Superintendent David James summarized his outlook for Akron Public Schools in a lunchtime speech to a small group this way:
“We face a lot of challenges,” he told the Community Welfare Forum, held Wednesday at First Congregational Church of Akron.
The biggest challenge for James and the district is passage of an operating levy that would increase property taxes by 18 percent.
“I want everybody working hard up to Election Day,” James said in an interview after his talk. He called the levy critical to the district.
“Without it, I am going to have to dig deeper into our classrooms and student-focused programming in order to balance our budget,” James told his audience. “It is going to be very difficult if it doesn’t pass.”
Voters will decide the 7.9-mill property tax request on Nov. 6. If it fails, the district is projecting a $4.7 million deficit at the end of this fiscal year and $27 million by the end of fiscal 2014.
The district made $19 million in cuts in May. A total of 84 teachers were laid off, the hours of all school custodians were reduced and elementary school band and orchestra programs and middle school sports were eliminated.
Even with passage of the levy, another $8 million in cuts would be made next year, officials have said.
The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $242 a year. It would generate $19.2 million annually.
“We are helping prepare Akron’s future citizens, Akron’s future employees and Akron’s future neighbors and many of your future co-workers,” James told the forum.
He said there are many success stories related to Akron schools.
James said that on the most recent state report card, 14 Akron school buildings were rated Excellent or Effective, more students in nearly every grade level passed the proficiency test for reading and math, and the graduation rate rose to 77 percent.
The district is moving “in the right direction,” he said.
Students come from a wide variety of situations, James told the forum.
“I have two-income parent households where you would expect success,” he said. “I have households that are single parent, very poor, and I have everything in between.”
Some students are gifted; others have learning disabilities and behavior problems.
“Many come from troubled homes and others don’t even have homes,” James said. “For those students, school is really a place of respite.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at email@example.com.