November 27, 2014

Elyria
Flurries
28°F
test

Oberlin Schools seeking continued progress

The League of Women Voters sponsored Superintendent John Schroth's State of the School address Tuesday at the Oberlin Public Library.

The League of Women Voters sponsored Superintendent John Schroth’s State of the School address Tuesday at the Oberlin Public Library. CHELSEA MILLER/CHRONICLE

OBERLIN — Oberlin Schools’ finances, the district’s report card and a plan to move forward with the consolidation of school buildings were discussed Tuesday during a State of the School address.

The address, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was at the Oberlin Public Library. Superintendent John Schroth answered questions from the public and discussed where the district is headed in the next three years.

Finances

The district’s revenue increased after the passage of a 5-mill operating levy in 2011, and it is projected to have modest increases in the next few years. Schroth said spending is expected to increase because of higher labor costs and health care costs, but the district is expected to have a positive cash balance for at least the next three years until 2016, when there is a projected deficit.

The district’s revenue can increase based upon student population, open enrollment and increases in income taxes.
Schroth said more students have applied for open enrollment this year, which may account for more money for the district. The district accepted around 90 applications, and to date, 79 students have chosen to attend Oberlin Schools next year.

The number of students who have been accepted via open enrollment has steadily increased since 2009, when 49 students were accepted.

“There have been times in the past when we’ve had to turn students away because we just haven’t had seats for them, and we have had some large classes this year … We’re not going to accept students through open enrollment and have to hire personnel to teach them,” he said. “But it’s a way we can help fill vacant seats and bring in some extra revenue for the district at the same time.”


Academic achievement

The district has performed well on this year’s state report card, despite a new system that is being touted as more transparent to hold schools accountable for their failings.

The district met 22 out of 26 indicators — up from 19 last year. The district received three As, four Bs, one C and one D on its report card.
The school received Bs in achievement, with an 81.1 percent performance index and 83.3 percent of indicators met. The grade was given after an examination of how many students passed the state test and how well they did on that test.

The district also received Bs for its graduation rate, with 90.8 percent of students graduating in four years and 90.7 percent graduating in five years.

Overall, the district received an A for how much the student body — grades four through eight — learned in the year in math and reading. The district received an A when examining gifted students and for students deemed the lowest 20 percent achievers.

The district received a C for students with disabilities, and while Schroth said there is room for improvement there, he said it doesn’t mean the district is failing.

“As a parent, a C is not something you’re really excited about seeing on a report card when it comes home, but from the state’s standpoint, a C means that you’re doing what is expected,” he said.

Schroth said the district is working to improve its rating on gap closing. Gap closing measures how well all students are doing in the district in reading, math and graduation. It examines Hispanic, African American, multiracial, Caucasian, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

The district received a D, meeting only 69.7 percent of annual measurable objectives.

“We have a lot of work to do as far as our students with disabilities are concerned to get them up to where the state expects them to be,” he said.

School consolidation

Schroth said because of the age of the current school buildings — the oldest was built in 1923 and the newest were built in the 1960s — the district saw a need to update its facilities.

In 2007, the district met with the Ohio School Facilities Commission, who completed a comprehensive review of the district’s buildings. In 2010, the district submitted a request for proposals for architectural firms, and last year, it met with approximately 20 people from the community who offered input on how the school district should proceed with the project.

The committee considered numerous proposals, including renovating the existing buildings, but determined that a consolidated pre-K-12 school building would be the most feasible.

Schroth said a consolidated building would be the least expensive and most operationally efficient, most energy efficient, have the least amount of interruption to the educational process during the construction phase and be the best solution for architecture to support the curriculum.

Plans are still under way for consolidation, including potentially purchasing land from Oberlin College at a cost of $50,000. The college is holding the land for Oberlin Schools at a cost of $1 until the district raises the funds needed for the project.

Next week, architects will meet with teachers, staff and other stakeholders to develop specifications for the project. Schroth said if the money for the project is raised from a levy, which likely will be placed on the ballot in November 2014, and from state funding, the entire project should be completed by fall 2018.

Schroth was questioned by some audience members, who asked if a new school building was necessary. Schroth said the building could attract teachers to the area and would improve the educational process.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.


  • Renovate Ohio Schools

    Existing neighborhood schools are very important to a community. They are the anchors for each neighborhood. The existing traffic flows (pedestrian and vehicle) to and from each school also helps support local businesses. Removing/relocating a neighborhood school can have more impact to a community then people are aware.

    We’ve become a ‘throw away’ society by abandoning or demolishing buildings in once strong neighborhoods and relocating to the outer edges of communities. Then, after it’s too late, we ask ourselves, ‘When did that local business close?’ or ‘Why are there empty houses?’ or ‘What caused the increase in traffic congestion?’. It’s happening all over Lorain County, Ohio and the United States.

