For the second time in eight days, the Akron Board of Education has tabled the sale of Central-Hower to the University of Akron for $13.5 million in scholarships.
Once again, board member Tim Miller made the motion to delay action on the measure. Unlike at last week’s 4-3 vote, his colleagues unanimously agreed Monday.
“We have concerns about certain pieces of the proposal,” board President Jason Haas said.
He wouldn’t elaborate on those concerns, considering that the proposed offer and contract with UA could be altered. Miller, however, said the board was hesitant to finalize the offer because of the payment structure.
If the board had accepted UA’s proposal, which the university passed during its board of trustees meeting last week, then Akron schools would have applied the $13.5 million to fund scholarships for Akron high school graduates with a qualifying ACT score and grade-point average.
But Miller and Akron resident Olin Clay, who attended the meeting and spoke against the sale, agreed that because Akron schools would not receive a lump sum for the sale, then the proceeds would not accumulate interest or account for future increases in tuition costs.
“Cash money is the only thing that would do,” said Clay, who graduated from then-Central High School on Forge Street in 1965 — 10 years before the building, with the exception of the auditorium, was demolished and Central-Hower was erected in its place.
“I’m personally not comfortable voting on the measure now,” Miller told the board. “We need to get some kind of value [for] the money.”
Because of state law, however, a cash payment would have to be used on the school’s building fund and not be put toward the district’s general fund to mitigate a projected $9 million spending deficit for this year.
“The district is struggling financially,” board member Ginger Baylor said. “We just need money.”
The deal was made possible by an amendment to Ohio legislation that altered the guidelines for selling school property. Originally, the legislation stated that property must be offered to start up community, or charter, schools.
The amendment bumped charter schools down the list and inserted universities.
The legislation took more than a year to cultivate as Superintendent David James and UA President Luis Proenza traveled to Columbus in February to testify in favor of the measure. After the bill’s passage, the state mandated a sale date of Dec. 31 — now less than two weeks away.
The timing puts pressure on James and the district’s legal team to address the board’s concerns and augment the contract so that the district could achieve a “better agreement for the citizens of Akron,” Haas said.
Clay also told the board he felt the property is worth more than $13.5 million.
Independent firms for Akron schools and UA have assessed the property’s value at $16 million and $11 million, respectively. The final agreement of $13.5 million is about $340,000 more than the county auditor’s appraisal.
Still, the district has pumped thousands of dollars into renovations over the past 10 years, when the board last considered selling Central- Hower. Since that time, the property’s value has decreased by about 4 percent, according to records from the Summit County Fiscal Officer’s website.
The Akron Board of Education plans to hold another meeting before the deal runs out at the end of the year. No date has been set.
“Two weeks is better than two hours,” Haas said of the time remaining before the deadline.
Should the board accept the measure at the next meeting, Akron schools would lease and pay utilities for the space needed to operate Central-Hower’s STEM high school for five years, with an option to renew the lease for an additional five years.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.