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Published: Monday, 7/28/2003

60% of TPS teachers live outside the district

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When voters head to the polls Aug. 5 to decide an operating levy for Toledo Public Schools, nearly 60 percent of the district's teachers won't be among them.

According to district records, nearly 6 in 10 teachers - or roughly 1,700 of 2,800 - live outside the school district boundaries. They can't vote in elections for the district's levies. They can't choose school board members. Their property taxes don't return to their employer's general fund.

Teachers' households could have made a difference in the unsuccessful March, 2000, 6.9-mill operating levy campaign that would have provided five years of funding and delayed next month's renewal. It failed by 2,424 votes, according to the Lucas County Board of Elections.

In November of that year, the district passed a three-year operating levy that expires at the end of this year. If the March, 2000, levy had passed, the district would have another two years before it would have returned to the voters on the issue.

Now, with August's 6.5-mill, five-year levy renewal too-close-to-call by the district's own poll, some are calling for reviewing teachers' residency locations and considering making them live in the district.

“I think we should start looking at that,” Larry Sykes, school board member, said.

T. Jean Overton, secretary for the Neighborhood Association of North Toledo and the area leader for the North Toledo Block Watch 332 C, calls the lack of teachers living in the district “serious business.”

“As we analyze the situation, it's unfair to ask Toledo district residents to pay for salaries for teachers to spend their money in other areas and not be voting in our area,” Ms. Overton said. “We know that a lot of them have years of experience in the school system but at the same time it isn't fair for them to take money and run out to Delta, Maumee, Sylvania, Bowling Green, and everywhere else and not contribute to the city.”

She said she won't be voting for the Aug. 5 levy, in part, because of the lack of teachers living inside the district. She wants the board of education and administrators to make some attempt to increase the number of teachers residing in the city district.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, who lives in Sylvania, was out of town last week and did not return telephone messages. Additional telephone messages left with teachers' union officers were not returned to The Blade.

A woman who answered the telephone last week at the Toledo Federation of Teachers' headquarters said only Mrs. Lawrence could speak to reporters.

The district does not require teachers to live in the district, and Toledo board of education president Peter Silverman said residency requirements are not anything the district will consider any time soon.

“It is a lot of votes, but I don't look at it in terms of levies. I look at it in terms of we'd love our teachers to live in the city and support the schools with their taxes and support the city by living here but we do understand people make living choices for all kinds of reasons,” he said. “Our first goal has to be to get the best teachers we can get in the system. If we required teachers to live in the city, that would limit the pool of who we can draw from.”

A Blade analysis of records provided by the district last month showed that 1,132 or 40.5 percent of the district's 2,798 teachers, nurses, and speech therapists - all considered members of the teaching unit - live in the district.

Among the top Toledo Federation of Teachers union people, eight of the 17 people in top posts live in the district.

Of the district's top 15 administrators, 10 live in the district.

When Dr. Sanders was hired three years ago, his contract required him to move to Toledo from Bowling Green which he did, purchasing a downtown condominium.

“Living in the city is important. It's important enough that we felt we needed to require the superintendent to do so. We did not feel that that in any way detracted from our being able to attract the best candidate,” Mr. Silverman said.

Residency requirements have most often been enacted for municipal workers, namely police, firefighters, and emergency workers, said Lynn Bachelor, chair of political science at the University of Toledo.

The rules carry over from an era before cell phones and expressways when city administrators worried about contacting workers in emergencies and the response times for them to get to the city, she said.

“Generally I think [residency] is showing support for the community you work for. It's saying ‘I'm not too good to live in the place I work for,'” Dr. Bachelor said.

She described some arguments in favor of public workers' residency requirements as focusing on the link between employees' homes and neighborhoods and their commitment and quality to their jobs.

If workers live where they work, Dr. Bachelor said, a greater share of their paychecks - in addition to their property taxes - could return to the immediate area as well.

The average base salary in June, 2002, for a Toledo Public Schools teacher was $47,908, district spokesman Jane Bruss said. The median annual earnings of Toledo residents with jobs, reported in the 2000 Census, the most recent data available, was $21,073.

But Dr. Bachelor said there are convincing arguments against requiring public employees, including teachers, to live in a municipality or school district. “It's restricting freedom to travel, freedom of choice,” she said.

Often, large bureaucracies such as school districts, cities, and universities have some employees with less-than-optimal mind-sets, work ethics, and attitudes, she said.

