The 7-year-old park is situated near what is planned to be an arts trail, taking people from
From those City Center windows, workers will be able to see their colleagues eating lunch, throwing Frisbees and listening to live music.
Near the beginning of the 2012-13 school year,
The goal was for the school district to play a role in shaping the future of
"Wouldn't it be nice if you lived downtown and you worked downtown and your kids could go to school downtown?" Mayo said.
Instead of developing such a school, the district may be forced to spend millions on one that's not under its control and well outside the arts district.
"The idea never got out of its infancy," Mayo said of his own plan.
Lubben was one of the few people who knew about it. Seeing potential in the idea, he scouted a location for a new school, but not one associated with the district. His proposal is now before the state
"The only reason I went to the
In interviews with
The concept of an arts school downtown originated from meetings Mayo had with Pawlowski and downtown developers, though Mayo won't identify which ones.
It made sense since
The development is spurred by a special taxing district that funnels all state and local taxes except real estate taxes into construction. New offices and apartments, shops and restaurants are expected to lure more people downtown.
Residents in those pricey new apartments, though, may have reservations about sending their children to
Despite high levels of academic growth in certain schools, 19 of
Reductions in state funding combined with rising pensions costs and more subsidies to charter schools have ushered in five straight years of job cuts that mostly have affected teachers. The cuts have led to a shortened school day for high school students and reduced course offerings across the district outside of core classes.
Pawlowski, whose children attend district schools, believes the district is providing a good education. But the public perception of
"We can't have all this development and have a school system that constantly seems to be in crisis mode," Pawlowski said. "Quite honestly, unless we address the problems that are happening in the schools and figure out a way that is on the cutting edge again, we are not going to be able to attract middle-class families."
Mayo and Pawlowski believe an arts school in the arts district would have been innovative enough to do that.
"I had talked with the mayor and I had talked with developers, and we were talking about ways that could make the downtown appealing," Mayo said. "We, as educators, were trying to think what would also be appealing. We thought a theme school for elementary kids actually located in the arts complex."
Mayo described the arts school as a "hybrid," saying it could have been fairly independent from the district, yet governed by him and the school board.
Pawlowski called it a "public charter school," with district teachers in a charter school setting overseen by the district.
Regardless of the format, Mayo believed the task of launching such a school was too much for his administrative team to handle on its own. So he turned to an outsider for help.
No room at the inn
"I had no idea what it was about," Lubben said.
Nine years later, his proposed
"Someone had mentioned
Mayo hoped Lubben would serve as a consultant and meet with the leaders of the arts community to help set up the school.
Lubben believed a school district opening its own charter school, which is what he understood Mayo wanted to do, would be too complicated and time consuming to establish. So after a couple of meetings, he informed Mayo he planned to open an independent charter school and would pay the district to handle payroll, food services and other needs.
Mayo was having second thoughts, too. Among other things, the arts district couldn't accommodate the school without walls that he had envisioned. The existing buildings didn't have enough space for 300-500 students.
"There's no room in the inn," Evans said. "That's the fundamental issue."
Mayo abandoned the idea. But Lubben didn't, and searched for a location. He considered the Crocodile Rock building on
Eventually, he settled on the former Allentown Racquet & Fitness Club on
Lubben announced his plan at a news conference on
"I don't know all the details yet," Mayo said in an interview with
Mayo also noted in that interview that district officials had once considered an arts academy in the downtown arts district but decided to work with Lubben when they learned of his plans. Mayo even shared the district's curriculum with Lubben, the superintendent later confirmed. Lubben has said that in the end, he drafted his own curriculum
In a recent interview, Mayo said he figured at the time, "If we can't stop the process, then let's get on board with part of it and get some of the money back." Mayo has since distanced himself from Lubben's plan.
School directors haven't gotten on board. They rejected the charter's application again in May -- having previously rejected it in
If Lubben wins his appeal, he hopes to open in January to about 500 students. The school would receive about
She also questioned Mayo's comments about using district teachers for the school, had it progressed. She noted that in early 2013, Mayo had recommended eliminating elementary arts and music teachers to make up for a budget deficit -- a proposal that wasn't approved.
Evans and Lubben both said they figured district teachers wouldn't have been involved because the new school would have been a charter.
But Mayo insists his idea wasn't for a charter school. He said he had considered a charter until attorneys told him a public school district couldn't launch one. Had the arts school proceeded, he said, it would have been staffed by district teachers.
Mayo said his reaching out to Lubben and meeting with Pawlowski and developers was a way to meet budgetary and educational challenges.
"These are times that push superintendents in urban districts to reach for any innovation that would benefit not only our kids but our total community," he said.
Pawlowski finds Mayo's thinking encouraging. The mayor's focus has since moved to supporting the district's latest proposal, a downtown high school offering students specific tracks in business/finance, technology/engineering, government/education and science to prepare them for careers.
"We need to have the district actually move forward on these potentially innovative schools within the system," Pawlowski said. "And actually bring them from conception stage to reality."
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