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Cleveland downsizes plans for school construction


District is responding to loss of enrollment

CLEVELAND — The fast-shrinking Cleveland school system, which could decline 43 percent in less than a generation, is downsizing an ambitious construction and renovation program from 111 buildings to about 80.
The plan is fluid, according to Dan Burns, the district construction czar and chief operating officer.
“We have to make the tough decisions to deal with a loss of enrollment,” Burns said. “You can’t build buildings if you don’t have kids.”
The construction plan was detailed in 2002 when the city had a public school enrollment of 72,000. Enrollment has dropped 24 percent to 55,000 and could drop another 25 percent to 41,000 by 2015. That would amount to 43 percent decline in 13 years.
Cleveland had more than 150,000 students in the 1960s, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.
Cleveland, ranked as the nation’s poorest big city by the Census Bureau, has lost enrollment due to people moving out of the city and losses to taxpayer-supported charter schools and state-financed vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.
Cleveland’s population has dropped by 33,159, nearly 7 percent, to 444,313 since 2000, according to the Census Bureau.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission, which is providing 68 percent of the construction financing, has demanded changes to reflect declining student rolls.
Declining enrollment and resulting changes in needed construction are typical of Ohio’s big-city schools, said Rick Savors, a commission spokesman.
“We’re constantly checking this because declining enrollment is something that happens throughout the state,” Savors said.
Savors said the goal is to avoid constructing schools that aren’t needed and burdening districts with buildings that might sit empty but would still require upkeep.
Cleveland’s building plans have been complicated by proposals by Eugene Sanders, the Cleveland schools chief executive and former Toledo superintendent, for creating several all-boys and all-girls schools.
James Darr, administrator of the Bond Accountability Commission created to oversee how school bond financing is used, said in a May report that the downsizing probably will require eliminating about 30 to 35 schools from the plan.
Former schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who quit last year after voters rejected a school tax hike to stem teacher layoffs, said she intended to downsize the construction plan as enrollment dropped.

At a glance
Enrollment declines that mean changes in Cleveland’s school construction:
2002: 72,000
2007: 55,000
2015: 41,000 (est.)
—Source: Cleveland school district

Construction workers cut the flooring to be placed in a science lab room in Rhodes High School on Thursday in Cleveland. The interior of the school is getting a complete makeover. The plan is to have half the school open for this upcoming school year while the other half is completed sometime in March 2008.

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