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Education

Central-Hower lease agreement refined

9/12/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

This past December, just before a state deadline, the Akron Public Schools (APS) sold Central-Hower High School to The University of Akron (UA) for $13.5 million in future merit scholarships for APS graduates.

The building was not being used as a high school due to declining enrollment. But the APS is now leasing 47 percent of the building’s space to house its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) high school.

The STEM middle school housed in the former Inventure Place building in Downtown Akron has been a success, adding one grade each year since it opened, and the district wanted those students to be able to continue the STEM program into high school, said Board of Education President Jason Haas.

At the board’s Sept. 9 meeting, members approved a change to the lease agreement with UA stipulating the district can terminate the agreement at any time with 12 months’ notice. The contract is now for four years, year by year, Haas said, with an option to continue up to 10 years.

The board also voted to require UA to document the cost of utilities each month, because the cost fluctuates. UA is charging the APS $1 per year for rent, Superintendent David James said, but the district’s share of the building’s utilities is about $450,000 per year for the APS’ 47 percent of the building.

The vote was 5-1, with board member Tim Miller opposed. Board member Patrick Bravo was absent.

Miller explained after the meeting he was not given enough time before the vote to study the proposed updates and added, “I do not believe it’s fiscally responsible to be leasing classroom space from anyone when we have ample room in other buildings in the district.”

The STEM high school opened with just ninth-graders last year and added a class this year, so now it houses 100 freshmen and 100 sophomores. The district is leasing enough space to eventually hold all four grades, Haas said.

“We don’t have a lot of options” for the STEM high school, he said. The district doesn’t have enough cash to move STEM into another building, and there is not enough room in any of the other high schools anyway, he said.

In other business, the board accepted several grant donations, including $50,000 from the LeBron James Family Foundation. This funding was support for last summer’s technology camps for third- and fourth-graders.

The city of Akron has provided $185,000 for APS after-school programs in 27 of the elementary schools for this school year, according to district officials.

In April 2012, a GAR Foundation challenge grant for the STEM schools was approved by the school board, and it accepted an initial $150,000. The terms of the grant provide for additional GAR funding contingent upon the APS securing additional outside funding for the STEM schools’ programming.

The APS has met the terms of the agreement for the second year of the grant, so the GAR Foundation released an additional $216,000 for this school year for the STEM middle and high schools, said Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams.

Part of those matching funds came from the Goodrich Corp. ($10,000) and the Betty V. and John M. Jacobson Foundation ($5,000).

The APS’ bus fleet passed inspection in August before the start of school. It was the 31st consecutive year that all the buses have passed inspection on the first try, according to the superintendent. The 90 buses, ranging from 1992 to 2013 models, traveled nearly 948,000 miles last year.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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