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Discipline, Consolidation Take Center Stage in Akron Schools Update

The Superintendent of Akron Public Schools is defending himself against allegations that the district isn’t properly handling student behavior and discipline.

The Akron Education Association has filed 22 grievances this school year against the district on behalf of teachers who say they were verbally or physically assaulted by a student.

The local union held a safe schools rally outside the Akron Board of Education meeting Monday night to draw attention to the issue, and in his State of the Schools speech Tuesday, Akron Superintendent David James addressed it directly.

James said of the 22 grievances, six were filed against children in the 3rd grade or below and nine were students with disabilities.

James said each student has the right to due process, which means children can’t be immediately removed from a school or classroom.

 “There is something called free and appropriate education,” he said at the Akron Press Club event, “which means all kids that come through our doors deserve to be educated.”

James said 114 students have been referred to the district Board of Education so far this year for disciplinary action, but those students make up 0.54 percent of the 21,000 students in the district.

James discussed more than just the disciplinary issue at the speech, though, and included an update on the district’s financial standings.

James said after years of declining student enrollment that led to reductions in state funding, he’ll focus on consolidations in the central office to continue to find savings.

District staff will soon be moving to a smaller, more energy efficient space in downtown Akron to cut costs, James said. The change comes after the consolidation of a handful of schools in the district over the past few years.

James said the change will help extend the amount of time the district can operate at current funding levels without asking taxpayers for a larger levy.

 “On average, additional revenue is needed every six years,” he said. “We are heading into our eighth year actively managing our budget deficit and continuing to push off the next levy request.”

The Akron Schools’ budget is the fifth largest in the state of Ohio at more than $500 million a year.

James also used the speech to discuss the district’s plan to shift its high schools into academies focused on career and technical education in specific fields.

North High School is the first to undertake the new academic model, working with Akron Children’s Hospital to focus largely on health service fields.

James was recently named a finalist in Columbus’s search for a new superintendent. He said the state’s largest school district has not made a final decision about who its next leader will be, but that applying for the job was a personal decision.

“Throwing my name in the hat is not about the school board, my staff, this community nor anyone in this room,” he said. “This is about the opportunity to be challenged in a unique way so I can grow and further develop my skills.”

James has been the superintendent of Akron Public Schools for nearly 10 years and an employee of the district for more than 25.

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