A group of five African-American ministers and some school officials held a news conference at Start High School Monday to push a Toledo Public Schools levy they said must pass to protect and educate children.
Their support exposes a split among local African-American leadership over the 0.75 percent income tax levy to prevent deeper cuts in the school system budget. On Friday, the Greater Toledo Urban League came out strongly against the proposal.
One of the ministers backing the levy, the Rev. Cedric Brock, is the school system's ombudsman, which means he fields complaints from citizens and acts as their advocate with the administration.
"We support the levy due to the fact that it's not about us, it's about our children," he said after yesterday's event. "It's about their success and their future."
Also attending the gathering in support of the levy was TPS Superintendent John Foley.
The Toledo Board of Education said it needs the levy - Issue 3 on the May 4 ballot - to help close a projected $30 million budget deficit and prevent further program cuts. The levy would raise about $18.1 million annually.
The levy would be imposed on the earned income of residents inside the district and would not apply to pension, Social Security, or unemployment benefits.
The school board has approved cuts worth $17.5 million. If the levy doesn't pass, an additional $12.5 million will have to be cut, Mr. Foley said. Those changes include eliminating some athletics with low participation, scaling back bus service, and increasing class size.
The district has about 26,000 students and a $290 million budget.
The Greater Toledo Urban League said in opposing the levy that TPS has mismanaged its budget and that major changes are needed.
But Mr. Brock pointed out that large urban school districts across Ohio and the nation are having the same budget problems.
"We're not the only ones in this jam. If it was just Toledo and Toledo Public Schools, [critics] would have a good foundation. But it's school systems all over the country. Every major city in Ohio is having issues."
Mr. Brock and school leaders said the loss of tens of thousands of students to charter and other private schools over the past decade is to blame.
They said the school system loses $5,800 for each student who leaves. And TPS said it is losing $60 million annually because of the exodus.
Mr. Brock said the school board needs to be held responsible for coming up with a good plan to deal with the declining enrollment. He said Toledo students would suffer if voters reject the levy, and a vote against is the wrong reaction to a trend that is out of everyone's controls.
"That's why we elect the school board," he said. "They got to step up to the plate to give all they can to make sure the direction of the school district."
- Christopher D. Kirkpatrick