Point Breeze residents say a community isn't a community without schools
DARCIA BAXTER and her mother once attended the Walter G. Smith School in Point Breeze. But because Smith, at 19th and Wharton Streets, was closed in 2013 and is slated for sale, there are fewer options for Baxter's 4-year-old daughter, who starts kindergarten next year.
DARCIA BAXTER and her mother once attended the Walter G. Smith School in Point Breeze.
But because Smith, at 19th and Wharton Streets, was closed in 2013 and is slated for sale, there are fewer options for Baxter's 4-year-old daughter, who starts kindergarten next year.
"I just decided to become a Quaker to make Friends Select more affordable," Baxter, 42, said after residents and elected officials protested the sale last week.
"If there's another option, I'd rather be able to send her to school for free," she added.
Baxter and her neighbors, who have continually fought the school's closure, are hoping to persuade the School District to reopen Smith, saying the rapidly growing and changing Point Breeze community needs a school within walking distance for its children.
"You can't have a community with just houses, houses, houses," Betty Beaufort, a longtime Point Breeze resident, said recently. "When all those [new] people come in, some of them are going to have children."
In addition, residents said closing Smith has made it harder for children in the immediate area.
Resident Wilma Frazier, a retired assistant teacher from Smith, said some children have to walk from 32nd Street to George Childs School, at 16th Street and Wharton. Childs is the last remaining elementary in Point Breeze.
Other children walk to schools outside of Point Breeze, such as Arthur and Stanton, which are north of Washington Avenue, she said. Still others take public transit or are driven to charters and other schools all over the city.
Smith was one of 23 schools with low enrollment that the district closed in 2013 to cope with a $1.35 billion deficit.
The following year, Point Breeze residents, led by community leader Claudia Sherrod, filed a lawsuit when they learned the district had packaged Smith with four other shuttered schools and agreed to sell them to the Concordia Group, a Maryland development firm, for $6.8 million.
A Common Pleas Court judge blocked the sale last May, saying some of the schools were being sold below value. The School District appealed the ruling.
The district has argued that other schools in the package were being sold for more than their appraised value and that the $6.8 million asking price exceeded the combined value of the schools.
The Save Smith School group wants the district to withdraw its appeal, remove Smith from the sale, and reopen it.
Resident Haley Dervinis said the group's members will show up at every School Reform Commission meeting until the district takes Smith off the chopping block. "We want this to be a school," she said, adding that Point Breeze is attractive to developers building market-rate housing in a predominantly working-class African American community.
"It's going to be a long, hard fight," said Dervinis, who is white.
A district spokesman said Friday that officials could not comment because the matter is in litigation. Efforts to reach William Collins, an owner of Concordia, were unsuccessful.
Ori Feibush, a local developer who is building 20 homes near Smith, said the area would need even more housing to justify keeping Smith open.
"You have schools less than a quarter of a mile away that are halfway empty," he said.
City Councilwoman Helen Gym, one of several officials at the protest, said closing so many schools was a mistake.
"The Boston Consulting Group report from 2013 was based on faulty data and pushed by education-reform lobbyists," Gym said, referring to the company that recommended the closings. "Smith School was a victim of their philosophy that mass school closings were necessary. The past 3 1/2 years have shown a much different reality - and opened up a new set of possibilities for our public schools."