Joint meeting of the city councils of Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education highlights 5-14-12
MAY 14, 2012
- Millikin School
- School facilities plan
Present were: all Cleveland Heights City Council members, University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld, five University Heights City Council members (Steven Sims and Thomas Cozzens, absent), South Euclid City Council Member Jane Goodman, and four Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board members (Eric Coble, absent).
A call center at Millikin is no longer a possibility because the Medusa Cement building has been privately bought for that purpose. The school board received an appraisal for Millikin of $770,000, and could reach a decision as early as May 15 on whether to offer the property at public auction. School board members emphasized the difficulty of making a decision to privatize public property. Bonnie Caplan, Cleveland Heights council member, suggested that the school board support the purchase of Millikin by Mosdos al Hatorah School, which has outgrown its current facility.
School facilities plan
The school board initiated the schools facilities plan due to excess space and a need to stabilize revenue.
Karen Jones, school board president, said that the board is aware of and still listening to concerns over the closing of Gearity School. She expressed the board’s commitment to maintaining the current ratio of students attending school in each city. University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld, and Councilwomen Sue Pardee and Adele Zucker maintained that a public elementary school is needed in University Heights to attract and retain residents and maintain property values. Vice Mayor Frankie Goldberg noted that a public elementary school in University Heights need not be located at Gearity. She asked how the Schools Facilities Committee had reached its decision to close Gearity. Superintendent Doug Heuer explained that after numerous community meetings from February to April, the community showed little support for the first two proposed plans, A and B. Architectural consultants studied demographics and finances and devised the current proposal, plan C. Buildings were selected to reduce busing, maintain the current ratio of students attending school in each city, and maintain the current ratio of employees working in each city.
Nancy Peppler, school board member, noted that University Heights residents attending a community meeting had reacted negatively to plan A’s proposal for a pre-k through eighth grade campus at Wiley and moving the district’s administrative offices to Cleveland Heights, which would negatively affect University Heights's income tax revenue.
Karen Jones said that the reasons for closing Gearity included its location in a far corner of the district, the low number of elementary students living within a one-mile radius, citizen preference for buildings built in the 1920s, and Gearity's need for more costly renovation. She asked what University Heights could do to encourage more families to attend Gearity.
Mayor Infeld stated that the district subjectively drew school boundaries with a low concentration of elementary students living within Gearity's boundaries, which encompass John Carroll University and commercial districts. One hundred and seventy University Heights students attend Gearity and 190 attend Canterbury. Because University Heights residents are one quarter of the district’s population, Infeld believes it should have one elementary school. The median age of the city’s residents has gone down, Gearity's enrollments have increased, with a third kindergarten class added in each of the last three years, and more University Heights students are in Gearity's lower grades. Infeld credited the PTA with encouraging an increased enrollment of University Heights students in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights (CH-UH) schools. She noted that Councilwoman Adele Zucker has been the only University Heights official on the School Facilities Committee since two previously appointed representatives are no longer on city council.
Jane Goodman, South Euclid council member, said that the portion of South Euclid where children attend the CH-UH schools pays higher property taxes than the rest of South Euclid. She stated that the South Euclid residents do tend to send their children to public school, and many of them walk, so the closing of Gearity would negatively affect that city as well.
Infeld urged the creation of a plan D with an elementary school in University Heights. Dennis Wilcox, Cleveland Heights council member, noted that Cleveland Heights had recently lost Coventry, and that the proposed plan would close Fairfax and Noble. If Gearity were to remain open, Cleveland Heights would lose another school.
Facilities plan timeline
Superintendent Heuer said that the facilities plan could take seven or eight years, especially if the high school becomes phase one. Bonnie Caplan wondered if a decision made now would still be relevant in eight years and said that perhaps only the high school phase should be decided upon at this time. Karen Jones said that a school district must plan years ahead and that enrollment is projected to continue to decline.
Scott Gainer, the school district’s chief financial officer, explained that such a major project requires long-range financing and a 30-year bond issue would be needed to make the millage affordable for district taxpayers. To put a bond issue on the November 2012 ballot, the school board must pass two resolutions by July 9 and a third by July 31. The plan and its timeline will be discussed at the May 15 work session. Kal Zucker, school board member, said that tonight’s comments would influence the board’s thinking. Heuer said that the board should arrive at a plan in June.
Use of closed schools
Jason Stein, Cleveland Heights council member, suggested that school administrators work with city staff to recommend uses for Fairfax and Noble, as was done at Coventry where the city financially supported the new use. Karen Jones said that, partly due to the need to move students during renovation, the closed buildings would not be available for new use until about 2020. The school district has engaged Kramer and Associates to find partners for building use. The Boys and Girls Club definitely wants to partner, and John Carroll University is also interested.
LWV observer: Nancy Dietrich.
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