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Bob Vasquez wasn’t surprised when the Lucas County Democratic Party snubbed him and endorsed three other candidates for the Toledo Board of Education. The incumbent Democrat had expected blowback was coming his way.
Mr. Vasquez was endorsed by the party in 2009, and it’s rare for the party to not endorse an incumbent running for re-election. But Mr. Vasquez drew union ire for his school-board leadership during tense contract negotiations two years ago that extracted wage and benefit concessions from employees.
Ever since, the buzz has been that Mr. Vasquez was persona non grata with unions and the party, buzz that last week turned into a political sting.
“I was told there would be consequences for some of the decisions that were made under my leadership,” Mr. Vasquez said.
The party’s chairman, Ron Rothenbuhler, said the screening and endorsement process is an internal one, but Mr. Vasquez was correct that those labor negotiations — among other positions Mr. Vasquez had taken — were brought up while candidates were discussed.
“Several unions had issues with his decision-making processes or decisions he made while he was a school board member,” he said.
Mr. Rothenbuler stressed that the decision wasn’t personal.
Heading into the 2011 negotiations, Toledo Public Schools officials projected large budget deficits and said cuts were necessary.
Union officials took umbrage with the board’s decision to hire an out-of-town lawyer to lead negotiations and published the district’s initial contract offer, which included a 10 percent pay cut, proposals to award raises based on merit and performance, and higher employee contributions to health-insurance costs.
There were other proposed cuts and contract language changes. Mr. Vasquez at the time said the cuts and changes were necessary to balance the budget and implement the district’s transformation plan.
“I believe in what we were doing,” he said, “and I think the decisions that were made were in the best interest of the district.”
The teachers’ union and TPS eventually went to fact finding and accepted a mediator’s report that called for a 2.5 percent pay cut and a requirement that teachers pay a larger portion of their health-care costs. The report kept contract language largely untouched.
Mr. Vasquez says he is strongly pro-labor and a supporter of collective bargaining.
He said he opposed the anti-labor Senate Bill 5 and argued that the school board’s eventual agreement with its labor unions proved such drastic legislation wasn’t necessary, that collective bargaining works.
Mr. Vasquez said he still plans to be an active member of the Democratic Party and was willing to suffer his decisions’ consequences.
Endorsed by the party were:
● The Rev. Randall Parker III, pastor of the Manifested Word Church on Islington Street.
● Polly Taylor-Gerken, who was employed for 30 years in the district and is the wife of Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.
● Perry Lefevre, a teacher at Sylvania’s Northview High School and president of the Sylvania teachers’ union.
Meanwhile, the teachers’ union made their own endorsements last week, throwing their support behind Mr. Lefevre and Chris Varwig, a former Parent Congress president who long has been involved in TPS.
Ms. Varwig has at times registered as a Republican, though she says she aligns with Democratic Party views on education.