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Petitioners asking to leave Jefferson school district upset about claims of racial motivation

Tennille Keeton sends her two children to Jefferson Twp. Local Schools. Until this week, she had no clue that just across Dayton-Farmersville Road, parents were fighting to make sure their kids wouldn’t need to go there too.

“I’m glad you guys broke the story, because now there are a lot more questions,” Keeton told the Dayton Daily News.

“Especially now that my daughter will be going into the junior/senior high school with the College Credit Plus that she’s looking forward to. That program would be cut with the territory transfer,” she said.

READ MORE: Jefferson Twp. school board ousts both principals; parents upset

One of the most effective parts of the program designed to help high school students earn college credits would be cut if a plan to transfer 8.6 square miles of properties — and about $456,000 in property taxes — from Jefferson Twp. Local Schools to Valley View Local Schools is approved by the Ohio Board of Education, according to district records.

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Residents who petitioned for the transfer say they’re frustrated their tax dollars are going to a district with ledgers once so poorly kept, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost last year called its financial records “unauditable.”

The petitioners are also upset the district is blaming “racial animus” for their proposal.

“First thing you hear people say when you take a stand on something is that it’s racially motivated,” said Dan King, a resident within the area proposed for transfer. “It’s got to do with the kids not getting a quality education in the school district because it’s failing.”

“It has nothing to do with black and white, or race,” he said. “It has to do with what’s successful and what’s not successful.”

None of the 118 people with valid signatures who signed the transfer petition sends children to Jefferson Twp., the district said.

READ MORE: Local district cites race as reason some want to leave schools

A ‘remarkable’ accomplishment

Comparing school districts is not an exact apples-to-apples exercise, but the Ohio Department of Education provides several tools to aid in drawing contrasts. One tool is the performance index, the most detailed measure of state test performance. The index goes deeper than just proficiency, giving more credit for the highest performers and less credit for lower performers.

Valley View earned a performance index of 76.7 percent, or C grade, while Jefferson Twp. earned 52.4 percent, or a D grade.

Jefferson Twp. is the smallest school district in the area, with 315 students. Another 228 students who live in-district attend school elsewhere via open enrollment, private school vouchers, or by choosing charter schools, according to state data. Valley View has 1,692 students who live within the district, while another 90 students attend schools elsewhere.

The township schools graduate 86.7 percent of students in five years. Valley View graduates 96.1 percent in the same time.

“This year, nine students received college degrees while attending JTLSD,” Tabitha Justice, the Jefferson Twp. schools’ attorney, wrote in a letter to the state. “This number is remarkable for all districts, but particularly so when considered in light of the lower enrollment numbers and special circumstances surrounding the district, including high poverty, high incidence of transiency and homeless, and special needs population.”

Jefferson Twp. ranks in the bottom 20 percent of Ohio school districts in median income at $28,369. Valley View has a median income of $37,399.

Greater racial, economic segregation

Of all the data, student race may be the starkest contrast between Jefferson Twp. and Valley View.

About 83.4 percent of Jefferson Twp. students are minorities, primarily African Americans, according to district data. Similar documents from Valley View show the Germantown-area district is 95.7 percent white.

“Petitioners’ request would result in greater racial and economic segregation and would exacerbate the academic divide amongst minorities, low-income and more privileged students,” Justice wrote, alleging “racial animus” motivated the petition.

Not true, a lawyer for the petitioners said.

“We would deny that and we’re disappointed they would say that,” said attorney Merle Wilberding. “I think the residents are trying to look out for what’s best for themselves and their families. It’s not that they’re opposed to something else — or this, that, or the other — but fundamentally want to improve their own lives, and their families, and their properties.”

Wilberding said residents approached him six months ago to help formulate the petition. He said residents believe the transfer would make their properties more attractive to sellers and improve public education opportunities for their kids.

“They’re concerned with the quality of the education and the economic stability of the properties, and another factor is they feel part of the Germantown community,” he said.

If the properties transferred districts, Jefferson Twp. would lose about 14 percent of its $3.1 million combined tax revenue, the district said in filings with the state.

The Dayton Daily News asked Wilberding if his clients were aware of the financial impact a transfer would have on the district and its students.

“I am sure there are some unintended consequences of it,” Wilberding said. “That’s not something I can really speak to.”

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