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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

TPS finances get clean bill of health

A financial oversight committee Friday gave its seal of approval to the way Toledo Public Schools handles its money and added its endorsement of the levy on Tuesday's ballot.

"The committee believes that additional funding will be needed to maintain existing services even with the renewal of this levy," Peter Kelley, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said at the district's administration building on Manhattan Boulevard.

Issue 35 for Toledo school district voters would renew for five years a $15.7 million-a-year "emergency" levy first passed in 1991, and renewed in 1994 and 1998.

The levy's millage was 6.9 mills in 1991, and has declined to 5 mills to generate the same amount of money.

The owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay $153.13 a year. A mill is one dollar of tax for each $1,000 of valuation. Homes are taxed at 35 percent of their value, with a 12.5 percent rollback.

The oversight committee reviewed finance organization, expense control, health care cost containment, salaries, educational and enrollment data, and the five-year financial forecast.

The eight findings of the oversight committee found no fault with the district's financial operations. The committee said spending in Toledo Public Schools "compares very favorably with other urban districts."

Steven Flagg, a spokesman for the Urban Coalition, which is opposed to the levy, said the oversight committee didn't evaluate the effectiveness of the school district's educational programs - just its financial processes.

"We don't know how they can say the money is well spent when they didn't look at benchmarks in education priorities for most programs," Mr. Flagg said.

District Superintendent Eugene Sanders said supporters of the levy will work through the weekend to ensure passage.

For him, that included going door-to-door yesterday with Olympic boxer Devin Vargas, a 2000 graduate of Start High School.

Mr. Sanders said that even though the district can boast about rising out of the state's academic emergency ranking this year, the economy may cause some voters to think twice.

"Things are a little more difficult now, but we are anticipating a successful initiative next Tuesday. We've got to continue to work hard right up until the last hour on Nov. 2nd," Mr. Sanders said.

In addition to Mr. Kelley, the committee members are Stephen Staelin, senior advisor, Ernst & Young; Edward McNeal, vice president, government affairs, Dana Corp.; David Van Hooser, chairman and chief executive officer, Harbor Capital Advisors Inc., and Arlene Wilson, retired treasurer of Sylvania school district.

The same committee also released a glowing audit one year ago, a few days prior to a vote on a $16 million levy. The levy passed easily, after having been defeated in August, 2003.



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