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Published: Thursday, 5/21/2009

Old Orchard residents ramping up pressure against charter school

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Residents of West Toledo's Old Orchard neighborhood are increasing pressure on city officials to stop a charter school for at-risk youths and high school dropouts from moving in.

And while neighbors say their focus is ensuring a fair land-use process, strong property values, and their "quality of life," some school supporters worry that the real issue is the socioeconomic class and race of the students.

"There are some prejudgments being made about who would be attending the school," said Ramsey Abu-Absi, one of several residents who have written recent letters to The Blade on the matter.

This week the district's city councilman, Tom Waniewski, introduced an ordinance to "strongly urge" the Toledo Plan Commission to strip Glass City Academy of its ability to relocate in the former Congregation B'nai Israel synagogue building, 2727 Kenwood Blvd., by piggybacking on a zoning permit granted last year to a different charter school.

"The residents feel they were not granted due process," Mr. Waniewski said Tuesday at an agenda review meeting.

The Congregation B nai Israel synagogue s building had been sought by St. Francis de Sales-linked Knight Academy. Glass City expects to close its $1.3 million deal on Wednesday. The Congregation B nai Israel synagogue s building had been sought by St. Francis de Sales-linked Knight Academy. Glass City expects to close its $1.3 million deal on Wednesday.
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The city granted the special-use permit last August to Knight Academy, a grades 6-8 charter school affiliated with St. Francis de Sales High School that grooms students for the rigors of a college-preparatory high school.

For financial reasons, Knight Academy abandoned plans for the synagogue location. Instead it moved to 3001 Hill Ave., piggybacking itself on a special-use permit first approved for Toledo Academy of Learning.

Special-use permits apply to properties and can remain good for up to a year when a building is unoccupied.

Glass City Academy has signed a purchase agreement with the synagogue's owner, the University of Toledo Foundation. The $1.3 million deal is set to close by Wednesday.

Mr. Waniewski, who had been a vocal supporter of Knight Academy moving in, wants Glass City Academy to start over and go through the same detailed review process and public hearings that Knight Academy did.

Old Orchard residents have expressed similar sentiments at two community meetings. Last week, an attorney for the neighbors filed an application to Toledo's Board of Zoning Appeals.

Allowing Glass City Academy to go in under the existing permit would "circumvent the process by which the citizens have a right to be heard and the government is held to be open and transparent," reads Mr. Waniewski's ordinance, set to go for vote next Tuesday.

Richard G. Joseph, a longtime Old Orchard resident, said he also wants to see Glass City Academy apply for its own special-use permit.

"They should go through the same process as St. Francis did," said Mr. Joseph, 80, of Cheltenham Road.

"Why should they reap all the benefits of someone else who came before?"

Mr. Joseph, who also cited concerns about increased traffic, emphasized that he has no ill will against Glass City Academy or its students.

"We wish those people well," he said. "We'd just prefer that [the former synagogue] not be used for that kind of facility."

Glass City Academy, currently at 2276 Collingwood Blvd., is a "dropout prevention and recovery school" for students aged 16-21 seeking a high school diploma rather than an equivalency degree.

The school serves about 170 students in the 11th and 12th grade, and administrators say it has outgrown its quarters.

Yet because the majority of the students are black or Hispanic, Llyse Golding, whose older brother, Elliott, is a 2008 graduate, said she fears that Glass City Academy is now facing opposition due to race and class discrimination.

"People are racist - they may like to cover it up but people are, and they'll judge them just on where they came from," said Miss Golding, 16.

This isn't the first time Glass City Academy has encountered resistance to its relocation plans. While seeking approval in 2006 to build along Schneider Road in South Toledo, neighbors there aired concerns during hearings about the character of the academy's students, and worried aloud that they could upset or even endanger some residents.

City council's decision to vote down the school's Schneider Road project was later reversed by Lucas County Common Pleas Court. However, the 6th District Court of Appeals in December reversed the lower court's judgment, scuttling the project.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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