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Published: Monday, 3/15/2010

Toledo residents express frustration over proposed TPS cuts

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo resident Donna Cassady said she feels like a blackmail victim when it comes to public school funding.

School leaders want the nurse and other voters to approve an income tax increase to raise $18 million annually to save a list of popular school programs, including all sports.

Ms. Cassady, whose son attends East Broadway Middle School, is tired of tax increases.

But at the same time, if sports and other programs go away, her son will suffer, more students will leave the district, and property values could decrease even farther.

“I feel like we're being blackmailed,” she said. “Show me, as a mom of a good kid, an athletic kid, who performs well in school, why I shouldn't take him out of TPS?”

Ms. Cassady spoke at a public hearing last night about the school system's $30 million budget deficit projected for next fiscal year. About 75 attended the meeting at Waite High School. Their comments were recorded for the Toledo Board of Education to consider.

Board members must choose from a menu of programs and teaching positions that are eligible for cuts or elimination because they're not required by state law.

The list — which also includes laying off more than 300 teachers, closing Libbey High School, and scaling back bus service — has prompted broad protest from the community.

Before the hearing yesterday, a group of community leaders and parents held a press conference objecting to a proposal to merge Lincoln Academy for Boys, an elementary school with 147 students, and Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls, which has 230 students.

The group says the proposal, which would save $344,000, would be devastating because the students have performed better without the distraction of members of the opposite sex.

For example, in 2002, the year before Stewart became all-girls, 15 percent of 6th graders there passed the state reading test. Last year, 96 percent passed.

“With boys there are distractions,” student Taeyana Willis said at the press conference. “There are boys liking girls, and we don't get anything done.”

The hearing at Waite High School last night was organized by school board member Larry Sykes.

He planned another hearing at Robinson Middle School for tonight at 5:30 p.m.

The school board — members of which did not attend Mr. Sykes' meeting last night — also has scheduled two public hearings for 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Start High School, and 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Rogers High School.

The school board plans to develop two sets of cuts: One if the levy passes, and a more drastic version if it doesn't.

School officials have blamed the budget woes, in part, on a steady exodus of students leaving for charter and private schools. For every student who leaves, the school system loses about $5,800 in state revenue.

Mr. Sykes told the crowd at the hearing that the school system in the late 1990s had about 40,000 students. That number is down to about 26,000.

The list of proposed cuts includes laying off the 147 art, music, and physical education specialists who teach elementary school students.

Three of those specialists held signs outside Waite last night. One read: “Did you know music students perform better on standardized tests?”

Also on the chopping block is the Toledo Technology Academy, which offers engineering-style classes that stress real-world, practical applications.

The highly ranked program housed at the former DeVilbiss High School began in 1997 with about 60 juniors and seniors. It soon opened up to all high school grades and now has more than 170 students.

Josh Lynch, a junior at the academy, said at the hearing that the system wasn't taking into account the 50 students who attend the school from outside the school district and bring in extra state tax dollars.

He told Mr. Sykes he doubted there really would be a $1.73 million savings if the school was eliminated.

Teachers from the Toledo Early College High School also were at the hearing to fight for their school. School system officials say eliminating it would save $1.4 million.

The program, which allows students to attend high school and college simultaneously on campus at the University of Toledo, began in 2005 with about 100 students. It has more than doubled since then.

It's acclaimed as a school of excellence.

Two women with granddaughters in the program came to the hearing.

“They love it. Nobody had to hold their hand, they went and did it,” said Jean Fleck, whose granddaughter Kristeen Hill is a junior in the program. “There are no buses; they get to school on their own, and there's no lunch program for the school system to pay for.”

Former Libbey High basketball coach Leroy Bates asked what the plan would be for the about-600 students displaced if the high school closes.

Mr. Sykes said that a plan was in the works, if the school does actually close. Mr. Bates suggested that all the kids be moved together to a smaller location.

“If busing is going to be cut, then who is going to move the kids around to other schools?” he asked.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:jjoyce@theblade.comor 419-724-6134.



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