Alan Fosnaugh of Robinson Middle School whispers to a neighbor as they listen to the plan put forward by the Toledo Public Schools.
Under the three-year plan, the district would close the seven middle schools next school year and create a new series of K-8 schools. New district lines would be drawn and employees shuffled around. Some will be laid off.
But parents don't know yet for sure where their K-8 children would go to school, and the employees at the middle schools don't know yet where they'll be working.
Many listening at the hearing at Robinson Middle School Tuesday night said they would reserve judgment until they see a final product and more details after the Toledo Board of Education approves a final blueprint.
"When are they going to tell us where the lines are? I hope they don't spring it on us in August," said June Leck, a second-grade teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary who has two grandchildren in TPS elementary schools. "Right now, they're just saying that they're going to redistrict, and you have that two-mile walking zone."
As it stands now, students who live within two miles of school have to walk or get a ride. TPS officials are hoping that by setting up a new series of K-8 neighborhood schools, most students would live close enough to walk, cutting down on transportation costs.
In the outer years of the plan, the district wants to create a specialized school within each high school, such as a performing arts schools at Bowsher High, a teacher prep academy at Scott High, and an International Baccalaureate program at Waite High, among others.
Parents and employees had questions about how students from across the district will be chosen to attend the various high school programs.
Brian Murphy, interim assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, said that it would likely start off a first-come, first-serve system. But he stressed that the details of the entire reshuffling of programs and schools still were being worked out.
As it stands now, a student who wants to attend a school outside his or her district must apply and have a good record of attendance and behavior. An involved principal can veto any request.
Some at the hearing were concerned about plans to lay off the district's 132 elementary school art, music, and physical education specialists to help close a $37 million deficit projected for next school year. The move would save $7 million.
District officials said that regular K-8 classroom teachers are certified to teach the courses and would pick up the slack.
Several teachers held up signs outside the hearing that read: "Art makes you smart."
Robinson Middle School science teacher Diane McClellan said she liked the overall plan but said she was worried elementary students wouldn't get the specialized arts and physical education instruction they need.
"They need the arts. And I don't think they can ask the classroom teachers to do all that," she said.
Ricardo Riley, a city of Toledo refuse collector, said he thinks teachers have been put upon with layoffs and increased class sizes the past several years. He has three grandchildren in the school system.
"They're putting a heavy whoopin' on those teachers. They want a lot from them," he said Tuesday night. "I feel sorry for them. They have to deal with the parents, teaching, and now the school system."
After three years of deficits, district leaders this budget year decided to rebuild from the ground up, according to Superintendent Jerome Pecko.
Mr. Pecko asked interim Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault to be "king for a day" and outline a transformation plan. He did, and his work became the blueprint that's now the subject of debate.
The school board would have to approve any reorganization plan and other changes proposed must be negotiated with the district's unions.
The plan calls for reinstating sports for seventh and eighth graders that were eliminated this school year, using distance-learning technology to offer advanced placement and other courses to students districtwide, and creating the specialized programs at various schools, including a sports medicine and health curriculum for Rogers High School.
The district also wants to offer high school-level courses to students in the sixth through eighth grades who can handle them and says it will transport them by bus.
The district needs to attract students back to the schools. Enrollment dropped more than 5 percent this year after a series of cuts to transportation and other services. For each student who leaves, the district loses about $5,800 in state money.
The goal of the plan is to streamline operations financially and academically by consolidating some schools and using new technology and new course offerings to balance the budget and retain and attract students.
The plan includes eliminating 346 positions including teachers, closing some buildings, and cutting employee salaries.
District officials also are seeking union salary-and-benefit concessions on the order of a 7 to 9 percent cut.
As part of the plan, the district would make sure every incoming freshman has a tailored plan for graduation and for what he or she wants to do after high school.
And district officials eventually want to convert Leverette Middle School into a boarding school for at-risk students, and would close East Side Central and Lagrange elementary schools, among other buildings.
TPS also will use $10 million in federal Race to the Top grant money to raise the performance of students and teachers at the district's lowest-performing schools.
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.