Gem City Blues

As schools across Ohio adjourn for summer vacation, officials at the Dayton Public Schools (DPS) still face some tough decisions and serious challenges before they can enjoy it. In May, the district failed to pass a 15-mill levy, forcing $30 million in cuts. As a result, over 200 instructional staff will be furloughed (and be further penalized by Ohio's regressive teacher pension system if they move to another field--see here); two district schools will be shuttered; and numerous programs will be merged, drastically curtailed or eliminated (even successful and popular ones like Stivers School for the Arts).

The dire fiscal crisis at DPS has even merited national attention. Two recent New York Times articles (see here and here) chronicled the drama surrounding one of DPS's more innovative programs, the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), which graduated its first senior class this spring. Under the district's contract with the local union, DECA's hand-picked staff (consisting of mainly younger teachers) was in danger of being replaced with teachers with more seniority but little knowledge of or aptitude for delivering the school's academic program. Fortunately, DPS allowed DECA to leave the district and become a district sponsored charter school--a move that took foresight and some courage on the part of district board members. (At this point, DPS will still remain its sponsor even though this is sure to irritate the teachers union).

Meanwhile, in response to an invitation from Speaker of the House Jon Husted, a group of civic, community and education leaders (district and charter) convened to discuss both the future of the district and education itself in Dayton (we've already advocated making "lemonade"--see here). Among the meeting's presenters, former director of Indianapolis' mayoral-controlled charter program (see here), discussed innovative and mutually beneficial instances of district-charter collaboration. Susan Bodary, executive director of a Dayton P-16 consortium, stressed the need to connect instructional opportunities in math and science (via STEM initiatives) to economic development in the area. And Speaker Husted insisted that state budgets are already stretched thin, so creativity and innovation, not simply "more money," will be key to solving Dayton's education issues.

Despite high expectations (some downright unrealistic), participants left the summit with only a stark realization of the challenges ahead for Dayton and a commitment to convene again. With no easy answers or easy money in sight, it's clear that the Dayton Public Schools and larger community will need to embrace radical education reform if the economic prospects of the Gem City are to shine again.

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