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Published: Thursday, 3/18/2010

700 turn out for TPS hearing on proposed cost savings

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

At times the public hearing felt like a pep rally in praise of successful Toledo school programs.

At other moments there was angry screaming with some of the 700 residents in attendance promising to transfer their children from Toledo Public Schools to charter and private schools.

About 90 residents spoke last night for two minutes each about a projected $30 million deficit in the TPS budget next fiscal year. Closing the budget hole could mean eliminating school sports, cutting specialized elementary school art, music, and physical education, and shuttering several cherished high schools and programs.

"If these cuts are made, I will run and run fast," said parent Nicole Hassell, who has 13-year-old twins at

Byrnedale Middle School and an 8-year-old at Glendale-Feilbach Elementary.

"When I look at my daughter's sketchbook, I get another insight into who she is," Ms. Hassell said. "And my son has developed a love for basketball. Who knows? He might be the next Kobe Bryant."

The five Toledo Board of Education members sat at a table on the stage at Start High School as the residents spoke one after the other for about three hours.

Board members are asking residents to approve a 0.75 percent tax on earned income on a May 4 ballot. It would raise about $18 million annually for schools.

Some speakers said they supported the proposed levy. Others said that members of the administration should be fired.

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

The board plans to finalize two sets of cuts at its March 23 meeting: one to use if the levy passes and a more drastic version to use if it doesn't.

Speakers last nightranged from second-grader Madeline St. Germain, who sings in her school choir and asked board members not to fire her music instructor, to several grandparents who said they were fighting for the school system's specialized Toledo Technology Academy and Toledo Early College high schools. The schools are among the top performers in the state.

Whole sections of the 800-person capacity auditorium were filled with students from the two schools and Libbey High School, which is also on the chopping block.

Joel Dollarhide's daughter, Olivia, is a freshman in the early college program, which offers students a chance to earn up to 60 college credits while also earning a diploma on the University of Toledo campus.

"When a business is facing a budget crisis, they do not lay off their best employees," said Mr. Dollarhide, who is a certified public accountant.

Parent Lorie Kaczmarek, whose son Nicholas attends Arlington Elementary, said school administrators should take deep cuts in their salaries.

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

School officials are negotiating with school district unions this week and next to try to secure millions in savings through salary reductions and adjustments to health-care coverage, officials said.

School leaders also have proposed laying off the 147 elementary school art, music, and physical-education specialists. Those subjects would be incorporated into regular classroom instruction.

"Take a moment and think about your own experience in school and remember what it means to be good at something," said Donna Smith, mother of a second-grade boy at Larchmont Elementary. "These children may never again have formal art instruction and you take away their dream."

Contact Christopher D.

Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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