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Published: Friday, 12/7/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Toledo Public Schools weighs 3 candidates to audit its performance

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As Toledo Public Schools ramps up efforts to have an audit of its operations performed, the process of hiring an organization to conduct the audit has widened.

The Toledo Board of Education’s finance committee heard presentations Thursday by three organizations that could potentially conduct a performance audit of the district.

The presentations followed a directive last week by the full board that TPS administrators begin negotiations with the Council of the Great City Schools for a performance audit.

That move brought immediate criticism, as some questioned the choice of the council over the state auditor’s office, arguing that the council would not be impartial, because TPS is a dues-paying member of the council.

Though the board’s directive indicated preference for the council, it didn’t finalize the matter. Administrators first would have to receive authorization from the board to sign an agreement for an audit. That left time and wiggle room for the board to consider approving a contract with a different group.

Board member Cecelia Adams said last week’s vote was important because it got a commitment from the board that a performance audit would be done, without officially tying the board to a certain entity. After community members expressed concern, she said the finance committee decided it was important to host the three groups and invite community members.

The three groups were the council, the state auditor’s office, and private consulting firm Evergreen Solutions.

“We’ve got to bring these other groups in, too, and also invite our interested community members,” Ms. Adams said she told district staff.

An audit likely would cost at least $100,000, though each said the district would find cost savings worth much more.

Each has experience with audits and operation reviews of school districts, and walked board members through how a potential audit would work.

Board member Bob Vasquez questioned the groups on how they felt about working collaboratively with other agencies on audits, hinting at a potential joint audit, with one entity examining TPS finances and practices, and another providing expertise on instructional practices.

The committee allowed critics and representatives from community groups who have pushed for a performance audit to question the presenters and members of the school board outside the standard public comment portion of the meeting.

John McAvoy, a board member with the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, called the board’s outreach and meeting a good first step.

Although his group campaigned against the TPS levy because the district hadn’t conducted an audit, he said the coalition isn’t uniformly opposed to levies.

“If you can prove to me that you are really doing a good job with what you have now, I’m going to support you,” he said.

Former GOP Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, who as a blogger has pushed for a TPS performance audit, told the board that just as important as the process of beginning the audit was a commitment to implementing it.

Community members will need to see results before they would support new funding, Ms. Thurber said.

“If you expect that you are going to do a performance evaluation in three or six months and come out and say we’ve done it, we are committed to implementing it, now two months later give us another 5-mill levy, I don’t think that's going to happen,” Ms. Thurber said.

Steven Flagg, a public school advocate and frequent TPS critic, said that efforts to find fiscal savings were important, but would be worthless if they aren’t paired with reforms that result in academic improvements.

Mr. Flagg said the district has offered reforms and plans to include community input in decisions, with little follow-through.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said.

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



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