This is a time of transition in Toledo Public Schools. Superintendent Jerome Pecko’s three-year tenure ended last week. The five-member Board of Education will have at least two new members, and possibly three, after the November election. This fall, the district also faces a critical millage vote.
TPS is confronting tough challenges as well as exciting opportunities. How the system responds to both will depend largely on the quality and community responsiveness of its new leadership.
As Toledoans welcome the new interim superintendent, Romules Durant, they owe Mr. Pecko an expression of gratitude. He laid the groundwork for TPS’ reform plan, which emphasizes neighborhood schools, inclusive instruction of students with special needs, and academic specialization in high schools.
The disruption caused by the introduction of the new plan was accompanied by an immediate decline in the district’s academic performance. But Mr. Pecko has argued credibly that TPS is poised for long-term improvement. The release in a few weeks of the state’s report card for TPS will provide tangible evidence of the progress of the district’s change efforts.
In contrast to the district’s former insularity, Mr. Pecko has embraced TPS partnerships with institutions such as United Way of Greater Toledo, aimed at linking schools with their surrounding neighborhoods. Wisely, Mr. Durant says he plans to stay that course.
Mr. Pecko developed a talented cadre of younger district administrators, including Mr. Durant. Unlike other local public officials who prefer to operate in secret, Mr. Pecko was candid once he learned of the district’s improper, if long-standing, habit of manipulating school attendance data. He ended the practice, and reported it to state officials.
Although Mr. Pecko expressed a willingness to stay on the job, the school board chose not to renew his contract this year. The dubious wisdom of that decision is moot now, but Mr. Durant will work with a board whose membership will change greatly in any event.
Two of three board incumbents whose terms expire this year are not seeking re-election: Board president Brenda Hill is retiring and Larry Sykes is running for Toledo City Council. Former president Bob Vasquez is seeking a new board term.
New blood and electoral competition are vital; two years ago, both candidates who sought board seats ran unopposed. It’s to be hoped this year’s field will include candidates who are genuinely committed to making sure city schools are funded adequately and are accountable to taxpayers, parents, and students.
The school board does not need rigid ideologues of any stripe, members who will place the dictates of special-interest constituencies ahead of the needs of students, or candidates who define board service as merely a stepping stone to the next office. District voters have a duty to take the board elections seriously, and to choose candidates who are passionate about making public education work in Toledo.
Challenges abound. The district will ask voters to renew a property tax for operations in November, after they soundly rejected a proposed tax increase last year. Although the new state budget increases aid to TPS, the district still has not been made whole from previous, recession-induced cuts in state and federal funding.
The district must reach new contracts with its employee unions. It faces chronic problems of low graduation rates and high student transience. It is competing to run the Toledo-Lucas County Head Start program of preschool education and social services.
Toledo’s progress depends greatly on the success of its public school system. TPS’ success depends largely on the capacities of its new leaders. All Toledoans have an interest in enabling them to do well.