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CCS Board distances itself from leaked document, hears concerns about school closures

CCS Board member Brandon Simmons insists the document he circulated on controlling the narrative of school building closures was a collaboration with other board members and stakeholders.
CCS Board member Brandon Simmons insists the document he circulated on controlling the narrative of school building closures was a collaboration with other board members and stakeholders.

Last night's board of education meeting was supposed to be about public reaction to proposed plans to close up to 20 schools, amid shrinking enrollment. But the board was forced to deal with other issues first, including a bombshell delivered earlier in the day by the teachers union in the form of an internal document from board member Brandon Simmons on how to use racial politics to manipulate the conversation about school closures.

Speaking for the board, President Christina Vera insisted that Simmons did *not*, and stressed that the task force that recommended the nine possible closure and consolidation proposals to the board worked independently.

"To be clear, the work of the task force is directed by the superintendent, at the request of the board of education. Board members do not direct the task force. Nor do they provide counsel, or set procedures for the task force."

For his part, Simmons, who was elected in November and is a recent graduate of the district, apologized that the letter had been made public, but insists it was not his work alone. Speaking to reporters in an impromptu press conference before the board meeting he said the letter released by the CEA had been seen by, and had contributions from, multiple board members and other "stakeholders".

"We are all, we are all collectively - because it was a true collaboration - we are all very sorry that this is the version of the document our community is seeing, and our labor partners are seeing. We are all very sorry. I am very sorry."

Inan open letterto the district Tuesday the CEA released the six page document entitled "Taking Control of the Task Force Narrative" that Simmons sent to other board members, that contained suggestions like driving a wedge between the districts unions, delaying release of unfavorable news, and rewarding media allies with priority interviews. Union leaders are calling for Simmons immediate resignation, and shelving the task force recommendations.

While there was some support during the board meeting for ignoring the task force's work, most of the members of the public who came to testify made the case for sparing their school or a particular program. Cranbrook Elementary first grade teacher Deepa Ganschnietz questions the criteria for closure - and wonders what will happen to her students.

"Cranbrook currently has 280 students, with 174 of them being [English Language] Learners. The ELL learners make up 62% of our student population. In addition, with have five Special Ed units at Cranbrook, with 59 students. We also have a special needs pre-K slated to open in the fall of 2024. We got a new roof last summer, and new air conditioning a few years back. If the schools are in the Northwest quadrant are at full capacity, such as Gables and Winterset, where will our Cranbrook students go? How long will their bus rides be?"

But some of those who spoke, like OSU political science professor Vlad Kogan, called on the board to prioritize education over buildings, saying "right sizing" the district is long overdue.

"Since 1994, student population within CCS boundaries has increased as the population grew, while actual enrollment has
declined by 28%. And today the average Columbus high school has 210 fewer students than 30 years ago. Operating and staffing so many half filled buildings diverts resources from where they can have the biggest impact on learning, and that affects student district wide, in every building."

The board will continue to hold community meetings to collect feedback from the public about the closures, although in light of last nights events today and tomorrows meetings have been postponed. the board is still slated to vote on the recommendations in June, with implementation of the closings and consolidations to begin by September 2025.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.