Tag Archives: Xenia School Facilities Plan

Xenia Deserves Better Schools Than Proposed By Issue 20

By Daniel Downs

I agree with the many of our city leaders that Xenia needs new schools, but not now. The fact is Ohio Schools Facilities Commission funding will still exist for school districts needing capital to build new schools. What will no longer be available is the huge pool dirty money ripped off from tobacco companies whose products clearly state that if you consume their products you might get cancer or some other related disease. I realize many people don’t care where or how the money was obtained by the state. However, when you build upon fraud and injustice, the oozing toxins of injustice eventually spread.

I also agree Xenia needs good teachers and school facilities so that students will be prepared for good paying jobs, but I have to wonder how many residents work at good paying jobs located in Xenia. Jobs paying less than $35,000 a year are not good paying jobs they are less than average. Almost two-thirds of Xenia residents have below average incomes, and a third are at or below poverty level. These people cannot afford more taxes, inflation, economic recession, or anything else that raises their cost of living.

If Issue 20 passes, Xenia taxpayers will be paying off a $79 million levy for 28 years. The author of a letter published in the Xenia Daily Gazette by the title “Give intelligent voters real facts in Xenia” noted that the high school is only 32 years old. Will administrators then decide that Xenia needs another new one in 30 years?

Besides feeling bullied by the fanatical school levy cheer leaders, the same author observed that the schools have not been properly maintained. But, how could the administrators show how badly the school district buildings need replaced if they had kept them in good repair? Just look at the school budget. It is very low, which suggests that school administrators planned for their deterioration and obsolescence. Additional proof of this is present by one of the Xenia’s well-paid official cheerleaders, who wrote that the permanent improvement levy of $400,000 a year has not been enough to keep Xenia’s 10 school buildings in good repair. Gee, I thought it was an addition to the then maintenance budget and not meant to be the only funding source for maintaining good and healthy school buildings for the benefit of all of Xenia’s children.

A more important concern is whether the $79 million will result in better education. Ohio law requires the building of small schools—like many small neighborhood schools—while at the same time permitting large schools that the law acknowledges are ineffective learning environments. Although many Xenia High School’s 900+ students demonstrate exceptional achievement levels, students in other schools like Warner are not doing so well. Maybe it’s because those schools have too many students to be effective. Surely, people do not believe children from middle- and low-income home are learning somehow deficient (dumb)? As proven by education research, small schools are key to student achievement. The plan to combine schools into even larger units will not produce better prepared students.

The Xenia School Facilities Plan (Issue 20) is about getting money and not what is best for Xenia’s kids or the future of the community. Xenia taxpayers and parents of school children should demand the best educational environment their tax dollars can buy. That is another reason why Xenia should not vote for Issue 20.

My research of the Xenia School Facilities Plan includes:
Future of Xenia Under One Roof?

Xenia Community Schools Rebuilding Plan: What I Learned at the Forum

Xenia Community Schools Rebuilding Plan: Why Small Schools Are Best

Xenia Community Schools Rebuilding Plan: It’s All About the Money

Xenia Community Schools Rebuilding Plan: Why Small Schools Are Best

By Daniel Downs

Part Two

As mentioned in part one, Xenia school administrators want to rebuild four elementary schools and convert Central Middle School into another. The rationale for reducing the number of elementary schools from seven to five is based on the state’s contradictory 350 minimum enrollment rule. The state will fund neither school renovations nor new buildings with projected enrollments under 350 students. For Xenia, super-sizing our schools mean almost all 1,100 middle school students will travel by bus to what is now the high school. It also means no more neighborhood schools for families now attending Spring Hill, Simon Kenton, or Cox.

I find two additional problems with both Ohio’s 350 rule and Xenia’s rebuilding plans. The first is with the Ohio Revised Code regulating school buildings. Ohio law requires the “[s]upport and facilitation of smaller classes and the trend toward smaller schools” while also requiring projected or actual school enrollment to be 350 or more. The Ohio School Facilities Commission may also waive this rule when “topography, sparsity of population, and other factors make larger schools impracticable.” Here is an apparent contradiction in Ohio law that needs changed to reflect acknowledged best practice criteria, which also related to the other problem.

Urban school districts have tried super-sized schools. Both student behavior and academic performance declined significantly enough to cause many urban districts to return to smaller neighborhood schools. These are facts revealed in a study titled Reducing the Negative Effects of Large Schools. A national study called Smaller, Safer, Saner Successful Schools found schools with less than 350 students have better learning environments in which academic achievement is higher, dropouts are less, behavioral problems are fewer, and teacher satisfaction is greater than for larger schools. However, an older study by Kathleen Cotton titled School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance sets the maximum at 300-400 for elementary schools and 400-800 for secondary schools. As mentioned in Ohio law, the best schools are small schools.

Under Xenia’s rebuilding plan, enrollment at all combined elementary schools, except Tecumseh, will likely be over 400 students. The combined middle school enrollment will be over 1,100 and the high school currently has over 1,400 students. The above research presented case studies of successful large schools that were reorganized into smaller schools or units. Many were restructured similar to the magnet school concept but the various specialty schools were all located in the same building. By creating smaller schools under-one-roof, teacher and student interaction increased resulting in greater satisfaction and higher achievement.

Still some question whether super-sizing Xenia schools will adversely affect teacher performance and student learning. Fairborn City Schools latest test results suggest that students in larger elementary school settings can perform relatively well—comparable to some of Xenia primary schools. Yet, a comparison of all Xenia elementary schools shows that the top performing schools have enrollments under 300. In three of the four top performing schools, 54 to 62 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes. The percent of students from low-income homes at the fourth and the highest performing school is about 24 percent. This school also has the fourth highest percentage of minority students. Two of the other higher performing schools had the highest percentage of minorities in the school district. All of which points to smaller schools as the primary factor for more students achieving a proficiency score or higher on state achievement tests. The four highest performing schools also produced a higher percentage of students achieving accelerated and advanced scores locally and two of these schools exceeded state averages as well.

