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Published: Friday, 9/22/2006

TPS board chief calls for stricter construction rules

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The president of the Toledo Board of Education yesterday asked for tighter safeguards regarding the district's new school construction program.

Board President Darlene Fisher voiced her concerns during a finance committee meeting after it was revealed that construction of the new Leverette Middle School is three months behind schedule and that a wall at the construction site toppled over during a storm in June.

After the storm, officials realized construction crews used the wrong size cinder block to build the wall, said Dan Romano, the district's chief business manager.

"They did use the wrong-size block and, subsequently, it did blow down from the wind," he said. "There is no additional cost to the district. It's the cost of the contractor."

The specifications called for a 12-inch block, but an 8-inch block was used instead.

Ms. Fisher asked for a review of the construction program's guidelines for contractors.

Calls to J.L. Judge Construction of Detroit, which was hired in November for $5.9 million to be the general trades contractor at Leverette, were not returned.

The new school on Manhattan Boulevard will be 80,000 square feet and cost about $12 million. The estimated completion was at the time set for April, 2007, but has since been pushed back to July 10, 2007.

The school is part of the districtwide construction program that is 77 percent funded by the state.

Ms. Fisher also said the district's search for a permanent superintendent likely will be extended until March.

She said the district's search firm, PROACT Search Inc. of Milwaukee, has asked for an additional $5,000 to cover expenses.

Board member Larry Sykes said he was not in favor of authorizing the company to spend that amount.

A draft timeline released by Ms. Fisher calls for holding final interviews from Feb. 19 to March 9 - closer to the expiration of the board's contract with interim Superintendent John Foley in July, 2007.

PROACT's current contract fee is $29,000, plus $20,000 for expenses, such as advertising and travel.

David McClellan, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, questioned if it would be wise to interview candidates for the superintendent job in January or February, when the district potentially could be on the ballot for a new operating levy.

The Toledo Board of Education failed to agree on Aug. 21 whether to place a tax levy on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Board members Deborah Barnett, Mr. Sykes, and Steven Steel voted in favor of putting the tax measure on the ballot, but it needed four votes to get on the ballot.

Ms. Fisher and member Robert Torres voted against the proposed five-year, 7.99-mill operating levy.

If put before voters and approved, the levy would have generated an estimated $23 million annually and would have cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an additional $244 in taxes a year.

After the failed vote, the board gave Mr. Foley permission to examine the possibility of placing a levy on the February ballot.

Mr. Sykes quarreled yesterday with Ms. Fisher over her dissenting vote regarding the levy. He asked Ms. Fisher when she and Mr. Torres would go over the budget, as they had suggested, and identify items to cut.

Ms. Fisher responded by saying the reason she voted no was because the proposed levy "had slim to no chance of passing."

Mr. Foley said the district has made massive cutbacks, including laying off hundreds of teachers and closing schools, and that officials would remind the public of those cutbacks during community forums.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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