Akron superintendent David James made the case for passing a levy in November with his fourth annual ''State of the Schools'' address Wednesday.


But he delivered no big announcements about the consequences of failing to pass a new tax.


The district must eliminate a $22 million deficit before July 1, which could mean the layoff of up to 300 teachers if the cuts were made exclusively to labor costs.


''Now there will be other ways of reducing that deficit and it won't be all on staff, but the staff reductions will be significant,'' James said.


Some of those layoffs will come from the proposed closing of three elementary schools Barrett, Essex and Rankin because of low enrollment.


The audience of about 200 at the Martin University Center gave James a standing ovation during the Akron Press Club event, but James was less warmly welcomed at a community meeting Tuesday night at Barrett elementary school in south Akron.


Parents of children with disabilities were emotional about losing a school that has become a hub for children with the most severe conditions. Barrett has 68 such students now, about a third of its total enrollment.


Those parents are skeptical that the newly constructed schools will be able to match the sense of community and quality of services they have now at Barrett.


''I was at a very difficult meeting [Tuesday] night at Barrett trying to explain the reality of the district,'' James said at the Akron Press Club event. ''We have some great staff who are working with our other schools to make sure that we can accommodate those students throughout Akron Public Schools.''


He said the new school buildings are all accessible to people with disabilities.


''We feel that we will be able to provide those same services for those students in a variety of schools and decentralize some of those services,'' James said. ''We have really no concerns about being able to replicate those programs at other locations in the city.''


The school board will make the final decision on the closures, which could happen at the meeting on Monday.


James spent the majority of the speech highlighting the district's academic accomplishments.


Last May, Akron's Early College High School graduated its first class of seniors who have earned about two years of college credit in addition to their high school diplomas. The high school was ranked 29th out of 743 public high schools based on academic performance by the Ohio Department of Education. In Summit County, the Early College High School was ranked second behind Hudson High School, James said.


He said the accomplishment was especially significant, because the school is designed for students who would be the first in their families to attend college.


Test scores have improved throughout the district.


''At nearly every tested grade level, we see increases in the number of students who are proficient and above in reading and math over the last year. In reading, the number of eighth-graders who scored at proficient or above rose 7.8 percent,'' James said. ''The number of seventh-graders who scored at proficient or above in math rose by 9.4 percent over the previous year.''


James also elaborated on plans for a new high school focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, which will open at the former Central-Hower High School this fall. The University of Akron and the district are hoping for the passage of legislation that would enable the university to acquire Central-Hower and share the space with district programs. In return for getting the building, the university would award $10,000-a-year ''Innovation Generation Scholarships'' to any Akron Public Schools student who meets grade and test-score requirements.


''We've committed to the first two years of our STEM school, for the ninth and 10th grades, to be located at Central-Hower,'' James said.


Juniors and seniors may then attend university classes like they do in the Akron Early College High School.


Another option would be for juniors and seniors to attend classes in local businesses and hospitals where they can see how professionals use STEM skills every day.


''I need my kids to be at Goodyear, to be at Summa Health System, at Children's Hospital and at a variety of these places in the community, working with these people, so they get to know them,'' James said. ''If you're going to build those pipelines and your future work force, for all you employers out there, you need to come see me and work with our kids.''


However, James tempered the good news with the fiscal reality that the district needs new tax revenue.


He said the board was able to stay off the ballot in 2009 and 2010 by making cuts, but drops in local property values coupled with cuts in state funding have forced the district to make serious cuts this year.


The forecast gets much gloomier if the district is unable to persuade voters to approve a new property tax.


''Without a levy passing this November, I will probably have to cut at least an equal amount and maybe more from our budget for the following year,'' James said. ''And if this scenario bears out, we should pack up and just go home.''


John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com.