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Published: Tuesday, 7/13/2010

TPS hires Pecko as new superintendent

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Board of Education Tuesday night hired former Akron-area superintendent Jerome Pecko to be the district's next leader — beginning a new era for Toledo Public Schools as it faces a future budget already gushing red ink and an exodus of students defecting to other districts and charter and private schools.

Mr. Pecko, 64, starts Aug. 1 and his unorthodox contract is filled with performance goals, like those for a running back or salesman who has to meet a certain yards-per-carry threshold or dollar amount in sales to get a raise or stay on the team.

Mr. Pecko's three-year deal pays him $175,000 annually plus benefits. He cannot roll over vacation or sick time and “forfeits” any unused time at the end of each year.

At the special meeting Tuesday night, the board also approved among the largest-ever levy requests to be placed on the ballot in November.

If approved, the 7.8-mill emergency levy would be the largest new money levy for TPS in 40 years. The panel has not yet decided if the new property tax would be permanent.

Toledo Public Schools just finished closing a $39 million budget hole for the current fiscal year beginning July 1 and now faces a projected $44 million deficit for the 2011-12 school year.

The new superintendent will have to start immediately negotiating with unions and looking for savings as he tries to sell the new levy request to a voting public that soundly rejected an income tax increase in May.

If approved, the new property tax would raise $22 million a year and cost the owner of a $68,000 home, (the average value in Toledo), about $162 annually. But the district also plans to let a school improvement levy expire this year, which would also save that same homeowner about $27 a year, for a net added property tax of $135.

For the owner of a $100,000 home, it works out to an extra $199 a year.

Only four new money levies in the 7-plus-mill range have been on the ballot since 1970, and none of them passed.

A 6.9 mill levy barely passed by 125 votes in 1991, and a 6.5 mill levy passed easily in 2000 — the last new money approved by voters for TPS.

Mr. Pecko said last night that he has never heard of a performance-based contract for a superintendent, but said he had input into its creation and planned to sign it.

The five-page contract lists six areas where the superintendent is expected to make progress — improving student performance at under-performing schools, improving the state's report card of the district, improving the district's already above-average 86 percent graduation rate, successfully leading levy requests, successfully negotiating with TPS unions, and “reforming the manner in which the school district conducts business so that the taxpayers are assured of an efficient and effective business operation that conserves tax dollars,” according to the document.

The contract states that “significant weight” in Mr. Pecko's evaluation will be placed on “making adequate progress” in the six areas.

Mr. Pecko has more than three decades of experience in public education. He was a teacher and principal for more than 22 years in the Akron City Schools and spent a total of 13 years as superintendent in the Barberton and Springfield school systems.

He said last night after the meeting that he felt honored to be chosen out of an initial pool of more than 30 candidates and said he would spend time meeting with various community groups to find out their views and concerns as the school district looks to pass its emergency levy.

He was considered the traditional choice among two finalists.

The other finalist, Tom Watkins, withdrew his candidacy late last week, saying he did not want to work with what appeared to be a fragmented board. Mr. Watkins was formerly Michigan's superintendent of public instruction and has experience in the business world.

Despite Mr. Watkins' withdrawal, board President Bob Vasquez said he wanted to move ahead and pushed to hire Mr. Pecko.

The votes to hire Mr. Pecko and to place the new levy request on the ballot were 4-1, with board member Larry Sykes the only dissenter in each case.

He said he needed more information on the levy request from TPS treasurer Dan Romano and said he was unacceptably “kept out of the loop” on the hiring of the new superintendent.

He said he wasn't informed that Mr. Pecko was in Toledo or that board leadership planned to hire him at Tuesday night's meeting.

“It's appalling,” Mr. Sykes said.

From his seat, Mr. Sykes welcomed the new superintendent and his family, saying his no-vote was a vote against the process and not against Mr. Pecko's qualifications.

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



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