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Northeast Academy and five elementary schools may close as soon as next year because of a new consolidation plan proposed Monday night.

The plan is a response to continuing state budget problems being passed down to Oklahoma City Public Schools.

“We’ve run out of easy solutions,” said Superintendent Aurora Lora Monday night as she acknowledged that a new consolidation plan would have sweeping impact.

The one consolation for east side residents who did not want the Northeast building closed is that it will become a neighborhood middle school instead.

The plan calls for closing 5 elementary schools spread around the district and blending those students and teachers into nearby schools, shifting sixth through eighth grade students into neighborhood middle schools, and creating Northeast Middle School.

If the plan is implemented, students with the current Northeast Academy can either attend their neighborhood schools or apply to other academy programs in the district.

An earlier attempt by Northeast Academy enterprise board members to turn the school into a charter school were turned down by the district at Lora’s recommendation.

Imposed cuts

Superintendent Aurora Lora
OKCPS Superintendent Aurora Lora comments during the consolidation plan presentation Monday.

Lora said this school year’s budget cuts were “about $30 million” and they are anticipating next year’s to be an “additional $4-10 million on top of that.”

The consolidations are meant to respond to anticipated reductions in funding from the state after bruising cuts for this 2016-17 school year.

Those reductions resulted in 208 employees having their jobs terminated for this school year and cancellation of important textbook purchases.

The effort is to achieve a “permanent cost savings,” Kaye said. She and Lora argued that there is no relief in sight from the Oklahoma Legislature.

The plan

Kaye said their financial studies about costs of operating a school vary according to how many students are assigned.

Their studies have found that a minimum of about 300 students was needed to achieve the efficiencies needed for necessary savings.

In the presentation, Kaye used a unique parlance for public school business referring to schools “earning” support staff and more administrative staff by having more students.

She identified three filters for deciding whether to close a school:

  • enrollment trends,
  • facility, capacity and condition,
  • capacity of neighboring schools.

Geography

The plan is intended to apply a standard set of criteria across the district. And an initial view of the plan would appear that way, but a closer scrutiny shows considerable variances.

Two of the feeder verticals on the north side have one elementary closure each.

Rebecca Kaye, chief of staff for OKCPS
Rebecca Kaye, chief of staff for OKCPS explained the consolidation plan.

But the south side has no closures due to the rest of surrounding schools not having any more room to grow.

And the east side, feeding into Douglass High School, has two closures: Moon and Edgemere, with Northeast Academy closing to make room for Northeast Middle School.

The plan delivers on nearly all the fears of black residents on the east side that they would be singled out by the district for more school closures than the rest of the district.

In a recent encounter at the City of Oklahoma City Council Meeting east side Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis grilled Lora and her chief operations officer Scott Randall about plans for Northeast Academy.

After the council meeting Pettis told Free Press “I’m tired of the Oklahoma City Public School District not being upfront and honest with the people who I represent.”

He said that many of his constituents believe the decision to close Northeast Academy had already been made and the Northeast Taskforce was set up “to take the heat” for the administration’s poor decisions about Northeast over the last several decades.

Five meetings

Lora has set “informational” meetings at the five schools that will be affected by the proposed closures to talk with concerned parents and students.

Thursday, March 23

5:30 p.m. – Johnson ES

7:30 p.m. – Northeast Academy/Douglass @ Northeast

Tuesday, March 28

5:30 p.m. – Gatewood ES

7:30 p.m. – Edgemere ES

Wednesday, March 29

5:30 p.m. – Green Pastures ES

7:30 p.m. – Moon ES

No vote was taken at the meeting Monday. Lora informed the board that she will make a proposal at the March 30 meeting and then the board would take a vote April 6 at a special meeting called for voting on the plan.

OKCPS has set up a web page to inform the public about the consolidation plan.

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