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Published: Thursday, 4/13/2006

5 school closings approved by board; 4-1 vote trims half of $12M TPS deficit

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The closing of King, Fall-Meyer, and Mount Vernon elementaries and Jones and East Toledo junior highs brings the district halfway to balancing a $12 million deficit projected for next school year.

President Darlene Fisher - who last week asked that the vote be postponed until yesterday to gather more input and hammer out some specific implementation details - was the lone board member who voted against the closings.

"I think it was great we got additional input," she said. "We just can't make a decision on five schools in two weeks."

The Washington school building, which houses a preschool as well as administrative programs, also will be shuttered as part of the plan.

The board last night decided to move Grove Patterson Academy and Ryder, a facility for about 40 special-needs students, into the former DeVilbiss High School.

Although the need for school closings has been known for several months, board members were told the specific schools by Superintendent Eugene Sanders on March 29.

Ms. Fisher suggested the school district's administration tried to get a rubber stamp on what schools to close. She said it would have been appropriate to begin discussing the closings in January.


From left, board President Darlene Fisher and members Steven Steel and Larry Sykes discuss the district s plan to close fi ve schools and make other budget cuts totaling $6 million. From left, board President Darlene Fisher and members Steven Steel and Larry Sykes discuss the district s plan to close fi ve schools and make other budget cuts totaling $6 million.
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Last night's meeting was, at times, contentious.

Ms. Fisher pointed out that the board was voting on a plan drafted by Mr. Sanders, who will not be working for the district when it is implemented.

Board member Larry Sykes told Ms. Fisher he would have supported delaying the vote further if she had specific ideas on how to reduce the deficit.

Ms. Fisher said she wanted to examine the district's new building construction master plan. In 2002, the district intended to rebuild or renovate nearly every school building, but the plan has been downsized because of a steady decline in students.

Four elementaries - Warren, Fulton, East Side Central, and Mount Vernon - never were scheduled to be rebuilt, and officials planned from the start to have them closed.

Warren was closed last year.

Ms. Fisher last night asked why Fulton and East Side Central were not on the current list of schools to be closed.

Board member Steven Steel asked parents to be understanding of the budgetary challenges faced by all of Ohio's urban school districts. In Toledo, financial pressures have been fueled by the loss of 7,000 students since 2000.

"Without exception, everyone came to us and said, 'save our school,'‚óŹ" he said.

Mr. Steel added that the decision weighed heavily on him and that last night's decision would close the school his 4-year-old daughter attends.

There were some changes to the plan that was presented to the public last month.

East Toledo Junior High will close and the newly constructed East Broadway Middle School will open for the 2006-2007 school year as a junior high school with grades seven and eight.

If opening the new Birmingham school as a kindergarten through eighth grade building remains in the district's new building master plan, the transformation of East Broadway school into a sixth through eighth grade middle school could be explored in conjunction with the opening of the new Birmingham.

Jones Junior High will close, with the current seventh-grade students there sent to Libbey High School as eighth-grade students for the 2006-2007 school year. That is a one-year pilot program that will be reviewed in spring 2007, Mr. Sanders said.

King Elementary will close, with those students allowed to attend one of these schools: Fulton, Pickett, Lagrange, Stewart Academy for Girls, Lincoln Academy for Boys, Old West End Academy, Grove Patterson Academy, or a different building with an intradistrict transfer permit.

Unchanged are the plans to send students from Mount Vernon to Keyser and children at Fall-Meyer to Hawkins.

The school board, which met for about 4 1/2 hours last night, began the meeting by interviewing three executive search firms to conduct its new superintendent search. The board eliminated one firm, leaving Ray and Associates Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and PROACT Search Inc. of Milwaukee.

Mr. Sanders has resigned effective Aug. 31 and has been offered the chief executive job at the Cleveland public schools.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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