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Columbus City Schools: Who’s the April Fool?

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Columbus City Schools: Who’s the April Fool?Photo by Walker Evans.
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After the November levy defeat, Columbus City Schools announced that it would use a “pro forma” analysis to determine FY15 budget reductions.

The announcement arrived with a document (PDF) that issued a timeline for budget discussions and decisions.

As described in the document, the process started in November with discussion and continues through June of 2014. In January of 2014, the timeline prescribes meetings with faculty, staff and the community.

Now approaching April, the community meetings to discuss the budget have not yet occurred, but budget decisions are being announced.

First, Columbus City Schools board members voted to close four schools: Arlington Park, Brookhaven, Mayberry and Monroe, with a relocation planned for Fifth Avenue. Regarding the closings in particular, there were community meetings. The community speakers were unanimous in their rejections of the proposed closings.

Last week, the staff at Indianola Elementary received a notification about the school’s programs. Indianola is a lottery school, pulling children from all backgrounds to learn in an environment that integrates the arts into the lesson plans. The model has been successful and economical for Columbus City Schools.

But the district will be cutting the arts in the arts-integrated program. Arts teachers who had served five days a week at Indianola will be reduced to 3 or 3.5 days per week at the school.

The current programs at Indianola Elementary make it one of the few highly rated schools in the district. It has built this record of achievement while using very little district money. On the school’s Facebook Group, parent Cassandra Freeland points to FY12 data, saying, “Our per pupil expenditures are $11,537, below the district average of $14,613.”

Another parent, Kim Swenson, added, “Our excellent rating and the success of our students is predicated on the rich, deep learning that authentic arts integration facilitates, a model that served as an example in our district for over 30 years.”

If the board plans on saving money by closing schools and cutting programs, it plans on making expenditures too. The agenda for the April 1 meeting lists a proposed investment “in excess of $25,000” to go to the National School Boards Association. In recent years, annual dues for the organization have run around $13,700. It’s unclear what the National School Boards Association will do with the additional money or why those funds should be taken from local children.

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In a letter sent to faculty and staff, Superintendent Good suggested this week that it’s helpful to consider other perspectives as these budget announcements are made. He urges readers to “think about all of the possible legitimate rationale that may cause us to come to the conclusions we have”.

While closing schools might save money, it’s hard to identify rationale for gutting an economical, successful school such as Indianola. In viewing both of these decisions, it’s even harder to find “possible legitimate rationale” to commit in excess of $25,000 to the National School Boards Association.

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