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In final meeting of 2021, CPS board discusses busses, SROs and bids farewell to 3 members

Ambriehl Crutchfield

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education discussed late arrivals of Metro buses to schools, the future of school resource officers in the district and gave thanks to outgoing board members during Wednesday's meeting.

Peak on-time percentages for yellow buses ran by CPS achieved highs of 90% during the fall semester. Meanwhile, peak on-time percentages for Metro buses transporting CPS students was just shy of 76%. Interim Chief Operations Officer Connie Solano says Metro's peak OTP was during Thanksgiving week.

"We definitely see that there's some work to be done there," Solano said. "19% of our buses are getting to the school stop late."

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has stated that Metro will not work with the school district after June 30, 2022. One of the public transportation options being considered for the next fiscal year is to buy Metro passes for students. That's estimated to be $6 million more compared to the current agreement with Metro.

Board Member Ben Lindy says this amounts to paying more than double for something that doesn't work 1/5 of the time.

"I don't understand how we can pass a giant tax levy and then pay more than twice as much for something that is significantly less good and people think that's OK," Lindy said, referring to the transit levy that passed in 2020.

Metro emailed WVXU on Thursday with the following response from Metro VP of External Affairs Brandy Jones:

"Metro has neither provided – nor ruled out the possibility of – a reduced student pass cost to Cincinnati Public Schools for the coming year. In fact, despite multiple invitations, CPS officials continually decline to come to the table and discuss their options within the scope of the services we are federally permitted to provide. We remain committed to doing all we can to help serve our student riders, and, once again, we invite CPS officials to sit down with us and discuss how we can continue a partnership beyond the current contract."

The desire is for the board to pick a public transportation option to have ready by March 15, 2022. You can see the options presented below. Yellow bus service for seventh and eighth graders will not be feasible in the current fiscal year. Pilot programs will also not be conducted.

Cincinnati Public Schools (screenshot from Dec. 15, 2021 meeting)

CPS, CPD SRO partnership

Cincinnati Public Schools is looking to further discuss the moratorium of understanding (MOU) with the Cincinnati Police Department for the use of school resource officers (SROs).

Following a series of conversations organized by Cohear between SROs, students and parents, it was determined that strengthening relationships between the parties will be necessary going forward. The district will also implement restorative practices to prevent conflict.

The Young Activists Coalition protested outside of the Education Center in April of this year demanding SROs be removed from the district after the ACLU of Ohio published data stating Black students are five times more likely to be disciplined than white students in the district.

During the board meeting, General Counsel Dan Hoying says student discipline data is not related to SROs.

"They are not involved in recommending or even assisting in any way with a school suspension or expulsion process," Hoying said. "We can do better on student discipline disparity between white and Black students. That's not related to the role of our school resource officers in our schools."

The board will look to discuss this further during Health and Safety Committee meetings in 2022. However, all three members currently serving in the committee will no longer be on the board - Melanie Bates, Pamela Bowers and Ryan Messer.

Final meeting for three board members

Wednesday's board meeting was the last one for members Bates, Bowers, and Board Vice President Messer. Bates and Messer elected not to seek re-election this past November, while Bowers finished fifth at the polls, just a spot short of retaining her seat.

Bates served for nearly 20 years on the school board, including as vice president for four of those years. She previously served on the State Board of Education for six years. Going forward, she says she will be turning in her board badge for a volunteer badge.

"Thank you for supporting me in this opportunity of a lifetime to be a member of the Cincinnati Board of Education," Bates said.

Bowers served two years on the Board and has worked in mental health for more than 25 years and is currently the director of school-based mental health services at Central Clinic Behavioral Health.

"As a parent, as a community member and soon to be, officially, a former Board member, I want to reiterate that 'I am CPS,' " Bowers said, referring to the district's motto.

Messer has served for three years on the Board, serving as its vice president for two of them. He's worked for Johnson & Johnson for more than 20 years and served on the STOP AIDS Board for 10 years. He says it was a great pleasure to serve for Cincinnati Public Schools.

"As a gay male and a gay parent, there's not a whole lot of cities that I could've run and served [as] my authentic self, to get elected, let alone to be supported the way that I have been, so thank you to the people who've allowed me to be me," Messer said.

New board members Mary Wineberg, Kareem Moffett and Brandon Craig will begin their terms in January.

More than 4,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed between students and staff since May 2020. Of those cases, 3,163 are students and 1,151 are staff as of Wednesday.

Updated: December 16, 2021 at 5:43 PM EST
This article has been updated to include a response from Metro.
Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.