School facilities are important to the vitality of our community

And so Cleveland Heights sits on a fragile fault line of demographic inversion. It has its location, its shady streets, and big , comfortable houses that almost anyone would want to live in. And it is afflicted by painfully high taxes, obsolete working-class bungalows, a violence-prone transient population, and schools with a troubled reputation. Right now, the burdens seem to outweigh the advantages.” –Alan Ehrenhalt, The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City.

That’s one person’s view of the current situation in Cleveland Heights. Ehrenhalt’s new book examining population shifts in American cities devotes most of a chapter to our city of 46,121 people. A FutureHeights member called the book to my attention. I read the Cleveland Heights chapter first, then went back and read the entire book.

Although Ehrenhalt gets some of the details wrong—he refers to Coventry Road as Coventry Street, for example—he may have gotten it right overall. I believe that the health and vitality of our city is fragile, and the reputation of our schools is an important factor. Many people choose where to live based on the availability of strong public schools, whether or not they intend to use them, because schools affect property values. As Superintendent Douglas Heuer said at a FutureHeights meeting last year, he’s never seen a strong community that didn’t also have strong public schools.

Shortly after the CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) decided last summer against putting a facilities bond issue on the ballot because there was insufficient community support for Plan C, I had a conversation with Patrick Mullen. He is the director of Reaching Heights, a nonprofit that supports community involvement in our public schools.

We both felt that the issue was of vital importance to our community. We both served on the School Facilities Committee, convened by the district, where we learned about the urgent need to fix our school buildings. There is $40 million of deferred maintenance, our buildings have been added onto many times over the years-not always sympathetically--and we use space inefficiently. Our student population has decreased from a peak of 15,000 in the 1960s to only 6,100 today. We’ve closed some buildings, but still maintain too much space, with fewer resources. Something must be done, but no one can seem to agree on what.

FutureHeights and Reaching Heights convened a meeting of folks who had been involved in the process, to determine how to move forward. The outcome of that meeting was a request to the BOE for a Lay Facilities Committee, a group that would work independently from the district to develop a plan that the community could support.

The BOE agreed and the work of that committee has begun. One of the ways we hope it will be different this time is that we plan to really listen to the voice of the community. There are multiple options that make sens on paper or for other communities, but not necessarily for ours. We are not working from a blank slate. We have 11 existing buildings, and our communities were built around them. If one of those buildings closes, it will impact the neighborhood. On the other hand, we also know that we can’t just continue as we have in the past. We need to know what you value, and what trade-offs you are willing to make. Would you agree to close your neighborhood school if it meant a lower tax bill down the road? Would you agree to a higher cost project, if you thought that improved buildings would improve student performance?

Although the BOE determined the members of the committee, there are multiple ways for community members to become involved. Contact a committee leader and tell us your thoughts, write a letter to the editor (, or participate in our online school facilities forum (

Whatever you do, don’t sit this one out until you find out that your elementary school building will be closed or that your property taxes will increase. Get involved now!

For more information about the LFC and to listen to recordings of its meetings, visit To participate in a subcommittee, contact one of the leaders via e-mail.

Lay Facilities Committee Chair:
Patrick Mullen,

Buildings Subcommittee Leaders:
Deanna Bremer Fisher,
Alvin Saafir,
Eric Silverman,
Jodi Sourini,

Community Subcommittee Leaders:
Krissy Gallagher,
Cheryl Oates,

Money Subcommittee Leaders:
Donna Guilmette,
Dave Tabor,

Other members of the Lay Facilities Committee are:
Carla Bailey,
Betsey Bell,
Sam Bell,
Pam Cameron,
Heather Conwell,
James Cull,
Phil Ertel,
Susan Fleischer,
Jane Goodman,
John Hubbard,
Nancy Levin,
Cheryl Oates,
Jim Posch,
Brian Schaner,
Dallas Schubert,
Steve Shergalis (CH-UH resource),
Katura Simmons,
Natoya Walker,
Dennis Wilcox,
Richard Wong,

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

Read More on Opening the Observer
Volume 5, Issue 11, Posted 11:33 AM, 10.31.2012