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Published: 10/7/2004

TPS faces more cuts if renewal levy fails

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Even though Rogers High School student Shelley Parke will be graduating in June, she still plans to vote yes for Toledo Public Schools when she enters a voting booth for the first time on Nov. 2.

"Our schools need as much help as they can get," Miss Parke, 18, said. "There are a lot of people in my community who won't vote for the levy, so I want to support it."

District voters are being asked to renew Toledo Public Schools' operating levy that generates $15.7 million a year.

If the tax levy is rejected by voters, the district would have to cut about $7 million from its current budget and $15.7 million from the next year's budget. It was first approved in 1991 at 6.9 mills and renewed in 1998 at 6.6 mills. If approved next month, it will be taxed at 5 mills.

The owner of a home valued at $75,000 pays $114 a year for the tax, district Treasurer James Fortlage said.

Officials of the 34,000-student district are calling the property tax a critical component to providing educational services.

"Obviously, it's an extremely critical levy to the district, and we are going out to the community to talk about its urgency," Superintendent Eugene Sanders said.

Since the tax is a renewal, it must generate the same amount of money it did when first passed. As property values raise, the levy amount drops.

The Urban Coalition, a parent watchdog group, has opposed past Toledo Public Schools levies.

Steve Flagg, Urban Coalition member and co-president of another group called Parents for Public Schools, said the two organizations have not yet decided if they will support the current levy or campaign against it.

Toledo school district voters approved a 6.5-mill, three-year operating levy in November, 2003. That tax initially was rejected in August, 2004, but the district put it on the ballot for a second time.

School board President David Welch said the district is strapped financially and has made cutbacks over the past several years. "We've cut so deep for so long, any additional cuts and you're really going to affect our delivery of services," Mr. Welch said. "If [the current levy] did fail, we'd have to look at programs across the board."

The district has laid off teachers over the past two years- slashing 232 positions last year and 91 this year.

Mr. Sanders said the school district would have to make significant cutbacks, including more layoffs and possibly slashing its student transportation, if the current levy is rejected.

"We have not yet identified any building closures," he said. "Obviously, personnel is about 75 percent of our costs."

Mr. Sanders met with 60 high school students at the district administration building yesterday to talk about the district's academic success in reaching Ohio's continuous improvement rating in August, the importance of the levy, and to solicit feedback on school security, student health, and testing.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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