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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/9/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

COMMENTARY

Toledo needs a full-fledged youth program

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

We need to enhance summer youth programs, not cut them.

I do not have the same numbers before me as the city finance director or the mayor. Nor do I bear the fiscal responsibility they bear. They are good and smart people who need to fashion a budget.

But I am happy the Collins administration reversed its decision not to open the city’s pools this summer.

The reversal may not have been elegant. But it was right.

We were talking about roughly $230,000. That’s not a lot of money for a city to spend to give young people something to do; a place to go; and a place to cool off in the summer.

And think of what we spend as a city on corporate tax abatements and incentives.

Think of what we have spent on failed housing projects over the last 30 years — lining the pockets of developers and fattening the staffs of government and community development corporations.

Think of the many “silos” in city and county government.

Yes, I know some CDCs (like United North) are well-run. And we desperately need to keep corporations here. And we need staffing and bureaucracies.

There are many things government needs to do. And doing even a few of them well is easier said than done.

But surely one of the things urban government needs to put high on its priority list is a comprehensive youth program.

Toledo has been dismantling its program for youth — going backward not forward — for years. Closing the pools would be a death knell.

And replacing the city’s six pools with “splash pads,” which is what the stated Collins Administration policy was at one point last Thursday, is insulting. Just insulting.

A glorified sprinkler is not a youth program.

How can we, as a city, wring our hands about gangs, or the youth drug problem, and then dismantle the last substantial thing we do for our urban young in the summers?

Remember, this mayor ran on a platform of bolstering and supporting neighborhoods. Closing the pools would potentially devastate poor neighborhoods.

What is needed here is leadership and creative management.

Resources are scarce. I get it. Some of the pools are not well-used. Some are in bad shape. Pools are expensive to run and maintain (though they also create summer jobs).

Fine. How about a plan?

A real plan.

Again, I am not a budget expert and I do not have the “answers.” But what if, for example, we kept the two best and most centrally located pools open and invested in them? And then opened up the YMCA pools, for a fee, for public use. What if we then added summer basketball and baseball programs?

What if we committed to better spend the $230,000 and tried to get some private matching funds?

And what if we revived the summer youth jobs program started by former Mayor Jack Ford?

Let’s hold a youth summit that focuses on what we can do for Toledo’s kids this summer — bring together the mayor and his administration, Toledo Public Schools leadership, and the corporate community. Two citizen’s groups, Aspire, and the group led by former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and Baldemar Velasquez, informally called “the organizers,” are already working on the youth program problem. Let’s pool energy, ideas, and resources.

Look, $230,000 is chump change when we are talking about the future of our kids and our city. And a summer youth jobs program could be done for much less.

Let’s get everyone at the table and work out a solid plan for this summer, and beyond. Closing pools — or deciding not to close them — doesn’t cut it.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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