Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, speaking on behalf of a kitchen cabinet of local CEOs with whom he meets quarterly, yesterday said the group hopes to recruit two Toledo school board candidates who already have made their mark in business, government, labor, or academia.
Mr. Finkbeiner said the school district has lost the sense of progress it was showing under former Superintendent Eugene Sanders, who resigned in early 2006.
The mayor said the group came up with a three-point plan aimed at restoring public confidence in the school board, and possibly helping the district pass a levy.
"[We'll] try to find two outstanding candidates for the school board - people who have accomplishments of significant stature in business life, perhaps an academic career, like a college professor, maybe a retired college professor. We would like to have someone with a history of economic experience who can advise the rest of the board," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
"We want two people to serve four years with real distinction," he said.
The seats held by Larry Sykes and board President Deborah Barnett, both Democrats, are up for election in November. Ms. Barnett announced Monday that her last day would be May 25. Mr. Sykes has not said whether he would seek re-election.
Steve Steel, board vice president, said applications for candidates to serve the rest of Ms. Barnett's term will be accepted, in writing, until 4 p.m. May 25. The board would review the applications May 29, with a goal of appointing someone after June 4. He said of the mayor's interest in the November board elections: "It's important that we have well-qualified board members that are experienced in terms of board policies, board interactions, and who bring specific skills to the table."
Mr. Sykes claimed the mayor already has recruited two people for the board - Darlene Fisher and Robert Torres, who were elected in 2005.
"It's not my seat. It is a seat that anybody can get elected to if they run," Mr. Sykes said.
In addition to electing high-quality board members, the group would like to see the new superintendent, John Foley, appoint a "deputy superintendent of strategic planning," and would like to see more direct linkage with the University of Toledo.
Mr. Finkbeiner said the people with whom he met to come up with the three-point plan were James Hoffman, president of KeyBank; Tom Palmer, a member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board of directors, and Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo.
Connected by telephone was John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. Richard Anderson, chairman of The Andersons Inc., is a member of the group but was absent.
The mayor said he briefed Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County commissioners, who he also portrayed as a member of the core group of leaders of business, government, and education.
As two examples of potential board candidates, the mayor named former Mayor Jack Ford and Toledo lawyer Peter Silverman, who was on the school board through 2005.
Mr. Silverman said he hadn't considered running again, but said Mr. Ford "would make an awesome school board member." Mr. Ford could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Silverman said he agreed that the board of education needs someone who won't need to learn on the job or be beholden to a political organization.
"At one time there were people like Ed Dodd [the late retired chairman and chief executive of Owens-Illinois, Inc.] on the school board. It used to be a site where leaders of the community stepped up. I think the mayor's absolutely right that type of person should step up," Mr. Silverman said.
Mr. Dodd was elected to the Toledo school board in the 1950s as a Republican, when he was still a midlevel business executive at Owens-Illinois.
Mr. Finkbeiner said the group envisions Mr. Foley running the district day-to-day while tasking a deputy to generate ideas aimed at boosting the district's ability to raise test scores and increase the number of graduates going to college.
Mr. Finkbeiner said Mr. Sanders was able to move the district forward through initiatives such as mandatory school uniforms and single-sex schools.
In the past year, the mayor said, there has been little new presented to the public, and even the many new schools under construction are barely mentioned.
"Gene Sanders did have a platform. He did have a program, and he worked that program hard and most people knew what he was doing," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Mr. Finkbeiner said an example of something the strategic planner might propose is a magnet school with accelerated programs.
He said that the district should form a closer working relationship with the University of Toledo. He said linkage with a university is a better fit than with city hall, the course taken by some cities, such as Detroit and Cleveland.
Mr. Foley said yesterday he has had discussions with business leaders and with Dr. Jacobs about the university lending assistance in strategic and long-range planning.
"The support from Dr. Jacobs would certainly be to look at different ways of doing things, support with expertise and planning," Mr. Foley said.
Mr. Foley, a longtime district teacher and administrator, has been interim superintendent since Mr. Sanders' departure in May, 2006. He was given a three-year contract as superintendent Friday after negotiations with a nationally recruited candidate, William Harner, a regional superintendent for the Philadelphia schools, collapsed.
Some have blamed Mr. Finkbeiner for Mr. Sanders' departure. Ms. Fisher and Mr. Torres ran as part of the "Three for Change" group that was seen as hostile to Mr. Sanders, who resigned one year ago.
After Mr. Sanders announced his intention to take a job as superintendent of the Cleveland school district, Mr. Finkbeiner tried to rally a group of business leaders to raise money to supplement Mr. Sanders' salary in a bid to get him to stay.
The plan fell through and came under the scrutiny of the Ohio Ethics Commission because it appeared to conflict with a state law prohibiting secondary sources of salary for public officials. The commission has not acted on its investigation, but David Freel, executive director of the ethics commission, said he expects to finalize the issue soon.
Earlier this year, the mayor and a different group of mostly local public officials met quietly to explore ways to bring the school district and the university together and help the struggling 29,400-student school system.
The officials involved stressed that they were not attempting to put the university in charge of the school system.
The candidate recruitment effort has the potential to put the mayor at odds with the Lucas County Democratic Party.
John Irish, the party chairman, said even if the mayor endorses someone else, the party intends to stick with its goal of electing the two people it already has endorsed - Lisa Sobecki and Richard Brown III.
"I feel very strong about our candidates," Mr. Irish said. "I think our candidates are better than the names I've heard mentioned up to this point."
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