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Published: Monday, 2/27/2006

Fractious TPS board remains without mediator

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fisher Fisher
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Admitting conflict and disagreement that could hinder their work, the five-member Toledo Board of Education agreed last month to meet with a mediator - hopefully, within 30 days.

But the board meets tomorrow evening for its regular meeting, still without a scheduled session with a facilitator for the mediation.

"There wasn't any hiccup. I think the 30 days was just a suggestion," board President Darlene Fisher said.

Board Vice President Deborah Barnett made the motion last month that the board meet with a mediator from the Council of Great City Schools. Initially Ms. Fisher questioned whether the Washington-based organization was the right choice. She then hesitantly agreed with her fellow members and voted in favor of the suggestion.

The mediation is included in the district's membership with the Council of Great City Schools, which costs $29,000 annually.

In a Feb. 23 e-mail to Superintendent Eugene Sanders, Ms. Fisher said: "we trust your role as a member of the executive board of the Great City Schools Council will serve to be helpful rather than a conflict of any sort."

Board member Larry Sykes took umbrage at the statement.

"Again you continue to insult professional people with your comments," he wrote in an e-mail to her later that day.

The board president also suggested the mediator meet with two board members at a time in separate meetings - which would keep those meetings private rather than open to the public - before meeting with the full board.

Ms. Barnett said the board would announce tomorrow when it would meet with a mediator.

All five board members have agreed they need to work on their communication to help them tackle some of their greatest challenges. Among them: choosing a new superintendent to replace Mr. Sanders, who has resigned effective Aug. 31; a projected $19 million budget deficit; employee layoffs; declining student enrollment; maintaining a massive building construction project, and the possibility of asking voters to approve a new operating tax levy this year.

Ms. Fisher, who previously opposed many TPS levy requests while a member of a district watchdog group, refused to say last week if her past opposition to nearly every ballot issue would hurt the next levy attempt at the polls.

"You're right, I am not going to give a straight answer on that because it doesn't matter," Ms. Fisher said last week of her past opposition. "I am in a new role right now and I will work with the board."

She previously said: "I am not going to talk about [a levy] until we know what the situation is We have to figure out what the $19 million deficit is, if that is real."

Last year, Toledo Public Schools pulled a request for a new 7.99-mill operating levy off the November ballot - admitting it had a slim chance of being approved by voters. That tax, which would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home $244 per year while generating $24.4 million a year for the school district, would have paid for promised teacher pay raises and cover other expenses.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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