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Three school districts look for higher learning
Three school districts look for higher learning
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Berkshire, Cardinal and Newbury school officials gathered last week in an attempt to find new academic opportunities for students.
Members of each board of education, superintendents and treasurers from the three schools met at the Geauga branch of Kent State University to learn what collaborative efforts with university officials may lead to increased opportunities for students.
Berkshire Superintendent Douglas DeLong, who served as moderator, said everyone is aware of the schools' financial constraints in attempting to serve students, but there may be opportunities for joint efforts that would minimize costs while offering expanded services.
He cited Berkshire's and Cardinal's cooperative efforts with busing that have allowed the two districts to reduce costs. "That's one example of helping each other to save money," Mr. DeLong said.
David Mohan, dean of the KSU branch, pledged his support to the effort.
The three school boards agreed by the end of the meeting to form a smaller group to work out logistics of how students would access expanded curriculum, including scheduling and the classes that would be offered.
Mr. DeLong said Berkshire board member John Manfredi initiated the idea after finding a news clipping about Springboro Community City Schools, which had collaborated with a medical center to build a new sports stadium without tax dollars. A mixed-use facility that provides the sports stadium and medical center was created through the initial efforts of two community members who were looking to improve their athletic facility, he said.
Mr. DeLong said, while the Springboro district is larger than Berkshire, Cardinal and Newbury combined, it initially was started by two residents, meaning that similar partnerships are possible.
Berkshire board President James Koster said officials must begin to think "outside the box" to provide services for students. "What we want to do is share for the future," he said.
Mr. Manfredi said the schools, due to a lack of funds, are unable to offer Advanced Placement courses for students who would benefit from their more stimulating offerings. He said the meeting offered the hope there may be more that the four entities could do to offer more challenging courses for gifted students.
Berkshire board member Roger Miller said the No Child Left Behind program ensured money would be set aside for special education but left little to be spent on gifted students. He said that imbalance has left many of the school's sophomores and juniors without challenging courses.
Shelley Marshall, information technologies manager for the KSU branch, said only the details need to be worked out, because KSU will provide the programming for students. "We are ready, willing and eager to participate with the schools," she said.
She said one issue that will have to be examined is how students get credit for the courses they may take through the college.
Ms. Marshall said many courses offered at the college are done online. While there is something to be said for face-to-face classroom work, it is not necessary for every course, she said.
Mr. DeLong said it may benefit students at Berkshire if more foreign language courses can be offered that now cannot be afforded by the individual schools.
"Unless I'm missing something, I don't see why we couldn't do it," Mr. DeLong said.
Newbury School Superintendent Richard Wagner said the collaborative effort may be the difference between life and death for the three smaller districts. The big issue is always money, he said, and without the collaborative effort, the schools will be "run out of business" because of actions of the Ohio Department of Education and state legislators who refuse to fix the funding issue.
He said Newbury and Berkshire had examined a possible merger, but consolidation was thwarted by an income-tax issue passed by Berkshire voters. He said Newbury residents could not be forced to pay the income tax, leaving the burden on Berkshire residents, even with a merger. The unfair situation only can be corrected by a change in state law, he said.
Mr. Wagner said his school had ventured into online courses, but the program only served some 13 students. He said he had to choose between that programming or hiring another teacher to serve 30 to 40 students. With a cooperative venture, the school may no longer have to choose.
Schools have been forced by the state to rely more and more on local voters to fund schools, Mr. Wagner said, but it is a losing game. He said his district was able to pass a 6.72-mill levy after five tries on the ballot. But, that new money will likely only keep the district in the black until 2014, he said.
According to Mr. Wagner, Mr. Miller said the district has been spending the bulk of its funds for special education, while the gifted students are left wanting. He said the district, with a budget of just over $7 million, spent $1.6 million on special education last year and only $2,000 for gifted students.
Cardinal board member Tom Petronio agreed, saying the "foundations of schools are crumbling" because of the funding situation. He said for districts, like those gathered, the cost of educating students is moving beyond what the public can afford.
He said the Cardinal district is looking at a 9.7-mill levy in 1 1/2 years to keep its head above water. He said boards of education should be concentrating on improving curriculums for students, but are forced to continually think and work on levies to keep their schools going.
Mr. Wagner said the schools must work to eliminate the community-centric feelings about their schools and begin to look at what can be done together. "We've got to get people seeing less about the colors and more about what can be done collaboratively," he said.
Mr. Miller said he fears the only thing that may stop the collaborative effort may be the state. He said the district will fight the state if it has to to make the collaborative effort work.
"If we're going to be penalized for being creative, we're going to light someone up," he said. "We're tired of this."
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