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Published: Saturday, 5/13/2006

Most teachers couldn't vote for levy

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If the Toledo Board of Education asks voters in November for a new tax to fund salary raises, most of the teachers who would get that money can't vote for the levy.

According to district records, 1,388, or 58.6 percent of its 2,369 contract teachers, live outside the school system boundaries. Of the 341 Toledo Public Schools administrators, 202, or nearly 60 percent, live outside the district.

That means they can't vote in elections for the district's levies or choose school board members, and their property taxes don't return to their employer's general operating fund.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, who lives in Sylvania Township, dismissed the matter when asked about it.

"That's a bogus issue," Ms. Lawrence said.

Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders last week released a draft report, which was created at the request of the school board, detailing three new property tax options for the November ballot. The millage amounts were 7.99 mills, 9.99 mills, and 11.99 mills.

Mr. Sanders emphasized that the documents are drafts. Ultimately, the five school board members will have the final say if a tax measure appears on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The school board members and the district's administration have tried to tread lightly on a new operating tax while they mull their options. Among their concerns are voter outrage over five schools that will be closed permanently in June because of declining enrollment, infighting among board members, and a departing superintendent whose last day is Aug. 31.

Ms. Lawrence said teacher residency will not be a factor for voters.

But in the past, it has been an issue for some when a district levy appears on the ballot.

Much of the money raised in the first year of a new levy would be used to fund $11.7 million in retroactive pay for time worked between December, 2002, to November, 2006, which is promised under the terms of the last contract.

Mr. Sanders said the residency issue could come up but said voters "would be more concerned about the quality of education."

Teachers and other staff of the district have gone without a salary increase for nearly four years.

The largest of the three draft options, a proposed 11.99-mill levy, would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an additional $367.19 annually in property taxes. It would raise almost $36 million for the district from July 1, 2007, to June, 30, 2008.

Employees in lower-paying jobs live within the school district more than teachers and administrators.

The district's five American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees units - which includes custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, and food service workers - have the greatest percentage of members who live within the Toledo Public Schools boundaries. Of the 1,112 members, just over 70 percent live within the district.

Of the 380 paraprofessionals for the district, who are in the same union as teachers, 225 live inside the district.

Board President Darlene Fisher said of the three levy proposals that the district has to "explore all the options and what the community is willing to support."

Regarding teacher residency, she said "it would be great if everyone lived in the city limits. It's not like we can force people to live inside the district."

Earlier this year, Gov. Bob Taft signed legislation that prohibits local governments from imposing a residency requirement as a condition of employment. The city of Toledo filed a lawsuit last month in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to overturn the new state law.

Ms. Fisher also said teachers and other staff who live in other communities find ways to support the 30,000-student school system.

Board member Larry Sykes, who has been critical of Ms. Fisher for not beginning the process of a major levy campaign earlier in the year, declined to comment.

"It's best not to comment on the levy until we know what we are doing," Mr. Sykes said.

Meanwhile, Steven Flagg, co-president of the local Parents for Public Schools and a member of the Urban Coalition, said the groups - which have relatively small memberships but are usually very vocal - likely would oppose a tax request.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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