An otherwise routine Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) meeting became entangled Thursday in the thorny subject of shrinking school districts and planned demolitions, now scheduled for the nationally registered historic Julienne High School in Dayton Public Schools.

Preservation Dayton and the Coalition to Save Julienne — a longtime Catholic high school purchased by the district in 2004 for $2.4 million and renovated with another $2 million to become the Stivers School for the Arts — told OSFC the Dayton Board of Education had engaged in a campaign of distortion to demolish a school that had never been properly offered for sale as a charter school, as required by R.C. 3313.41(G).

“There was never a moment a school was not wanted or needed there,” the coalition’s Marianne Stanley told members, saying the next closest district school is more than five miles away. “It has more school-age children than any other area of Dayton.”

Stanley and President Donna Martin of Preservation Dayton said the school board had previously suggested the 85-year-old building on Homewood Avenue would be replaced with a new school. “We’re still getting a demolition, but we’re not getting a school,” said Stanley. She said whatever sale attempt was made listed the site as Homewood High School.

“When they published that, no one knew what Homewood High School was,” she said. “It has never existed. It was intentionally misleading.”

The dispute dates back several years, when State Board of Education member Jeffrey Mims was still president of the Dayton school board. It now includes President Ronald Lee and members Joe Lacey, Yvonne Isaacs, Nancy Nerny, Sheila Taylor, Stacy Thompson and Robert Walker.

The board says Julienne was only upgraded as a temporary “swing” campus as is now slated for demolition with $1.4 million in matching state and district funds.

For her part, Martin described the board as indifferent to the pleas of residents and preservationists to support the ongoing use of Julienne as a district campus, community school or other use. 

“This is the rape and murder of a building that has stood to educate tens of thousands of children,” she said. “It’s like a hit man who says, ‘I have money to kill your mom. Sorry.”

Martin said the city cannot afford to lose another historic edifice in a community strewn with vacant lots. “Columbus is beautiful. Dayton is dying,” rued Martin, who said OSFC had been misled by district officials.

“These buildings were never offered publicly for sale — they were never known to be offered,” she said, noting the alleged confusion around Homewood High School. “They were never listed. They were never placed in the newspaper.”

She added that the Dayton school board had also misled taxpayers by saying they could not legally reopen the campus if renovations totaled two-thirds or more of the cost of a new school at the same site. Martin pointed out that renovation of historic school buildings can incur 100 percent of new construction costs.

Stanley and Martin said they face a March 2 deadline to appeal for an injunction and pleaded with the commission to intervene.

OSFC Executive Director Richard Hickman was sympathetic but candid.

“The situation we’re seeing in Dayton Public Schools is the same one we’re seeing in all urban districts, which is a reduction in student enrollment,” he said, pointing to the district’s 2002 master facilities plan. 
“At the end of the day, Dayton lost a number of schools they thought they were going to be building when they began the program.”

Hickman said community school organizers had in fact been notified of the sale — at least 60 parties, OSFC Chief Legal Counsel Jerry Kasai said after the meeting — and that none had responded.

“What schools they are going to build is really a school district decision,” he added, noting districts also have the authority to demolish buildings they own if no buyers are forthcoming. “Within statute, it’s really a local control issue.”

Commission Chairman Tim Keen, the state budget director, also weighed in. “Is it a legal and appropriate use of funds? Yes. Is it a desirable outcome? That is always open to discussion, as we’re doing here today.”

Keen said the district had already signed demolition crews to begin the work. “From our perspective, there is no urgency on this matter. They have entered into legally binding contracts.”

He shared Hickman’s sympathy for supporters of the school, however. “This is always a difficult matter for the School Facilities Commission. … This is always a challenging process for a school district that’s going to end up with fewer buildings than when they started.”

Martin’s response to the statutory standard was terse. “Legal is minimal. Ethics is proper.”

After the meeting, Kasai said the two-thirds cost threshold only applies to schools actually scheduled for replacement in a district’s official building schedule. “It was never in the master facilities plan,” he said of Julienne. He added that the commission is only entitled to withhold state funds if it can be shown the district has violated the statutory requirement for first-offers to the charter school community.

As for Martin and Stanley’s legal theory that the district had made illegal representations, and that OSFC was therefore entitled to withhold matching dollars, commission spokesman Rick Savors was diplomatic. 

“It depends. We’ve never been in a position where the district hasn’t followed the guidelines.”