Whatever it does, the Akron Board of Education should not let slip the opportunity to seal a deal for a scholarship program for its students. Twice this month, board members have tabled a vote on an agreement with the University of Akron to transfer Central-Hower High School to the university. In exchange, the university would provide in-kind service in the form of a scholarship program worth $13.5 million.
The board has misgivings about the in-kind value, contending the building on the university campus could fetch a better price or that a cash payment could be directed into a permanent, interest-bearing fund for tuition scholarships. The $13.5 million is the negotiated compromise between the district’s assessment of $16 million and the university’s $11 million for the property.
Maybe the board can wring more money out of UA. Maybe it can hold on to the building until it receives a better price from another buyer. But it is rather late in the game for such speculation. Superintendent David James negotiated the agreement with the university over more than a year. The provisions of the deal, surely, were not unknown to the board during the process. The board is aware also that a legislative amendment was crafted specifically — with local representatives leading the effort and James and UA President Luis Proenza together lobbying the Statehouse — to clear the way for the Akron Public Schools and the university to join in a scholarship program.
The amendment expires Dec. 31. Without an agreement in hand by then, the deal will collapse and any future sale of Central-Hower must go through the standard procedure set by state law: The first offer must be made to a charter school before the building can be put up to public auction, if need be. Again by state law, the proceeds from a sale go into a building fund. Even if the district manages to sell Central-Hower for cash at a higher price, the funds cannot be directed into the general revenue fund for scholarships.
Ohio just recently approved legislation that, among other things, would grade districts on whether their graduates are college- or career-ready. Akron school officials have set the goal to cultivate a culture of higher education. They argue correctly that a scholarship program in partnership with a local university would be a powerful incentive. What will it take to get a scholarship program off the ground in Akron? The board has a model ready to fly.