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Athens School Board Hears Final Report From Facilities Committee

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After months of discussion among themselves and the public, the Athens City School District’s Facilities Steering Committee came before the board with their final thoughts on the future of the district’s footprint.

Instead of bringing one chosen option to the board for approval on Thursday night, the committee brought the three options they felt were best for the community.

Option one would have one campus (three buildings) for grades pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and one school each for sixth through eighth grades and high school grades.

Option two would break the grades up in one school each, for pre-K through second grade, third through fifth, sixth through eight and high school.

The third option would bring two schools for pre-K through fifth grades and one school each for grades six through eight and high school.

Currently, the district has one pre-K building, four elementary schools which include sixth grade, one middle school and one high school.

The committee emphasized at the meeting and in information provided to attendees of the meeting that specific building closures had not been recommended.

“Questions specific to buildings and staffing are to be addressed by the School Board and are not the responsibility of the steering committee,” the information packet stated.

In previous meetings of the committee, documentation of potential plans included closure of Athens Middle School and relocation to “a location near AHS,” according to previous WOUB reporting.

Those from the facilities committee last night who expressed an opinion about the option choices said option one or two would be best for the students.

Tom Stork, a board appointee to the committee, said the first two options would allow the district to “develop new roles for teachers.”

A representative for the Athens Education Association said a survey of members was taken, and the members supported the first two options. The survey also “overwhelmingly” found inequity in the schools, which became a topic of discussion for other speakers.

The topic of the district becoming a “mega school” also came up at the meeting. Signs have been placed in yards across the city expressing opposition to one school for all in the district and larger class sizes as a result.

Stork recommended to the board that smaller school sizes and “smaller cohorts” be included in the plans for a new facility footprint.

But one father in the district, who attended committee meetings, said he would rather have the current infrastructure improved and see more focus on services than facilities.

Aaron Leatherwood has an eighth grader and a high school senior in the school system, and he doesn’t see an effort to improve schools happening with the potential plans. Rather, he sees an effort to improve buildings.

“The biggest struggle for me is Athens, as a community, has always been about finding compromise and I don’t see people trying to find the compromise here,” Leatherwood told WOUB after he spoke to the board.

The options now before the board do not include leaving the district as it is, according to Sean Parsons, according to facilities committee member representing Morrison-Gordon Elementary School.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Parsons said at Thursday’s meeting.

The school board informed the committee in previous committee gatherings that 2017-2018 would be the best time to present a bond issue for passage, Parsons said.

School board members did not discuss the plans further at the meeting. Future meetings are expected to focus on the future of the high school and discussing the master plan.

The deadline for the district to develop a Master Plan to present to the Ohio School Facilities Commission is September 30 of this year. The deadline was moved back from the previous April date due to an increase in “school issues” being brought before the commission, according to facilities committee documents.