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20 schools considered for closure under initial Columbus school board recommendations

Jim Negron, co-chair of Columbus City Schools Facilities Task Force
George Shillcock
/
WOSU
Jim Negron (left), co-chair of Columbus City Schools Facilities Task Force, speaks at a press conference on May 7, 2024. He is flanked by Superintendent Angela Chapman (center) and Board President Christina Vera (right).

Columbus City Schools will consider closing 20 of the district's more than 100 school facilities under initial recommendations from a community task force.

Under the proposal presented at the Columbus Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, there are nine scenarios for school closures under consideration. Under each scenario, a batch of three to four schools would be closed and the attending students would be consolidated into other buildings.

All 20 schools will not necessarily close.

The 20 schools are spread across Columbus. Most are elementary schools like West Broad in the Hilltop or Hubbard in Victorian Village. Marion Franklin and Columbus Alternative are two high schools that may get the axe.

Facilities Taskforce co-chair Jim Negron didn’t rule out a decision where multiple scenarios would be chosen. The taskforce is made up of over 20 members of the community.

“I don't live in a world of hypothesis. So, we have to trust the process. And this is just a step in the process.... so, from my perspective, we have to trust the process. The community voice has to be heard,” Negron said.

The full list of schools that could be closed include:

  • Buckeye Middle School 
  • Fairwood Elementary 
  • Siebert Elementary 
  • Moler Elementary 
  • Marion Franklin High School 
  • West Broad Elementary 
  • Valleyview Elementary 
  • Lindbergh Elementary 
  • Columbus City Preparatory School for Boys at Old Eastmoor High School
  • Cranbrook Elementary 
  • Hubbard Elementary 
  • Duxberry Park Alternative Elementary 
  • North Linden Elementary 
  • Northtowne Elementary 
  • Innis Elementary 
  • Johnson Park Middle School  
  • Sherwood Middle School  
  • Broadleigh Elementary 
  • The Columbus Alternative Academy 
  • The Columbus Gifted Academy at the Everett Facility

The students and classes at these schools will be consolidated into other buildings under the closing scenarios. For example, the district would move CAHS to either East High School or the downtown high school

Dozens of parents, students and some faculty showed up to speak on the recommendations before they were presented to the board.

Susan Cavendish has a child in kindergarten at West Broad Elementary School, and two more children she wanted to attend that school. Cavendish said she is disabled and the school is walking distance from her home and having to go further wouldn’t be feasible.

“There are so many children there. And smushing all of our kids like sardines into a tin to consolidate us is not what our children need,” Cavendish said.

Cavendish said she may have to consider homeschooling if the school is closed.

When the district first announced that the taskforce would assess buildings for possible consolidation and closure, it cited the high cost of maintaining the 113 school buildings in the district and a backlog of maintenance on many of the older buildings.

CCS is the largest school district in Ohio. The district has about 46,000 students, but that number has dwindled since the 1970s when enrollment reached over 100,000.

Columbus and the wider metropolitan area is growing at a rapid rate and enrollment has ticked up for the district in recent years.

Chapman said in January that almost 47% of the schools have not had any major renovations in more than 50 years. She said the district spends more on its facilities and maintenance per school compared to other similar districts, which could be related to the age of the buildings. Chapman said CCS spends $544,000 per Columbus school building compared to $459,000 nationally.

Cavendish wasn’t the only parent to voice their displeasure Tuesday night. Many in the audience groaned and scoffed at the recommendations as Negron and his co-chair Al Edmondson presented them to the board.

During and after the meeting, CCS Superintendent Angela Chapman and Board President Christina Vera cautioned the community to be patient.

“I would say to all of our parents, community members and stakeholders to take a deep breath. These are initial recommendations that have been submitted to begin the conversation about where we go from here,” Chapman said.

Chapman and Negron said the board wants as much feedback as possible before any decision is made.

“This is preliminary, and it's really important that our community knows that this board recognizes that there's a lot more work to be done here, and we're committed to that work. We recognize that this is a bigger vision,” Vera said.

Some of the community members at the meeting voiced displeasure about the process for how the school came to these initial recommendations. Many voiced the opinion that they don’t think the school should close or sell off any of its buildings as Columbus’ population continues to grow.

Stuart McIntyre is a member of the Columbus Education Justice Coalition, which he and other members say formed after the recent school levy passed this Fall to keep an eye on the board and hold them accountable.

That levy passed with 54% of the vote in November. Much of the 7.7 mill levy will be used for for operating expenses and permanent improvements.

McIntyre criticized the board for what he said is a lack of community engagement.

“We have an opportunity at this moment to embrace a growing city, to transform our school district together. And we just don't want to take this path of business as usual that the task force seems to be leading us down,” he said.

McIntyre said his group is demanding the district pause the process, commit to growth by recruiting more families to the district, share more positive things happening at the district and under no circumstances sell the school buildings to charter schools or for-profit developers.

The district is holding several meetings with community forums and gallery walks between next Thursday and the start of June. These include:

  • May 16 at 9:30 a.m. at Shepard Library and Parsons Library
  • May 16 at 5:30 p.m. at East High School and the CEC Assembly Room at 270 E. State Street
  • May 22 at 10:30 a.m. at the Whetstone Recreation Center
  • May 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the Barnett Recreation Center and Community Grounds Cafe
  • May 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Olde Orchard Elementary School and Briggs High School
  • May 30 at 9:30 a.m. at Schiller Park Recreation Center and Bottoms Up Coffee Cafe
  • May 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the CEC Assembly Room and the C.R.I.S. building at 4645 Executive Drive
  • June 1 at 11 a.m. for a Radio One Town Hall live on power 107.5 and 106.3 FM and Magic 95.5 FM

The district is also holding virtual events on May 22 and 29 at 11:30 a.m.
Final recommendations will be made to the board of education in June.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.