Residents and school staff raise concerns at Board of Education meetings

PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN

Tuesday, November 22, 2022; Cleveland Municipal School District Board Business Meeting, Halle School, 7901 Halle School: Cleveland Metropolitan School District Sixth Grade Halle School Student Jeilian Toledo sings Stand by Me as part of a duet with fellow sixth grade student Michael Dinickle.

PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN

Tuesday, November 22, 2022; Cleveland Municipal School District Board Business Meeting, Halle School, 7901 Halle: Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon tries his hand at pickleball.

by Chuck Hoven

   The minutes of the December 13th meeting of the Cleveland Municipal Board of Education included a response to two questions raised by educational advocate Don Freeman at the November 22nd meeting of the Board at Halle School. The minutes also provided an answer to a long-standing question raised by educational advocate Gene Tracy as to whether the City of Cleveland Administration would adhere to a promise to hold the Cleveland Metropolitan School District harmless from the property tax exemption given to the Cleveland Browns Stadium.

   Freeman’s first question concerned when the replacement for John Nesta, the liaison between the trade unions and Max Hayes High School’s construction program would be in place. Nesta retired at the end of the last school year. The liaison helps to introduce construction program students to opportunities for union apprenticeships. Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon included in the minutes his response to Freeman. Gordon’s response stated “Mr. Alfred Fenderson was recommended to the District by the Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council and was selected by the hiring committee. Mr. Fenderson has completed the required pre-employment activities and will begin his position at Max Hayes on Monday, December 12, 2022.”

   Freeman’s second question asked concerned whether the school district had sufficient security staffing. The letter in the minutes dated December 9, 2022, stated: “As of the date of this correspondence, the district has 118 safety and security officers which allows us to staff at least one officer at each school building. However, the budget the Board approved in June 2022 authorized a total of 181 safety and security officers, leaving 63 vacancies. At the December 13, 2022 Board Business Meeting, the Board will be hiring two additional fulltime officers and 1 additional part time officer. We are continuing to recruit and hire officers and will also be replicating our internal Ohio Peace officer Training Academy (OPATA) again in February as an additional method of increasing our security personnel.”

   The December 13, 2022 meeting of the Board of Education at Warner Girls’ Leadership Academy gave Freeman another opportunity to again address the security question.

   Prior to Freeman speaking at the public comment section of the meeting, a staff member from Marion C. Seltzer School at W. 98th and Madison called upon the Board of Education to give the school a fulltime security guard. The staff member reported on a chaotic scene outside the school at closing time when the school’s part time security guard had already left for the day. The staff member said the monthly market at the school was in session, so food distribution was taking place while school was letting out. School staff members asking cars to move on were verbally abused, a crossing guard got stomped on, and a fight was taking place outside the school. The staff member also expressed the frustrations of Marion Seltzer staff members whose cars had been broken into while school was in session.

   Following the comments from the Marion Seltzer staff member, Freeman again inquired about security in the school system. CEO Gordon said given the difficulties in hiring security personnel, he did not anticipate major improvements in staffing levels in the first few months of the new year.

   Gene Tracy also asked some security questions. He asked the School District to provide him with the number of cars that had been stolen from school lots since the beginning of the school year, how many had been broken into, and how many had catalectic converters stolen.

   Tracy then noted that the minutes showed that the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Plan of the school district had once again been shortchanged by the City of Cleveland. An agreement between the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District passed by Cleveland City Council on August 10, 2022 again shortchanged the school district. The deal allocated only $950,000 for the current school year.

   Tracy noted that at every school board meeting since 2010 he has brought up the promise made to the Cleveland school children and Cleveland voters that the school district would be held harmless to the property tax exemption given to the Browns Stadium. In 1995 the stadium was given the property tax exemption lobbied for by Cleveland politicians.  Cleveland leaders promised that $2 million per year would be set aside from three new taxes to fund afterschool programs so the school system would be compensated for the loss of property tax dollars it would have received from the stadium. That promise was kept through 2009. Then the Jackson Administration dropped the annual amount by $1 million dollars, shifting more dollars to the repair of the Cleveland Browns stadium.

   The agreement published in the minutes indicates that the school district needs to provide preliminary program evaluation information to the City of Cleveland for the 2022-23 school year on or about March 1, 2023, and final information by July 1, 2023.

   This clause provides an opportunity for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District staff and the Cleveland Municipal School Board to advocate once again for full funding of $2 million a year that was initially promised for the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Program. Previous evaluations of the program show that students who participate in the afterschool extracurricular programs have better school attendance than their nonparticipating peers. School attendance is a key factor in improving academic performance. The agreement calls for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland City Council, and Mayor Justin Bibb’s Administration to come to an agreement on the funding of the extracurricular programs for the 2023-24 school year following the program evaluation.

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