Toledo Public Schools leaders have made quiet overtures to several charter schools in the last year, an apparent change in attitude for the district toward its competition.
District officials said no concrete partnerships have been formed. But since Superintendent Romules Durant took leadership of TPS a year ago, he’s met several times with a selection of charter school leaders to discuss potential ways they could collaborate.
“The tone has definitely changed in TPS’ interest in working with us,” said Martin Porter, director of the Toledo School for the Arts.
The district sponsors two charter schools, and had sponsored more, including TSA. But TPS has also butted heads with charters, objecting to the states’ diversion of funds toward the schools and criticizing many for their performance.
“TPS has never spoken to us before about any kind of cooperation or exchanges,” Maritime Academy Superintendent Renee Marazon said. “This is brand new. I think we are energized by it.”
The outreach seems targeted toward charter schools that aren’t affiliated with for-profit companies and those that have had solid educational track records and niche curriculum.
Mr. Durant said his approach is to find ways for Toledo to leverage its resources more effectively.
“We don’t get into the whole political conversation of charter and traditional,” Mr. Durant said. “We look at quality education for all students.”
Most involved in the talks avoided specifics. But several charter school leaders said Mr. Durant had broached a sort of educational consortium.
Mr. Durant said one result would be a more efficient use of tax dollars. For instance, TPS had proposed in recent years to implement a performing arts focus at Bowsher High School. But that would mimic TSA, a school that annually scores near the top of state academic rankings.
Instead of competing with TSA, the district is now considering ways to combine forces.
TPS under Mr. Durant also has put a focus on expanding its own magnet school network; working with niche charter schools would align with that effort.
Toledo Federation of Teachers President Kevin Dalton said he didn’t know enough about the conversations to be critical or noncritical. If TPS eventually sponsored more schools, the union would insist those charter school teachers be a part of TFT, he said. And, he noted, anything that could essentially “outsource” teaching would find opposition from the union.
But working with nonprofit charter schools is a different dialogue than with those that have for-profit operators, he said.
While there’s been no discussion about formal partnerships with charter schools by the Toledo Board of Education, board President Cecelia Adams said she had no problem with working with charter schools, as long as they aren’t low performers or focused on making a profit.
“At least from my perspective, I believe our interest lies in making sure all students are served,” she said.
Working together would be a challenge, Mr. Porter said, and some on all sides likely have skepticism about each other’s motivations, but recognizing that TSA and charter schools could partner, instead of compete, is exciting, he said.