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Published: Wednesday, 5/5/2010

Toledo Public Schools income tax loses; Libbey H.S. likely to be axed

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Public Schools' income tax levy failed yesterday — triggering a series of deep budget cuts that will increase class sizes, lay off all crossing guards, and cut bus service for students living within two miles of their schools.

The defeat will most likely mean the closing of Libbey High School, one board of education member said last night.

The budget savings also will come from merging the district's only single-gender academies — Ella P. Stewart and Lincoln — and from doing away with extended-day programs at two other schools, according to a contingency plan approved last month by the Toledo Board of Education.

School board President Bob Vasquez said the vote represents a “step back” for the school system because several specialized programs that have improved student performance will be cut or scaled back, such as the extended-day curricula at Grove Patterson and Old West End academies.

Board member Brenda Hill said late last night that her vote last month to save Libbey from being closed was contingent on passage of the levy. She said the school would likely be closed, saving the district $1.3 million.

“We knew what we were up against with the economy, but we had to put up the levy,” said Mr. Vasquez. “You hear a lot of stuff about how we need to run the district more like a business, but the school district doesn't sell a product for a profit; we rely on government money.”

The vote — nearly 2-1 against at press time — caps a contentious three months of public hearings, school board meetings, and community debate about which programs to cut and which schools to close.

Despite the intense interest over the past three months and perfect weather yesterday, voter turnout was an anemic 12 percent. Lucas County has averaged 21 percent turnout for the last six gubernatorial primaries, according to Marty Limmer, the county election board's information services manager.

The school board has already cut $17.5 million from next fiscal year's budget and was pinning hopes on the levy so it could close a projected $30 million deficit without more cuts.

But the 0.75 percent income tax request faced a pervasive anti-tax mood in Ohio and the nation, in general, as high unemployment persists and the economy only ploddingly recovers from last year's recession.

That sentiment coupled with vocal opposition from several key Toledo-area groups, including the Greater Toledo Urban League and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, conspired to kill the issue.

The league and the chamber — usually silent on school system levy requests — specifically targeted this one for failure.

“People just didn't have that kind of disposable income with lost wages and lost hours,” said John Jones, president of the Urban League.

Each organization said TPS spends money and cuts programs without a clear plan moving forward for how to deal with budget problems, long-term. Others complained that teacher salaries are too high.

Mr. Jones also said that the 3-2 school board vote to keep Libbey High open was a poor decision.

Former Toledo mayor and school board member Jack Ford made the motion to keep the school open, and members Larry Sykes and Ms. Hill voted with him.

President Vasquez and Vice President Lisa Sobecki voted against removing Libbey from the school system's cut list.

TPS Superintendent John Foley said Tuesday evening that the process of coming up with cuts to close the budget deficit was a difficult one based on hurting the least number of students and also identifying the least effective programs.

He said that the league and chamber should have supported the levy.

“These organizations have asked us to partner with them in the past on programs and grants and then you extend a hand,” he said. “It surprised me, and you wonder what kind of community support that is.”

Toledo and other big-city districts have been grappling with shrinking enrollment and stagnant tax bases as they negotiate with unions for concessions and search the budget for cuts.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:ckirkpatrick@theblade.comor 419-724-6134.



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