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Toledo Public Schools considering 6.9-mill levy request in November

Toledo Board of Education members are expected to hold a special meeting Monday to vote on whether to place a new levy request on the November ballot.

The board’s finance committee this morning voted to recommend to the full board at a Monday meeting that it vote on putting a 6.9-mill levy request on the November ballot. A levy for that millage would add about $127 in taxes to a $60,000 home, and would garner about $18.5 million a year for Toledo Public Schools.

“It is critical for this school system [that this levy passes], but even more than that, it is critical for the city,” said TPS board member Bob Vasquez.

On Tuesday, board president Lisa Sobecki said, “We’ve been talking for a long time for needing new operating funds for the district.”

Polling by Stanford H. Odesky & Associates Market Research of Toledo showed about 46 percent of voters would support a levy near the amount advocated by the finance committee; 32 percent were against a levy at that amount with about 21 percent undecided.

Voters haven’t embraced recent levy requests, rejecting ballot initiatives twice in 2010. Voters have not approved a new levy for the Toledo school district’s general fund since 2000. Bonnie Berland of Stanford H. Odesky said their recent polling showed an improvement over past years in support for a new levy, largely because of an increase in optimism about economic conditions.

However, while minorities usually overwhelmingly supported levies in the past, that base of support appears to have eroded, according to the polling.

The district’s budget is balanced through fiscal year 2013, thanks to steep concessions approved by its employee unions, but Toledo Public Schools projects a nearly $40 million annual deficit by fiscal year 2016. Passage of a levy is needed, TPS officials say, to implement the next stages of its transformation plan and maintain the current programs developed in the past year. Thematic high schools, a science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine K8 school, and development of a talented and gifted program for grades 3-6 are among programs TPS wants to initiate with funding from the levy.

A failure at the polls in November wouldn’t just kill those programs, it would mean steep cuts again for TPS — the district estimates $22 million before the 2013-2014 school year — likely causing immediate and significant increases to class sizes, chief academic officer Jim Gault said.

“We have to win this,” Mr. Vasquez said.

Passage of a 6.9-mill levy would balance the books at TPS through fiscal year 2015, but a deficit would emerge the following year. A larger levy of 8.4 mill would cover that shortfall, but voters polled against that amount. Mr. Vasquez questioned at the finance meeting whether a campaign for a levy that wouldn’t cover expenses just four years out would be a tough sell, and that maybe it would be easier to ask voters for what the district needs to cover costs.

Most at the meeting, however, disagreed, and said that polling showed voters felt 8.4-mill would be too much a burden.

“I’m in favor of passing what the community will support,” TPS treasurer Matt Cleland said, “as opposed to failing for what we need at 8.4.”

Now that the finance committee has approved the millage resolution, TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko said a special meeting will probably be held at 8 a.m. Monday at the Thurgood Marshall Building, 420 E. Manhattan Boulevard.

Board members may also consider a proposal to bring back freshman football, basketball, volleyball, junior varsity soccer, as well as wrestling at the seventh and eighth-grade levels be reinstated for the 2012-13 school year. The proposal is a second try, as the board of education rejected the effort last month.

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