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Published: Wednesday, 6/16/2004

The bonus backpedal

IN SO many words they said the check was in the mail. It wasn't. Chances are the bonus checks awarded to more than a dozen top administrators in Toledo Public Schools last year have probably been long spent. Still, a promise is a promise and after the public found out about each of the $2,000 merit bonuses made, the recipients quickly agreed in April to give them back.

But two months later 14 of the 17 TPS administrators are having a tough time parting with the loot that was parceled out by the superintendent in a display of bad timing. District leaders had been driving home a point with the community last year that TPS was in a financial tailspin and desperately needed passage of a 6.5-mill, three-year operating levy.

Yet even as he was saying the district didn't have any money, Superintendent Eugene Sanders was giving himself and his 16-member cabinet the highest merit payments possible. Moreover, the superintendent issued the bonuses only one day before the desperately needed levy was defeated Aug. 5, and weeks before it was finally passed Nov. 4.

When the news of the bonuses backed into old levy campaign rhetoric about budget deficits, potential layoffs, program cutbacks, and school closings, the top-level employees magnanimously followed the example of their boss. Superintendent Sanders returned his bonus to the district's general operating fund and his executive assistant Angela Jordan and chief business manager Dan Burns did the same.

The rest said they, too, would reimburse the district out of "respect for views expressed by the community" - which was understandably peeved about executive bonuses being paid as voters were being persuaded to help keep the schools afloat financially.

But most of the dedicated school leaders have yet to fulfill their pledge to repay the district. A district spokesperson, one of those who has not repaid the bonus, insists all 14 holdouts will do so some time this year, most likely in a one-time payroll deduction.

Problem is, the longer it takes for the return of the bonuses, the less sincere it seems.

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