Dayton Public Schools immediately will begin to determine how to move 415 students out of one elementary school that will close and into another building.
Board of education members voted 7-0 Tuesday night to proceed with a controversial school closure plan despite concerns from the community and one resident’s lawsuit to block the process.
Under the plan, students will move from Valerie PreK-6 to Meadowdale PreK-6 by next school year. Meadowdale will take the Valerie name, and about 100 current Meadowdale students will be moved to the school closest to their residence.
Those are the first steps in a multi-year plan that also include consolidating some grades in other schools and provides the option for closing other elementary and high schools in the future.
“I think the plan that we came to is the best that we can get to,” Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said. “Everyone has a love of their school. And it’s a difficult decision for some places to hear that their school might not be called its name anymore.”
During the first year, Lolli’s “right-sizing” plan will consolidate the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders from seven into four schools, except those at Stivers School for the Arts. But current seventh graders at Meadowdale High School, Belmont High School, Dayton Boys Preparatory Academy and Charity Adams Earley Girls Academy will stay one more year at those schools and then transition into high school.
The district will also close its Innovative Learning Center and vacate the current central office headquarters for another building owned across South Ludlow Street.
DPS officials say the plan will improve academics, make the district run more efficiently and save money. Several buildings — all in West Dayton — are below 50 percent capacity, district officials said. Closing some buildings and evening out class sizes will help, Lolli said.
“We really need to take a look at how we spread out our students, because if we can consolidate and actually have teachers that have licenses that are full-time in those classrooms, then we’re going to serve our students better,” she said.
David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association that represents teachers, said he has been displaced by building closures during his career and understands the “angst and concerns of all employees.” But he said recent communication with the new school board and superintendent has been “exactly what should happen between Dayton Public Schools and all stakeholders.”
“Schools as a result of the plan as it will be proposed have been given a chance to re-imagine themselves and recruit students back to the district,” he said. “This is something that has needed to happen for years, and I’m pleased that there is a commitment on the part of our new superintendent and on part of the board to get those students back in the district and begin to reverse the trend of dropping enrollment.”
Steve Keeney, who represents the district’s AFSCME unions for custodial, security and other employees, told the board he is concerned the community is getting mixed messages from school officials.
“Something that’s important as this,” Keeney said, “that will affect the lives and livelihoods of thousands of families and children within our school district, we just want to make sure there is a plan and one solid message…”
While Keeney didn’t object to the plan, he said the speed of changes could quickly cascade to other locations and disrupt the lives of multiple workers and lead to questions of who is given priority for bumping rights, vacancies and new job openings.
“At this time we don’t believe, under the current plan, anyone is going to lose their job necessarily, but there will be shifting around and people will have to adjust their lives and schedules around this,” Keeney said.
The closure process generated a lawsuit by Dayton resident David Esrati, who challenged the district over open meetings laws after he was restricted by the district from attending school tours made the School Facilities Task Force.
On Monday, a Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge denied a preliminary injunction sought by Esrati to halt the board’s vote.
Judge Richard Skelton did write that the 20-member panel formed to help Lolli was a public body — disagreeing with DPS and Dayton city attorneys.
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