Pain in Paradise: Walton Hills Sees Schools as Thorn

Thomas Ott, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 27

Walton Hills—Marge Kuchta has the best of both worlds—almost.

Walton Hills is a homey piece of countryside within easy reach of the big city. The village pays all of its homeowners’ sewer bills. The Women’s Club delivers a pie or homemade cookies to every new resident. On those unhappy occasions when someone dies, a community room is thrown open to mourners, and volunteers feed them for free.

Kuchta, 73, and her husband, Ray, moved out from Garfield Heights 34 years ago, taking up a home on the edge of a Cleveland Metropark.

The nights are so quiet, they initially had trouble sleeping. Kuchta joins in the weekly mah-jongg games at Village Hall and writes for the free, village-sponsored newspaper, The Walton Hills Owl.

“We’re in the middle of paradise here,” Kuchta [pronounced “Cook-ta”] said recently while watching her visiting 2-year-old grandson, Kyle, laze on a slowly spinning merry-go-round at Thomas G. Young Park.

“If only we had a good school system.”

Welcome to Walton Hills, where Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs meet the outer ring. Walton Hills residents enjoy the big homes and large lots that many from the inner ring covet. But they feel stuck in the Bedford School District, a system dealing with a rise in poverty and other urban problems that spark flight.

The villagers have long wanted to join the Cuyahoga Heights schools. More than 1,100 residents signed petitions last year.

That is nearly half the 2,400 population and more than three-fourths of the registered voters.

But the prospects for leaving do not appear good.

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Folks in other parts of the school district say Walton Hills’ arguments hide a more sinister motive. They say aversion to the Bedford schools stems from Northeast Ohio’s great divider: race.

Walton Hills and the Cuyahoga Heights schools are predominantly white; nearly three-fourths of Bedford’s students are black. Bedford has a white majority, but blacks outnumber whites in the district’s two other communities, Bedford Heights and Oakwood. Byers said school officials had failed to prove racism, but he said the transfer request left an unflattering impression.

Bedford Heights City Council President Philip Saunders is wounded by Walton Hills’ snub.

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