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Toledo Public Schools brought out the big political guns on Monday for a new levy push, and for the battle it started, it's going to need them.
The district voted to place a 6.9-mill continuing levy on the November ballot. A continuing levy is one that, if approved, is permanent and would never require another vote to be collected. A temporary tax, on the other hand, is passed for a certain number of years and would need to be renewed by voters at some time for collection to continue past its expiration.
The only way not to collect a continuing levy, once it is passed, is for voters to approve a repeal of the levy at the ballot box.
Some of the most prominent Toledo political and community leaders joined TPS officials just hours after the Toledo Board of Education's unanimous vote, a signal that the district is preparing for a tough campaign ahead.
Wearing shirts that said "TPS Proud" and calling the levy's success vital for Toledo, Mayor Mike Bell, Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara, state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), United Way of Greater Toledo president Bill Kitson, University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs, and other religious, business, community, and government leaders publicly lent their support to the levy's passage.
"It's the right thing to do," Mr. McNamara said. "I ask everyone who is concerned about the future of this city to support these schools by supporting this levy."
But TPS faces a tough fight. Recent history doesn't bode well for the district at the polls. Voters haven't embraced recent levy requests, rejecting ballot initiatives twice in 2010. Voters have not approved new levy money for the Toledo school district's general fund since 2000.
The district won't be the only organization asking for tax money this fall; though no other entity officially has filed to place a levy on the November ballot, the potential field seems crowded.
Lucas County Children Services may place a 1.8-mill property tax on November's ballot that would take effect in 2014 after a 1-mill levy expires in 2013 and would supplement a 1.4-mill levy that voters renewed last fall. Two Toledo city councilmen have suggested a 10-year, 1-mill levy to raise money for parks and recreation. Imagination Station leaders intend to ask voters to renew a five-year, 0.17-mill levy.
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library and Metroparks of the Toledo Area also may be on the ballot.
If passed in November, the TPS continuing levy would increase property taxes by about $127 for a home valued at $60,000, a move that would garner about $18.5 million a year for Toledo Public Schools.
Recent polling research has indicated that about 46 percent of voters would support a levy near the 6.9-mill levy amount, while 32 percent were against a levy at that amount, and about 21 percent were undecided.
But the district may not have the strong support it once held from at least one core constituency. African-American voters, who historically supported TPS levies by wide margins, appear less enthusiastic about the district than in the past, according to recent polling done for TPS by Stanford H. Odesky & Associates Market Research of Toledo.
The firm hadn't analyzed survey results enough last week to tell school board members why views had changed, but some supporters of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo have threatened to campaign against a TPS levy if the district bids for a federal grant long held by EOPA to run Head Start.
To combat those headwinds, this year's levy campaign promises to be more robust than previous attempts. School officials have said the campaign will be allotted a larger budget than past ones. The campaign will be longer than most, with nearly six months for the district and advocates to push their message.
That message, at least Monday, was that TPS is on the right track after beginning a transformation plan that included districtwide K-8 buildings, instruction reforms at its lowest performing schools, and community hub schools. Supporters repeatedly called a vote for TPS an investment in the future and a chance to continue positive momentum for the district and the city.
"We are at a crossroads in education in Toledo," board of education member Bob Vasquez said, "and a vote, a positive vote, is the path that we want to go down."
The district's budget is balanced through next fiscal year, but large deficits are projected despite significant union concessions last year. Failure to pass the levy would mean a sharp halt to implementing additional reforms such as thematic high schools and gifted and talented programs for elementary students; it also would bring a new round of cuts. City leaders said that a strengthened TPS would be the next step in revitalizing Toledo.
"There are critical points in this city," the mayor said, "[and] one of them is making sure that our school system is number one, not only in the state of Ohio, but also the nation."
In a bid, at least in part, to build goodwill for the district, the board of education voted Monday to bring back several athletic programs cut in recent years to help balance the budget. Freshman football, basketball, volleyball, junior varsity soccer, as well as wrestling at the seventh and eighth-grade levels would be reinstated for the 2012-13 school year. Bringing back the sports would cost about $150,000 annually, according to TPS administrators.
Supporters of the move have said restoration of freshman sports would entice back students who left the district for schools with better athletic offerings. District officials said the number of approved state vouchers for Toledo students to attend private schools came in this year at fewer than anticipated, and the saved money will pay for the sports programs.
The board had previously voted down the proposal in April, with some members concerned about the source of funding.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: email@example.com or 419-724-6086.