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The fallout from the Columbus school scandal should not derail the closure plan

“The school board can and must address this scandal and close schools. CCS has a responsibility to ensure students receive a quality education while also being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

The ongoing scandal sparked by a leaked document does not change the fact that Columbus City Schools’ massive physical footprint is an obstacle to fully providing students with the education they deserve and providing taxpayers with the best return on their investment.

The unhinged, unethical and thankfully unexecuted strategic plan, “Taking Control of the Task Force Narrative,” would have silenced critics of a plan to close as many as 20 of Columbus City Schools’ 113 facilities. The document is embarrassing and offensive, but it should not hold up the progress of the Superintendent’s Community Facilities Task Force.

If done fairly, thoughtfully, and with real public and expert input, closing some Columbus schools will help produce better CCS graduates by freeing up building maintenance dollars that can be spent on modernization efforts, academics and other performance of student-based efforts.

Some of the closed properties could also be sold or rented.

The 8.3 million square foot school district

This is not the first time a task force has been put together to consider closing schools.

It was clear when school closures were recommended in October 2018, and it is clear now: The footprint of the district’s 8.3 million square feet of facilities is too large and must be reduced.

According to an estimate that CCS Superintendent Angela Chapman shared with members of our editorial board, Columbus schools have 30 more buildings than districts of similar demographics and size across the country.

CCS could close up to twenty schools. Here’s what you need to know about each of them

Columbus City Schools students deserve programs in fully functioning spaces, which is not happening despite modernization efforts already underway at some schools.

“We have a renovated high school with maybe 400 students, but it could have 1,000 students in it,” Chapman told our board. “That’s really not maximizing our resources.”

CCS – Ohio’s largest school district – owns a dozen properties that are rented or vacant.

This should be about children, not buildings

We understand why there is community resistance to closing schools.

Schools are more than buildings. They evoke fond memories in the minds of graduates. Current students need to feel a sense of ownership.

That said, the investment Columbus taxpayers have made in the district — including the $100 million per year approved in 2023 — would be better spent on student achievement rather than maintaining aging buildings.

“We have a number of buildings that are still operational that were built before there was electricity,” Chapman told us.

Columbus City Schools’ oldest facility was built in 1895 and the average age of the buildings is 45 years old.

The district’s annual capital improvements budget is $60.49 million, which does not include all funding sources and departments such as Buildings and Grounds.

This must be a community decision

Closing schools under any circumstances is obviously an emotional undertaking and must be handled with care.

The public must be involved in the process to ensure that the Columbus Board of Education closes the right building and consolidates the right programs.

Successful programs must be sustained and the needs of English language learners and other vulnerable students addressed.

Parents, students, taxpayers, teachers and other stakeholders should share their ideas and concerns about the nine recommended scenarios proposed by the Superintendent’s Community Services Task Force during special sessions held through Thursday, June 6.

‘The buildings are not getting any younger. They’re getting older.”

The district’s enrollment peaked at 110,173 during the 1971-72 school year. It now has approximately 46,000 students.

Chapman told us that 30 schools in Columbus have enrollments approaching or less than 200 students, and several schools do not have enough boys or girls enrolled to be eligible to participate in certain extracurricular sports.

Some schools are so old they can’t handle the HVAC systems needed during the 2022 Columbus Education Association strike.

“You have HVAC, but guess what, now the ceiling is falling because the structures are not built for this kind of ‘modern technology,’” Chapman said. “We can’t keep ducking this problem and thinking it’s going to get better. The buildings aren’t getting younger. They’re getting older.”

The school board did not close the schools the last time this was proposed. That should happen this time.

The school board voted Wednesday to censure member Brandon Simmons, who it said was solely responsible for the leaked “Taking Control of the Task Force Narrative” memo.

The origins of the creation of the document must remain exposed in an open and transparent manner. But as the old saying goes, multiple things can happen at once.

The school board can and must address that scandal and close schools.

CCS has a responsibility to ensure that students receive a high-quality education while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

This piece was written by Dispatch Opinion Editor Amelia Robinson on behalf of the editorial staff of The Columbus Dispatch. Editorials are fact-based assessments of issues important to the communities we serve. These are not the opinions of our reporting staff, who strive for neutrality in their reporting.

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