AS THEY go to the polls on Nov. 4, voters in the Toledo Public Schools district must not lose sight of what is at stake in this election.
First, TPS is making genuine progress in key indicators of academic improvement, including better proficiency test results and a significantly higher graduation rate. Is there room for additional improvement? Certainly, but overall the district is clearly moving in the right direction - a better education for its 35,000 students.
Second, defeat of the 6.5-mill renewal levy would seriously interrupt this progress, forcing $16 million in cutbacks that would result in fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and the mothballing of one building in each of the district's learning communities.
And that's just on the academic side. Failure of the levy also would result in the closure of school facilities to outside activities after 4 p.m., in the evenings, and on weekends, plus suspension of school sports activities beginning in the spring.
Just when TPS is demonstrating the kind of academic success Toledoans have been expecting, the defeat of Issue 5 would short-circuit that progress. For that reason, and in the best long-range interests of the city overall, renewal of the levy is absolutely critical.
Consider a few of TPS' achievements since the 2000-2001 school year:
w For its regular student population, the district now meets eight state academic standards, up from five.
w The average passage rate for proficiency tests has jumped from 55.1 percent to 63.3 percent.
w The graduation rate - not just for seniors but for all students who entered ninth grade - stands at 70.6 percent, up from 67.6 percent. In 1998-99, it was only 58.5 percent.
Should the numbers be better? Absolutely. Graduation rates should exceed 90 percent, for example, and TPS students are capable of even better academic achievement. But that's not likely to happen if the district - which spends more than 80 percent of its budget on personnel, mostly teachers - is starved of operating funds.
Some Toledoans have wondered why TPS doesn't just scale back the school construction program approved last year to make up for the levy revenue. The answer is that construction money cannot by state law be used for operations. The two must remain separate, making approval of the renewal all the more crucial so money is available when the new schools are built.
Another issue is whether the five-year levy constitutes a tax increase. Although the renewal extends the original measure from three years to five, the district would receive the same amount of tax revenue - $16 million a year - as it did after voters initially passed it in 2000.
The difference is that the original levy was collected at the rate of 6.5 mills. Because it is a renewal, it will be collected at an effective rate of only 5.1 mills, even though it is listed on the ballot at 6.5 mills.
Unlike the aftermath of the August special election, when the renewal was defeated in an exceptionally light turnout, there is no immediate fallback position for TPS. Even if the levy were to be approved at a subsequent election in 2004, collection could not begin until 2005 at the earliest. That means that the district will lose an entire year's revenue if voters say no on Nov. 4.
TPS has outlined the consequences of a defeat in a straightforward fashion. These are not, as opponents claim, “scare tactics,” but a simple list of what a loss would mean.
In addition to closures, most student field trips and the parent involvement program would end. Beginning in January, bus transportation would be halted for students who live within two miles of their school.
Following the elimination of spring sports, all sports would end next fall. Class sizes would go up, and transportation would be ended for all high school students, regardless of how far they live from school, and schools would lose both their nurses and police presence.
That's a bleak picture, not just because of the inconvenience to students and parents and the lost athletic opportunities but because the cuts would forestall the gains made over the past few years.
TPS can do even better, no question about it. But the progress so far can continue only if voters cast their ballots FOR Issue 5.