June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Medina officials talk pitfalls of ‘banded schools’

Interim Medina City Schools Superintendent David Knight said the drastic reorganization of the district’s elementary schools proposed for the 2014-15 school year isn’t a campaign ploy to get a levy passed in November.

“I don’t want people voting yes out of fear that we’re going down the wrong path,” he said in an interview last week. “I really want people to vote yes because the programs that we’ll bring back are good for kids.”

But school officials acknowledge that the “banded elementary school” concept doesn’t provide as good an education as traditional neighborhood schools.

Keeping children together as they progress from one grade to the next fosters education better than forcing them to switch schools every other year — as required in “banded schools,” where each building services at most two grades.

“Increasing the number of transitions from school to school will negatively impact student achievement,” said Cindy Grice, principal of Ralph E. Waite Elementary School at last Monday’s school board meeting, where the plan was announced.

Under the plan, two of Medina’s elementary schools would be pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade, two would be grades two and three, and the remaining two schools would contain grades four and five.

Garfield, Eliza Northrop and Sidney Fenn elementary schools would be one cluster — with pre-kindergarten students, kindergarten and first grade students at Garfield; second- and third-grade students at Northrop and fourth- and fifth grade- students at Fenn.

H.G. Blake, Ralph E. Waite and Ella Canavan schools would be another cluster, with a similar breakdown of students at each school.

Should the levy fail and Heritage close, most Heritage students would likely go to those three schools, Knight said.

On Monday, the board agreed to place a five-year, 5.9-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot. The board must still approve a second resolution at another meeting.

If passed by voters, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $181 a year.

Knight said he expected the district to keep the Heritage building if it were to close.

“I’m hoping that things turn around. If things turn around, we will need that building,” he said.

Jon Burkhart, the district’s director of business services, said Heritage was targeted for closing because it is the district’s smallest building and the most costly to operate per square foot, in terms of maintenance utility costs.

The 47,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1976, houses about 400 students.

“It’s troubling that we’re at this point,” Burkhart said. “My own children go to this district. I take pride in our schools.”

The change to banded elementary school buildings would save $605,000. For the district to operate in the black without a levy, administrators had to plan to cut $1 million from the budget, Knight said in his presentation to the board Monday.

Knight said other cuts would be needed as well:

• Middle school sports and activities eliminated, saving $240,000

• Reducing central office staff and budgets will reduce spending by $140,000.

• High school options and electives will be further reduced, saving $105,000.

Knight has also laid out what would be brought back if a levy passes:

• Busing brought back to a one-mile radius from all school buildings. It is now at the state minimum of two miles and there is no high school busing.

• Reading intervention specialists and counselors at the elementary level and more art, music and gym classes.

• More choices of electives at the high school and middle school levels.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.