As a Start High School freshman, James Sieja knows he probably won't attend a rebuilt or renovated Start High School that could be constructed with Ohio School Facilities Commission money.
But the 14 year old believes the potential rebuilding project is an important community issue. He attended a meeting last night at Start. It was the first of a series of Toledo Public Schools forums where the district is presenting options for its aging school buildings.
After listening to a presentation by consultants and district administrators about possible options for the Start Learning Community's high school, junior high school, six elementary schools, and one academy, the Sieja youth huddled with a group of one other student and four adults.
They discussed the options, which include adding a middle school, rebuilding DeVeaux Junior High, renovating or rebuilding Start, and replacing all the elementary buildings. “I think the elementary schools should be rebuilt. The middle school, I don't know, and the administration seems to want to rebuild Start,” he said. “There might be a conflict between the administration and the parents.”
His opinions were among those voiced by the 200-plus people who attended the forum. The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at Woodward High School, 600 East Streicher St.
At each forum, district officials are collecting questionnaires that offer suggestions and preferences for what to do with each building. From there, they will develop a master plan in conjunction with the Ohio School Facilities Commission.
“This is an important and exciting time,” said Superintendent Eugene Sanders. “This is only the beginning process. This is for communication and discussion and dialogue.”
In November, 2002, the district plans to seek a levy to raise Toledo's 23 percent share of the estimated $750 million to $800 million project. The state commission would fund the rest as part of its $1.2 billion, decade-long project to rebuild Ohio schools.
“This is a plan to start talking. It's not an automatic,” said Spencer Graves of DeJong & Associates of Dublin, Ohio, an educational planning firm that contracted with the state to work with local districts on building options.
Mr. Graves said he saw more students at last night's forum than any of the several other similar meetings he's supervised in five states.
“We're talking to the community. Kids are part of the community,” Mr. Graves said. “We need them to be part of it.”
Chrishawnda Boykin, a Start freshman, said she worried the public wouldn't support the bond.
“It's coming out of taxes, and I don't think a lot of people are going to want to pay it,” she said.
Her classmate, Nicole Jackson, said that improving the buildings is part of improving education, an important goal.
“Schools are the most important thing to a great country. If kids don't learn anything, they're not going to be able to run anything,” she said.
Freshman Daisha Getter said building design contributes to the quality of an education. She prefers a new Start High rather than renovating the building.
“It would be more spacious, and everybody could feel more comfortable sitting down. They can concentrate better,” she said.
Freshman Tiffany Dewey and her mother, Linda, sat together during the forum and talked about how to write their opinions. Whatever the ultimate decision about the school buildings, “It's going to be a hard thing for a lot of students to accept,” Tiffany Dewey said.