Former Dayton school board member Clayton Luckie

Dayton residents, leaders urge DPS board not to close schools

Residents, union officials and community leaders spoke out at Dayton’s school board meeting Tuesday night, telling the board that they oppose any plan to close schools, just hours after the task force studying that issue wrapped up its last formal meeting.

Brian “Mr. U” Urquhart, a retired DPS teacher and coach who still subs in the district, joked that Presidents Day was fitting for a discussion of school closings, since the district has over the years closed schools named Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt.

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Urquhart urged school board members to look at four factors when considering whether to close a school — test data, attendance figures, discipline/suspension rates, and teacher dissatisfaction via transfers.

Steve Keeney, who represents the district’s AFSCME unions for custodial, security and other employees, said employees are concerned that words like right-sizing and fiscal accountability often turn into layoff plans.

Keeney said the district should be looking not just at expenses, but also at the revenue side — lobbying state government about funding, pushing back against tax abatements and considering a levy if more than short-term fixes are needed.

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Jamica Garrison, a leader of the Neighborhoods over Politics group, asked board members to put themselves in the shoes of students who would be affected by school closings, saying she herself had to attend multiple Dayton elementary schools in six years.

She said students end up with doubts about making new friends or getting support from teachers who don’t know them. She also pushed DPS to more aggressively market the schools’ successes to increase enrollment.

Earlier in the day, DPS task force co-chair Jeff Mims had made a similar comment about working to increase enrollment, saying DPS needs to do exit interviews with families that leave the district to understand exactly what it would take to get them back.

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Longtime teacher Kimaru Wa-Tenza told the school board Tuesday night that the idea of closing or repurposing newer schools when residents are still paying off their construction via taxes is “a little hard for the average citizen to take.”

Since DPS officials have often mentioned fiscal responsibility issues, Wa-Tenza asked where that responsibility had been in the buyouts of administrators David Lawrence and Rhonda Corr, the issuing of a new contract for athletic director Mark Baker after the OHSAA sanctioned the district.

Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP repeated his group’s desire to keep all schools open and give students the ability to attend schools in their neighborhoods. After a few speakers had questioned the term “right-sizing,” Foward riffed on what the “right” actions would be for Dayotn Public Schools.

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“Right-sizing is keeping our promise to every child and parent in this district to guarantee a quality equitable education. Right-sizing is placing effective, professional leaders in every building, who know how to develop teachers and implement systems to promote student achievement,” Foward said.

“Right-sizing is showing respect for the teaching profession to hire people who are knowledgeable, caring and capable of making certain every child grows to the next level after 10 months of school,” he continued. “Right-sizing is guaranteeing that every class in every building has a teacher from the first day to the last day of school. Right-sizing is making right choices for all students no matter their zip code, socioeconomic status, creed and their culture.”

The first of two open community meetings to discuss potential school closures is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Meadowdale PreK-6 School, 3871 Yellowstone Ave. Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said earlier Tuesday that she hopes to recommend a school facilities plan to the school board in the coming weeks, in hopes that the board can make a decision for 2018-19 at its March 20 meeting.

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