Families living on North Pointe Drive scrambled near the start of the school year to determine whether their children would continue attending the Orange City School District or transfer to the Beachwood City Schools. Ultimately the issue was resolved, according to Orange Board of Education President Rebecca Boyle. Each family took their own approach.
In early 2020, Orange Superintendent Lynn Campbell discovered that 22 residences on North Pointe Drive in Pepper Pike were in the Beachwood school district, but seven students were enrolled in the Orange district. Beachwood schools collected the property taxes, which is indicated on county records, but the students were enrolled at Orange by mistake.
School district lines throughout Ohio do not necessarily follow municipal boundary lines.
One student immediately switched to the Beachwood district.
Both Orange and Beachwood approved an agreement last year to allow the remaining six children to stay at Orange for one year if they pursued a territory transfer with the Ohio Board of Education. If approved, this would transfer 22 houses permanently into the Orange schools and the tax money as well. The territory transfer application, which was submitted to the state board earlier this year, is pending.
Meanwhile, parents had to decide where their children would start school this fall.
“When in the spring there was no end in sight [for the territory transfer], we decided we needed to move so we aren’t put in that situation again. So our kids aren’t forced to go to another school,” Michael Kirschner of Orange Village said. Attorney Jeremy Tor has been working pro bono for the Kirschner family. He sued Orange last year to keep the Kirschner children in the district.
The Orange school district includes most of Pepper Pike, Orange Village, Woodmere, Moreland Hills, Hunting Valley and small portions of Bedford Heights, Solon and Warrensville Heights.
Mr. Kirschner moved his family, including his wife, Fani, sons Leon, 9, Noam, 7, and six-month-old Maverick, into a rental house in Orange Village. They are building a new house in Orange that will be ready in mid-December. Mr. Kirschner said Orange officials would not allow his sons to attend that school system while remaining in the North Pointe Drive residence while the new house was being built.
The Kirschners moved into their rental home on Aug. 20 and the children started school on Aug. 23. Leon started fourth grade and Noam started second grade. Mr. Kirschner said that the first week of school in Orange went well.
A superintendents’ agreement was on the table last fall that would have allowed the affected children to remain in the Orange schools until they graduate without paying tuition, which is more than $23,000 per student annually. The agreement was approved by the Beachwood BOE but failed in Orange by a 2-2 vote with one abstention. Beachwood City School District Superintendent Robert Hardis said that agreement would have transferred the property taxes from Beachwood to Orange schools for those affected families. He said that was the only other option to allow the children to stay at Orange if they so chose and it would not apply to any other future students from that territory.
“It would be nice if they [the Orange schools] owned their mistake,” he said. “They enrolled all these kids for the last decade. They had a solution. They could have made it better and declined that opportunity. And the fact that it resulted in this turmoil for several families and children, it’s very sad.”
Mr. Kirschner said he noticed after voting in the 2018 general election that the taxing district was listed as Pepper Pike/Beachwood. He called Beachwood City Hall to inquire about whether his family could use that city’s facilities, such as the pool. A Beachwood employee consulted with the legal department, he said, and advised that he could not use the facilities, but his children would be “eligible” for the Beachwood schools and the Orange schools.
Senior can remain at Orange
Tam Nguyen, 18, and her 13-year-old brother Jack, live on North Pointe Drive. Their aunt, Nicole Nguyen of Solon, said that both children had trouble with the requirement to change schools. It is not easy to pack up everything and move the family, she said. Jack later agreed to attend the Beachwood schools and started seventh grade. Ms. Nguyen said that he is adjusting well.
Tam is a high school senior and attended Orange for more than five years. She could not start the year at Orange, but also chose not to enroll in the Beachwood schools. Ms. Nguyen said that the family was hoping for a solution so Tam could graduate from Orange High School. In the meantime, Tam was not attending school. Beachwood is not a bad school, she said, but Tam wanted to stay at Orange with her friends.
On Sept. 2, Dr. Campbell of Orange and Dr. Hardis of Beachwood formed a superintendents’ agreement to allow Tam to finish her senior year at Orange even though she lives in the Beachwood district. Tam started at Orange earlier this week.
“No one expected this and now the kids are being held responsible. That’s very unfair,” Ms. Nguyen said last week. “Tam and Jack have been through very tough times mentally. It affected them mentally, they were really stressed. I’m glad it’s resolved now and Tam can go back to Orange.”
She said that she hopes the state board of education passes the territory transfer so children who grow up in the same neighborhood can attend the same school district. North Pointe Drive is part of The Pointe at Sterling Lakes, a residential development in Pepper Pike.
Student makes switch
Rajesh Pidikiti, a physicist working with cancer patients at University Hospitals of Cleveland, said that he does not have time to fight with the government about his prior home on North Pointe Drive. When the mistake appeared last year, he enrolled his daughter, Meena, in the Beachwood schools. She attended the Beachwood schools for the past year and the family decided to switch her back to the Orange district. He bought a new property at the Lakes of Orange in Orange Village and plans to sell the house on North Point Drive. The transfer date of the property in Orange Village was Sept. 2, according to county records. Meena, 8, enrolled in the Orange schools for third grade this year but started a couple weeks late.
“My property value went down because of this screw-up,” Dr. Pidikiti said. “It’s not that the Beachwood school system is bad. But who wants to pay taxes in Pepper Pike and go to the Beachwood schools?”
Mr. Pidikiti said that his real estate agent did not give all of the information about his former home and the Beachwood school district does not want to give up their tax dollars through a territory transfer.
“It’s not just about the money,” Dr. Hardis said. “Our district lines have been stable for a very long time. We have no interest in losing part of our territory or gaining it from any other district. We want to maintain the boundaries that have been clear for Beachwood over the years.” The Beachwood schools collect $80,000 to $90,000 per year in property tax revenue from those 22 affected homes on North Pointe Drive, he said.
He said that while other families were in town last year to rally together and work on the territory transfer, he was stuck in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He went to India in March of 2020 and planned to stay for 10 days but was stuck until June of last year. His father, a physician, died of COVID-19 in India.
Mr. Pidikiti has a son in preschool now, who will also attend the Orange schools next year for kindergarten.
The state school board held a hearing on July 27 that included testimony from Dr. Hardis and Beachwood Treasurer Michelle Mills, Mr. Kirschner and Ms. Nguyen. The board as of early this week had not voted on the matter. Mandy Minick, chief communications officer for the state board, said that the territory transfer is not expected to come up for decision until at least Oct. 12 or Oct. 13 or later.
“I’m pleased to hear the oldest Nguyen child will be able to finish her high school at Orange, that makes me very happy to hear that,” said Mr. Tor, the attorney representing the Kirschners. “This was not the ideal outcome in terms of how long it took and the Kirschners had to move out to keep their boys in Orange.”