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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

Bell vows to aid public schools if elected mayor

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mike Bell, former Toledo fire chief who is running for mayor as an independent, says the public schools are key to the city's future. Mike Bell, former Toledo fire chief who is running for mayor as an independent, says the public schools are key to the city's future.
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As a product of Toledo Public Schools, Mike Bell said if elected mayor he would do whatever he could to help the district be successful.

The public school system is key to the survival of the city and the region, said Mr. Bell, who is running as an independent.

"We need to make sure our kids here are getting the best education," he said. "I am not placing blame on anyone, but I know there's something here we have to fix. It is important to our survival as a city."

Toledo Public Schools scored just high enough to receive a "continuous improvement" rating on the 2007-08 state report cards. It was an improvement from "academic watch" the year before, like moving from a D to a C grade.

While the mayor has no control over the school system, he can advocate for innovation and accountability, said Mr. Bell, who was Toledo's fire chief from 1990 to 2007.

His specific proposals include quarterly meetings among the mayor, superintendent, and Toledo Board of Education, benchmarks for higher performance and accountability, and extending the successful teacher mentoring program to all employees, including administrators.

An alternative school could be the answer to the district's discipline problems and a joint city-schools program could be created to identify and assist at-risk youth, Mr. Bell said.

School board member Darlene Fisher, who is running to retain her seat in the November election, attended yesterday's news conference as a supporter of public education, not necessarily Mr. Bell.

But she did suggest the regular meetings and reminded him that

Jack Ford had an education liaison during his term as mayor.

"It's all interrelated," she said. "We should have been doing this 15 years ago and we might not be in this situation."

Toledo Public Schools Superintendent John Foley said it's always positive when candidates want to help the district.

He's open to regular meetings with the mayor, but is unclear about Mr. Bell's benchmarks for improvement in his proposal.

"We have repeatedly been held to a benchmark, which is the state report card, and our goals are working toward that," Mr. Foley said. "We already know what our accountability measures are. I think they are pretty stringent. And we've been working hard on those benchmarks."

D. Michael Collins, also an independent candidate for mayor, said he would have an open-door policy for the school board, administration, and the district's bargaining units, but he would not attempt to have any controlling influence over the schools.

"Toledo Public Schools has a major impact on the quality of life and economic stability for the city as a whole, and for the mayor's office not to recognize that would be very shortsighted," said Mr. Collins, who is on Toledo City Council.

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, who is running for mayor as a Democrat, said without question the mayor should support the city's public schools while respecting their autonomy.

"Of course the mayor should be championing various facets of the city, including its schools, and of course the mayor should be meeting with the superintendent on a regular basis," he said.

The No. 1 thing a mayor can do to help the district would be to create a stronger economic base to help generate revenue and population, Mr. Konop said.

Democratic mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski said it's important for a mayor to put an emphasis on education, provide safe neighborhoods, and support teachers and programs that are proven to work.

"What I think the mayor needs to be able to do is provide community leadership in changing our culture in terms of how we value education," he said.

Mr. Wilkowski said he would institute a community reading program with the city and TPS, as well as Washington Local and other schools in the area, to raise the value of education.

Jim Moody, a Republican candidate for mayor, said as a real estate agent he knows how heavily school quality weighs in people's decisions on where to live.

"If the schools had a better perception, you would not see as significant a flight to the suburbs," he said.

Mr. Moody said there are gems within Toledo Public Schools and the mayor should champion those good things and provide after-school programs for city youth.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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