Two local education officials testified Wednesday afternoon in Columbus in favor of a bill that would transfer Central-Hower High School to the University of Akron and award scholarships to some Akron Public Schools students.
UA President Luis Proenza and schools Superintendent David James told the House Education Committee that House Bill 381 would be a win-win deal for the school district and university.
“In this era of scarce resources, it is incumbent upon us to develop creative ways to make productive use of public property,” Proenza told committee members.
Under the bill, proposed in November by state Rep. Lynn Slaby, R-Copley Twp., public school districts would be required to offer decommissioned buildings first to tax-supported universities in their district for the appraised value or for comparable services.
Slaby said he custom-designed the bill for his Akron constituents at the request of UA general counsel Ted Mallo and later learned of similar situations in Bowling Green and Toledo to which the bill would apply.
“It made sense for the school district not to go through the statute as it currently exists,” Slaby said.
Currently, charter schools have the right of first refusal to buy public school buildings. If there are no takers, “it can be a long and drawn-out process,” Slaby said. “This accelerates the process.”
UA long has coveted the former Central-Hower, Akron’s first and oldest high school, because it is virtually in the heart of campus and already is designed as a school.
Proenza said the building could house the Early College program now in the Polsky Building for high school students and a proposed public high school for science, technology, engineering and math students.
UA has talked about relocating part of its education college to Central-Hower, Proenza said.
In return for getting the building, the university would award $10,000-a-year Innovation Generation Scholarships to any Akron Public Schools student who met grade and test score metrics.
Proenza said he was confident the university could raise enough money to award the scholarships indefinitely.
The scholarship program would enable some students to go to college and “incentivize” others to work harder to qualify for the award, he said.
“We would like to explore with private individuals how to expand it to all of Summit County and all UA applicants,” although that, he emphasized, is a “stretch goal.”
Both James and Proenza said the appraised value of the high school has not been established.
Central-Hower, a 230,000-square-foot building, closed in 2006 because of declining enrollment in the district. It has served as the temporary home for students dislodged by the district’s construction program.
James said the district no longer needs the building as swing space for the rest of its construction program.
By unloading a fully operational building, the district would save $650,000 in yearly utilities, operations and maintenance, said Paul Flesher, district executive director of facility planning and capital improvements.
Passage of the bill is anything but certain, however.
Slaby acknowledged it would not apply widely across the state and would relegate charter schools lower in the food chain.
The scholarships would go to Akron Public Schools students with a 3.0 GPA and 27 ACT, to students in the top 10 percent of their high school with a 26 ACT, or to those with a 3.5 GPA and 24 ACT.
UA officials estimate 105 Akron high school students were eligible for the award based on 2010 ACT data. Spokeswoman Eileen Korey said 37 of those students enrolled at UA.
“What we’re obviously hoping for is increasing our yield in that population,” she said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.