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School board postpones vote one week on school closures

By admin Published: February 28, 2012

The Akron school board will take another week before deciding on the district's recommendation to close three elementary schools.

Superintendent David James has recommended that Barrett, Essex and Rankin elementary schools be closed, which would save the district almost $1 million in utilities, maintenance and labor costs, not counting savings from potential teacher layoffs.

District officials held community meetings last week at all three schools.

Parents worry about the safety of children who would have to walk to new schools that are farther away.

Parents of children with disabilities were emotional about losing a school that has become a hub for children with disabilities. Barrett serves 68 students with disabilities, about a third of its total enrollment. Some of these parents are skeptical that the newly constructed schools will be able to match the sense of community and quality of services now offered at Barrett.

John O'Connor voiced those concerns Monday night, urging the board to delay a vote.

''I believe that if it was a regular elementary school, the process would be a great deal easier,'' O'Connor said. ''However, I don't believe that the board, David James, or the director of special education understand fully enough the impact on the special-needs students.''

Antoinette Claytor, who opposes closing Essex, said closing the school could risk student safety.

''The impact on our children will put them in harm's way, will risk their safety,'' Claytor said. ''You will destabilize generations of youth, jeopardizing their ability to become productive members of this society in the future.''

One mother of five students at Rankin said the school is a haven.

''We all know that the neighborhood around Rankin can be pretty rough, but the students can come to our school and feel safe and secure every day,'' said Heather Tranthem. ''If you close this school, you'd be showing them their sense of school family isn't important, and showing students their community isn't worth it either. Our students deserve better.''

The Rev. Jeremy Lile and his wife, Christy, said Rankin parents deserve a chance to promote the school and overcome negative attitudes. They were unsure about Rankin at first, but the more they learned about the school and its tight-knit community, the more they were sold on it for their 5-year-old daughter, who is entering kindergarten. They were prepared to enroll her in Rankin before the school's future was cast into doubt.

''A school acts like kind of a central hub for change and transformation in a community,'' said Lile, who is in charge of youth, family & young adult ministries at St. Luke's Ministries in Copley Township. ''Rankin is a gem that is yet to be discovered.''

His wife said they would be willing to help boost Rankin's enrollment.

''There's a really good chance that if the community is given an opportunity to present what Rankin has to offer, I think that other people will change their minds like we did,'' Christy Lile said. ''Two months ago, we were considering almost any other option.''

District informational handouts for Rankin parents spell out the problem, however. Too many parents have chosen charter schools or have taken state vouchers to attend private school: ''Parents have more choice now. They shopped with their feet. If those families attended this building, we wouldn't need to close it.''

Rankin, which is north of Copley Road in west Akron, is in the Buchtel cluster and has 188 students.

Barrett, on the city's east side in the Garfield cluster, enrolls 222 students.

Essex, near the Merriman Valley in the Firestone cluster, has 200 students.

The state is helping to pay for new school buildings in Akron's nearly $800 million school construction project, but the state will only pay for elementary schools with an enrollment of at least 350. Smaller schools must be closed or merged with another school.

The board will have a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. next Monday at the administration building, 70 N. Broadway, to decide whether to approve the recommended closure of the three schools.

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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