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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2010

Toledo school board told plan shuts Libbey even if levy wins

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A resolution presented to the Toledo school board last night calls for South Toledo's Libbey High School to be shuttered — whether or not voters approve a 0.75 percent tax on earned income on the May 4 ballot.

Passing the levy, however, would save two specialized schools, Toledo Technology Academy and the Toledo Early College High School, which together enroll about 400 students in intensive programs.

The tax would raise about $18 million annually for schools to help close a projected $30 million budget deficit next fiscal year.

Left off the proposed list of cuts was an earlier proposal to lay off all specialized elementary school art, music, and physical education instructors.

But the board wasn't happy with the information presented last night.

Saying they need more details, the members delayed voting until next month.

School leaders said they were irritated that they didn't have enough detailed information to make an informed vote last night.

They also expressed irritation that the public won't have adequate time to consider the ramifications of the levy, especially because absentee voting opens in about two weeks.

“We're asking them to support a levy they have no idea about. I think that's a disgrace,” said board Vice President Lisa Sobecki.

According to last night's resolution, high school sports with low student participation would be slashed if the levy is not approved.

Also, the district's single-gender schools — Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls and Lincoln Academy for Boys — would be merged, class sizes would be increased, and all middle school sports would be reduced if voters defeat the levy request.

School crossing guards also would be eliminated.

The board agreed to meet April 1 with board President Bob Vasquez warning that a vote would take place: “That is it, we are going to vote on it, and that's going to be it.”

Board members plan to approve two sets of cuts: one if voters approve the levy on May 4, and another, more drastic list, if they don't.

At issue are ongoing negotiations between school district unions and the administration. Until those are finalized, predicted savings from salary cuts and changes to employee health insurance benefits can't be relied upon, several board members said.

Those savings, more or less, could mean the difference between cutting or sparing a program, several members said.

“I'd be voting on something I'm not sure of,” said board member Brenda Hill as she studied the resolution.

“This is at best a guesstimate,” said board member Jack Ford. “I don't know why, frankly, it's before us in this state.”

A series of recent public meetings to solicit community input about the cuts drew angry parents.

Several protested the proposed cuts to the Toledo Technology Academy, which offers engineering-style classes that emphasize pracical real-world applications.

The highly ranked program, which now could be saved by levy passage, is housed at the former DeVilbiss High School and began in 1997 with about 60 juniors and seniors. It soon opened to all high school grades and now has more than 170 students.

Parent anger has also mounted at the proposed merger of the district's single gender schools.

Before a recent public hearing at Waite High School, a group of community leaders and parents held a news 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 said 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.

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.

Board member Larry Sykes has said that the school system in the late 1990s had about 40,000 students. That number is down to about 26,000.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrickat ckirkpatrick@theblade.com,or 419-724-6134



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