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Published: Thursday, 11/8/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Defeat of tax issue will prompt tough decisions for Toledo Public Schools leaders

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS AND IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Brenda Hill, TPS Vice President, left, and Lisa Sobecki, TPS President, right, join other members of the Board while waiting for the TPS levy results to come in Tuesday. Brenda Hill, TPS Vice President, left, and Lisa Sobecki, TPS President, right, join other members of the Board while waiting for the TPS levy results to come in Tuesday.
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The defeat of Toledo Public Schools' levy won't result in immediate cuts, but will prompt tough decisions by district leaders.

Voters rejected the 4.9-mill, 10 year levy by a 52.45 percent to 47.55 percent margin, with 45,351 against the levy and 41,107 for the new tax. Superintendent Jerome Pecko said it was "pretty depressing" when he saw the final tally, but said his spirits were lifted when he thought back on the hard work put in during the campaign.

“We can't say we lost for lack of effort on our part,” he said. “It was one of the best campaigns I’ve ever been involved in.”

The levy would have generated $13.3 million annually, and would have helped stabilize the district's budget as well as fund new programming. The school system’s budget is balanced for about the next 18 months, Mr. Pecko said, which makes immediate program cuts unnecessary. But an unforeseen event, such as further cuts in state aid, could make future budget concerns more immediate.

“There is an unknown out there that could go either way, and that’s what happens with the state budget,” Mr. Pecko said.

All new initiatives that were part of the second phase of the TPS transformation plan, such as thematic high schools and a gifted and talented program, will be frozen. Mr. Pecko, TPS Treasurer Matt Cleland, and several board members will be in Columbus early next week for an Ohio School Board Association conference, and will discuss next steps for the district.

Options Mr. Pecko will broach with board members include another levy campaign next year, planning for cuts, and a request for the state auditor to conduct a performance audit of the district. Levy opponents frequently questioned why TPS hadn't asked for an audit, which could reveal cost savings that would free up funds and make a levy unnecessary.

Mr. Pecko said he thought the current state investigation into reports of attendance data manipulation, sparked by revelations of questionable practices in Columbus and Toledo public schools, was one reason voters might have rejected the levy.

The TPS levy wasn't the only one to lose in the city.

The defeat of Toledo’s new parks recreation levy, which was pushed chiefly by two Democratic councilmen, won’t reduce the city’s recreation program from what it was in 2012, Mayor Mike Bell said, because the funds weren't budgeted.

The 10-year, 1-mill levy failed with 59,786 voting against and 51,269 in favor. It would have generated about $3 million annually to fund the park system and recreation programs.

“We anticipate doing exactly the same programs we did last year," he said. "We plan on opening the same pools we had last year. It would have been an enhancement more than it is a loss.”

The mayor, who donated $2,000 from of his own campaign fund to the recreation levy, said there wasn’t enough support before Election Day.

“There were so many diverse issues out there that were trying to get financial backing,” Mr. Bell said. “We wished for a better result because we thought it was very deserving of Toledo.”

Mr. Bell said the defeat of Imagination Station's levy was sad — although he acknowledged it could still pass with the provisional ballots. Unofficial results Tuesday show the levy going down by a less than 1 percent margin.

The mayor said despite the defeat of levies for city parks, Imagination Station, and Toledo Public Schools — all of which he said could be identified as helping children — the city is “still moving forward” with hiring more police officers, more firefighters, and fixing more roads.

“We are doing what [people] are asking us to do and we are not raising their taxes, so hopefully we are meeting the mark of what people have asked us to do,” he said.

Councilmen Steven Steel and Lindsay Webb, the two behind the recreation levy request, said the the city would still update its master plan for parks.

“People had questions about exactly where the money goes because we are still in the master planning process,” Mr. Steel said.

For example, the mayor, Mr. Steel, and Ms. Webb last week pitched plans for up to $9 million in new aquatic projects to be funded through the recreation levy.

A location for a proposed aquatic center for senior citizens has not been selected, Mr. Steel said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:

nrosenkrans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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