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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 7/2/2013

Board leader vows open audit reviews

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Board of Education president's plans for community involvement in implementing a recent performance audit of Toledo Public Schools raised eyebrows when she unveiled it during a recent school board meeting, and already prompted promises of compromise to assuage concerns.

A recently completed performance audit of Toledo Public Schools recommends changes that could save the district $91 million over five years. Some community and political advocates have asked for strong public input in how changes are implemented and overseen.

Board President Brenda Hill told the public and fellow board members last week that she planned to use a recently assembled group of local business leaders as the public's conduit for input on the audit's implementation. The meetings would be public, she said, and community members would have a chance to attend those meetings.

That approach surprised some board members and public advocates who had pushed for the audit, who said they had hoped for stronger and wider community involvement in the process.

Business advisory councils, as laid out in the Ohio Revised Code, are meant to provide school board recommendations for such things as changes in local economies and how to development curriculum to meet the job market, though they aren't limited to those areas. Board member Bob Vasquez said the board meeting was the first time he had heard that plan.

"[Ms. Hill] confused me by connecting the business advisory to the performance audit," he said.

Mr. Vasquez said he expected a completely separate committee to be formed to allow for broad discussions about the audit's recommendations and act as a steering committee for the process. 

"The hard part isn't having the performance audit," he said. "The difficult part will be implementing the recommendations."

That is exactly what worries some who have watched the district over the years.

Steven Flagg, a public school advocate and frequent TPS critic, said the business advisory council "lacks diversity of thought and perspective," and since its members would be handpicked by the district, they would be unlikely to criticize TPS or offer views that may be considered controversial.

The performance audit was a chance to be inclusive and develop trust in district operations, he said. An implementation committee that is broad based could hold the district accountable to actually make changes, or at least allow real debate about why a recommendation in the audit may not be wise to implement.

"There needs to be real debate on these issues, and there needs to be people who ask questions and scrutinize it," Mr. Flagg said.

Several vocal conservative activists, who were at the forefront of community pressure for an audit, had criticized the district for weeks about its lack of an implementation committee. One of them, Tina Henold, who plans to run for a school-board seat this fall, criticized Ms. Hill's plan in a post on her campaign website.

"The fact is this: You have NO representation on this committee," she wrote. "While you will be asked to vote in favor of a renewal levy this fall, your opinion does not matter to TPS."

When asked this week about her plan, Ms. Hill said she was seeking expert advice to help guide the process, but also for partners that planned to work with the district.

"They will have a very important function, but one thing I don't want is hostility," she said. "I want someone who will work with us and help us."

But in response to objections regarding the community's role -- or lack thereof -- Ms. Hill said she was willing to alter her proposal.

"I am willing to compromise so the board members are happy," Ms. Hill said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com, or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.


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