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Published: Friday, 10/14/2005

3 candidates for board pull levy support

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Three candidates seeking seats on the Toledo Board of Education yesterday pulled their support for the school district's levy renewal request on the November general election ballot.

Robert Torres, Christopher Myers, and Darlene Fisher, who are campaigning under the slogan "3 for change," said the school board is misleading the public as to what the 2.5-mill levy would fund.

"They are going to be using the money for their building program, but their talking points on the levy are completely different than what they are actually going to spend it on," Mr. Myers said. "I found that disingenuous."

All three candidates, who had been supporting the levy, changed their minds after Mr. Myers raised his concerns.

Mr. Myers said a pie chart that Toledo Public Schools leaders presented to the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce showed more than half of the nearly $24.4 million generated from the tax over five years would pay for brick facades and sloped roofs on the district's new buildings, which are now required features under Toledo's building code.

But helping to fund the district's building-construction program is not mentioned on another document titled "talking points," which district leaders use to discuss the levy.

School board President Larry Sykes, who is not up for re-election, blasted the three challengers and dismissed their claims.

"All Chris Myers is looking for is publicity. First he was for it, now he is coming out against it." Mr. Sykes said yesterday. "This is irresponsible of individuals to make these allegations to promote themselves as candidates for Toledo Public Schools."

Ms. Fisher and Mr. Torres said they changed their minds about the tax after they were told some of the money could be used for new buildings.

"I think they have a responsibility to spend or allocate those dollars in a manner or way the public entrusted them to," Mr. Torres said. "If monies are going to be redirected over the building for success program, then I do not believe that is that intent of the renewal."

John Foley, the district's chief of staff, said officials have been completely upfront about the intended purpose of the levy money.

"That pie chart was given to the chamber of commerce early in the campaign, and it is not the ultimate plan," he said. "I think there will be changes down the line."

The other three school board candidates - incumbent Steven Thomas and challengers Jim Whiteman and Steven Steel - all support the levy.

"The primary purpose of the levy is to make sure we have the maintenance in case of floods, leaky roofs, technology, as well as security," Mr. Thomas said. "I support the levy and, if the levy fails, we are failing the kids."

Mr. Whiteman agreed and said it would be a hardship for the district to lose a source of funding that has been approved by voters since 1985.

Mr. Steel joined Mr. Sykes in criticizing Mr. Myers, Ms. Fisher, and Mr. Torres.

"I think the bottom line is that this is a capital improvement fund levy, and there are specific laws as to what it can fund," he said. "This is money the school system already has and the people are already paying for, so I don't understand how they think the school system is going to absorb this massive cut in funding."

The 2.5-mill levy, which has helped fund the school system for 20 years, costs the owner of a $100,000 home $38 a year and pays for building upkeep, general permanent improvements, some renovations, furniture, and computer software.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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