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Akron board approves closure of three elementary schools

By admin Published: March 5, 2012

The Akron school board voted unanimously to close three elementary schools Monday night and got a preview of more cuts to come.

Barrett, Essex and Rankin elementary schools will close their doors at the end of the school year.

The schools' enrollments have fallen far short of the minimum 350 the state requires before agreeing to help pay for a new elementary school building.

The board also chose an alternative plan for carving up the Essex attendance area in northwest Akron between Case and King elementary schools.

Under Superintendent David James' original proposal, everyone living north of Sand Run Parkway would attend Case and everyone south of Sand Run Parkway would attend King. That would have required the kids who live near Essex now to cross North Portage Path and Merriman Road to attend King.

The board approved an alternative plan that sends the 13 kids who live south of Sand Run Parkway and west of North Portage Path to Case elementary. The 54 kids who live north of Sand Run Parkway or east of North Portage Path will attend King. The district is still working out where to assign about 133 kids who live elsewhere in the city but choose to enroll at Essex.

James also presented the district's initial ideas about closing a $22 million deficit by May when the treasurer must submit a five-year budget plan to the state.

He will recommend eliminating 174 jobs, including 140 teachers and eight administrators (principals and central office staff) for a savings of $11.3 million. He projects another $3.2 million in savings by cutting budgets for supplies, textbooks, technology and other non-personnel expenses. That covers about two-thirds of the shortfall.

He proposes elementary class sizes of 30 students to one teacher for elementary schools, which average between about 19 to 24 students per teacher now. Kindergarten would stay around 19. Class size ratios at middle school and high school could exceed 30 to 1.

The district also could save $175,000 by eliminating middle school sports. Middle school foreign languages could be cut as well. Although elementary schools would still get music, specific programs for band and orchestra would be cut and possibly shifted to the district's after-school program.

The board will be negotiating new contracts for all six of the district's unions this year.

James said the district will be seeking a true salary freeze, both on base pay and on scheduled raises for years of service and attainment of advanced degrees. Akron's teachers have gone three years without a raise in base salary, but they've continued to receive step increases.

Teachers also are paying more for prescription drug co-pays and health insurance deductibles. James said that employee contributions to overall health-care costs have saved the district about $5 million over the last five years, but more will be needed.

More building closures also are possible.

The cuts this year are necessary regardless of whether voters support a levy in November. If voters reject a levy, the district must make another $23 million in cuts next year.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.

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