Toledo Public Schools will ask voters to renew its operating levy, with advocates emphasizing it’s not a new tax and will be used to sustain effective and popular programs.
The 6.5-mill levy is before voters for a five-year renewal Nov. 5. The tax generates about $13 million annually for district operations and was approved by voters in 2008 with about 61 percent of the vote.
At the head of the campaign is Superintendent Romules Durant, shirt collars and cuffs embroidered with TPS. He estimates he’s done between 80 and 100 presentations, forums, and meetings with organizations to pitch the levy; he’s been in churches every Sunday since he was named interim superintendent in April. He’s joined by teachers doing neighborhood walks and phone calls, and a slew of volunteers, with campaigns altering their messages for each learning community and school neighborhood.
Mr. Durant doesn’t just lead the campaign; his new leadership is frequently cited as a reason to support the levy, and district officials said Mr. Durant polls incredibly well in the city. District administrators chose a largely positive campaign message, focusing on successes and what the levy supports, instead of threatening what could be cut if the levy fails. The polling done for the campaign shows support at about 50 percent, but respondents showed much more favor after told of changes in TPS.
Key in the campaign is convincing voters, even if they don’t have children in the school system, that supporting TPS is important to them, Mr. Durant said.
“This impacts Toledo as a whole,” he said, “not just TPS.”
Funds from the levy would help sustain math and reading initiatives in TPS’ lowest-performing schools, now paid for with expiring federal grants. Another recently started program is Early High School Options, where junior high-age students spend part of their days at high schools taking advanced-level courses. Special-education students showed growth after a new strategy moved most of them into regular classes instead of dedicated rooms.
Mr. Durant points to high marks on TPS’ state report card for academic growth in gifted students and the district’s lowest performers as evidence those strategies are paying off.
But while they shy away from the negatives, TPS staff admit that a loss at the polls would force immediate cuts, likely leading to increased class sizes and possible cuts.
District forecasts show a balanced budget this fiscal year, but a small deficit would appear the next, and that assumes the levy passes, TPS Treasurer Matt Cleland said. A recent performance audit recommended dozens of changes that could save TPS money, and many of those are under way or already completed, Mr. Cleland said.
For instance, a new textbook inventory system saved more than $400,000 in book purchases. The district is selling off or leasing unused property, cutting down on energy costs, and developing more efficient bus routes to save on gas.
District leaders hope the renewal will reverse a recent history of ballot-box failures, most recently the November defeat of a new 4.9-mill levy that would have generated $13.3 million annually.
If approved, the renewal would continue to cost the owner of a $100,000 home in the district about $150 a year. Because the levy is a renewal rather than an increase, taxpayers would remain eligible for a state subsidy of as much as 12.5 percent on their tax bills.