Board of Trustees expresses support for new elementary, high school partnership with Geauga campus


President Beverly Warren laughs during the Board of Trustees meeting in the Integrated Sciences Building Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

Nicholas Hunter

Kent State’s Board of Trustees passed a motion of support for a proposal brought up Wednesday by Berkshire Local School District to build preschool-through-12th grade facilities on the Kent State Geauga campus.

John Stoddard, the superintendent of Berkshire Local School District, located in Burton, Ohio, in Geauga County, delivered a presentation to the board detailing the plan, which would bring around 1,250 students onto the college campus for their primary and secondary education.

“We want to prepare all of our kids as if they can make any choice they want,” Stoddard said. “We know that not everyone is going to go to college. But if a kid graduates from Berkshire Local Schools, and they choose not to go to college, that’s fine. … But if they can’t go to college because we decided early on they didn’t need to be on a track to go to college, then we failed that kid.”

Stoddard said the facility would cost approximately $41.7 million, with 55 percent of funding expected to come from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, leaving the school district responsible for raising the remaining 45 percent, likely to mostly come from a local tax levy.

Stephen Perry, a Board of Trustees member, expressed concern about the popularity and potential success of a new tax levy with the community.

“Do you have any reason to believe that this won’t be overwhelmingly successful in terms of implementing the levy?” Perry asked. “Or will it have positions of opposition?”

Stoddard, however, expressed hope amid the board member’s skepticism.

“I think anytime there’s a tax levy on the ballot there’s going to be some opposition,” Stoddard said. “But I think that we have enough support, and I think through our community meetings we’ll garner the support we need.”

The proposal asks for 25 acres of land on Kent State’s property in Geauga to create a 170,000 square-foot facility that would house students from preschool through 12th grade, Stoddard said. The plan asks for facilities that include a performing arts center that would feature an auditorium to hold 650 people, a third gymnasium for the school and space for career and technical schools in diesel mechanics and medical technology.

Stoddard sees the construction of new facilities on the Geauga campus as a mutual benefit to the university and Berkshire Local Schools.

“There will be brand new facilities available for evening and weekend classes,” Stoddard said. “You can expand and use our facilities for your needs when we’re not using them. Use of our auditorium for professional meetings, for seminars, for ceremonies — maybe a Kent Geauga graduation wouldn’t have to go off-campus anymore; we could do it right there.”

The new school system on campus would also work in conjunction with the College of Education, Health and Human Services, providing learning opportunities for education majors to work in K-12 classrooms on campus.

Stoddard also highlighted ways the university and the school district could work together to reduce costs.

“We could take over maintenance and upkeep of that Geauga campus, which would save some money that would allow our regional campus to focus on some other things,” Stoddard said. “We could potentially share costs of faculty that could serve both high school and KSU needs if we wanted to offer more CCP courses and split the cost of a professor. … We could share food service and prep areas — I don’t think Geauga campus has any food service and prep areas now, so that’d be a great benefit.”

Stoddard also suggested the university and school district could work in conjunction with Burton Local Libraries and University Hospitals to provide library and medical services on the campus, respectively.

Ultimately, Stoddard said the school could use available funds from the OFCC to build a new school system near the current facilities, but sees the value in a partnership between the school district and university as a potential game-changer for education in America.

“The status quo doesn’t work for public education,” Stoddard said. “We can’t maintain status quo. Our system isn’t designed for that. So that’s why we’re going to blow up the system.”

Nicholas Hunter is the academic affairs reporter. Contact him at [email protected]