Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Proposed closings draw fire



By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Aiken High School and six Cincinnati public elementary schools could close within the next decade under a proposal to offset the district's declining enrollment.

The proposal, submitted by school district administration to the school board Monday, could shave $104 million from the district's $1 billion, 10-year school construction plan and save $18 million a year in operations.

Proposed changes would mean a 15 percent reduction to the scope of the district's building project - billed as the largest public works project in city history - before one new school is complete. The project, approved in May 2002, now calls for 66 new and renovated schools.

But the new proposal quickly drew fire from some board members who don't agree with all the changes.

The six elementary schools that would close are Porter, Westwood, Quebec Heights, Losantiville, Hyde Park and Winton Montessori. In the earlier version of the plan, all would have been renovated or rebuilt. Aiken would not be renovated, as is currently planned, and would later close. The district also would not build a second Montessori high school or a military high school.

The cuts proposed for the building plan stem from rapidly declining enrollment.

The district lost 13 percent of its enrollment from 1999 Enrollment dropped to 38,800 students last school year, which is close to the enrollment officials projected to reach near the end of the construction project in 2010.

Board member Sally Warner opposed eliminating successful magnet programs like Winton Montessori.

"We have to take a reduction in neighborhood schools because that's where the reduction is happening," Warner said. "I believe people choose to attend magnet schools. To say they should take some of the brunt is ridiculous."

Other board members also questioned the district's strategy to eliminate some of the highest-achieving schools in the low-achieving district.

"The reality is, the magnet schools have the longest waiting lists," member Catherine Ingram said. "The outcomes are excellent."

District officials said they considered reductions throughout the district because the decline is occurring throughout the city, but are receptive to board concerns.

"It's not as if we're favoring one program over another," said director of facilities Michael Burson.

The board is expected to vote June 28 whether to approve changes to segment two of the four-segment project, including some of those discussed Monday night. The district administration is expected to bring a revised plan at that time.

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E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com




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