Valerie Kokor is adamant that, if the Brookfield Local School District is going to create a community learning center, the community should be involved.
But, Brookfield school officials want to keep control over this venture.
“Don’t let the term ‘community’ get in the way,” said Supt. Toby Gibson. “I think it is a district project that allows the community to take advantage of resources and facilities.”
In Ohio, community learning centers are school-based programs that offer a range of programs to the community, and those programs are tailored to the interests and needs of the community.
Kokor has been attending school board meetings regularly to ask for updates on the progress of the community learning center planning process, and to press officials to allow more people to help in that process. She has argued the job is too big for Gibson, who she said has other things to do.
“I feel very strongly about this,” she said. “I am really willing to help with this.”
Gibson said he has “struggled” with whether to go it alone or create a committee, but he noted that other school superintendents have done the work on their own.
He said he has been reaching out to agencies about potential partnerships – he said it would be unfair to name them, yet – and working with VAZA Consulting to look for potential funding. The two big items he is working on are setting the scale of the project and a potential budget, Gibson said.
“Things continue to progress,” he said.
Gibson also noted that other centers have been built in phases, starting out relatively small and adding as resources become available.
Kokor expressed frustration at the pace of the planning phase.
“I feel like it’s just not on the top of the dance card,” she said.
“You know, Valerie, I want to be honest with you – it’s probably not,” said board member Melissa Sydlowski. “We’re in a COVID year, again. We are trying to educate 1,000 students. The community learning center is definitely something that we all want to happen, but in communities that have it, it takes years to get it up and running. We are in months right now talking about it.”
Board President Sarah Kurpe said VAZA has experience in developing projects like the center envisioned for Brookfield, and said little can be done until a budget is set, and the board knows what it has to work with.
“Asking for community involvement before we can align a budget is going to be terribly difficult,” she said.
At the Jan. 3 township trustees meeting, Kokor said school officials had the cart before the horse.
“I don’t even know how they can look for money because there’s no plan,” she said. “There’s nothing written.”
Trustee Mark Ferrara asked what the center would be, commenting, “I’ve heard everything from soup to nuts.”
The school has placed no limits on what the center could be, said Shannon Devitz, who has been involved in discussions with Gibson.
“It’s going to be attached to the school, in theory, as of right now,” Devitz said. “It’s mostly for the children, obviously, but it’s gonna have availability of, like, Silver Sneakers and, hopefully, the project that Trustee (Gary) Lees started with the senior center can be housed there. Everything is up in the air.”
“Everybody thinks it’s a different thing,” Kokor said. “That’s the problem, because whose idea is the correct one and where did the ideas come from? If one person or two people make a decision about something this big, they’re doing it on their own experience in life. We have a diverse township here, and everybody should have a say.”
Kokor told the school board members that she wants to be able to “hold the school board accountable for the time and effort that it’s taken to do this.”
“At the end of the day, we want this to be successful and not based on hoping something will happen but the fact that this specific set of steps was undertaken, written down, vetted, discussed, something that we can look at,” Kokor said.