Toledo Public Schools is asking city voters to approve a property tax renewal — not an increase — on next month’s ballot. TPS leaders argue credibly that passage of the proposal is essential to preserving the district’s financial health, carrying out its reform plan, and improving achievement among its 22,000 students. Issue 24 merits a YES vote.
Adoption of Issue 24 would maintain a 6.5-mill operating levy for five years. The tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home in the district about $150 a year. Because the levy is a renewal rather than an increase, taxpayers would remain eligible for a state subsidy of as much as 12.5 percent on their tax bills.
TPS has made major changes since voters defeated a proposed tax increase last year. The district has a new, young, enthusiastic interim superintendent, Romules Durant — a lifelong Toledoan.
The school system continues to execute what it calls its transformation plan, aimed at improving its financial and instructional practices. Under the plan, the district has created neighborhood schools for students in kindergarten through eighth grade — a popular move that TPS leaders say has elevated academic performance.
TPS has expanded options for under-performing, special-needs, and academically talented students. It is using technology to give students broader access to courses and textbooks. It is turning schools into community hubs that offer services to residents of all ages.
The next steps, school officials say, include bringing themed curricula to city high schools, in such areas as health care and performing arts. The district plans to create electronic “grade books” so that parents can follow their children’s classroom performance online.
TPS got some poor marks on this year’s state-issued report card, in areas such as graduation rates and meeting grade-level academic standards. This was the first year of a new format for the report cards, and TPS officials say its methodology did not adequately reflect the district’s annual progress. Voters are entitled to some skepticism, but the dispute remains unresolved.
The district’s tight finances do not appear to be the product of mismanagement. School officials say that the transformation plan is saving money, and that they have cut spending in other areas.
At the same time, the Great Recession, which is receding slowly in Toledo, has cost TPS millions of dollars in reduced state and federal aid in recent years. Property values, which determine local tax revenue, remain sluggish. The district has lost students — and their state funding — to charter and private schools.
District voters rejected other TPS levy requests in recent years because the school system did not appear to demand the kind of economic sacrifices from its own employees that it was asking of taxpayers, students, and parents. But a report last month by a state fact-finder concluded that because of recent pay and benefit concessions, TPS teachers now tend to earn less than their counterparts in suburban Toledo districts and in Ohio’s other large urban school systems.
If voters defeat Issue 24, advocates say, the transformation plan will stop dead in its tracks. To the contrary, TPS likely would have to make up the loss of tax revenue by resorting to the kinds of measures it took during previous budget crises: increasing class sizes, closing schools, laying off teachers, and slashing vital programs and services.
The quality of Toledo public schools affects the city’s property values and business climate, as well as the competence of tomorrow’s workers and citizens. Jeopardizing the district’s stability by starving it of needed resources would be a dangerously false economy.
The Blade recommends a YES vote on Issue 24.