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Akron Public Schools Board may face lawsuit



DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education is expected to hold a special meeting Feb. 1 at 5 p.m. in the Board Room of the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 10 N. Main St.
In a Jan. 30 press release, the meeting was called for the board to recess into executive session to meet with its attorney concerning disputes that are the subject of a pending lawsuit with the Akron Education Association (AEA), the district’s teachers union. The second reason for the meeting is to consider whether to rescind the board’s resolution, adopted Jan. 8, to approve the Varsity Tutors for Schools LLC service agreement. Action may be taken at this meeting.
A discussion regarding the need for a special meeting was considered during the board’s nearly four-hour regular meeting Jan. 22, during which the board faced a conference room filled with members of the AEA and a long list of people requesting to address the board. The majority of the speakers spoke against the board’s Jan. 8 vote to accept a service agreement with Varsity Tutors for $156,000, with affirmative votes from Board President Diana Autry, Board Vice President Carla Jackson and board members Bruce Alexander, Summer Hall, Job Perry and Barbara Sykes. Board member Rene Molenaur was the sole ‘no’ vote.
The contract with Varsity Tutors would be paid by the Ohio Department of Education, in support of state-required mandated services under Ohio House Bill 33, at no cost to the district. The contract — effective Jan. 1 through June 30 — is for 2,400 one-to-one scheduled tutoring sessions for up to 60 minutes per session for the district’s fourth-grade students who did not pass their third-grade Ohio State Test.
Holding signs that stated, “Outsourcing, It’s Not Unity” and “Stop Outsourcing Jobs,” the Jan. 22 crowd cheered as union representatives took turns speaking at the podium regarding the district’s contract with Varsity Tutors and how the board’s decision damages trust with teachers, the need for board transparency with its employees and the idea that hiring for-profit tutors further marginalizes students.
Among the speakers was Alana Treen, a social studies teacher at East Community Learning Center (CLC) and chair of the AEA’s legislative committee. She said the district’s classroom teachers and tutors are “highly-qualified licensed educators,” and that Varsity Tutors’ remote online tutors are “unaccountable, unevaluated and, in many cases, unqualified strangers.” She questioned why the board thinks this kind of teaching would be better for APS students than tutoring provided by their own APS teachers.
“If this administration and this board are truly trying to be transparent with this community, why was there no open discussion or questioning before a vote to hire this company was rushed through?” Treen asked, referring to the board’s discussion of the contract in an executive session. “Why all the secrecy? Why all the resistance to legitimate and well-founded questioning? Simply put, Varsity Tutors is wrong for our students, for our families and for the district. … Not only is it my right to question your decisions, it’s my responsibility.”
Per district policy, the board does not comment on public requests to address them during meetings, although during his Superintendent’s Report, C. Michael Robinson Jr. noted that, as of Jan. 22, the district had 70 vacancies in daytime tutoring positions.
“Unfortunately, what started as something wonderful has sort of turned into something just the opposite,” Robinson said. “Instead of solely addressing their concerns about tutoring through our mutually agreed collective bargaining process, our teachers union has indicated their intent to file an injunction against the district to prevent the program from moving forward.”
Robinson said at that time he remains open to discussions with the union regarding the grant-funded tutoring program, but added that, “today is indeed a sad day for our scholars and families.” He recommended rescinding the board’s Jan. 8 approval of the contract with Varsity Tutors.
Perry moved to discuss the superintendent’s recommendation, with Alexander seconding it. During the discussion, Alexander asked if APS teachers can apply to Varsity Tutors to provide these services to APS students, and Robinson said although the tutoring time was intended to be done during the day, he was told by Varsity Tutors that APS teachers would be given first priority to apply for the tutoring jobs after school through the company. He added that there is a Feb. 1 deadline for APS to accept the grant, and if the district does not accept it, those tutoring sessions would be given to students in another district.
With many questions left unanswered, Autry suggested tabling the discussion for further clarification and conversations among board and AEA leadership, and Alexander asked if the board could have a special meeting to get answers and vote at that time. Autry said 24-hour notice would have to be given to have a special meeting.
Perry moved to rescind the agreement and take back the board’s Jan. 8 vote approving the Varsity Tutors contract, with Molenaur seconding it. The board voted 5-2 not to rescind the contract, with only Perry and Molenaur voting to rescind it.
Also at the Jan. 22 meeting, Akron Mayor Shammas Malik spoke about his goal to create a better partnership between the city and APS, and also introduced two members of his administration who will help him toward that goal: Chief of Strategy Nanette Pitt and Richelle Wardell as education and health strategist.
In his report to the Board, Robinson announced that 87% of Akron Early College High School students passed the Ohio State Test on American Government this fall. He said statewide, 60% of Ohio students passed that test this fall.
He also recognized the principals of five APS community learning centers — elementary school Helen Arnold, middle school Innes and high schools Buchtel, East and North. These schools have had two consecutive years of progress and, as a result, have exited Comprehensive Support Improvement (CSI) status. According to federal requirements and Ohio’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, CSI status is given to the state’s lowest-performing schools. Helen Arnold, Innes, Buchtel, East and North are no longer in the lowest 5% of schools in the state. In a press release, Robinson said he is “proud of the hard work and dedication of our principals, teachers and scholars. Their efforts have paid off, and we are thrilled to see the progress they have made.”
Robinson shared news that Firestone CLC’s cheerleaders competed at the Universal Cheerleaders Association Ohio Regional Nationals and earned first-place and a bid to the National High School Cheer Championship. This is the first APS cheerleading team to receive a national invitation and the team is coached by LaShonna Johnson, Ashley Cowan and Amari King-Johnson. The team is currently raising funds to travel to the competition in February at The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. To support the team with donations via credit card, call 330-761-1661 and be sure to note that the funds are for the Firestone cheerleaders.
In other business, the board approved:
• donations including $100,000 from the Julie Miller Fenix Trust to the I PROMISE School; $5,400 from the Firestone High School Instrumental Music Association for Firestone Community Learning Center (CLC) for marching band instruction; and 96 pairs of gloves, 49 pairs of mittens, 46 hats and two head warmers (valued at $965) from Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church to Robinson CLC’s students in need.
During the Jan. 27 Board retreat, members participated in team building with a consultant from the Ohio School Boards Association and learned the roles and responsibilities of the superintendent and board, as well as reviewing board policies and procedures.
They also met with members of the Akron Coalition, including Malik; former APS superintendent and Summit Education Initiative Executive Director David James; Annie McFadden, of United Way Summit and Medina; Diane Miller-Dawson, of the Summit County Executive’s Office; Steve Millard, of the Greater Akron Chamber; Lisa Mansfield, former APS board member and representative of Vantage Aging; and Kemp Boyd, of LoveAkron. The group urged board members to consider implementing universal pre-kindergarten for the district and offered their expertise regarding finances and the passage of potential levies.
“You are the team on the field, and we are here to support you,” Mansfield said. “We want to be that team behind the team. … Those of us who’ve sat in your seats, we have got your back. We will be there for you. Please lean that direction, and please lean in to the community that wants to stand behind you.”
The next APS board meeting is set for Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building. It will also be available to watch on the APS YouTube channel.

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