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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

TPS leaders make case for an income tax

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Looking for fresh money, Toledo's school leaders hired a pollster to gauge public reception to new taxes for schools.

It found that asking for more property taxes was "dead in the water," but an income tax increase might work, Toledo Public Schools Superintendent John Foley said.

School leaders say many retirees living in paid-for homes, feel put upon by the traditional method of raising local school money.

"You hear a lot about voter fatigue, and we thought we would try something new," he said.

He and other school leaders made their case yesterday at a Blade editorial board meeting for a 0.75 percent tax on earned income that would raise $18 million annually.

The vote is set for May 4, but with early voting opening in two weeks, school leaders are feeling pressure to sell the levy.

The new money would help save teaching positions and popular school programs that could be cut to help close a projected $30 million hole in the budget next fiscal year.

The list of potential cuts includes more than 300 teaching positions, several school closings, and all school sports. Even with passage, $17.5 million would still have to be found in the budget.

Mr. Foley said he's hoping to find savings through union concessions. The two sides started talking this week, and school leaders hope to have agreements in place for voters to review before early voting begins.

Mr. Foley has asked unions to agree to adjusting health care coverage and for salary reductions, according to a newsletter from the Toledo Federation of Teachers.

The school system is losing money because state leaders cut the education budget, thousands of students have left for charter and private schools, and property values have declined. For every student who departs, TPS loses about $5,800 from the state.

News of the potential cuts, which include closing Libbey High and laying off all elementary school art, music, and physical education teachers, has prompted community protest.

Two school board-sponsored public hearings are scheduled for this week: 5:30 p.m. today at Start High School, and 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Rogers High School. Last night, about 100 people were at Robinson Middle School for a public hearing hosted by school board member Larry Sykes.

They reiterated concerns that highly successful programs, such as Toledo Early College High School and Toledo Technology Academy, were on the list. The two programs are consistently ranked as top performers in the state.

The academy offers real-world, engineering-type classes, in addition to a regular high school curriculum. The early college program, which operates at the University of Toledo, offers students a chance to earn up to 60 college-level credits while in high school.

Four students from the academy attended the public hearing and wore dark green school shirts.

"Why cut out something that works? TTA offered me something that could last a lifetime," senior Tim Matthews said.

School board President Bob Vasquez, who was not at the pubic hearing, said the issue isn't about the success of programs, but money.

Mr. Foley said he put all programs not required by state law onto the list for the school board review. He said school leaders have to take into account the needs of the entire school system and its 26,000 students.

"I don't have much sleep these days because they're all tough calls."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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