There is no excuse for the testiness that boiled over between Toledo Board of Education members at a meeting this week. But it was clear evidence of the growing level of dysfunction in the soon-to-be-leaderless, debt-ridden school district.
The dustup began when board member Larry Sykes pressed district Treasurer Dan Romano about whether he could have gotten a marginally better interest rate on a $15 million loan Toledo Public Schools needs so it can continue paying salaries through the rest of this year.
Board President Bob Vasquez, tired of the nitpicking, told Mr. Sykes: "Ask your question … I'm trying to move this along."
Mr. Sykes replied with a not-so-veiled threat drawn straight from the schoolyard: "With all due respect, don't ever raise your voice to me again."
If this is how the leaders of the school system are going to act, what can we expect from the district's 26,000 students?
Deep cuts to fill a $39 million budget hole this academic year, and an expected $44 million shortfall just over the horizon next year, have exposed a school system in disarray. Students and parents bemoan the loss of bus service and sports, but voters soundly rejected an income tax issue on the May ballot that was pushed only tepidly by school officials. Summer school failed even to get off the ground this year because not enough students could be persuaded to take classes.
Declining enrollments reduce state aid, while lower property values eat into local school funding. Everyone recognizes the necessity of closing underused buildings, but no one wants his alma mater shut.
Nor does anyone want to lay off teachers - the lifeblood of any school - because that would mean bigger classes and fewer course and program offerings. But district unions refuse to make meaningful concessions to avoid that result, apparently banking on manna from Washington.
And the school board isn't getting any closer to finding a replacement for lame-duck Superintendent John Foley. In fact, the search for his successor seemed nearly to fall off the radar, as attention turned to putting together a blue-ribbon panel to examine how the school system might be run more efficiently and effectively.
Against that background, what is needed is leadership. Officials acting like 12-year-olds won't bring the district closer to solving its problems. They also are a poor example to students who are forced to change schools or worry about graduating on time.