UPDATED @ 9:38 p.m.: Dayton Public Schools could close three or more school buildings next fall because of years of declining enrollment, and the district will spend the next several weeks developing a strategy to handle the issue.
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli did not identify which specific school buildings might close, instead saying her team will make recommendations to the school board sometime in January.
Lolli and Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said the majority of DPS schools are well under capacity, pushing the cost of operating those buildings very high.
Wogaman, Rosa Parks and Dayton Boys Prep schools all have less than 30 percent of their classroom space occupied, according to a document presented by Burton, while Meadowdale Elementary, EJ Brown and World of Wonder schools are below 40 percent capacity.
“We don’t necessarily want buildings to be at 100 percent so that the rooms are crowded, but we think that we should at least get up to about 70 percent occupancy,” Burton said. “It’s cost-efficient if we get up to 70 percent.”
Asked by school board member John McManus for specifics about potential school closures, Lolli said her team’s recommendation could call for closure of more than three or less than three schools.
Lolli said the issue is underused buildings, not overstaffing. She said DPS likely would not recommend cutting any teaching or support staff as a result of closing schools.
“It’s important for us to right-size the school district. We are looking very carefully and seeking community input as well as the city’s input,” Lolli said. “We’ll visit quadrants (of the district) in January to talk to parents and community members about their beliefs about the schools.”
New school board member William Harris expressed concern that all of the lowest-enrolled schools are on the west side of Dayton.
Lolli pointed out that there are more schools in West Dayton than East Dayton (18 to 10), and most of the East Dayton schools are closer to that 70 percent capacity figure. Belmont (79 percent) and Stivers (73) are the only schools in the district over that number, while Kiser is at 69 percent, and Ruskin and Wright Brothers at 67 percent.
“The students will still be on the west side, and we still need to serve the students on the west side,” Lolli said.
She added that there are important issues of equity beyond enrollment of those schools.
“We need to try and make sure that we equalize the educational opportunities for both the west side and the east side,” Lolli said. “I believe that at this point, we have equalized, for example, music, art and physical education (opportunities), but I think that we still have quite a number of open teaching spots on the west side, and we need to make sure that we don’t always have (substitute) teachers for our students who live in those neighborhoods.”
School board member Ron Lee asked administrators to look into the community partnerships and outside support each school gets, to see if that affects enrollment. Lee’s question came shortly after a discussion of the Miracle Makers program through East End Community Services, which has boosted Ruskin school in East Dayton.
Dayton Public Schools does not require students to attend the school closest to their home. While considering new busing plans last spring, the district considered requiring students to attend a school within their geographic quadrant, but then pulled back on that idea.
Burton also said the older Valerie Elementary and the DPS headquarters building have major deferred maintenance costs — $1.1 million and $2.2 million respectively if those buildings continue to be used.
Dayton Public Schools built almost all new schools last decade with significant local and state funding. Harris asked whether enrollment projections at the time of that effort had predicted the enrollment drop DPS has experienced. Burton confirmed that those projections were accurate at the time, saying DPS would drop to just over 12,000 students by 2017.
DPS continues to lose more than 2,500 students each year to private schools via voucher, and more than 6,500 students per year to charter schools.
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“This will be a very difficult couple of months ahead of us,” McManus said.