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Published: Thursday, 5/14/2009

TPS board hears concerns over cuts; parents speak out on closings

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Both elementary schools where Renita Easley's two youngest children attend are slated to close as Toledo Public Schools tries to close a $10 million budget gap for the upcoming year.

She has a second grader at Nathan Hale Elementary and a third grade student at Fulton Elementary - both of which are suggested to be shuttered to save $1 million.

"It seems we get the short end of the stick and that really bothers me," she told the TPS Board of Education last night. "I say leave them open and keep the kids in their own community."

Ms. Easley, a mother of eight, was one of nearly 20 people who addressed the school board during a 2 1/2-hour public hearing last night about the budget and capacity issues of the district.

She was the first to speak before the board when comments were called for about the closing of Fulton, 333 Melrose Ave., in a move that would save $440,387 in personnel and utility costs, Superintendent John Foley said.

Superintendent John Foley hears from parents and school staff about the proposed cuts that are up for a vote tomorrow. Superintendent John Foley hears from parents and school staff about the proposed cuts that are up for a vote tomorrow.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Ms. Easley addressed the board again as a Nathan Hale parent. The recommendation to close that school, 1701 Shenandoah Rd., would save $647,007.

The budget reduction proposal released on Friday called for eliminating 116 1/2 positions

- including 88 teachers - building consolidations, and program cuts.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations at 8:45 a.m. tomorrow.

Last night's public hearing set aside specific times for school closings, another for preschool changes, and a wrap-up of general concerns. But because of a lack of speakers, the topics blended together as people signed up to talk about any of them.

"I was certainly prepared to have more people than showed up," school board President Steven Steel said. "But this isn't the only opportunity people have had to contact us. We've had e-mails and calls to the board office and we know that the people who came out tonight aren't the only ones who feel the way they do."

The preschool changes, specifically dispersing units at Cherry Preschool to neighborhood schools, occupied much of the discussion.

While the change doesn't immediately affect next year's budget to help trim the $10 million gap, it is part of the district's long-term capacity plan, Mr. Foley said.

The preschool has been at the Ottawa River Elementary School site for several years, but that space is needed for the upcoming year for sixth and seventh graders as Ottawa River transitions to a

K-8 building, he said.

The seven units that serve about 150 students would be redistributed to neighborhood schools.

Kate Schwartz, the mother of a 3-year-old special-needs student, said she is concerned that the youngsters will not receive the same amount of specialized care and that student learning will suffer without the collaborative environment for the teachers.

"In a perfect world, we want it to be moved as a unit to a new location, but that's not going to happen," she said.

Mr. Foley said the changes are not only budgetary to eventually save building and transportation costs, but also to help those young students who would eventually transfer to a neighborhood school after preschool.

Many of the changes the school district is proposing are driven by enrollment and capacity issues.

The district lost 1,600 students last year and expects to lose more next year. And there are a number of buildings with undercapacity or overcapacity that need to be addressed as the district finishes its $640 million building program.

Both Nathan Hale and Fulton have low enrollments for their building sizes and are two of the schools not in that Building for Success program to get a new or renovated school.

The other schools not in the plan are Libbey High School, Lincoln Academy for Boys, and East Side Central and Lagrange elementary schools.

The budget proposal has Lincoln Academy moving from its location on North Detroit Avenue to the Washington building a mile east on Palmwood Avenue because that building is smaller and will better fit the school's 150 students.

The preschool programs now in the Washington building would move temporarily to the former Libbey-Owens-Ford building on East Broadway. The long-term plan is to also redistribute those preschool units to neighborhood schools, Mr. Foley said.

Toledo Federation of Teachers President Francine Lawrence addressed the board at the end of the meeting regarding position cuts. She noted she is waiting to receive information comparing teacher cuts to other unions - Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

The superintendent's proposal lists position cuts for 88 teachers, seven paraprofessionals, eight TAAP administrators, at least 10 1/2 AFSCME members, and one cabinet position.

Ms. Lawrence said there needs to be equitable cuts at the superintendent cabinet level as well, which do not happen when a vacant position is eliminated.

"The pain has to start at the top," she said. "A position with someone assigned to it has to be cut."

Board member Darlene Fisher suggested the board reconsider its scheduled vote tomorrow to have more time to reflect on the community input.

Also, Mr. Foley was asked to visit Cherry Preschool and speak with the staff there today about the future of its units.

The board plans to go ahead with its vote tomorrow.

"There's never a good time to make this decision, but the earlier it can be made on a sound basis, the better," Mr. Steel said.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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