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Published: Sunday, 11/12/2000

Next issue for TPS: How to use the money?

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Superintendent Dr. Eugene Sanders promises to make the Toledo Public Schools a `continuous improvement' district. Superintendent Dr. Eugene Sanders promises to make the Toledo Public Schools a `continuous improvement' district.
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The Toledo Public Schools district didn't wait long to start spending the raise it received from Toledo voters Tuesday.

On Thursday, the board of education's curriculum committee made a $400,000 purchase that had been delayed more than a year: algebra and geometry textbooks to replace the unchallenging math curriculum now used in junior and senior high school.

After a year of crises centering on leadership and finances, the Toledo district finally has a period of fiscal calm before it.

With a popular new superintendent at the helm and approval of the $16 million, three-year levy, the district is expected to turn its attention to boosting educational achievement.

But the debate over how to make those improvements is likely to revive issues that nearly led to a teacher strike three years ago, issues such as Toledo's seniority provisions and the lack of performance evaluations for teachers.

There is plenty on the district's collective plate:

  • Unless Ohio law changes by 2002, hundreds - if not thousands - of Toledo fourth graders will be held back for failing to pass the reading proficiency exam.

  • New graduation requirements from the state could force the district to lengthen the high school day by one period.

  • Failure to rise out of “academic emergency” - the district's ranking by the state - could raise the specter of a state takeover of the system.

    The levy will amount to a 5.6-per cent raise in the district's annual operating budget, not including increases that are likely to be approved by the General Assembly next year.

    Given those kinds of resources, the district will be under intense pressure to live up to Superintendent Dr. Eugene Sanders's commitment to make Toledo a “continuous improvement” district.

    Toledo is ranked as academic emergency because it achieved only five of the 27 performance indicators established by the state. A continuous improvement district is one that achieves at least 14 indicators.

    Except for Ottawa Hills, all other districts in Lucas and Wood counties are in “continuous improvement.” Ottawa Hills, which achieved all 27 indicators, is rated “effective.”

    Dr. Sanders has promised a quick role change from the election campaigner he has been over the last two months to CEO, the title he now uses in addition to superintendent.

    He has said repeatedly that every change the district makes will hinge on how it affects student achievement. And he said he will pursue collaboration, rather than the policy of confrontation followed by his predecessor, Dr. Merrill Grant.

    Exactly what reforms he and the board have in mind are unclear.

    The five-member board is planning a daylong retreat next Sunday to regroup. Part of the meeting will focus on what kind of strategy to follow in negotiations with teacher and principal unions on new contracts to replace the collective-bargaining agreements that expire March 30.

    “I don't expect anything monumental to happen until we have our retreat and try to get some consensus,” said Peter Silverman, the board's vice president and the likely president of the school board for 2001.

    “We plan to look at the entire range of reforms that we would like to see happen,” Mr. Silverman said. “A lot of the reforms would have to be collaborative, win-win type solutions.”

    One reform was the board's decision to buy algebra and geometry textbooks after a one-year delay.

    In October, 1999, teacher and administrator committees recommended a more rigorous math curriculum to adequately prepare students for college and the new 10th grade high school graduation exam. Currently, few students take algebra and geometry. Many take little more than “consumer math.”

    But the textbook purchases were stalled because of funding problems.

    “Morale is very high, and a lot of the reforms we had planned but couldn't fund we can now start doing,” Mr. Silverman said. “This is probably the best example of a reform that's expensive.”

    Mr. Silverman said he doesn't know what message can be drawn from the levy vote. He said it might have simply been that voters who turn out only at presidential elections tend to vote “yes” on levies.

    The 57 per cent of the vote favoring the levy was one of the strongest pro-levy votes in the history of Toledo Public Schools.

    The last time a new operating levy passed with a higher majority was 1966, when a new four-year, 3.6-mill levy was approved.

    In that nonpresidential election, 55,690 people voted, with 59 per cent supporting the levy. Last week, 72,508 people cast ballots on the levy question, close to twice as many who voted in March, when a 6.9-mill continuing levy was rejected.

    Asked what kind of reforms will be instituted, Dr. Sanders cited some of the curriculum initiatives at Grove Patterson Academy,

    Those include the reading program Success For All, the extended school day, teacher teaming, and the teaching of foreign languages, he said.

    “If it works at Grove Patterson, why shouldn't we use it at other schools in the district?” Dr. Sanders asked.

    He didn't mention the waiving of seniority provisions at the school that allowed the teaching staff to select its own teachers.

    However, Kay Shrewsbery, a teacher at Grove Patterson who serves on Governor Taft's Commission for Student Success, said the district should adapt building-level teacher selection at other schools, as well as a longer school day.

    “Some of the practices that have been put into place are things that are going to find their way onto the bargaining table,” Miss Shrewsbery said, referring to building-level teacher selection and the longer school day.

    Grove Patterson's day is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other elementary schools in Toledo follow a 9 a.m.-to-3 p.m. schedule. She said teachers agree that a longer day is needed, but they have found eight hours to be too long.

    A former elementary school, Grove Patterson was converted in 1999 to a magnet school. Among its unique features is that the teaching staff must apply and be interviewed by a committee that includes teachers and the building principal.

    Every other elementary school in Toledo is staffed either by seniority or by decision of the central administration, a system that has led to a pattern of high turnover in schools serving low-income areas.

    Board member Terry Glazer opposed the levy on the grounds that the board and the administration made no specific promises of significant reform. He said the teachers' union is too powerful.

    “[The levy election] said that people believe in the Toledo Public Schools. They want change to occur, and they're willing to put some faith behind the board and administration to make that happen,” Mr. Glazer said. “If collaboration works, that's great. But if collaboration doesn't work, do we accept that?”

    Andrew Benson, president of the New Ohio Institute, a policy research organization, said the reforms suggested by Dr. Sanders lack specifics.

    “There was a carefully crafted and well-done campaign. They tried to address reform, accountability and results, but it doesn't appear there was much underneath those labels,” Mr. Benson said.

    He said the one program that Dr. Sanders has implemented - Project STAR, a plan to concentrate efforts on eight schools that have had consistently low proficiency test scores - would not by itself accomplish even one of the 14 indicators that need to be achieved to reach “continuous improvement.”

    He said that even if all eight schools raised their fourth-grade and sixth-grade proficiency test scores to the 75 per cent level, those would not be enough students to raise the district to the 75 per cent level that the state board of education has equated with “effective” education.

    Robert Robinson, the executive vice president for National City Bank and the chairman of the successful $200,000 campaign fund-raising effort, said the business community is expecting some systemic changes in return for its support.

    “It's a time to seize the moment and get progressive. I think some really good positive things could happen, and they have been discussed, and now it's time for action,” he said.

    Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, hinted that new approaches being piloted in other parts of the country could be explored in Toledo.

    “Reform really involves change in the roles of teachers and others in the school district. Some of that is occurring now. I expect to see more,” Mrs. Lawrence said.

    The “new beginning” promised by Toledo Public Schools in its campaign literature follows a period of sagging test scores and growing squabbling on the school board.

    A superintendent search that began in August, 1999, collapsed in May after both of the finalists picked by the school board withdrew. The levy defeat in March forced the district to close two schools and cut hundreds of jobs. Test scores failed to improve in 2000, especially at the all-important fourth-grade level.



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