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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

Local group calls for independent review of Toledo Public Schools

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
John Jones, president and CEO of the Greater Toledo Urban League said The revelation of an extra $824,000 amid deep cuts affecting student safety punctuates the need for such an independent panel. John Jones, president and CEO of the Greater Toledo Urban League said The revelation of an extra $824,000 amid deep cuts affecting student safety punctuates the need for such an independent panel.
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The Greater Toledo Urban League called for an independent panel to review operations of Toledo Public Schools — a day after a school board member called for an outside audit of district as the new superintendent revealed an extra $824,000 found unexpectedly in the budget.

The Toledo Board of Education voted Tuesday night at a special meeting to use the found money to rehire crossing guards, originally cut from the budget to help close a $39 million deficit.

TPS' annual operating budget is now about $250 million.

The loss of the guards was especially controversial because more students will be walking farther to school this year with bus service also curtailed due to the budget problems.

The cuts to bus service affects about 5,000 students. Many of those students will no doubt be dropped off and picked up by parents, but others will have to walk because their parents don't have cars or work early in the morning and relied on the school buses for their children.

The revelation of an extra $824,000 amid deep cuts affecting student safety punctuates the need for such an independent panel, said John Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, at a press conference Wednesday morning.

The press conference was planned days before the Tuesday school board meeting and news of the extra money.

The Urban League's plan is similar to one put forward by Board President Bob Vasquez in early June. He told The Blade he wanted to form a panel of experts from the business and higher education worlds and from the larger community to bring expertise to reforming how TPS does business. He said he has been recruiting that panel.

The league's opinion on school matters carries extra weight this year because the organization — along with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce — came out strongly against TPS' request for a May income tax levy.

The two groups do not normally comment on school system levy requests. It failed by a nearly 2-1 margin at the ballot box, however, most new money levy requests in May failed across the state.

The league would not comment Wednesday on a 7.8 mill November levy request, that, if approved, would be the largest new money levy ever for the district.

To balance the budget this year, the board laid off school resource officers, cut high school bus service, extended the walking zones for other students to two miles, and eliminated sports deemed to have low participation, such as wrestling and cross-country.

The school board also voted to close Libbey High, laid off about 400 employees, including 237 classroom teachers, and approved 1 percent pay cuts agreed to by the school district's three main bargaining units.

The cuts drew cries form parents and community leaders who said students would be put at greater risk without bus service and crossing guards and that parents would defect to private schools, charter schools, and other public school districts.

For every student who leaves, the district loses about 5,800 in state tax money.

The pain isn't over as the district faces a projected $44 million deficit for the 2011-2012 school year as federal stimulus dollars dry up. State lawmakers also are predicted to cut education spending for the 2011-2012 fiscal year as Ohio faces a projected $8 billion deficit.

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



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