COVENTRY TWP.: As school officials ask voters a third time to pass a bond issue for building improvements, disagreements over whose children should have access to a Coventry-funded education have grown louder.
Tuesday’s 4.89-mill bond issue and 1.1-mill permanent improvement levy would secure funding to fix deteriorating schools, which administrators say cripple education with costly repairs that draw resources away from the classroom.
The 34-year, $28.3 million bond issue would provide capital funding to demolish existing buildings and construct a new high school. But some residents say they will never vote for such a measure until Coventry stems the flow of students coming from Akron and other neighboring districts.
A faction of vocal residents vehemently opposes open enrollment, a 24-year-old state policy that about three-fourths of all Ohio school districts embraced last year.
Open-enrolled students account for 58 percent of Coventry’s state funding. At more than $4 million, no district in Ohio raises more money through open enrollment than Coventry schools.
Coventry draws many of its students from Akron, which lost more state funding — $7.6 million — through the exodus of open enrollment than any other district in Ohio.
Each student entering Coventry through open enrollment brings $5,704 in state funding. That’s 2.6 times more than the $2,177 the state gives Coventry for each resident student.
But opponents are quick to point out that Coventry schools spend $8,836 to educate each student — $3,132 more than the state spends with each open-enrolled child.
“The burden is on the property owner to pay that difference,” said James Howe, a retired lakefront property owner in Coventry Township. His two sons graduated from Coventry schools at a time when the state picked up a greater share of funding and local taxpayers contributed less.
On a fixed income, Howe and other residents make their argument by multiplying Coventry schools’ 814 open-enrolled students by the additional $3,132 that it costs to educate them. They conclude that property owners are subsidizing more than $2.5 million annually in educational expenses for other communities’ children.
But Coventry’s education is rated “Excellent with Distinction,” a quality that educators say would not be available — even for resident students — if it weren’t for the additional revenue that open enrollment generates.
At the middle school, 12 open-enrolled students compose a 23-student band class and 10 open-enrolled students attend a 26-student honors algebra class. At the high school, more than half of the 22 students taking AP calculus don’t live in Coventry.
None of these classes, school administrators say, would be available if not for the efficiency of filling seats through open enrollment.
Still, Howe and other levy opponents say the district is filling empty schools and not empty seats. They contend Coventry schools, which already downsized from seven buildings to three, is constructing a new high school for students who cost more than the revenue they bring with them from the state and who don’t live in Coventry.
Superintendent Russell Chaboudy repeatedly has said he is capping open enrollment at its current level of about 1 in 3 Coventry students. That’s already a higher ratio of open-enrolled to resident students than all but four Ohio school districts.
While Coventry school fiscal officers have employed open enrollment since the early 1990s to attract additional state revenue, they also have trimmed the district’s budget systematically to address expenses.
With only five Ohio school districts receiving less state funding per pupil, Coventry has reduced expenses to $8,836 per student. That’s less than it spent to educate a student in 2008 — before a home foreclosure crisis that tanked property values and stymied local revenue streams.
Additional cuts are pending.
Music teacher Julie Strebler-Renner said her students — some live in Coventry, some don’t — say they would not attend Coventry next year without electives like music.
“I just imagine all those students sitting in study hall,” said Strebler-Renner, who would lose her job along with other teachers, lunchroom aides, a custodian and an administrator if Tuesday’s bond request fails.
A week before the levy, Strebler-Renner and her union accepted a two-year pay freeze in a new contract.
“Our members understand the financial condition of the district, and we are doing what we can to help pass the bond/PI issue on the May 7 ballot,” Brad Stough, president of the teachers union, wrote in a news release Tuesday.
Strebler-Renner tries to ignore the fiscal cloud hanging over Coventry schools, but the thought of no music undermines her daily lessons.
“I operate under the assumption that we will still offer music. Am I setting them up for nothing?” she wonders.
Cheerleading, band, choir, middle school and freshman sports, after-school programming and youth sports would be cut if the issue fails. A $50 fee for pay-to-play would be implemented.
Coventry also would eliminate high school busing and require any student within two miles of a school to walk or find other transportation.
After all those cuts, Coventry assuredly would offer the least expensive education in Summit County, Chaboudy told the community at a public meeting in April.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.