Dayton school closures: What’s really going on?

Dayton Public Schools is considering closure of multiple schools next fall because, as acting superintendent Elizabeth Lolli put it, “We have found ourselves as a district with declining enrollment … and more than enough buildings.”

Here are five key things to know about the issue:

How did this come about?

Dayton’s student enrollment dropped from about 20,000 in 2002 to 14,000 in 2010. Since then, it has stayed fairly steady, although the current number of 13,168 is a low point, according to Ohio Department of Education data.

FIRST STORY: DPS may close three or more schools next fall

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District officials recently analyzed enrollment and operating costs for each school building, and said certain schools have more than 300 (Cleveland), 400 (Charity Earley) or even 600 (Boys Prep) open classroom seats.

Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said based on staffing, utilities, maintenance and expenses, the cost to operate an under-enrolled building can reach as high as $14,000 per student, while fuller schools cost as little as $6,000 per student.

What schools will close?

DPS officials have not yet said what schools will close, adding that they expect to hold community meetings in January to discuss the issue. Lolli said more of the schools in East Dayton are closer to the district’s goal of 70 percent student occupancy.

According to the spreadsheet that Burton showed the school board Tuesday night, all 13 of the most under-enrolled schools are in West Dayton. But there was no formal discussion Tuesday of consolidating any of those schools.

Burton did mention that Valerie Elementary, one of the only decades-old schools in DPS, has $2.2 million in deferred maintenance costs that would need to be addressed in some way if that school remains open.

When was the last time Dayton closed schools?

Longfellow school on Salem Avenue closed in fall 2017 because of glaring maintenance problems, including a hole in the roof. Longfellow housed credit recovery programs and alternative-to-expulsion and suspension programs. Those programs were moved to the Gorman/Jackson Center facility at 329 Abbey Ave., just north of U.S. 35.

2014 STORY: DPS to close two schools, restructure another

RELATED: Longfellow school closing after roof problems ignored

Prior to that, in fall 2014, DPS closed Gardendale Academy at Gettysburg and James H. McGee, as well as the Gorman School, at the same site the Longfellow program just moved to. The reason then was declining enrollment. At that same time, the district changed Rosa Parks school from a PreK-8 building into their early-childhood center.

Didn’t DPS recently build new schools?

Yes, after voters approved a 7.97-mill bond issue in 2002, DPS built almost all new schools. From Kiser in summer of 2006 to Wright Brothers in January 2012, the district opened 26 new school buildings (in Stivers’ case it was a renovation and addition).

The only DPS schools currently in use that pre-date 2006 are Valerie Elementary and the Gorman/Jackson Center site. Back in 2002, the average age of Dayton schools was 67 years.

The $245 million bond issue that Dayton voters approved in 2002 was a 28-year tax, meaning residents could be paying it for another 13 years, whether all the schools are open or not.

What are the next steps?

Lolli said DPS officials will spend the next several weeks developing a strategy to handle the issue. She said they’ve already talked to the city of Dayton’s development office, and they plan community meetings in all quadrants of the city in January to get public feedback.

Lolli said the issue is underused buildings, not overstaffing, so employee cuts are not expected.

She said her team will make recommendations to the school board sometime in January, so they can vote on closures that would take effect for the 2018-19 school year.

RELATED: A look back at DPS’ turbulent 16 months under Corr

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