More than 200 people turned out last night to let the Columbus City School board and administration know how they feel about proposed school closures.
Nearly all were opposed to the plan. Alison Holm reports.
The first of scores of speakers at last night's public meeting on school closures, Stephen Mills is in favor of the proposal to move the Fifth Avenue International School into the currently unoccupied Hubbard Elementary School building
"Moving 5th Avenue to Hubbard Elementary building, rebranding to the Short North Elementary, and redistricting to include Harison West, Dennison Place, The Circles, Victorian Village, Italian Village and the High Street corridor offers a fresh start that is likely to generate buy-in from neighborhood parents that would otherwise leave the Columbus school district."
Mills was the first and the last voice in favor of any of the closure and consolidation proposals. While 5th Avenue international would move into a new building, Brookhaven and Independence High Schools, Monroe Middle School, and Siebert, Maybury, and Arlington Park Elementary Schools would be closed, to save the district an estimated 15 to 17 million dollars. For two and a half hours, teachers, administrators, parents and students all told board members that the closures would strip something valuable from the district. Teacher Molly Rupp says the district loses a rare opportunity, by closing Monroe Middle School.
"For the past two years, our school has worked to lay the groundwork to become a Mastery school. We believe that the Columbus community would benefit greatly from a transformed Monroe into a full STEM middle school, with Mastery learning as our foundational, instructional strategy. Currently this niche is void and the opportunity for us to provide such a school presents great possibilities for students in the Columbus City Schools."
Independence High School Special Ed teacher, football coach, and alumni Maurice Douglas says closure erases something intangible but valuable.
"Walnut Ridge can hold our students, but it cannot hold our history."
Many speakers questioned the reasoning behind the decision to place some schools on the block but not others. Siebert Elementary is the only school on the list that is at full capacity. While the handful of students for whom Siebert is their neighborhood school would find a place at nearby and newly renovated Stewart Elementary, 250 would be dispersed to other schools in the district. Preschool assistant Rebecca Patterson sees a pattern in the proposal.
"Heyl. Moler. Southmoor. Now Siebert. South side schools closed or closing. How, I ask is this "taking back" our southside schools? The only school in this area being saved, or "taken back" is German Village."
The committee studying school closures began work last November, after the disasterous failure of the district's levy request, which had been heavily supported by the business community. Siebert teacher Dewey Chaffin, a veteran of several school closures, says that's the key to closing the district 50 million dollar shortfall.
"Last year when we were going to the levy, the corporations and the business leaders, they made a partnership with us. You need to go back to the same corporations and say: 'You said you believed in us. Give us $50 million. Float us, and then next year put it on the ballot; take it to the people'".
A third and final public meeting to gather input is scheduled for February 25th, at East High School, but the district is moving quickly on the issue of closures. The school board will vote on closures at the March 4th meeting.