By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer
Superintendent Alton Frailey this week rejected dire predictions about falling enrollment in Cincinnati Public Schools and instead advocated for building new schools based on static enrollment.
Frailey said strategies to improve achievement would bring people back to the district.
The majority of the school board on Monday agreed and chose to reduce the scope of the district's $1 billion construction project, but not nearly enough to meet the more than 20 percent enrollment drop over 10 years projected by the state.
The decision comes less than a week after Census figures showed Cincinnati last year experienced the fastest population decline among 245 U.S. cities with at least 100,000 people.
Because of statistics like that, one board member said, the superintendent's plan is unrealistic and could mean building brand-new schools in areas where few students live.
Board member Sally Warner said the district should consider the city's declining birth rate and the increasing competition from charter schools, which are publicly funded schools run by parents, nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies and other groups.
"Until we at least level off, I don't think we should be planning for growth," she said.
Upon Frailey's recommendation, the board voted 5-1 for his plan to build and renovate the district's schools to house 38,900 students, down from the original 10-year plan of 42,165.
The district's enrollment is now 38,800.
The revised plan struck just one school - Porter Elementary in the West End - from the 66-school project. It also reduced the enrollment capacity of some new schools while increasing the capacity of others in places where enrollment is stronger.
But the state, which is partnering with the school district on the building project, issued revised enrollment projections in May that put the district at 33,100 students by the project's end.
Statistics released by the district show Cincinnati is losing market share within the school-district boundaries.
In 1999-00, 72 percent of students living within Cincinnati school district attended Cincinnati Public Schools, while 25 percent attended non-public schools and 3 percent attended charter schools.
By 2003-04, 67 percent of students living in the district attended Cincinnati Public Schools, while 23 percent attended non-public schools and 10 percent attended charter schools.
But Frailey plans to regain some of those students.
Bringing the district's market share back to 72 percent would bring back nearly 3,000 students, he said.
Frailey said he opted for the higher overall enrollment capacity because the district plans to draw families back to the district by strengthening its academic program.
A school spokeswoman said the district is placing a uniform curriculum based on state standards in all the district's schools and buying new math textbooks.
Frailey also said the district is developing a marketing plan to attract more students and families. For example, school officials plan to tell charter-school parents how their schools measure up to Cincinnati Public Schools.
The district will also increase outreach to parents by becoming more visible at community events to tout successes at public schools.
"I think it's very important we communicate a positive sense of direction for this school system," Frailey said.
Board member John Gilligan said the new and renovated schools will draw more people because they will be constructed as community learning centers, open day and night for use by the public.
Warner said she's not being pessimistic, but realistic.
She said the district should consider reducing enrollment capacity in such areas as Madisonville, Over-the-Rhine and the West End, where enrollment is dropping.
"We should build buildings where we are sure there are children," she said.
Frailey said the district could revise the plan later if enrollment continues to fall.
"I'd rather plan for what we have than accept the negative projections of where we're going to be," he said.
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