A group of ministers is wielding its political clout this month trying to keep Libbey High School open, telling the school board they could work against a levy Toledo Public Schools desperately wants to balance its budget.
The Rev. Donald Perryman, president of the group and pastor of Center of Hope church, said a list of possible school system cuts that became public last month showed too much of an impact on poorer parts of town.
He wouldn't say whether the ministers planned to openly lobby against the levy, if their demands weren't met. But he left it open as a possibility, saying it only takes three votes on the five-member school board to stop something.
"There are a couple of things that can be done, but we haven't decided on that strategy yet," Mr. Perryman said.
The school system says it's expensive to operate the old building at 1205 Western Ave. and must find ways to balance its budget, which is depleted, in part, by the loss of thousands of students to area charter schools.
The Board of Education is facing a projected $30 million budget hole next fiscal year. Board members have said closing Libbey, a predominantly black school, would save about $1.3 million. The 600-plus students would be sent to other area high schools.
Also on the chopping block are two specialty high schools, freshman sports, and numerous programs and teaching positions.
The school board is asking voters to approve a 0.75 percent income tax on May 4 that would raise $18.1 million. The rest of the savings would come through cuts expected to be approved at a board meeting tonight.
Board members are expected to approve two sets of cuts, one if the levy passes and a second, more drastic set, if it fails.
In earlier working proposals, Libbey was on the list of cuts, whether or not the levy was passed.
The group of ministers, called the United Pastors for Social Empowerment, sent a letter this month saying they'd consider putting their weight behind the levy only if Libbey was spared and three other conditions met: They wrote:
•TPS employees who live outside the school district also must be subject to the levy. As it stands now, the levy would only be assessed on income earned by Toledo residents within the school district.
•The next superintendent is someone who is "competent, high quality, has integrity and that looks like the majority of its students." The school district's 26,000 students are 59 percent nonwhite, according to state statistics.
•The final plan shows fewer classroom cuts and more from administration than indicated in earlier draft proposals.
On issues important to black voters, the coalition of pastors and churches has shown adeptness in the past.
After protesting a controversial police shooting in December, two pastors were placed on a six-member city panel to review police procedures.
And recent statistics show Toledo's black voters are more active lately, since Barack Obama started to make his presidential run more than two years ago.
In Toledo's five largely African-American wards, 40.7 percent of registered voters cast a ballot on March 4, 2008. That compared with 17.4 percent in the primary election four years previously.
Black leaders say closing the school would be a devastating blow to the surrounding neighborhood, which has been in transition and decline for years.
The Rev. Perryman and others say they also fear the 600 students, if forced to attend other high schools, would get into more fights because of persistent school rivalries.
With the school board vote set for today, school board member Larry Sykes held a last-ditch public hearing at the school last night. He said it was to collect ideas from the community about how the school might be saved. It was also attended by board member Lisa Sobecki and TPS Superintendent John Foley.
The Libbey High auditorium was filled with about 70 concerned parents, students, and alumni talking about possible ways to save it from the budget knife.
Some parents said the student body and its teachers should be moved to another location that would be cheaper to operate. Others said that the school district's Toledo Technology Academy should be moved into the massive red brick school.
Some parents expressed frustration that their children might have to go to other high schools that they said were too crowded. They lamented their children would lose the smaller classroom-style of instruction offered at Libbey. Students at Libbey choose one of two courses of study to follow, either humanities or a science-and-math-based curriculum that stresses practical applications in the real world.
Their comments were recorded and school board members were to read them before their special board meeting tonight.
"I love this school and I love the teachers," said parent Angela Schutt. "And you're going to disrupt my son's life."
Earlier yesterday, parents, students, and alumni held a small rally in front of the school.
Sue Terrill, a 1966 graduate, held a sign up to traffic that passed by. It read: "Do they really care about us?"
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: