CMSD reports loss of students and large transportation cuts
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2004) At the Tuesday, September 14 th Board of Education Work Session, the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) administrators shared statistics on this fall’s school opening.
CMSD Chief of Staff Lisa Ruda said preliminary figures indicate that student enrollment dropped by 6, 437 to 67, 058 students, representing a 9% decline from last year’s enrollment of 73, 495.
Ruda attributed the enrollment decline to a number of factors including students leaving for charter schools and parochial schools, as well as 2000 census figures showing a 20% decline in the population age 5 and under. While the number of high school students have spiked, said Ruda, the number of children entering kindergarten is down. According to the School Opening Report the number of entering kindergarteners as of September 9 th was 4,760 students, compared to 5,077 students last year. Ruda said attendance figures for days one and two of this school year are similar to last year, about 92%. Ruda said the CMSD will be reconciling attendance figures in the first week of October. She said by mid to late fall the district would know how many students left the district and how many have come back.
The School Opening Report outlined the large changes in transportation taking place this school year. The number of buses operated by the district has been reduced from 457 buses to 250 buses. Students riding yellow buses decrease by 59% from 20,132 students last year to 8,145 students this year. The number of students who ride the Regional Transit Authority’s vehicles to school increased by 28% from 6,282 to 8, 056. There was a 10% increase in the number of students walking to school, the number of walkers increased from 45,275 to 49, 656.
Ruda reported that the number of students now attending their neighborhood school was 77% this year compared to 66% last year. The number increased from 44,663 to 51,394 according to the report.
The transition to K-8 schools continues this year, said Ruda, with 24 additional elementary schools continuing to add a grade this year. Two elementary schools added grades 6-8 to complete the transition to a K-8 school this year. Four traditional middle schools moved to full K-8 structures. In addition to relieve overcrowding in the high schools six schools added 9 th, 10 th or 11 th grades this year, said Ruda.
District transportation officials reported no major problems with the new cluster bus stops.
In the area served by the Plain Press, Wilbur Wright made the transition from a middle school to a K-8 school this year. Louis Agassiz added grades 6-8 to become a full K-8 school. The following schools added a sixth grade to begin the transition to a K-8 school: Almira, Louisa May Alcott, Orchard and Tremont. Both Carl Shuler and Garret Morgan Middle schools added a ninth grade to help alleviate the overcrowding in the district’s high schools.
District officials reported that class sizes in elementary schools are roughly at 30-35 students, while high school class sizes are roughly 35-40 students. Some inequality within schools exists; for example, a first grade class may have 40 students and a second grade class only 20. The administration reported that district staff and the Cleveland Teachers’ Union were hammering out issues related to class size.
School Board Member Grady Burrows asked about the impact of the loss the HOST tutoring and other program to budget cuts. CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett said, “Some programs the district will be able to get external funding for, but the operational side will suffer this year. Academics will not be up to levels of previous years,” she warned.
School Board Chair Margaret Hopkins noted that textbooks would not be renewed or cycled the same as in past years. She asked if the levy passes, “what kind of cycling of text books could we get back to?”
CEO Byrd Bennett replied that if the levy passes, “by January we will have text books in the High Schools.” She said a five-year plan to replace textbooks would be resubmitted to the board.
In response to another question by Hopkins , Byrd Bennett said the district is prepared to reinstate spring sports if the levy passes. She also noted that planners have outlined hardware and software needs of the district and the CMSD will be ready to make purchases if the levy passes.
School Board Member Lawrence Davis asked about the impact of cuts in athletic programs on student achievement. Chief of Staff Ruda replied that evidence shows that athletic programs help to improve discipline and academic achievement.
School Board Member Magda Gomez asked about the fate of students formerly in the Phoenix program, nixed in the budget cuts by the district because of a legal challenge to the program by the Cleveland Teachers’ Union . CEO Byrd Bennett said the district would have to look for an alternative to replace the program in the second semester depending on the passage of the levy. At no point in the discussion was their any reference to measures to be taken if the levy fails.
During the course of the presentation Board members and administrators stressed on several occasions the importance of passing a levy. Chief of Staff Ruda called the levy a short-term fight and referred to the long-term fight as being a fight on the state level to determine how to fund public education in Ohio.
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