One attendee at the Xenia Community School District Forum brought up another issue that Xenia residents should consider. By 2011, Wright Patterson AFB will have gained 1,100 new military personnel who are being transferred mostly from the Brooks City Base located near San Antonio, Texas. They will be looking for new homes. Families with children will be looking for communities with the best schools and good neighborhoods. Xenia will have a hard time attracting them without bringing our schools up-to-date. As noted above, the best schools are small schools. According the study titled School Facility Conditions and Student Academic Achievement, the best schools also include safe, well lighted, and temperature-controlled learning environments with the presence of windows.

During the building tour, Robert Smith said state maintenance leaders rate Xenia maintenance staff and schools very high. Nevertheless, schools like Cox need building upgrades and repairs. One of the pictures on the School District website shows standing water near the building. Current environmental safety law, also known as Jared’s Law, mandates the elimination of the causes of any standing water near school buildings, flooding, or any other water damage. The law also mandates that plumbing and electrical systems be in good operating condition. As mentioned in part one, Cox requires considerable plumbing and well as well as electrical system renovation. One of the boilers is inoperable, some of the piping needs replaced, and bathroom facilities needs renovated. The electrical system is inadequate to handle computers and air conditioning and its circuit breakers are obsolete. In other words, Cox needs increased electrical service as well as new service panels and breakers. How much the repairs would actually cost was unknown.

Therefore, I think it would be beneficial to Xenia taxpayers to see an actual building-by-building detailed cost estimate of needed repairs and renovations renovations to compare with estimate costs of the current rebuilding plans.

Originally published on April 28 in the Xenia Daily Gazette


Xenia Community Schools Rebuilding Plan: What I Learned at the Forum

By Daniel Downs

Part One

While growing up, I attended public school in Xenia. I went to GJVS, Xenia High, West (now Warner) Jr. High, and the infamous Cox Elementary. On April 2, I returned to Cox. No, I was not having a senior moment. I was not attending a children’s program nor was I attempting to get in touch with my earlier self—whatever that means. I returned to Cox to attend the second of three Xenia Community School District Forums lead by Wright State University Center for Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA) staff.

The program began with a tour of the building. Leading the tour was maintenance supervisor Robert Smith. He presented a history of Cox Elementary school expansions, renovations, and problems. Smith pointed out several current problems such as an antiquated electrical system not capable of being properly maintained or handling needed computer systems and air conditioning. Another issue was old plumbing and bathroom facilities needing renovated as well as a collapsed drainage pipe and occasional flooding. When asked about the cost of fixing those problems, Smith said he would not venture a guess. He did indicate that those repairs would entail a major renovation.

I think Smith committed a Freudian slip when he said, “I will have plenty of money for maintenance whether new schools are built or not.” That statement led me to believe the school district has enough money to fix the current problems. But, in light of the nearly $122.5 million building project, I might have committed a subliminal misunderstanding.

After the tour, WSU-CUPA staff presented a general overview of the present situation. The state has determined that no Xenia school building except the current high school and the Central High School meets the two-thirds rule. The rule means the state will not fund any building renovation that would costs two-thirds or more of the cost to build a new facility. Originally, the Ohio School Facilities Commission had condemned all Xenia school buildings under the two-thirds rule but Xenia school officials argued that the two newest facilities were compliant with disability regulations. They also proposed a reuse plan for the current high school and Central Middle School. The high school would house all middle school students and Central Middle School would be converted into an elementary school. The state liked the reuse plan and consequently waived the two-thirds rule.

According to the state law, it is possible to renovate schools even when costs will exceed the two-thirds rule. The Ohio School Facilities Commission will waive the rule based on factors such as the historical significance of a building, adequacy of a school’s structure, space, classroom size, and egress. Other factors used to evaluate schools are quality of lighting and air, long-term durability, and the ability to meet American Disability Act standards. Consequently, Xenia could possibly renovate the historically significant central office building and most of the schools.

According to board member Bill Spahr, another state rule is that all schools must have at projected enrollment of at least 350 students to receive Ohio School Facilities Commission funding, which explains why Xenia school administrators plan to reduce the number of elementary schools from seven to five. Super-sizing Xenia schools also means almost all middle school students will travel by bus to what is now the high school. It means no more neighborhood schools for families now attending Spring Hill, Simon Kenton, or Cox.

The plan to build new schools at current school locations with sufficient land makes sense. Doing so will allow students to continue meeting in the same buildings until new ones are built. However, I see a conflict with the 350 rule and the current rebuilding plan. For example, building a new school at Tecumseh will not change its enrollment of 280 students. Up the road towards town is Shawnee with an enrollment of 288. Children now attending Shawnee will likely attend what is now Central Middle School. Because a complete renovation is not planned for Central, the 350 rule doesn’t apply. School administrators are not planning to rebuild at Spring Hill. So where will its students go? Will the 219 children attending Spring Hill be bused to Central or will a new school be built to service both Spring Hill students and those living at Wright Cycle Estates? Or will children living in the areas between South Detroit and Bellbrook Avenue get a new school? If so, will the 380 children attending Simon Kenton combine with the 383 at McKinley instead of the 239 students at Arrowood? Where does that leave the 346 children attending Cox? Where do school officials plan to bus them? To Tecumseh?

I think building a new school at Cox would be a better use of school property. It would at least give Cox students a school in reasonable proximity to their neighborhoods. Remember, those most affected by the rebuilding plan are elementary age children and their parents.

Originally published on April 26 in the Xenia Daily Gazette