Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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TPS set to restore some bus service, thanks to $7.6M stimulus

Toledo Public Schools officials have stitched together various sources of federal money to return bus service to some of the 5,000 students left stranded by local budget cuts.

Lucas County Commissioners gave TPS $500,000 in federal money Tuesday for a TARTA contract to serve about 1,700 students at four specific schools. The money will come from an emergency fund for needy Lucas County families.

Restored service won't go into effect for about a month, and most of the students who lost a ride this year still will have to find their own way to school.

Along with other districts across Ohio, TPS learned Tuesday how much it will receive in federal stimulus money - $7.6 million meant to prevent school layoffs over the next two school years.

The good news is on top of the nearly $11 million in competitive "Race to the Top" federal grant money TPS learned last week it will receive as part of Ohio's winning application.

Ohio was the only Midwest state to be selected, and only 10 states nationwide received the money, which is supposed to be used for innovative education programs.

Ohio school districts and charter schools learned

Tuesday how much federal stimulus money they'll receive from a jobs bill

approved by Congress in early August. The bill was designed to save about

160,000 jobs nationwide over the next two years.

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The various pots of federal money have become available as the federal government tries to fill holes from falling property-tax revenues that provide most of the local money for public schools.

TPS officials say they're reviewing guidelines to see exactly how the pots of money can be used.

Most of the $7.6 million in stimulus money will be available by the end of the month, and the rest in November.

The money is from legislation signed into law last month that provides $10 billion for states to curtail layoffs of teachers and other school employees. The legislation is designed to save the jobs of about 160,000 teachers nationwide, Democratic leaders say.

Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Jerome Pecko said the district does not expect to rehire any teachers because declining enrollment has made that unnecessary. But he said the district could use the money to hire other employees, including support staff.

The total stimulus money for Lucas County school districts and charter schools is more than $17.2 million.

Wood County will get $2.4 million, Hancock County $2 million, Fulton County $1.7 million, and Ottawa County $710,000.

Mr. Pecko said he would like to use part of TPS' $7.6 million to rehire bus drivers and to focus on student achievement.

He wants to target some low-performing schools to improve test scores.

Ohio released its end-of-year report cards for schools last week, and the number of TPS schools deemed to be in "academic emergency" rose from seven to nine.

It also showed that two subgroups of students, black students and disabled students, fell behind last year.

Mr. Pecko said he wants to analyze the data in more detail to determine at which schools students were learning at the slowest paces: "Where do we have the least amount of growth?"

Washington Local Treasurer Jeff Fouke said he would like to bank the $991,000 his district will receive and save it for next year.

He said the pain for Ohio school systems is just beginning as the state faces a projected $8 billion deficit next fiscal year, and state lawmakers are expected to cut local school funding.

Washington Local so far has escaped layoffs and other service cuts but has dipped into its reserves by about $2.3 million to make ends meet, Mr. Fouke said.

"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude," he said.

Toledo Public Schools says it's facing a projected $44 million deficit next fiscal year and is asking the public to approve a 7.8-mill levy in November, which would be the largest new-money levy ever approved for the district.

The dire fiscal projection comes after the school system just closed a $39 million budget hole to square the books for the fiscal year that started July 1.

To do that, the Toledo Board of Education laid off about 400 employees, including 237 teachers. It also canceled some sports and eliminated bus service for high school students and for those who live within two miles of their schools, the state limit.

The curtailed bus service affects 5,000 students - about one in five in the district. Many of those students have to walk to school because their parents don't have cars or have to be at work too early to give them a ride.

On the first day of school last week, The Blade told the story of students forced to cross Anthony Wayne Trail and other busy streets to attend school.

Parents and school officials worry the loss of a ride will increase truancy, the number of dropouts, and danger for students who have to cross busy roads or walk through high-crime neighborhoods.

Tuesday, Lucas County Commissioners approved using $500,000 for bus service to four schools in temporary locations because of new school construction: Birmingham School (a K-8 school), Riverside and Walbridge elementary schools, and Scott High School.

Walking to the four schools is considered particularly dangerous because of the busy streets students have to cross, officials say.

Also, more than 80 percent of the students are considered poor and so the use of emergency aid money earmarked for poor residents is appropriate, said Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who sponsored the plan to spend the $500,000.

The money comes from Lucas County's pot of Temporary Aid for Needy Families, which is provided by the federal government.

TARTA would drive all students at those schools, according to the motion the commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday.

School officials and TARTA will work out the details and start service on the special routes by the end of this month.

"They're walking to school in some of the most dangerous situations," Ms. Wozniak said. "I wish we had the funds to help all TPS students."

Contact Christopher D.

Kirkpatrick at:

or 419-724-6134.

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