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Where to? Cuyahoga Falls City Schools will ask public for direction in Aug. 24 forum

by Steve Wiandt | reporter Published: August 21, 2016 12:00 AM

Cuyahoga Falls -- What does the future hold for Cuyahoga Falls City Schools? What should it hold?

On Aug. 24 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the high school's Little Theatre, the public will have the opportunity to share what is important to them when it comes to their schools during a community meeting called "Building Our Future Together."

"I would invite everybody in the community who's available to come and help participate in where we're going with regard to the school district," said Dr. Todd Nichols, the district's superintendent, during the Aug. 17 Board of Education meeting.

Nichols said the meeting will begin with an overview of the district's strategic plan. He said it will be "a brief review of what we said we were going to do three years ago, to help us guide what we're going to do in the next couple of years, because it's a five-year plan."

This overview could lead to small group conversations about educational delivery, technology, communication, culture, finance, and/or building structures. In a message on Facebook, Nichols said, "We hope to meet regularly (2nd and 4th Wednesdays) until we reach consensus on our next steps. As your superintendent, it is my desire to guide you to a future that is best for the kids of this community, present and future. I am asking you to help define that which is best for kids and community."

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During the Board meeting, Nichols said the meeting's primary function is to "identify what are the big questions that are out there, give us an opportunity to come back, collect some answers and go back to the next meeting and share those answers."

In addition to a follow-up meeting, Nichols said the answers will be shared on the district's website. He plans to be "very transparent" with the information, he added.

Once the answers are shared, the group will start to build a consensus on what the district is going to do next, he said. Nichols noted that consensus will not be reached with just one meeting, but with a series of meetings. "My intent is it's not a one and done," he said.

"I want desperately for our community to show up in droves for this [Aug. 24] community forum," said Board President Karen Schofield. "I want to know what they think."

Nichols said community input is vital in showing the district what direction to go in. "A recommendation from an at-large diverse committee would be in our best interest to consider," he said. "I want the community involved in that decision and recommendation."

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School Board member David Martin on Aug. 17 initiated a discussion on the possibility of seeking a five-year permanent improvement levy next year. "I'm looking for a short-term fix," Martin said.

Nichols said the issue could be discussed Aug. 24. "If that's what comes out of the community forum process, so be it," he said.

Board Member Barb Gunter said she would like to see specific ballot language similar to how an issue was worded in Tallmadge where voters approved a levy for athletic purposes only.

Hoskin said he didn't believe they could be specific in what projects the money would be used on, but he leaves it to the lawyers to write the ballot language and they follow the law.

Issue 12, a 5.98-mill bond issue, was defeated Nov. 3, 2015, by 424 votes.

The previous spring, the Board submitted an estimated $158 million building master plan to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, with the construction of new schools as its centerpiece. The district is allowed to pursue the master facilities plan in segments, and Issue 12 was identified as phase one of the endeavor.

With passage of Issue 12, district officials were eyeing construction of a new campus on the current Bolich Middle School/former Newberry Elementary School site, with a new 9-12 building and a new 7-8 building as the centerpiece. The bond issue also would have funded the relocation of Laybourne Field and safety and accessibility upgrades to Clifford Stadium and the razing of Bolich, Newberry, the former Sill Middle School and portions of Cuyahoga Falls High School.

In a telephone conversation Aug. 16, Melvin Brown, the district's deputy superintendent, said ultimately the group formed on Aug. 24 will have to decide what type of plan will be presented for a bond issue. The meeting is being called as a result of the failure of a bond levy last year.

According to Brown, the district needs to hear some constructive comments from the public. "We've heard a lot of complaints, but few solutions," he said, adding there are people in the community as well as on the School Board who want to give the public another chance to vote on a bond issue.

"The goal is to have it back on the ballot in May 2017," Brown said, adding a super majority of the School Board is needed to place it on the ballot. That would be at least a 4-1 vote, he said; 3-2 would not be enough.

Email: swiandt@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9420

Twitter: @SteveWiandt_RPC

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