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Published: Thursday, 9/15/2005

Sanders interviews for charter school job


Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders, an outspoken critic of Ohio's charter schools as a major drain on traditional public schools, has interviewed for a job overseeing such schools in Detroit.

Mr. Sanders yesterday confirmed he interviewed for the job, and declined further comment.

An anonymous fax sent yesterday to Toledo news media outlets stated incorrectly that Mr. Sanders already was offered and accepted the job with the Skillman Foundation, a Detroit nonprofit organization.

The Skillman Foundation - along with the Thompson Foundation, also in Michigan - is conducting a national search for an executive to oversee New Schools of Detroit, a nonprofit created in August to oversee any charter schools it may open, said Bill Hanson, director of communications administration at the Skillman Foundation.

Mr. Hanson yesterday confirmed that Mr. Sanders interviewed and is one of several candidates. He would give no other details.

"We are interested in him," Mr. Hanson said. "We are talking to him, but it's our policy not to discuss specifics. We hope to make some decision by the end of the year."

He said the chief education officer would oversee as many as 15 charter schools in Detroit.

Just last month, Mr. Sanders said charter schools were the main contributing factor behind Toledo Public Schools' enrollment declines. Because of that, he said, the district may have to close schools.

And in July, he said: "I think the regretful element of the charter school movement in Ohio is reflective of individuals who don't have the best interest of children in their scopes. They are attempting to run private types of business with public funds."

Traditional schools in Detroit also have been affected by charter schools. Students there have flocked to the schools to avoid their traditional public schools.

Two years ago, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the Detroit public school teachers' union, asked its members to skip school one day in protest of an agreement that would allow 150 new charter schools to open in Michigan over 10 years, including 15 in Detroit.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teacher, said the superintendent is distracting the district from other important issues.

"It should not be possible that someone who is seeking to run a group of charter schools be superintendent of Toledo Public Schools," she said. "To me, the two are not compatible, and not the kind of leadership we need."

Mr. Sanders, who has been superintendent in Toledo since August, 2000, and now receives pay and compensation totaling $194,179 annually, was mentioned in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last month as a possible replacement for the Cleveland schools' chief executive.

The newspaper put together a list of seven people it felt were qualified to lead the city's embattled school district.

At the time, Mr. Sanders, 48, said he was happy in Toledo, then declined further comment on the Plain Dealer's report.

He was a finalist last year for the top job in the public school district in the nation's capital. At the time, he emphasized that his interest in the Washington job should not be interpreted as a desire to leave Toledo.

Mr. Sanders received permission to interview for the Washington job from David Welch, who was president of the Toledo Board of Education.

Yesterday, Mr. Welch said the district could suffer if it lost Mr. Sanders.

"He has been the leader, and he has had the focus and everyone rowing the boat in the same direction," Mr. Welch said. "To change would be difficult, especially with two board members leaving and half the cabinet retiring."

Mr. Welch and board member Peter Silverman are not seeking re-election in November. Additionally, Sheila Austin, the district's chief of staff, retired last month along with two assistant superintendents.

Board President Larry Sykes would not say if he granted permission for Mr. Sanders to interview for the Detroit job.

Mr. Sykes said the superintendent was "not leaving anytime soon" and would be in Toledo for the campaign to pass a new 7.99-mill operating levy and a 2.5-mill renewal in November.

"This district has been in adverse positions before," Mr. Sykes said. "Just like New Orleans, we will rebuild. I don't get scared about people leaving. Our focus now is getting [the levies] passed."

He also said the superintendent would not be distracted by hunting for a different job from the district's new school construction program, which has been scaled back because of plummeting enrollment - caused mainly by the proliferation of charter schools.

Last year, the district lost more than 5,500 students to charter schools, which are public schools but can be operated by private companies.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:


or 419-724-6171.

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