Borrowing the Facebook motto, the Columbus school board is moving quickly with plans for big changes in the district including school closures and personnel changes.
Alison Holm has more on the changes.
Tuesday’s special board meeting at East High School was one of only three meetings for public comment on proposed school closures, that could save the district 50 million dollars. Only a few people turned out, but board members had plenty of questions and requests for more information. The districts Michael Fulwider presented the proposal to the board on behalf of the school consolidation team, which began work in late November, after the failure of the district’s ambitious levy request. Fulwider says the team considered 15 different factors when coming up with the closure proposal.
“That includes looking at student enrollment, building capacity, academic performance, impact to student population, and several other criteria.” 7 schools are on the list, include Brookhaven High School, which has less than 50 percent occupancy. Brookhaven students would be sent to Mifflin High School, but consolidation team member Anne Lenzotti says that would create a ripple effect thru the schools’ feeder patterns. “To balance the number of schools assigned to Mifflin and the student population within the new feeder pattern, the consolidation team recommends that the East Columbus Elementary School which is currently part of the Mifflin feeder pattern be reassigned to the East feeder pattern.” Independence High School, which is at just under 60 percent capacity, would be closed and students who live in the attendance area would be assigned to Walnut Ridge. Students who got into Independence through the school choice lottery could go to the high school in their attendance area, or would be able to apply to other schools in the district. Monroe Elementary also suffers from low enrollment, at less than 40 percent capacity, but as an all-lottery school whose students come from all over the district, the team suggested students could also be spread out among their neighborhood schools or other lottery choices. Siebert, Arlington Park, and Maybury Elementary Schools all have healthy enrollment, but other nearby schools, and the relatively low percentage of students coming from those attendance area put them on the closure list. Siebert students could be shifted to the newly renovated Stewart Elementary. Arlington students would be split between East Linden Elementary, in the Mifflin feeder pattern, or South Mifflin, ironically in the Linden-McKinley feeder pattern, a division that raised some eyebrows among board members. Students from Maybury would be split between Leawood, Oakmont and Liberty Elementary Schools, which all have the benefit of being newly renovated. One of the oldest schools in the district, the Fifth Avenue International School in Italian Village is also included in the proposal. Under the recommendation, students and the program would transfer to nearby Hubbard Elementary, which the district has been using as swing space during other construction and renovation projects. The team is also recommending expanding the schools “home turf” to include most of downtown. There are a lot of moving parts in the proposal. And director of middle and high schools Alesia Gillison warned that a successful consolidation would require a careful transition plan. “Any time you talk about consolidating or closing, you not only affect the students in the building, but you affect communities, and you affect lives. So, when you think about the two high schools, let’s say, and putting those communities together and those students together. The students naturally feel like there is a rivalry.” And time is running short to make a decision. The board plans to approve a final plan at the March 4th meeting and needs to get the word out to students affected by the changes in order for them to participate in the school lotteries by the end of that month. But Superintendent Dan Good says – it’s not impossible. “I’m confident that within three weeks we can meet with any who request those meetings, gather the input, reflect that in the recommendations that we’ll take to the board in the 4th. We’ll be in contact with the board in the meantime, on any of the changes or the additional data that they wish to see…. So I’m optimistic it can be done. And certainly it needs to be done, because families will want to make choices.” School closures are not the only transitions facing the district. In addition to several high-profile departures and terminations following the 18-month long state auditor’s investigation into data-scrubbing in the district, more personnel shuffling was announced over the weekend. Two new school board members, Michael Cole and Dominic Paretti were elected last November, and last night the board appointed former city council member and state Insurance director Mary Jo Hudson to fill the vacancy left by long-time board member Carol Perkins when she abruptly stepped down last month. Although’ Gary Baker is not new to the board, he is new to the presidency. He says this is a period of transformation for Columbus City Schools. “This new board has made it clear that we are going to have an uncompromising focus on student achievement., And while acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the past, we are looking ahead to what we see as a very exciting future. And we are also conducting all of our endeavors with a renewed sense of urgency.” A second public input meeting is on closures and consolidations is set for Thursday at the Fort Hayes High School, with a final public session at again at East next Tuesday. The board will vote on the consolidation plan a week later.