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Published: Wednesday, 7/27/2005

Pre-K classes cut because of cash shortage in TPS budget

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Faculty, students and parents of the Old West End Academy celebrated earlier this year when all of its third-graders passed the Third Grade Reading Achievement Test - the highest passing rate of any elementary in the Toledo Public Schools district.

Now they said they feel as if they've been sucker-punched.

The magnet school's pre-kindergarten program has been cut because of budget restraints.

The Toledo Board of Education slashed $16.2 million in spending to balance its budget last month, which included eliminating 279 jobs and cutting several educational programs.

The loss of the pre-kindergarten class at Old West End is simply the reality of tough cost-cutting decisions, said John Foley, Toledo Public School assistant superintendent for school reform.

The academy was the only school with pre-kindergarten classes, and it was unsubsidize by the state, which put two strikes against it.

He said school officials realize the value of it, but it was something that was just no longer affordable.

"We looked at all of our programs," Mr. Foley said. "We had to make tough decisions at a lot of schools and this is one of them."

Eliminating the Old West End Academy program saves TPS $100,000, said Dan Burns, chief business manager for the district.

Toledoans USA, an organization of 21 church congregations, has protested the move, saying that the success of the Old West End Academy, including its pre-kindergarten program, should be the model around the district, not shut down.

They say that the jump-start students receive in pre-kindergarten prepares them for greater academic success down the road.

Old West End Academy's 100 percent passage rate on the Third Grade Reading Achievement Test last spring outpaced Ottawa River, which had a 94.7 percent passage rate; Beverly Elementary, which had a 92.9 percent passage rate; and Larchmont Elementary, which had a 89.1 percent rate.

Old West End Academy's passage rate in the fall of last year was 84.5 percent, marking more than a 15 percent increase.

Old West End Academy, 3131 Cambridge St., is the second elementary magnet school operated by the Toledo Public Schools.

Grove Patterson Academy in West Toledo is the other. Class size is capped at 20 students, and admission to both schools is granted by a lottery. The school has a longer school year than most schools and extended hours.

"[Toledo Public Schools] should be going to [Old West End Academy] to find out how to bring the other schools up to its level," a Toledoans USA release recently stated. "TPS should especially not be targeting one of the few schools at which African-American children are getting such a good education."

The Old West End Academy's student population is nearly 90 percent black.

Yulanda Harris, president of the academy's parent-teacher organization, said the move affected just over 20 students. Money saved by eliminating the class would have been too small to create any real savings for the district.

Mrs. Harris said the fact that the academy's third-graders did so well on the achievement test should have been reason enough to find ways to keep the pre-kindergarten going.

"This is very unfortunate," Mrs. Harris said. "There is a great learning environment here. No one expected this. We thought everyone realized the benefits of the program."

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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