COVENTRY TWP. During the 2016-17 school year, 762 students came to Coventry Local Schools through open enrollment. Of those, 606 students came from Akron Public Schools, the majority coming from the Firestone Park and Kenmore neighborhoods on the city's southern edge.
Coventry is not alone as many school districts that boarder Akron are also gaining from Akron Public Schools, which has seen its enrolllment decline by nearly 33 percent in the past 15 years from 31,669 in 2002 to 21,229 in 2016.
Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James said there is a significant population of students that leave Akron from open enrollment compared to the number of students drawn in.
"Open enrollment within our district has impacted some of our schools," James said.
He said Kenmore, which is losing a lot of households with children, has seen the largest impact, and the shrinking enrollment is the main reason Akron is closing and combining several schools within the district.
"What really has happened across the district is we have about 21,000 kids in our seats but we have space for like 28,000," James said. "We can’t operate more space than what we need for kids."
James said Akron still must respond to the amount of excess capacity and reduce it so the district isn’t operating uneeded buildings.
James, however, doesn't believe there will any significant changes to enrollment in Akron based on what Coventry decides to do with its open enrollment, which the state Auditor's Office recommended the district reducing the number of students taken in. James also said he doesn’t expect the state to tell Coventry to end open enrollment.
Even if Coventry were to end open enrollment, James said he wouldn't expect a majority of those students to come back to Akron.
"Even if they ended open enrolment and those kids couldn’t attend Coventry, they would probably end up open enrolling somewhere else," James said.
Based on the state Auditor’s Office report, James said he isn’t sure Coventry can afford to expand open enrollment above what it is now.
"From my point of view I kind of see a status quo right now," James said
NEW AKRON HIGH SCHOOL
Akron is in an ongoing project to rebuild or remodel all the schools in the district. The original $774-million plan stated 58 schools would be rebuilt or remodeled. Dropping enrollment resulted in the district making changes to the plan and closing and combining buildings. So far, 32 buildings have been completed and two are in design.
Months of discussion took place to decide where the final high school in Akron would be built as the state announced it would only partner with Akron on one more high school building to provide partial funding. With three high schools untouched - Garfield, Kenmore and North - the district decided to combine Garfield and Kenmore into a new building, to be built on the Garfield site. North may become a bio-med high school.
The decision on the location for the new school is one Coventry Schools watched closely to see what, if any impact, it would have. There were debates about building it at the Garfield site, the Kenmore site and at a new site somewhere more central to both neighborhoods.
Building the new school in Firestone Park could lead to more Kenmore families looking into open enrollment. It could also lead to some Firestone Park families to bring their children back to Akron Public Schools.
Coventry Schools Superintendent Russell Chaboudy, however, said regardless of the decision, the new Coventry High School, which opened this school year, was built for the number of students Coventry has enrolled.
"The fact of the matter is we don’t have the capacity to bring in more kids," Chaboudy said, adding that the district has reduced the number of school buildings from six to three.
Chaboudy doesn’t know if the new Garfield High School will bring more students, especially those who live in Firestone Park, back to Akron. But Chaboudy said when Springfield went into fiscal emergency, many students left, but once the district got its finances in order and built a new high school, students came back.
"Could that happen in Akron as well, it is a possibility, definitely," Chaboudy said.
Chaboudy said there are a lot more opportunities for children and when they see a new learning environment in their community and having a new high school in their neighborhood could be reason to have them return.
Coventry Board of Education President Bob Wohlgamuth said once Kenmore High School closes, he could see families in the neighborhood trying to get their students open enrolled at Coventry, Norton and other surrounding schools.
Wohlgamuth said any change in the number of open enrolled students in Coventry all depends on what the district decides to do with its policy.
James agrees with Chaboudy that a new building could bring some students back, but James said a lot hinges on programs offered.
"We want to make sure we can offer programs that will attract students," James said.
James said Akron will collect input from students in both Garfield and Kenmore to determine what kind of programs they would like to see. He said Akron does offer excellent programs, but the district must work on communicating those programs and making sure they are in demand.
Overall, James said open enrollment has allowed parents to have choices now.
"We are in a competitive environment; it is not just open enrollment, it is also community and charter schools that we are competing with," James said.