan to meet again in six months, on Oct. 11 at the Akron-Summit County Main Library.

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