CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Public Schools officials hope a quick fix to a shortage of seats at overcrowded schools will tide over anxious parents until a long-term growth strategy is executed.
But the school board and administration have a tall order to find the money to pay for new construction while dealing with three big uncertainties:
- Will voters approve a new school levy in November 2016?
- Will voters approve the Preschool Promise tax levy that would create a new flood of demand for CPS preschools?
- Will Ohio discard faulty projections of smaller CPS enrollment and pay for new construction?
Time will tell, but school officials aren't waiting until next fall to plan an expansion. As WCPO reported Dec. 10, CPS is creating up to 10 new preschool classrooms in Vine Street Elementary in Over-the-Rhine to open in fall 2016.
As many as five classrooms -- depending on demand -- will be dedicated to 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers whose parents who will be guaranteed a spot in Fairview-Clifton's kindergarten.
Up to five classrooms, depending on demand, will be dedicated to preschoolers who will be guaranteed kindergarten admission at Montessori and neighborhood schools of their parents' choice.
Neighborhood schools on the west side of town are nearly all at or over capacity, largely because of a migration of families out of Over-the-Rhine as housing prices rise there, Superintendent Mary Ronan said.
The district also will add two kindergarten classes at Fairview-Clifton and new kindergarten classes at Dater Montessori, North Avondale, Sands Montessori and School for Creative and Performing Arts.
Fairview-Clifton families have raised alarm at the prospect of adding more students to a school they say is already over-crowded.
Tiffany Dolder-Holland, a Clifton resident, wants the district to create more high-quality seats throughout the district instead of straining the resources of Fairview-Clifton further.
At a press conference Monday where CPS revealed results of its online magnet school lottery, Ronan tried to reassure some Fairview-Clifton parents that the school could accommodate extra demand.
The complex enrollment system, she explained, would assure a kindergarten seat at Fairview-Clifton for every preschool student from the five Vine Street Elementary preschool classrooms dedicated to future Fairview-Clifton students. Every younger sibling of current Fairview-Clifton students also would have a seat available, she said.
In addition, 30 percent of kindergarten seats are reserved for families whose neighborhood school is ranked in the bottom six citywide. Any remaining seats are assigned in an online lottery.
"We're really happy. High demand is a great problem to have," Ronan said. "We're adding more seats wherever we can because this is the lowest-cost option."
The news conference reassured Jenny Reising, who wants to send her 3-year-old daughter to Fairview-Clifton to join an older sibling, that her daughter would have a seat in the school's kindergarten. But she hopes CPS does not expand Fairview-Clifton so that the quality of the education can be maintained and the school doesn't get more overcrowded.
Ronan said it's too early to know whether Vine Street remains a satellite campus for Fairview-Clifton and other schools in the long term. The board's plan will help clarify Vine Street's long-term configuration.
The school board's policy committee is working on a long-term growth plan that will involve building additions onto overcrowded schools and possibly building or acquiring new schools.
The extent and cost of that expansion is far from certain, but CPS officials know they'll need more money than they have to get it done. To that end, CPS administrators are visiting state leaders next week to ask that they discard projections that Cincinnati's enrollment will continue shrinking.
Ohio underestimated CPS enrollment by 5,000 students this year based on a 2002 report by DeJong & Associates. That report didn't foresee Cincinnati's population growth and the success of some magnet schools and some neighborhood schools.
If the state agrees to revise CPS enrollment projections upward, the district would be eligible to receive a share of state money for construction.
"We wish we had some of our old school buildings back which the state forced us to sell to some of our competitors," Ronan said, referring to the forced sale of empty buildings to charter schools.
CPS is also mulling a new school levy request in November, which would be the first new levy money the district has sought in eight years.
That levy, if successful, will likely help pay for construction of new or expanded neighborhood schools on the west side.
Ronan said the expansion plan also will include considering whether to add new kinds of schools for the district, including single-gender and junior ROTC, as well as more schools for the gifted and high-tech magnets.
"We are growing due to better quality schools and growth in city population," said Melanie Bates, a school board member. "We believe that the increase in magnet demand is the tip of the iceberg. Next steps are jumps in neighborhood kindergarten and elementary enrollment."