Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Akron school deficit is serious business

I can't remember the last time I used the phrase "$150 million" in a story, especially a local story.

But in tonight's story, I focused on the Akron Schools looking ahead to a financial forecast that just gets worse with every page. $37 million in debt by 2011. $89 million by 2012. $153 million by 2013.

That's serious money. That's real dollars.

Superintendent David James told me that while the money coming in is relative stable (or "flat") it's the expenditures that are driving up the deficit.

I know that closing a school here and there can be absorbed, but will the Akron Schools ever really be able to get the enrollment going up again? Will families move back to the city?

I had a chance to talk with former Akron Schools Deputy Superintendent Donna Loomis tonight, and she told me something very profound:

"Akron needs to stop beating itself up when it comes to education."

What she told me was that while families are scattering to the Akron suburbs, they're doing the same thing in all of the urban areas of Ohio. Sooooooooo ... Akron residents need to stop blaming the school board or district leaders when they hear about big deficits like this.

It's not the district's fault that so many families moved out of town ... or moved their kids to a charter school. Instead, she says, school leaders are left to pick up the pieces .. but sometimes get a bad rap when the budget info comes rolling out in stories like mine.

I think most in town will be supportive of David James having the foresight to look out at that projected deficit and say "we can't wait until it gets that bad; we have to fix this now."

But while the entire state waits for Governor Strickland's new education plan to save the day, districts like Akron need to make real decision on real money.


Anonymous said...

When we give retirement packages like Small recieved. That is money that could have gone to our childrens school. Since when do schools need 2 principles and 4 vice principles. That is money wasted to me. Are the kids that unruly to justify that. What does the school board members take home as their pay?? And they lay off teachers. I think we have it backwards.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem going on the record here, as a School Board member. We make $125 a meeting. Which after taxes comes to $107. Two meetings a month. Comes to about $2500/yr.

I put in, on average, 20 hrs. a week in School Board work. So that comes to a whopping $2.40/hr.

I'm not sure exactly what 'retirement package' you're referring too, but Dr. Small received the same pension as any other school employee through STRS.

As far as principals go, we have on average 1 principal per Elementary, 2 + a counselor in the Middle Schools, and 4 at the High School Level. We have upwards of 1200 students in some of our high schools, and each principal takes a grade level in most cases.

The student's behavior has nothing to do with it: you put 1200 teenagers in one building and you're going to need some help I don't care how good the kids are.

We have cut our administrative staff by close to 500 positions since 2001.

As God is my witness, we are using every dollar as wisely as possible. I plead with the public, we need state-wide funding reform. It's been 15 years since the Supreme Court ruled on this. Three Governor's...and no change.

That's where our collective energy and anger should be directed-The State Government.

It's not just Akron that's in this boat, look around us. Stow-Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge...all are in the same financial situation we are.

We need our Governor and State legislators to finally comply with the Supreme Court and fix school funding.


J. Hardy
Vice President, Akron School Board

Anonymous said...


People like "anonymous" don't understand school funding or administrative procedure becasue they don't want to understand. What they really want is to complain because "schools aren't like they were when I was a kid."

Best of luck in converting them.

Anonymous said...

It doesnt matter to me one way or another. My kids go to private schools and I still pay taxes for public schools. What you do with that money as far as Im concerned does not affect my children. Im just tired of paying so much for it. The taxes on my house are outragous.

Anonymous said...

Property Taxes are out of control, I agree. I hate levy's as much as you do, honestly.

Which is why we, as Ohioians, need to demand change from our State leaders.

As School Board Members, we cannot change the law. We have no other recourse other than levy a tax or gut our district. There's no other option afforded to us by law.

J. Hardy
Vice President, Akron School Board

NEOBuckeye said...

Short term solution for APS (< 1 year): Move to a K-6, 7-12 system. This essentially closes all middle schools in the city by moving grades 7 and 8 up to high school, and 6th grade back to elementary.

