NO ONE should be surprised that Toledo Public Schools, facing uncertain finances and continued fall-off in enrollment in coming years, may have to scale back its physical plant by closing more than a dozen buildings over the next decade.
What's important to remember as TPS embarks on this painful retrenchment is that the city schools still need - must have - the support of taxpayers to maintain the academic progress made in recent years.
Indeed, the worst fate that could befall TPS at this point is for taxpayers to get so wrought up over the proposed closings that they lose sight of the impending reality: a smaller student body attending mostly brand-new schools.
Just last month, the TPS board took the first step in plugging a $13 million budget deficit by approving a plan to close Warren Elementary now and to temporarily close four others: Franklin, Westfield, Spring, and Glenwood.
At the same time, the board is looking at major revisions in the $821 million construction program that calls for the opening of 23 new buildings by the end of 2007.
If the board goes ahead, and that is still far from certain, the final phase of the construction program, which is 77 percent state funded, would be eliminated.
That could threaten Libbey High School, which is still slated for major renovation. The planned Woodward Middle School would be scrapped. Seven elementary schools - Edgewater, Fall Meyer, Newbury, Beverly, Lagrange, Lincoln, and Marshall - would eventually be closed.
None of this is proving to be popular with parents, particularly those whose children's lives are heavily invested in certain teachers in certain neighborhood schools.
Nonetheless, the school board's decisions on which schools are closed and which survive must be shaped by what is good for the greatest number of pupils, in line with how much money is available to fund new or rebuilt schools.
Like most other urban districts in Ohio, TPS has been steadily losing students for more than a decade. In 1991, enrollment was 38,988; this year it was 32,879, a drop of nearly 16 percent.
The city's decline in population, nearly 6 percent in the decade 1990 to 2000, played a part in loss of students, but so too has the advent of charter schools.
Some 5,000 students who would otherwise attend TPS schools now are enrolled in charter schools. The loss of each student costs TPS about $3,500 a year in state funding, or $17.5 million in all. That would be enough to offset the district's current financial difficulties, but far from sufficient to outweigh a projected $68.8 million shortfall by 2009.
If current trends continue, TPS officials now believe their old enrollment projections could be seriously flawed. One estimate is for 25,000 students in 2010, compared to a previously projected 31,000.
We hope that the anticipated enrollment hemorrhage is wrong, for it became apparent with the loss of the TPS maintenance levy in an exceedingly low turnout May 3 that voters - at least those who went to the polls - are not in a generous mood.
The triple whammy now facing the city schools - declining enrollment, voter unrest, and anger at possible building closings - are a tough challenge, but Libbey High School must not be sacrificed.
TPS residents must remember that the schools are making real academic progress, as promised several years ago. Now is not the time to jerk the rug of support from under an educational enterprise that is finally headed in the right direction.
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