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Akron Board of Education approves school redistricting plan

An Akron Public Schools bus drives through Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
An Akron Public Schools bus drives through Downtown Akron.

Some Akron Public Schools students can expect big changes next year after the Akron Board of Education voted during a special meeting Wednesday night to approve a redistricting plan.

The redistricting plan – which calls for changing the geographic boundaries for student attendance at some schools, while closing others - comes as the district tries to manage several factors that have come to a head over the last two decades.

To start, the district is contending with budget issues and with declining enrollment leading to low enrollment in some schools. Because of those problems and because the district is seeking to rebuild two schools, the board voted last year to close several buildings - including Firestone Park Community Learning Center and Stewart and Essex Elementary School schools - to save money on operations. Superintendent Michael Robinson has previously said the redistricting will also increase the number of students attending newer facilities. Finally, the district is also seeking to expand its pre-kindergarten programming which will also involve changing the use of some facilities.

“We have to achieve a balance,” Robinson said in a news release issued after the board meeting Wednesday night. “For years in our city, while we were busy rebuilding our inventory and consolidating our footprint, population changes created new challenges we must meet. We must address our building capacity amid a diverse yet declining population throughout our city.”

What's in the plan?

The plan calls for students at Firestone Park CLC to attend McEbright CLC, Voris CLC or Glover CLC, while students at Essex Elementary will return to Harris-Jackson CLC, which has been over capacity in recent years. To accommodate that, some students from Harris-Jackson will attend Barber CLC, while some students from that school will be moved to Seiberling CLC. Students from Stewart will also be moved to early learning classrooms throughout the district.

Finally, students at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School will be moving to Robinson CLC with the district’s lease on the former STEM school’s building ending. Students at Robinson will move to Mason and David Hill CLC's.

A new boundary map showing the changes can be found on the district’s website.

Robinson said the district will notify families soon about a special open enrollment period where they can choose to apply for a different school; students are typically automatically enrolled at a school based on their home address.

The administration also reviewed the district’s plans for expanding pre-K programming starting this fall, adding two new classrooms for a total of 33, with locations throughout the district. The expansion will mean the district will offer 16 full-day classes in addition to 34 half-day classes; Previously only half-day classes were offered. Angela Carter, chief of staff for Robinson, said the district is expecting the expansion to cost about $270,000 and said the district would like to keep Essex open despite the board’s vote in 2023t provide space for pre-K programming.

"Literacy is something that we have to take very seriously," Robinson said. "And data shows that when we focus on what children are doing in pre-K, early childhood, it simply helps them to strengthen their academic performance and they become a better scholar, a better reader."

Robinson also said that he believes the pre-K programming could be a key way to bring families back to the district after years of declining enrollment, with students going to private schools, charter schools or their families simply moving out of Akron.

Board Member Rene Molenaur questioned why the redistricting resolution read that the administration “may or may not” close Essex and Stewart, despite the board’s previous vote to close those buildings. Robinson said the district wants to keep its options open in case a large number of people apply for pre-K programming and needs more space. Still, he said the district’s intention for the 2024-2025 school year is to keep Essex open and allow Stewart to close as the board had previously voted.

Teachers will need to apply to transfer out of those buildings but could stay in the case of Essex, Robinson added. The board ultimately voted to amend the resolution to require the district to notify teachers soon about what changes they can expect at those buildings.

The district in the Wednesday night release said parents can begin registering for pre-K programming starting Monday.

Controversial policy change

Earlier in the meeting, before the redistricting plan was approved, the board and administration also went back and forth at length about the need to update a board policy, removing a requirement for first reading of a vote on redistricting to occur 30 days after a public notice is sent out to parents and two more subsequent readings, providing more opportunities for public comment.

Board Member Rene Molenaur said she was concerned the change – which the district and legal counsel said was required to get the redistricting vote done Wednesday – could have long-term consequences for people’s ability to comment on redistricting.

“It gives transparency,” she said. “Multiple readings and public comment provide opportunities for diverse perspectives to be considered. There's so much involved, and equity involves ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities (and) resources to thrive."

The move came after the district postponed two prior votes on the redistricting proposal, due to alleged problems with board policy and other legal matters. The attorney who raised those concerns was not present during the board meeting, leading to frustrations from Molenaur and fellow board member Barbara Sykes. The board ultimately voted 5-1 to approve the policy change, with Molenaur opposed. Other board members argued the district needed to move forward as soon as possible with the redistricting plan.

"Teachers need to know where they're going to be located," Board Member Summer Hall said. "Kids need to know where they're going to be located, just in case someone wants to move from the west side to the north side to make sure their child can to continue to go to those schools."

Sykes said the board’s legal and policy committee would look to revisit the policy soon.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.