When members of the Akron Board of Education meets Monday to vote on the proposal to transfer Central-Hower High School to the University of Akron, they would serve their students well to keep firmly in mind some of the reasons behind the proposal. The board postponed a vote last week, giving members more time to review the deal that would trade the building for $13.5 million in tuition scholarships for students in the Akron Public Schools to attend the university.
Important to bear in mind is the context in which the proposal evolved more than a year ago. Central-Hower was closed in 2006, one of several buildings the district has had to shutter with declining enrollment. Surrounded by the university, the building is of more use to the university than to the district. The university wants the building; and the district needs to be rid of it.
Mutually beneficial, a straight sale would have been simple enough, were it not for state laws that require districts to offer unneeded buildings first to charter schools and restrict the use of revenues from building sales. Under such rules, a school sale is a tedious process, certain to saddle the district for a long time with an expensive facility in a still-depressed real estate market. The board should not discount, either, that it took a political coalition to tailor legislation — with a Dec. 31 deadline — to facilitate the Akron deal.That signals recognition of the value of the reciprocal arrangement the school system and the university seek to forge.
Further, the district is striving to drum up incentives and interest in college attendance, goals for which the university is an ideal partner. And a willing one, too, with the creation of an Innovation Generation Scholarship program and the agreement Wednesday by its board of trustees to the in-kind payment for the school.
Certainly, the board is not out of line to wonder whether it can do better than $13.5 million or create a scholarship fund that can grow and generate scholarships till the end of time, all of which are within the realm of possibility. The problem is, there is no certainty of another buyer for the property or that the building can fetch more than the amount on the table or that proceeds from a sale can be plowed into a scholarship fund.
The deal in hand promises about 20 full scholarships each year to Akron students, no small incentive for students in moderate-income households. It also cements a continuing relationship with the university, which is crucial in other collaborations such as the Early College High School. The harsh reality? If it lets the deal fall through, the board will have a building it does not need but still lack scholarship incentives its students sorely need.