A Cleveland School Board
member who has helped revitalize Ohio City
and turn it into a destination for young families has proposed using funds from the sale of the district's headquarters to create a new school downtown -- and believes he's got the votes to do it.
Eric Wobser, an Ohio City resident and parent who is Director of Ohio City Inc., wants to reinvest $4.5 million from the sale of the district's headquarters into serving the growing base of young families in downtown and near-downtown neighborhoods.
"Downtown is growing quickly and so is the number of families," he says. "Campus International has a 70-person waiting list in a 400-seat school, and they'll outgrow their current facility by the end of next year. Because downtown is accessible to all parts of the city via public transportation, a school could serve the entire city."
The resolution that Wobser is introducing, which will be voted on at the board's May 14th meeting, will direct the HQ sale proceeds to be used towards a new downtown school. However, it does not stipulate what kind of school or where it would be located. Instead, if it passes, board and district officials will work with downtown stakeholders to create a decision-making process with public input. Funds could be used to help existing schools expand or create a new school.
Although Wobser introduced the proposal, he says he's got the support of school board chair Denise Link and believes others will back him. He acknowledges that the issue has been controversial, with some public opposition at meetings.
Although Wobser sees an opportunity to serve a diverse set of families and keep them in the city, critics have called it elitist. "They say you're doing this for rich kids who don't exist yet, and I think those arguments fall short of what's possible. How do we turn five-year residents of the city into 50-year residents? If you want to build a complete community downtown, you can't do that without a school."
The school would serve the entire city, he says. "Downtown has the ability to reach a broad community of families in the city." As evidence, Wobser cites the fact that the number of young families in Ohio City has grown within the past 10 years, but contrary to popular perception, they're not all young professionals.
"Some are relocating from other parts of the city to these areas for perceived opportunity or access to employment," he says. Wobser cites an increase of 4,000 new 25-34 year olds in downtown and near-downtown neighborhoods compared to 10 years ago, and a bump in hispanic and black families. "Where will they go?"
Although Cleveland's population declined 17 percent and the city lost 30 percent of its school-age population from 2000 to 2010, Ohio City experienced a one-percent bump in the number of families. Families downtown rose 25 percent to 539.
Wobser also argues that a downtown school will leverage state matching dollars and be catalytic for downtown, whose property taxes help fund the schools.
Yet the main point, he says, is to serve Cleveland families and keep them in the city. "We know the flight exists," says Wobser. "The idea is to stop the flight."
Source: Eric Wobser
Writer: Lee Chilcote