Dayton task force speeds up work; ‘guesstimate’ couple schools to combine

The timeline on Dayton’s potential school closure decision is being accelerated, as acting superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said Tuesday that she’ll give the school board a recommendation within a few weeks.

Lolli said she hopes that the board will make its decision by March 20.

The original goal was for the task force to meet six times and make a recommendation by April 2, so that the school board’s formal decision could be made later in April or in May.

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Now, the task force’s recommendation, through Lolli, will come after two meetings plus an aborted tour of under-enrolled schools. Lolli said the scheduled March 6 task force meeting has been canceled.

“I think it will be difficult to consider all of the information, but we have been working on this for at least two and a half months at this point, so a lot of things have been digested and thought through, and we just need to make the best decision to serve our students,” she said.

Lolli has met with parents of under-enrolled schools in recent weeks. Two public community meetings about potential school closures are scheduled for the next 10 days – 6 p.m. Thursday at Meadowdale Elementary, 3871 Yellowstone Ave., and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, at E.J. Brown Middle School, 31 Willowwood Drive.

Equity, other issues

The task force on Tuesday discussed a huge range of issues – from the possibility of repurposing a school as senior housing, to which school facilities need the most costly repairs, and how a reconfiguration could fix problems of unfair staffing at some schools.

Lolli said DPS doesn’t have a target number of elementary schools that it wants to end up with, but added that “you could guesstimate that we’re looking at a couple of buildings that could be combined into the other buildings that are partially full.”

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Lolli said having seventh- and eighth-graders spread across seven different schools (three pure middle schools, two PreK-8 schools and two high schools) has an unintended negative consequence.

“We have a difficult time finding algebra teachers, for example, for all seven buildings,” Lolli said, adding that the same issue rises with foreign language teachers. “It’s not equitable and not fair that some students go without that opportunity” because there is not a teacher in their building.

Answering a question from task force member Richard Stock, Lolli said leaving Stivers’ specialized arts program out of the mix, the district could fit all other seventh and eighth-graders in three school buildings.

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“This is a huge consideration,” she said. “Do we go with a PreK-6 model (putting all seventh and eighth graders in three middle schools)? Or do we go with a grade 7-12 (model) and fill up our high schools?”

Lolli endorsed a model with all schools grouped by grades PreK-6, then 7-8, then 9-12. But she said she had not yet discussed that issue with school board members.

Repurposing schools

The task force heard a presentation about DPS’ nine most under-enrolled schools, all in West Dayton, and the potential to repurpose any of them, given neighborhood details. Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said the report was created by city government and CityWide Development Corporation staff.

John Gower, urban design director for CityWide and former city planning director, said the market to repurpose school sites for retail is “weak,” and commercial or industrial potential is limited by the fact that most schools are in residential neighborhoods.

But several ideas and questions were floated in Gower’s report:

** That the space, visibility and accessibility of the Jackson Center site at U.S. 35 and Abbey Ave. is a “shovel-ready site” for development.

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** That Westwood and World of Wonder could be merged into one school since they draw largely from the same neighborhoods.

** That E.J. Brown Middle School could potentially be repurposed as senior housing, following a national trend, according to the report.

** That the district could consider partnerships with community groups and colleges for after-hours adult education, arts and fitness programming, job training and more.

Renovation costs

Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton told the task force that DPS’ 28 active schools plus the downtown headquarters face about $8.6 million in recommended repairs and updates for next school year, according to estimates by staff. She and DPS Director of Operations Rick Rayford later clarified that a smaller, unspecified portion of that total were critical repairs.

The buildings with the highest cost estimates were Valerie Elementary (built more than 50 years ago) at $2 million, and the primary headquarters building on Ludlow at $1.8 million. The only other schools above $300,000 were Meadowdale High School ($735,000), Thurgood Marshall HS ($685,000) and Jackson Center, which houses the Innovative Learning Center ($382,000).

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Treasurer Hiwot Abraha said DPS has about $1.2 million per year in dedicated funding for facilities work, with any excess coming from the general fund.

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