Three candidates for the Toledo Board of Education last night used a forum sponsored by three civic groups to try to reinforce their common election slogan to the dozens of people in the audience.
In nearly every response to the questions they fielded during the forum in the former DeVilbiss High School, now known as the Crystal Ellis Conference Center, board candidates Robert Torres, Christopher Myers, and Darlene Fisher repeated each other's names as the "3 for Change" slate on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The repetition became so predictable that by the two-hour forum's end, some audience members were repeating the slogan with the candidate reciting it, and the candidates started alluding to it without saying it.
While they and four rivals for three contested school-board seats - ballot-listed candidates Steven Steel, Jim Whiteman, and incumbent Steve Thomas, plus write-in contender Robert Hayman - agreed on some points, the trio took a more combative stance when discussing the current board and Toledo Public Schools' overall condition.
When the candidates were asked whether the school system had any responsibility for the Oct. 15 riots in North Toledo or any role in their aftermath, the trio placed more blame on the school system than their rivals.
Mr. Myers said the incident demonstrated the schools' "disengagement" from their students who had joined gangs, while Ms. Fisher said the riot was "a symptom of a failing system" and Mr. Torres remarked, "Our young people are telling us that the opportunities are not being provided to them."
Mr. Thomas said the schools were not a "root cause," and Mr. Steel and Mr. Hayman agreed that, as Mr. Steel put it, the problem "goes beyond school." Mr. Whiteman said the incident was "a civics lesson for all of us" and demonstrated the importance of both freedom of speech and "anger management."
"There's ways to protest other than to throw rocks," he said.
Other issues addressed during the forum included the district's minority hiring, truancy, ways to boost student performance, and the upcoming Issue 37 levy question - to which the "3 for Change" have withdrawn their support while the other candidates have come out in favor.
While several of the candidates said raising expectations is critical to boosting student achievement, Mr. Hayman suggested the greatest obstacle facing today's student is his or her own laziness and lack of dedication to schoolwork. The panel also generally agreed that parental involvement is vital.
"We need to embrace parents, but let's not be afraid to hold our parents accountable too," Mr. Torres said.
"It's the role of any government official to consult with the people who have a stake in an issue, and then make a decision," Mr. Myers said. "This current board has a history of railroading decisions."
The forum was sponsored by the Junior League of Toledo Inc., League of Women Voters, and Greater Toledo Urban League.
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