The Kent Board of Education recently announced that due to budgetary concerns, Franklin Elementary School on Kent's north side would be shut down at the close of the 2014 school year. This decision was made without any input from the community in which they serve and came as a shock to all citizens of Kent -- especially in light of the fact that a 8.9-mill operating levy was voted on and passed just this past fall that was supposed to keep the school district "operating without disruption" for a number of years to come.
In order to "make up" for their lack of transparency in the decision-making process, the school board held an open forum at Stanton Middle School on Feb. 11 to explain their decision. I attended that meeting along with several hundred other concerned citizens of Kent. The meeting began with both Superintendent Giancola and school board president Rebekah Kulis apologizing for the way their decision was announced to the public yet defending their actions. Other district administrators followed to explain the timeline leading up to this decision along with financial information as to the current status of the district and future projections in regards to revenue and expenses.
This information included enrollment figures at all five Kent elementary schools and trending data over the last decade, per student operating expenses at each school and staffing comparisons.
Many attended the meeting hoping to persuade the board to reconsider their position. In the end, very few people left that meeting satisfied with the results. Unfortunately, much of this dissension could have been avoided. The time for open forums was months ago when the board first realized that the budget projections for fiscal year 2017 and beyond were betraying red ink. There were no articles in the paper informing the public that despite passing an 8.9-mill levy, the school district faced serious near-term budget deficits. There were no letters to the parents sent home in book bags warning parents of the problem. There were no pleas to the parents asking us to come to the next board meeting so that the problems facing the district could be explained. There were no letters or phone calls saying we have a problem, please come give us your input so that we can all make a rational decision.
What we did get was a phone call one evening telling us that Franklin School would be closing. Yet, the next day I read in the paper that there are budget concerns but no decision concerning school closings had been finalized. I did not know what to believe.
What I do feel is a process of heavy-handedness in decision-making that borders on incompetence. How the school board can make a decision of this magnitude without at least a bare minimum of community involvement is beyond me. Kent is famously known for having never failed a school levy. Will this school board pass on the same legacy? I am quite certain that future voters will now think twice before passing the next levy that comes up.
There are a number of other issues that remain to be addressed now that this decision has been "finalized." Class sizes in the remaining elementary schools will obviously go up despite assurances to the contrary. That is never a good thing for students and not just a concern to the parents of Franklin School kids. There will be many more issues beyond what I can list here.
I have had the recent good fortune of meeting and being befriended by a man who has just won re-election to his community school board for his fifth term in office at a suburban Akron school district. We have talked endlessly about the demands placed on board members and challenges they faced in an era of financial uncertainty. However, he never fails to end the discussion with the following advice: Always keep the parents informed and never -- ever -- make a decision without asking yourself one question: Is this decision in the best interest of the kids? Can the Kent school board say the same?
Dave Graham, Kent