    It’s good that people are concerned about the current conditions of Oberlin Schools. This shows that a community takes pride in their local educational system. Unfortunately, when a school district is strapped for cash, the maintenance budget is one of the first things cut. Any issues you see within the schools did not happen overnight and have probably been occurring for at least 15 to 20 years.

    Most people probably feel, ‘With the current conditions, why should we sink anymore money into our existing buildings?’. This is a common and valid concern, but a school district should complete an independent feasibility assessment by an architect that is experienced with existing school building construction and renovation before making any decisions that can have such a drastic impact to the community. This study will provide an objective opinion on the current condition and future usage possibilities for their buildings.

    Typically, Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) assessments are known to be very subjective, formula based and conducted with only a brief visit per facility. Unfortunately, the cost of a feasibility assessment is not covered by the OSFC and can range from $15,000 – $20,000 per building. This is just a fraction of a total facilities project cost and is the only true way to determine the condition of an existing building. It just make sense to get more than one estimate for a project of this magnitude. It will be money well spent.

    With the right plan, the renovation of existing neighborhood schools can cost less than building an equally sized new facility. Even though comprehensive renovation is typically more labor intensive, it requires less materials, since the existing building envelope is retained. Overall, this can be a good thing, because it provides more employment opportunities and strengthens the workforce economy. In fact, the OSFC will actually co-fund a renovation project.

    When and if a school is renovated under an OSFC project, the finished condition of the building is designed to be equal to what is offered with new construction. This is a requirement of the OSFC and they would never co-fund a renovation project, if this wasn’t the case.

    Renovated schools can still provide a 21 century education, as shown in this study by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.

    Historic Neighborhood Schools Deliver 21st Century Educations
    http://www.ncef.org/pubs/historic.pdf

    Renovating neighborhood schools can provide just as many benefits to a community, if not more, than building new facilities.

    Renovate Ohio’s Historic Schools
    http://renovateohioschools.wordpress.com/

    “If we really think a good education requires new buildings, why do we want to send our children to Harvard?”

    - Royce Yeater, school facilities architect and head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Midwest office

    • Todd Allan Rasmussen

      Dear Mr. Yeater,
      Thank you for your point as it is an important one. As chair of the Oberlin School Board’s Facilities Committee, I would like to say that your point was given significant consideration.
      I would venture that you do not know all the particulars for Oberlin, but are making a case for preservation. Only one of the four building is of some historic nature and certainly that is being taken into consideration, but there are other issues as well.
      Two OSFC reviews were done along with an overview by the architect hired by the school board, including a review of the structural aspects of the building and it impact on the ability to renovate. In addition to the reviews, the needs of the community, the students, and teaching methodology, etc. along with their needed space requirements were also taken into consideration. Also if you are familiar with Oberlin we are definitely into sustainability, so I can assure you we looked into the renovation vs new, along with the repurposing of the spaces, which the school board is continuing to look at based on the recommendation.
      Finally cost was taken into consideration both for the short term as well as the long term related to seven different scenarios. These scenarios ranged from a “purely maintain what we have because our buildings are in good shape” to infrastructure upgrades, to full renovations of each buildings to meet current standards, to combined new buildings, to one new building, and a mixture of some. All of these have different cost implications.
      The OFSC funding guidelines that specify when funding will occur (i.e. the minimum number of students in the building and the cost of renovation as a % of building new) also impacted the decision, particularly since the four schools in question are all within less than a 1.5 miles of each other, each services about 300 students, and the cost to renovate vs building exceeded the 68% of new guideline just to meet the minimum. Certainly a waiver could be sought but the other cost implications for the long term fiscal health of the school district and to those who pay taxes to support our school district were heavily considered. If you are going to do something you know you need to do for the betterment of our students, how do you pass up 21% of funding coming from taxes you have already have paid for (along with lowering your long term costs) compared to not taking it.
      Finally you can certainly use Harvard (or Oberlin or Case Western Reserve University) as a location that provides a great education in old buildings (and new ones too), but they have an endowment and resources that the Oberlin School District does not.
      Sincerely,
      Todd Rasmussen,
      Associate Director of Housing, Case Western Reserve University
      Parent of two current Oberlin students and one graduate, and
      Chair of the Oberlin School Board’s Facilities Committee
      PS. If your willing to donate about $40 Million dollars I am sure we can work something out.

  • Renovate Ohio Schools

    For clarification, “If we really think a good education requires new buildings, why do we want to send our children to Harvard?” was a quote by Mr. Yeater and not an actual posted comment.