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Published: Tuesday, 4/6/2010

2 form group to fight TPS tax proposal

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A former school board member and a local activist announced Monday creation of a political action group to campaign against a Toledo Public Schools income tax levy.

The organizers maintain that school salaries are high, the budget is mismanaged, and income taxes are the wrong way to finance schools.

Former Toledo Board of Education member Darlene Fisher and activist Steven Flagg announced the creation of Toledoans for Public Trust during a news conference Monday, marking the first organized opposition to the proposed 0.75 percent levy on earned income.

"This is bad for Toledo. This is bad for poor folks," said Mr. Flagg, who added that flat income taxes are regressive and disproportionately affect those with lower incomes.

Local school money traditionally comes through property taxes, which fluctuate with the value of the property.

The school district said it needs the levy to help close a projected $30 million deficit in the budget next fiscal year. The levy - Issue 3 on the May 4 ballot - would raise about $18.1 million annually.

The rest of the deficit would be closed through already approved budget cuts, including eliminating freshman sports and elementary summer school.

The school system said passing the levy would prevent more drastic cuts such as increasing class size, canceling all school sports with low participation, and scaling back bus service.

Ms. Fisher and Mr. Flagg contend that the full deficit should be closed through spending cuts, including a 3 to 5 percent cut in TPS salaries, and through savings by consolidating schools that don't have enough students as district-wide enrollment continues to shrink.

Toledo Public Schools has about 26,000 students and paid about $210 million in wages and salaries last year. TPS' current operating budget is about $290 million.

The political action committee said income tax collections are unreliable because city populations and salaries fluctuate with recessions. They also point out that passage of the levy would increase the income tax rate for many city residents to 3 percent from the current 2.25 percent - putting it at the top of the state's eight urban school districts.

The levy would amount to an extra $225 for someone making a $30,000 annual salary.

"The TPS area will be at a significant disadvantage as it competes to retain and attract residents and the businesses to serve those residents," Ms. Fisher said yesterday morning as she read from a prepared statement. "It's the wrong time because Toledo is in recession."

The group has set up a Web site, wrongtaxwrongtime.com.

Toledo Public Schools officials said they chose an income tax levy, in part, because retirees are hurt by the continued reliance of the school system on property taxes. The levy exempts pension and other retirement income.

The news conference was held in front of the Lucas County Early Voting Center, 1302 Washington St. Absentee and early voting opened March 30.

The district said it needs the levy to shore up a budget hard hit by a steady exodus of students to charter schools, which has sapped state revenue based on enrollment.

TPS loses $5,800 for every student who leaves the school system, which it said amounts to about $60 million a year.

The school district is negotiating with TPS' three main bargaining units for a 1 percent cut in salaries and changes to health insurance coverage, including increases to insurance co-pays.

Negotiations with the three main bargaining units were still in process yesterday, said Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Professionals, which represents about 300 principals, counselors, psychologists, and other nonteaching professionals.

Mr. Yates and other union chiefs believed they had struck a deal on Thursday, but the school board changed the numbers by voting to remove Libbey High School from the cut list. Closing Libbey would have saved $1.3 million.

"Libbey was huge," Mr. Yates said. "There's a perception out there that there's a lot of fat [in the budget]. But there's really not a lot of fat."

As the campaign season gets into full swing leading up to the May 4 ballot, groups across the city are deciding whether to support the proposed income tax levy.

The Greater Toledo Urban League, for example, still must vote on whether it will endorse the levy, said Paul Jones, president of the local chapter, who attended the news conference. The group, which lobbies on issues important to black residents, finds itself potentially at a crossroads on the issue.

A flat income tax can be viewed as regressive and harmful to poor residents. But at the same time, TPS is a major service provider for poor students and families, and the district says it needs the levy to keep from cutting more services.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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