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Published: Wednesday, 5/26/2010

Libbey High to be closed to save money, board rules in 3-2 vote

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Board of Education reversed itself last night and voted to close Libbey High School and approved new budget measures to close a wider-than-forecast deficit next school year that now stands at $39 million.

School board member Brenda Hill made the new motion to close Libbey, apologizing to the community as she reiterated her statement earlier this month that she made her original vote in error last month that saved the school.

"I know it's a very emotional thing. … At this point, we don't have any money," she said. "If I had a magic wand, I would make a new school for Libbey."

She said last night that the district couldn't afford the aging school with its declining enrollment. She said that the South Toledo community around Western Avenue where Libbey is was also losing its population.

Her motion passed 3-2 with Ms. Hill, Board President Bob Vasquez, and Vice President Lisa Sobecki voting yes.

Board members Jack Ford and Larry Sykes voted against the motion.

Mr. Ford, who made the original motion back in April to save Libbey, said the black community has been put upon by the school district for years.

During debate last night, he hinted at a history of institutional racism and said that accommodations for new schools in the past had been made because some parents didn't want their children "mingling" with other children, "quite bluntly," he said.

He said that when it comes to TPS, the black community "always gets the short end of the stick."

The fate of Libbey has gripped the community over the past several months as board members and residents tried to decide where to cut to find $30 million in savings in next school year's budget. There were public hearings, where Libbey graduates and current students pleaded to save the school.

The school was on a list of budget cuts that would happen regardless of the fate of a May 4 levy that the school board was pushing to help close the budget hole.

A group of influential black ministers sent a letter to board members saying they wouldn't support the levy if Libbey was closed, but several influential groups, including the Greater Toledo Urban League and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce came out strongly against the levy.

Residents and board members haggled and horse-traded in private and public and Libbey was a major chip in the negotiations of levy support.

Mr. Ford made the motion on April 1 and board member Larry Sykes and Ms. Hill joined in saving the school.

But Ms. Hill told The Blade in early May that she believed her vote was tied to passage of the school district's income tax levy, which would have raised about $18.1 million for the TPS budget.

In reality, the vote was not tied to the fate of the levy, which failed May 4.

The meeting last night started with the main objective of board members discussing closure of a budget deficit projected for next school year at $39 million - about $9 million more than originally projected.

TPS Treasurer Dan Romano said that falling property tax revenue in Lucas County has added to the deficit.

The district has proposed cutting more teachers and last night voted to use its $3.7 million rainy day fund.

At the start of the meeting, about 100 teachers rallied outside against the proposed additional teacher layoffs.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said that in a matter of several weeks, the projected deficit had grown to more than $39 million from an original $30 million.

Teachers, clad in yellow and green T-shirts, attended the meeting to protest a proposal to lay off 55 teachers more without more administrator layoffs.

"Seven weeks later, we have a deficit in excess of $39 million. How can that be in just seven weeks?" Ms. Lawrence asked.

She said that teachers are willing to take cuts but that there has to be "equity in the pain incurred."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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