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APS board approves funding for charter school busing

9/26/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

After cutting back on transportation for its own students to help balance the budget, the Akron Public Schools (APS) are now faced with having to pay an additional $300,000 to bus students to charter schools.

According to APS officials, Ohio public schools are required to provide transportation to its students in kindergarten through eighth grades who live more than 2 miles from their school. The state of Ohio has also mandated that traditional public schools must pay to bus students who leave to attend a charter or community school.

The APS has reduced its own transportation to the state minimum, but at the Sept. 23 APS Board of Education meeting, the board approved spending more than $300,000 to bus students going to new charter schools this fall, in the face of the state mandate.

“That’s $300,000 we have to spend when we have cut $400,000 from our own students,” said board member the Rev. Curtis Walker. “We have to take that money out of our own pocket.”

Debra Foulk, APS executive director of business affairs, said the APS bus routes “are compacted — we have neighborhood schools. Charter schools are more spread out,” requiring longer, more expensive bus routes.

The district, which owns 90 buses, last year contracted with private bus company Petermann Ltd. for 25 more to transport charter school students. The new resolution adds to the current contract two more hours per day for 13 of the buses to “double route” and two additional buses to serve new routes, at a cost of $262,000, said Foulk, because five new charter schools have opened this fall and several others have moved, necessitating new routes.

In addition, the APS needed to buy $40,000 worth of METRO city bus passes for students attending a charter that just opened in September, Next Frontier Academy on Copley Road. Foulk said the METRO passes were cheaper than adding another Petermann bus for those students.

Also at the meeting, Treasurer Jack Pierson presented the fiscal year 2014 appropriations budget, which has increased 4.1 percent over last year’s actual expenditures, despite wages having gone down for six years in a row, he said.

The cost of equipment and infrastructure has gone up $4.5 million, he said, mostly a result of the district’s need to purchase 10 new buses this year. The upgrades to the school buildings for the new state-mandated online testing that will start next spring are another very large expense, he said.

A big concern for the budget, Pierson said, is the challenge of predicting enrollment. The district has been losing 300 to 500 students — and the state funding that goes with them — per year in recent years, and Pierson predicted they will lose 518 this year to charter/community schools, open enrollment, vouchers or students just moving out of the district.

In other business, the board accepted the donation of 700 Samsung tablets from the LeBron James Family Foundation. Desiree Bolden, manager of the Akron After School program, said the tablets were used by Wheels for Education students in last summer’s technology camps.

The Wheels for Education program, which targets at-risk third-graders for extra help, adds another class each year and now includes nearly 700 children, Bolden said.

The tablets donated by the foundation will be used in classrooms during the day and then in the Akron After School program. The donation is worth around $280,000, Bolden said.

Also partnering with the APS is Sebco Books, which is donating 30 eLibraries, one for each elementary school, said Bolden. All elementary pupils will be given a password to access the online eLibraries from any device, their own or at a public library, for example. Sebco has also pledged to give a “lifetime supply of books” to the APS, she said.

The highlight of the board meeting was a visit by Daisy, a three-banded armadillo. Daisy lives at the Akron Zoo and visited with Patricia Simmons, zoo president and CEO, who asked for the board’s support of the zoo’s 0.8-mill renewal levy that is on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Board members voted unanimously to endorse the renewal, since the zoo is an educational partner to the APS, hosts many school field trips and helps provide backpacks full of school supplies for APS students. [For details on Issue No. 3, the Akron Zoo levy, see “Akron Zoo seeking levy approval” in the Sept. 12, 2013, edition, or visit our archives at www.akron.com.]

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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