“I don't think that a residency requirement goes very far to counteract that,” she said. “You can't legislate through a residency requirement that kind of an attitude and mind-set and culture of caring about students.”

The 1,132 teachers, or 40.5 percent, who live in Toledo are clustered in certain neighborhoods of the city and virtually nonexistent in others. Some elementary schools have dozens of teachers living within a half-mile of the buildings, while others have none or just a few.

A high concentration of teachers live in the Start area in West Toledo, according to The Blade analysis, with 45 living within a half mile of Elmhurst Elementary School. There are 44 and 33 residing that close to Old Orchard and Longfellow elementary schools respectively, according to the records and The Blade's analysis.

Dozens of teachers also live in South Toledo. Within a half-mile of Arlington Elementary School, 35 teachers reside, while 34 live within the same radius of Harvard Elementary School.

But very few teachers, speech therapists, and nurses live in the central city, the records showed.

According to The Blade's analysis, no teachers live within a half mile of Jones Junior High, while a single teacher resides within the same distance from Leverette Junior High.

While residential density surrounding individual schools can vary, the general distribution of teachers worries some in the community.

Sharon Collier, parent involvement coordinator for the Woodward area where Leverette is located, said parents there consider having few, if any, teachers in North Toledo neighborhoods as a problem.

Just one teacher lives within a half-mile each of Riverside, Lagrange, and Chase elementary schools, and two teachers live within the same distance from Sherman and Spring elementary schools, according to the analysis. All five schools are in the Woodward area.

“The parents' concern is that the teachers are not coming back for after-school activities. And they're concerned with these people not being able to vote for the levies or anything else that involves taxes in Toledo,” Ms. Collier said.

Forty-six of the 2,798 teachers - 1.6 percent - call Toledo's east side home, according to The Blade's analysis of the district's records.

Three teachers total live within a half mile of either Birmingham or Oakdale elementary schools, the analysis showed.

Waite High School parent Jody Gross, who has been the district's parent involvement coordinator there, said she finds herself conflicted about the issue.

“You can live wherever you choose to live. I think that's a right you have. The thing I have difficulty with is if you are asking people to vote for something and you don't live in that area of that schools district. That I have a problem with,” she said. “But on the other hand, there's no rule or regulation that says you have to live in this area or live where you teach.”

No residency requirements for teachers exist in any Ohio districts, said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

Chicago Public Schools has a city residency requirements for all district employees but allows a waiver for teachers in areas with “critical shortages” including bilingual and special education, math, and science, said Michael Vaughn, district spokesman.

In Buffalo, teachers hired before 1995 are exempt from residency restrictions, but permanent, contract teachers must move into the district within six months of their hiring, said district spokesman Andrew Maddigan.

Teachers in areas with shortages - special education, math, science, and music - can live outside the district, Mr. Maddigan said.

But with only 10 percent of Buffalo's revenue coming from local property tax - compared to 35.4 percent in Toledo Public Schools - the discussion has a different dimension than just levy votes.

“Residency is kind of a sentimental issue in the city of Buffalo,” Mr. Maddigan said.

“They're saying if you earn money in the city, you ought to be required to live in the city and spend it here, and raise your family here, and send your kids to our schools.”

The Syracuse (New York) City School District, with about 23,000 students and 2,129 teachers, has a residency preference hiring program for teachers.

“If it's a city resident and a suburban resident and they're both equal for the job, the city resident is supposed to be given preference,” said Neil Driscoll, spokesman for the Syracuse district.

The provision dates to 1993 when the city enacted a residency requirement for its employees.

The school district was worried about its ability to hire qualified teachers if a requirement was imposed, so the preference program was set up, Mr. Driscoll said.

Between 30 and 40 percent of teachers live in the Syracuse district, he said.

Short of a requirement for Toledo Public Schools teachers to live in the district, Mr. Sykes said he would like the school board to consider a residency hiring preference and incentives for teachers to help with home financing, car loans, continuing education, and other programs for teachers living in the district.

“If you support something, you buy stock in it,” he said. “If you believe in something, you support it. We're finding it's a one-way street for those [teachers]. They're taking out but they're not giving back.”

Toledo Public Schools, its children, the city, and the teachers would benefit from more teachers living in the district, Mr. Sykes said.

“When I grew up, we had neighborhood schools, we had neighborhood teachers that lived in the neighborhoods and the district. I saw them in stores, in churches, and other community functions,” he said. “I respected them even more so.”

Staff writer Mike Wilkinson contributed to this story.



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