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Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 5/25/2006

TPS board has no clue

THE bum's rush given Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Gene Sanders indicates that certain members of the school board have forgotten that their first mission is to improve the education of TPS students, not play politics.

Instead, the board foolishly embroiled itself in a dispute over what looks like a buyout package for Mr. Sanders, controversy that could damage the district in the public eye and slow its record of steady academic improvement over the past six years.

The board, which should be working toward passage of a tax levy this fall and toward selection of a highly qualified successor to Mr. Sanders, could have avoided the trouble simply by allowing him to remain in the post until his scheduled resignation on Aug. 31. If there was a valid reason for him to leave earlier, it was not well communicated.

Blame for this leadership failure falls mainly to board president Darlene Fisher, who was spoiling to get rid of Mr. Sanders before she was elected to the board last November. It is clear that Ms. Fisher lacks a coherent vision for TPS, as demonstrated by her erratic behavior after the superintendent announced his resignation in December to take the top school job in Cleveland.

Ms. Fisher, who campaigned last year on a ticket called "3 for Change," but never really articulated what change she sought, has been a vacillating presence on the board as it has grappled not only with the superintendent's departure but also with plummeting student enrollment, school closings, a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, employee layoffs, maintaining TPS's massive building program, and the need to ask voters to approve a substantial new levy.

Ms. Fisher opposed Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's belated attempt to retain Mr. Sanders in March, but then joined the rest of the board in a unanimous vote to try to retain the superintendent. Then she voted to ask him to leave before Aug. 31. Finally, she voted against the deal under which he did leave, effective Monday.

The agreement requires the board to pay Mr. Sanders a total of $89,343, which includes $25,520 in lieu of salary through the end of August; a $16,820 payment to act as a consultant to the district in the meantime, and $47,003 in unused vacation time, which he was due in any case.

If the board had simply allowed Mr. Sanders to remain, it could have saved the consulting fee, although we believe John Foley, an able and veteran school district employee and executive, might appreciate the help as he begins his 13-month tenure as interim superintendent.

So Ms. Fisher has been trying to have it both ways: She wanted to push the superintendent out but she disingenuously voted against what it took to do so. That's a poor excuse for leadership, especially considering that Mr. Sanders had been doing a good job.

As we have noted before, he presided over six years of steady progress in which TPS moved up and out of the state's lowest performance category to the status of "continuous improvement." He also added school uniforms, introduced popular single-sex elementary schools, and boosted graduation rates.

In short, Gene Sanders did pretty much everything he promised for TPS. It's too bad the current school board has chosen to play politics with his departure instead of working to build on his record of positive change.



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