The outspoken union chief acknowledges she's leaving at what is a tough time for the financially strapped Toledo Public Schools. The district faces a $37 million budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 and her bargaining unit is girding for some extremely difficult contract negotiations amid school closings, staff layoffs, and program cuts.
"It's very difficult to walk away when we're heading into these very challenging negotiations," she said.
But Mrs. Lawrence says she's sure it's time to go. She's 64 and wants to spend more time with her husband, Dal, her predecessor as the teachers' federation president, who turns 79 this summer. And she wants to begin collecting her State Teachers Retirement System pension before the cost of living adjustment is reduced in July. She plans to step down at the end of June.
"We have no plans to move from Toledo, but we look forward to traveling and golfing, and I look forward to challenging my husband [on the golf course]," she explained.
Mrs. Lawrence said she has unionism in her blood.
She grew up in Youngstown, the daughter of a union steel worker, and has been active in the teachers federation almost since she started with the schools as a speech pathologist. In 1973, she became an administrative assistant for the union and went full-time with it in 1995, when she headed contract renegotiations that ended a 22-month extension.
Toledo Board of Education President Bob Vasquez described her as a worthy opponent at the bargaining table.
"Fran is a very, very skillful negotiator, and she has been a part of the Toledo Public Schools for a long time," he said. "I have the utmost respect for Fran Lawrence. She's been there a long time, and she's contributed a lot."
In her many years as a teacher, Mrs. Lawrence worked at 11 schools, mostly in the kindergarten through sixth-grade level. She spent 15 years at the former Lincoln Elementary.
When she began as a teacher, the district's enrollment was 49,000 students, she said. Today it's 24,500. The teachers federation had 3,300 members when she won her landslide election in November, 1996. That membership has dwindled to 2,600.
As federation president, she is a school district employee, but the union reimburses the district for her pay and benefits. Records indicate her 2009 salary was $97,449.
Mrs. Lawrence said her biggest disappointment is the lack of recognition her teachers get from the community. "I would hold up this teaching faculty to any in the country," she said. "It has been an enormous privilege to represent them."
Contact Carl Ryan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.
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