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Published: Monday, 3/15/2010

Top-rated technology school on list of cuts

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As a student at Toledo Technology Academy, Michael Orzechowski took English, history, and math classes like most any other teenager.

But he also helped build a robotics system that transports manufactured surgical socks from one part of an assembly line to another.

The project, completed with a group of fellow students, won first prize in a national engineering competition. The achievement and a steady dose of manufacturing and engineering classes helped him earn a scholarship to Michigan Technological University in Houghton in 2007.

His sister Erin, a junior at the school, wants a career in the bio-medical engineering field. And a third sibling, 13-year-old Megan, is eyeing the high school for her future, said Peggy Orzechowski, the three students' mother.

But under a proposal to cut millions from a strapped Toledo Public Schools budget, the top-rated technology academy could be shut down.

Ms. Orzechowski said the academy has helped mold her two oldest children into practi-cal thinkers solving real-world problems.

"The philosophy is that they work as a group so that they can actually survive in the real world," Ms. Orzechowski said. "It [closing the school] would be devastating for the one who's a junior."

The school system faces a projected $30 million deficit next year and must find new revenue or cut programs and teaching positions. The system's total operating budget is about $290 million.

Closing the academy - which is housed in a section of the former DeVilbiss High School building - would save about $1.3 million annually. It's one part of a budget-cutting program that would close several specialized programs and schools to save about $5.4 million.

The other cuts and savings include:

•Closing Libbey High School, $1.73 million.

•Closing Toledo Early College High School, $1.4 million.

•Consolidating Stewart Academy for Girls and Lincoln Academy for Boys into one school, $344,000.

Superintendent John Foley said he's not picking and choosing specific programs but is adding onto a working menu of options that the state doesn't require as a core educational requirement.

Mr. Foley said he has watched per-pupil revenue provided by the state drop as more students head to charter and private schools or choose to participate in a special state voucher program. The state education budget also has been slashed as the economy sours and state leaders look for savings, he said.

"People are telling us they're tired of property taxes," Mr. Foley said. "There are going to be choices that the board is going to have to make."

Voters will have a chance to weigh in May 4, when a 0.75 percent tax on earned income is on the ballot. It would raise about $18 million annually.

The school board has scheduled two public hearings for Wednesday and Thursday evening, and board member Larry Sykes said he plans to host meetings tonight and tomorrow, also in the evening.

All four hearings are scheduled for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Tonight's is at Waite High School, tomorrow's at Robinson Middle School, Wednesday's at Start High School, and Thursday's at Rogers High School.

A news conference also has been organized by Mr. Sykes for 2:30 p.m. today to protest the proposed combining of the single-sex academies - Stewart and Lincoln. The protest is being held at the Stewart Academy for Girls at 707 Avondale Ave.

Mr. Foley said Libbey is on the chopping block because it has relatively few students and the building is not part of the long-term capital plan.

He said that the Toledo Early College High School program, which allows students to take classes that also count for college credit, is grant-funded and also supported in the governor's budget, which has been slashed.

The program is highly ranked and allows students to earn up to 60 credits at no charge. The students take classes on campus at the University of Toledo.

The program, which now has about 100 students, began in the 2005-2006 school year.

The Technology Academy serves about 130 students, and they have to apply and be accepted into the program. It's considered a magnet school and is consistently ranked at the top of the highest-performing schools in Ohio.

Its charter is to give students a project-based education in manufacturing-engineering technology. The idea behind the program was that most of those who apply for their first jobs in the field do not have any practical experience with real-world applications.

Ms. Orzechowski said that even if her daughter Erin doesn't end up working in an engineering or manufacturing related field, she has learned valuable skills that have helped with her problem-solving.

"She's getting life skills," Ms. Orzechowski said. "She could rewire our house."

Contact Christopher D.

Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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