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Published: Friday, 9/10/2010

Teachers' union joins calls asking for audit

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lawrence Lawrence
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The president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers called Thursday for an outside audit of the school district finances - joining a school board member and a growing chorus of area groups that have called for outside audits of the books.

President Fran Lawrence said "the credibility of fiscal management of TPS is poor. It's a needed step to move the district toward re-establishing credibility and trust."

She said it also would improve chances of passing a 7.8-mill levy in November. It would be the largest levy ever passed for the district.

Ms. Lawrence and the Toledo Public Schools administration are expected to have a pitched battle over union concessions next year as the district works to close another budget hole.

New Superintendent Jerome Pecko said he'll look to the three main bargaining units for concessions as he tries to close what already has been projected as a $44 million budget next school year.

Toledo school board President Bob Vasquez called for an independent panel to review all aspects of how TPS delivers services to students.

He said he is convening a panel of experts from the business and higher education worlds to look at novel approaches to delivering education to children.

As for outside audits, he said there are already multiple systems in place for such reviews of the various pots of money that make up the TPS budget. He said the state and federal governments audit TPS regularly and a local committee also looks at the books.

The Greater Toledo Urban League, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, and eight other groups together late last month called for an independent panel to review TPS operations, including its finances.

The league and chamber's views on school matters carry extra weight this year because the organizations came out strongly against TPS' request for a May income tax levy that failed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. Most new-money levy requests in May failed across the state.

The two groups do not normally speak out on school district levy requests and have not commented on the November request.

School board member Larry Sykes also said he wants an outside audit after officials revealed late last month they had overlooked an extra $824,000 in the transportation budget that was ultimately used to rehire laid-off crossing guards.

The school system has endured some fiscal blows lately.

After the May levy failed, the Toledo Board of Education cut services, including some bus services and sports programs. The board laid off about 400 employees, including 237 teachers. It also canceled an outside contract for all the district's crossing guards just as more students would be walking to school.

After eliminating bus service for high school students and extending walking zones to the state limit of two miles, school officials found the $824,000 in the transportation budget about a week before school started.

The district now says it's facing another $44 million budget hole next year as federal stabilization money dries up.

The board says it likely will have to cut more, even if the levy passes.

Public trust was eroded last year when former TPS Business Manager Dan Burns was accused of stealing more than $600,000 during his tenure with the district.

He was indicted last month in Lucas County, and has been convicted in Cleveland of theft and racketeering. He was sentenced there to six years in prison. He was chief financial officer of the Cleveland schools.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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