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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

COMMENTARY

Owens, city can make lemonade

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

It is a cliche — true, like most cliches — that crisis can sometimes be turned to opportunity.

But how? How do we turn lemons into lemonade, especially in public administration? It’s so hard to make things happen in this realm.

Well, to make things happen, to turn a problem into a remedy, you need four things: leadership; conversation (but not endless conversation); cooperation; and just a little imagination.

Owens Community College, Toledo Public Schools, the higher education community in northwest Ohio, and greater Toledo as a whole are facing a problem set that is conceivably an opportunity.

We have to use the above-mentioned old-fashioned tools of reason and discipline to make the transformation.

The overriding problem is a lack of opportunity for the young in this region, especially the economically disadvantaged young.

A specific subproblem is the lack of technical job training available to the young.

A second subproblem is that Owens Community College, in Perrysburg Township, is facing a fiscal crunch. It is not raising enough with tuition, even with considerable state and federal aid. Owens is therefore considering going to the public for support in the form of a levy.

The combination of these factors has caused a number of people to say: Why not increase Owens’ presence in downtown Toledo?

Most recently, these voices have included The Blade, editorially, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Miss Kaptur feels strongly about the city’s crying need for a downtown community college. Owens was partially created to serve urban youth. Many urban youth can’t get to Owens at its current location. They don’t have cars.

Let’s get together on this, Miss Kaptur told me by phone. Let’s form a high-level working group to do so. She points out that community colleges are downtown in Cleveland, Dayton, and Columbus, and nearly half of Owens’ students are from Lucas County.

She thinks our various institutions of higher education should work in harness to create a downtown community college. Owens can’t and shouldn’t do it alone.

There is more. And this may be key.

TPS Superintendent Romules Durant feels as deeply about this issue as Miss Kaptur. He believes that if we are to retain young people and reduce youth unemployment we need a community college in the city.

Moreover, Mr. Durant has another idea. It is an original one. He wants a vocational-technical high school that is state-of-the-art. He wants it in downtown Toledo. And he wants it to connect, physically and academically, to a two-year technical college. So, a high school student who wants to learn to be a machinist, or a nurse, or a cameraman would enter, in effect, a six-year program in which he would get hands-on experience when he enters high school.

Mr. Durant, based on soundings he has made, believes he can win the backing of the governor of Ohio for this concept.

Folks, we have something real and significant within our reach here. Another game changer.

We need a vocational-technical high school and two-year college in downtown Toledo. If TPS, the University of Toledo, Owens, Mercy, Lourdes, and the city, county, regional, and state leaders pull together — and set aside turf and ego — it can happen.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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