Voting against the Toledo Public Schools' renewal levy on the March 4 ballot would send a message that the community wants change, members of a district watchdog group said yesterday.
"We will only succeed in revitalizing Toledo if we are willing to stand up and demand the changes that focus attention on the solutions to our problems," Tyrone Sturdivant, a member of the Urban Coalition, told a crowd of about 30 people at the Kent Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, 3101 Collingwood Blvd.
The coalition said rejecting the 6.5-mill, five-year operating levy and taking away the money it generates - $15.8 million annually - will prompt the district to address issues it has neglected.
Some of those issues include disparities in the quality of education at schools in different neighborhoods, a lower number of black teachers in a district with a large number of black students, not enough minority contractors included in the district's building plan, and the need for transparency in district business.
Steven Flagg, a member of the Urban Coalition, said if the levy fails and the district meets certain benchmarks in the coming months that show it is working toward solving the problems, the group would lobby for passage of the levy in November.
"It seems like this institution only understands the color of money," Mr. Flagg said. "We don't want to deny resources, but we are sick of money going down the tube."
Toledo Board of Education President Steve Steel said he doesn't see the correlation between taking away money from students to address challenges in the district.
"If you're going to vote yes in November, then vote yes now," he said. "Vote what's best for children when you have the opportunity to vote for what's best for children."
Mr. Steel said that by passing the levy now and having that financial stability, the district can work to address important issues, such as increasing student performance.
Chris Varwig, president of the Parent Congress and a parent co-chairman for the levy campaign, said she hopes money will not be taken away from students by the Urban Coalition advocating the levy's defeat.
"There's a positive momentum in our district that we need to keep going, and groups like this detour us from that direction," she said.
The operating levy was first passed in 2000 and renewed in 2003. The district uses that money for operating costs such as salaries, instructional supplies, and programs.
The tax costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $117 a year.
The $15.8 million generated by the levy represents 5 percent of the overall $305 million budget for the school district.
If voters do not approve the levy, district officials have said the loss of the money would mean a reduction of employees, larger class sizes, and the elimination of programs.
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