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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Cosby to bring a message of volunteerism

Fiscal threats to education call for greater effort, he says

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

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Bill Cosby wants everyone in the Toledo community to hear him.

The floodwaters are rising: State and local education budgets are trimmed down to the bone, he says, to the point of hurting children beyond just cutting some special programs and educational extras. Teachers' unions are under fire too, and the children just might get hurt in the tussle over policy, power, and money, he said.

It's time for the community -- churches, nonprofit groups, families -- to step up, he said. He said fostering a stronger sense of volunteerism in the community is the key. Community leaders and organizations, such as local churches, need to do things they never have before, such as running after-school tutoring sessions for students in trouble.

"The floodwaters are up to the second floor. We've got to get up and grab buckets," Mr. Cosby said in a special interview with The Blade last week. "There ought not to be anywhere in America or any public education system that is allowed to not deliver a quality education. ... The charter schools do things. Let's look at things that the Catholic schools do. I do want to ring the bell. There is no more wiggle room."

The comedian -- who made his fame and fortune from movies and television -- has become an ardent spokesman for education and also the simple concept of individuals and families' taking responsibility.

Mr. Cosby will bring his message to the Glass City on Friday as keynote speaker for the Greater Toledo Urban League's 14th annual dinner. The event is sold out, with 750 expected at $100 a plate. Mr. Cosby also is expected to appear at Smith Park on Saturday at 11 a.m. for a free community event or "community rally." The first 1,000 students get a free T-shirt.

The weekend events are co-sponsored by the Urban League and The Blade. The two organizations hosted a press conference yesterday in front of Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School (next to Smith Park) to talk about the Cosby visit and to introduce The Blade's new "Education Matters" initiative.

The initiative is co-sponsored by The Blade and Buckeye CableSystem, two companies owned by Block Communications Inc. Parts of Mr. Cosby's visit Saturday will be videotaped by Buckeye CableSystem and will be available shortly after through video-on-demand on the Buckeye cable network.

Jim  Gault, TPS interim chief academic officer, announces at Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School that Bill Cosby will keynote the Greater Toledo Urban League's annual dinner Friday. Behind him at right is Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president-general manager of The Blade, co-sponsor of the weekend events. Jim Gault, TPS interim chief academic officer, announces at Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School that Bill Cosby will keynote the Greater Toledo Urban League's annual dinner Friday. Behind him at right is Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president-general manager of The Blade, co-sponsor of the weekend events.
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As part of the initiative, The Blade plans to report in an occasional series about the travails and successes of public education in the Toledo area and to periodically invite speakers from around the country who have made serious improvements in their local school systems. The Blade hopes the example of those successes will inform TPS and the greater community.

"As a leading local business and this area's primary news source, our goal is to elevate education -- nothing is more important for our future," said Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president-general manager of The Blade.

"The Blade and Block Communications are proud to sponsor the 14th annual dinner for the Urban League. While we support the league's mission, the message from Bill Cosby about a new way forward through personal responsibility has special significance for us, particularly as it relates to education," Mr. Zerbey said.

He added, "The Blade's newsroom under Executive Editor Kurt Franck will examine the current state of our schools and report on transformation proposed by Toledo Public Schools."

John Jones, president of the Urban League, said the weekend's events are designed to rally the community. "The ultimate bottom line out of all of this discussion is responsibility," he said. "Mr. Cosby's thing is, 'how do we get down to the community level.' "

The weekend events and The Blade's initiative are against the backdrop of TPS plans to transform the district after three years of budget deficits, two failed levies, and major budget cuts, including canceling bus service for about 5,000 students and eliminating middle school and freshman sports.

Toledo Board of Education members face a projected $37.7 million deficit for next fiscal year, beginnign July 1. That number could change after the state budget is passed and the full scope of cuts to state education funding finalized in Columbus.

There has been a consistent chorus from the community and its leaders for wholesale change in the way the school district does business.

In response the district released a three-year transformation plan and series of budget cuts to close the projected deficit.

Among the changes for next school year is to close the district's seven middle schools and all of its elementary schools and transform the lot into a series of K-8 neighborhood schools.



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