This isn't without precedent for the city. East High is already being converted to a 7-12 high school, and word has it (Mr. Hardy, you can confirm this) per the ABJ that APS is considering doing the same for Buchtel, and possibly Kenmore and North as well. Go on and include Garfield, Firestone and Ellet in this plan and you close 7 middle schools, saving millions in yearly operation and maintenance costs.

Longer term (5 to 7 years), Akron Public Schools, along with the surrounding suburban districts, are going to be forced to consolidate into a county-wide district just to survive. There will be a county superintendent and a county-level Board of Education to replace the 16 separate entities presently in existence. I would anticipate further consolidation of the high schools -- say Ellet, Springfield and Mogadore merging. Also Kenmore with Coventry, North with Cuyahoga Falls, East with Tallmadge, and Norton with Barberton.

This is all outside the box thinking. But then, isn't that exactly what the region desperately needs?

buck said...

Sorry to offer a comment not pertaining to the story...but I have to compliment Eric on a very creative stand-up using the crossing guard. Great stuff, Eric! Very clever.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hardy
Im not up to the law about levys and taxes but would it be possible to add an tax on something other than property??
Im sure how you would work it but Im curious.
I know I would vote for an increase in say my taxes for food/clothes/neccesiteis versues a tax on my property again.
Again, I know nothing about how the taxes work but its just an idea.

Anonymous said...

A couple good suggestions in here so I'll try to respond to them all:

-As for the K-6, 7-12 system that does seem to be the trend we are going in. East will become a 7-12 High School, as will Buchtel. It seems that other High Schools will follow suit. The only holdouts may be Ellet and Firestone (although Firestone and Litchfield Middle School are already connected). Both schools are busting at the seems with 1200+ students. But I'm not ruling anything out, they could be renovated to become mega-schools with close to 1800 students.

-There are too many school districts in Ohio. Consolidation is going to have to be a part of any reform package. But that won't effect Akron so much as surrounding districts. Think about it, all those small suburban districts LOVE their little districts. To consolidate with other districts would cause all out war in some parts of our county. But it's something we will have to look at.

-As far as what a School Board can tax, as far as I know, we can tax property or income. That's it. Now, we can band together with other districts in the county and petition to place another form of taxation on the ballot. Much like Medina County did. We tried doing something like that with the building program and it failed at the ballot box. But maybe it's worth looking at again since there are other districts in the county who desperatly need funds.

J. Hardy

Eric Mansfield said...

Good discussion here folks .. and I may have to make "Dear James" a weekly feature :)

To me, and this is a broken record, the state needs to really provide a funding plan after spending more than a decade banging their heads against the wall after the DeRolph ruling.

It's a shame that so much of education is a numbers game right now .. with districts like Akron struggling to maintain enrollment while others in Medina County are bursting at the sides.

I do know that no matter the good or bad of what school programs are coming or going ... making sure parents are involved in their kids lives and supplementing their school education with family field trips and experiences can overcome a great deal of shortages because of a lack of money.

Akron has good schools and provides a good education .. as for the enrollment numbers and what-to-do-with-the-school-buildings-and-budget debate, we need to hear as many ideas as possible.

Maybe we could try sewers-for-school dollars? (kidding)

Dave Cohen said...

Mr. Hardy & I have had this discussion before, but as a resident of Green which has a very successful school system, the thought of consolidating with other suburban school districts is maddening to me. I settled in Green precisely because of the schools. And, Mr. Hardy is right--it would be war within the county if consolidation of all suburban school districts were seriously considered.

NEOBuckeye said...


It might mean war as you say, to consolidate schools and school districts. But I'm thinking we may not have a choice in a few years' time. If the economy doesn't turnaround, and tax revenues dry up as a result, even well-to-do school districts in Green, Hudson and Medina, for instance, may be forced to merge into a countywide district just to keep the lights on in a consolidated network of buildings.

I'm not predicting this as a definite outcome. But in light of what I see going on these days, anything is possible, (look at National City and GM) and we all might have to sacrifice some things we value and take for granted now, just to survive down the road. Keeping an open mind can make coping a bit easier should the need arise.