Akron’s parents worry about fate of art, STEM school amid payback for large facilities

The Akron Board of Education is facing difficult decisions and difficult questions as it considers the future of some school facilities in the district.

Parents, teachers, and other stakeholders gathered at the Council meeting on Monday night, eager to learn more about the fate of two schools, in particular: the Miller South Visual Performing Arts School and the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School.

The school district is currently battling numerous facility-related issues. Miller South is long overdue and needs a new home, officials say, while the National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted STEM high school lease expires this year. Buildings in the area’s “northern cluster” are overcrowded due to an influx of refugee families in northern Akron. Meanwhile, the rest of the county is experiencing low enrollment rates due to the declining population of Akron as a whole, with elementary schools particularly sparsely populated. This means the district is considering closing and merging some elementary schools to save money.

Finally, the county faces an uncertain financial future and time is of the essence as the money provided by the American Plan of Rescue Act is running low and must be spent by mid-2024. Stephen Thompson, chief operating officer of Akron Schools, also said he is struggling to keep up to $15 million to renovate buildings like Miller South, which are in desperate need of repairs to critical systems like heating and cooling.

This is likely to be perhaps one of the most important decisions the school board has made in Akron Public Schools in quite some time,” Thompson said.

In moving Miller South to a new building, the district last week considered reducing the fourth and fifth grade components of the program and simply moving sixth through eighth graders to a smaller building to save money, which attracted many parents to the meeting. .

Carly Wetsel, president of PTA Miller South, said removing those first two classes “would rob these students of the self-confidence” and growth they currently enjoy at Miller South.

“WITH Since its inception, the school has allowed older students to mentor younger children and empower them to remain young at heart, setting an example where older and younger students blend in, allowing them to benefit from each other,” Wetsel said.

In addition, the District is also considering moving the STEM High School to the campus of the STEM High School, where parents like Melissa Wheeler are concerned about the fate of the STEM High School.

“He should stay downtown,” she said. “The opportunity to take walking tours and be actively involved in the lives of community partners is part of what makes STEM (high school) what it is.”

Board president Derrick Hall tried to reassure meeting attendees that the board has not yet made any decisions and is looking at many difficult options without a clear win-win solution. However, he and several other board members have confirmed that they prefer to keep the Miller South model for fourth through eighth grades.

And Thompson unveiled several new facility plan models on Monday night that will do just that. One solution is to move STEM High School and Miller South to a new facility in Akron’s Kenmore neighborhood, purpose-built to include space for both labs and the performing arts.

“If you build this building the right way… it will be a building with programs and amenities that will not only attract children from Akron, but will also become a building that will even more attract children from outside the county,” Hall said.

But this building could cost roughly $68 million or more.

Meanwhile, all plans do involve building a new North High School campus that could include grades six through eight in the most expensive option (which would be funded by a $100 million bond issue that would require voter approval). And they are indeed proposing to build a new $15 million athletic facility for the Garfield Community Training Center, which is currently non-existent. Several board members, including Bruce Alexander and N. J. Akbar, offered part of a proposal to the district table to save money on school proposals and instead look for other creative funding options with community or city partners.

Regardless of what the council decides, all of the facility plans submitted to the council so far have resulted in a significant deficit for the county as of fiscal year 2027. Thompson said the board could consider voter approval of a facility-only permanent improvement levy to help fund facility upgrades and keep the county financially sound.

The board will meet again next week to consider options and a decision is likely to be made in the near future.

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