The past week we have made our case for passage of Issue 61, the levy for the Akron Public Schools. We might have constructed our argument around the individual success stories of students, teachers and others in the district, of which there are many. Instead, the focus has been on the ways the district has sought to improve its performance as a whole, to change its culture and lay a foundation for sustained improvement.
This has been the mission of David James, the superintendent. He knows the task is difficult, that progress won’t come at the desired pace. He knows the effort requires the contribution of many people in the system, teachers, principals and parents. What deserves emphasis is how the district now is positioned to succeed on crucial fronts.
Practically everyone grasps the difference high-performing teachers can make in the lives of students. The Akron district has launched a concrete way to remove poorly performing teachers from the classroom, administrators and teachers devising the process together. Good principals are key to strong schools. The district has devoted time, resources and brainpower to identifying and developing building leaders.
The district has embraced one of the most telling measures of academic achievement, the ACT, making it available free of charge to all students.
A successful district must tap into the strengths of the surrounding community, working as a partner with universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations to lower barriers to learning and opportunity. The Akron district has done just that, among other things, helping to mobilize resources against the harm of dysfunctional families. It has opened avenues to acquiring trade skills.
More, the district has played straight with the numbers, avoiding the failings of other districts that have invited false impressions.
All of this points to why the system has earned passage of its levy, an additional 7.9 mills, or an added $20 per month to the property tax on a house valued at $100,000. It has raised its game in taking up the formidable challenges of a larger urban school system. What it doesn’t need now is the distracting job of cutting budgets even deeper.
If the levy passes, the district still must find an additional $9 million a year in savings. And if it fails? The required reductions climb to $27 million, a sum that would prove almost debilitating.
The city and the region cannot afford to see the district reeling so. A better work force is an indispensable component to a growing economy and an improved quality of life. That begins with the public schools. Ideally, the state would do more to support public education. It has chosen to cut, leaving local communities with the job of ensuring sufficient resources. The city schools are our economic engine, a reflection of what matters most. Vote for Issue 61 on Tuesday.