Dispute imperils millions in funds

Teachers to pull out of Race to the Top


Marchers opposed to proposed cuts of art, music, and physical education teachers demonstrate outside the school system headquarters before the board meeting. The cuts are part of budget-balancing efforts.
Marchers opposed to proposed cuts of art, music, and physical education teachers demonstrate outside the school system headquarters before the board meeting. The cuts are part of budget-balancing efforts.
A dispute between Toledo Public School leaders and the teachers' union has put millions of dollars in federal funding pegged for the district in jeopardy.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, has notified the Ohio Department of Education that the union intends to pull out of the Race to the Top Program, she said Tuesday night.

Ohio was awarded in August $400 million in the federal Race to the Top competition, a program aimed at reforming schools. The Toledo district's share is $10.8 million.

Ms. Lawrence contends that district Superintendent Jerome Pecko unilaterally ended collaboration programs between teachers and administrators -- including teacher evaluation and performance incentive programs -- that are at the core of Race to the Top.

The move puts the district's share of award money at risk, district officials said.

Ms. Lawrence says that to take the money now would be under false pretenses. "He has canceled us out," she said of Mr. Pecko. "We have lost our partner."

But district administrators say no programs have been ended. Jim Gault, interim chief academic officer, said administrators have been negotiating with Ms. Lawrence on restructuring the programs to meet Race to the Top requirements.

The programs, currently paid out of the district's general fund, now would be covered by federal dollars.

Mr. Pecko notified the teachers' union of the district's plan to end the programs, but with full intent of continuing to rework them to meet the federal guidelines.

The notice was given, Mr. Gault said, because of contractual requirements, not because the district intends to stop the programs.

"Our goal is to adapt the programs," Mr. Gault said. "The programs have not ended."

Mr. Gault said the district is working with the Ohio Department of Education to mediate the dispute and hopes the conflict will be resolved. But if it is not, the district risks losing the funding, he said.

The funding was only briefly mentioned during Tuesday's Toledo Board of Education meeting, which was dominated by parents and community members opposed to proposed cuts of art, music, and physical education specialist positions, part of district plans aimed at closing a $37 million projected deficit.

More than 100 people crowded into the board meeting room, and police officers stopped admitting more, directing them instead to Leverette Middle School, where the meeting was being televised.

Parent Melinda Arrigo said regular classroom teachers should not be expected to properly teach art, music, and physical education.

"It would be the equivalent of getting rid of a science teacher and expecting a language arts teacher to teach science," she said.

She said the proposed move would further alienate parents and students.

Members of the Hispanic community also spoke, assailing the possible elimination of the Hispanic Outreach Coordinator position.

Jessica Molina of the Latino Alliance said Hispanic students are the fastest-growing population in the school system, and the coordinator has helped many students and their families acclimate into it.

"We will help our families to enroll in more Latino-friendly schools," if the coordinator position is cut, Ms. Molina said.

Before the meeting, 50 to 75 people marched outside the Thurgood Marshall building to protest the proposed cuts to specialists.

Lisa Morgan, an art teacher at Oakdale Elementary School, said ending art programs is a disservice to students and that the district should look elsewhere to plug its budget hole.

"I didn't cause their financial ails," Ms. Morgan said.

Cindy Blachowski, a choir teacher at Woodward High School and Leverette Middle School, said cutting the programs will limit student learning.

She said she'll be out of a job if music specialist positions are cut.

Ida Brown, a senior at Woodward and a choir student under Ms. Blachowski, came out to protest in support of someone she says isn't just a teacher, but is family.

"Music is just phenomenal for me," she said. "It's something we all need to learn."

After those protesting cuts to specialists positions started filing into the school board meeting room, a second group raised their concerns.

Sue Terrill, a member of the Edward Drummond Libbey Complex Preservation Committee, announced the committee is circulating a petition for a vote of no confidence in the Toledo Board of Education.

She said the board members have "demonstrated their incompetence" by, among other things, violating open record laws, making poor fiscal decisions, and dismantling the arts, music, and athletics programs.

She repeated her comments to the board during its meeting.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.