Fighting for education reformWritten by Cheryl Catlin | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to publicly thank the Toledo Free Press for researching the campaign finance reports of the last School Board race and presenting their findings to the public. After reading the articles, I met with Ron Rothenbuler, the Lucas County Democratic Chairman, and asked if there had been a violation of the Party’s Constitution, and if so, would it be addressed or ignored.
I wrote this article to disclose the results of my inquiry.
At the meeting, I was presented a copy of the Constitution. The section relevant to this issue reads “Democratic Party endorsed candidates shall not speak publicly of other Democratic endorsed candidates in a way that could be construed as negative or non-supportive, or aid the candidacy of anyone other than those endorsed by the Democratic Party. Failure to heed these principles could result in withdrawal of endorsement by vote of the executive committee.”
Mr. Rothenbuler said he felt it could be interpreted as a violation but that he did not believe it was. He said it would be discussed if someone on the executive committee brought it up, but that thus far no one had. I asked him if he would bring it to the Executive Committee on my behalf. He said no. His job as chair was to help bring unity to the Party, not more division, and that this would just anger those accused and cause further confusion.
As a long-time Democrat, new member of the central committee (I am a precinct person) and endorsed Democratic candidate, I am angered, confused and would like the executive committee to determine if this type of money transference is standard operating practice or unacceptable.
Prior to this election, I believed the screening process was the time candidates presented their platforms and positions on issues. If nominated by the screening committee, debates and opposing opinions were allowed about the candidate before an executive committee vote is taken. After a candidate receives majority vote, it meant that they earned the Party’s’ support and should not expect further division or deliberate undermining of their campaign to occur from within. If it did occur, I believed that “failure to heed these principles” would not be accepted. Apparently not in this case. According to Chairman Rothenbuler, the Federation of Teachers financial support of a non-endorsed candidate, through the involvement of high-ranking Democratic public officials, is a “non-issue.” And with this answer, it appears that the Democratic leadership expects this to be the end of the discussion.
Two years ago, on behalf of several local education advocacy groups, I researched and presented information to the community regarding the academic achievement gap, disproportionate discipline occurrences among African-American students at TPS, and vast disparities between Toledo’s central/inner city public schools and outer-lying TPS schools.
I was part of an education advocacy delegation that met with various public officials on these issues. During these meetings, we asked for help in the development of a Toledo Student Achievement Gap Taskforce and support of education reform initiatives. We met with State Sen. Teresa Fedor, in her home. No assistance was given. We met with State Rep. Edna Brown. There was nothing she could do. Councilman Mike Ashford gave us 30 minutes to present issues affecting African-American students. Afterwards he told us there was nothing he could do. We met with Councilman Mike Craig and requested to make a presentation to city council. He never got back with us. The only county commissioner that agreed to meet with us was Maggie Thurber.
We also gave a joint presentation to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and Committee of the Whole representative Pete Culp. We requested assistance in the development of a Toledo Student Achievement Gap Taskforce. During the meeting, Mayor Finkbeiner was supportive of the idea, but later his office e-mailed and stated that a taskforce was too politically divisive for his involvement.
Disillusioned by their responses, we made a 10-minute presentation to the Democratic Executive Committee. During this presentation, we requested to meet with the Democratic Candidate Screening Committee and the Executive Committee to outline the education crisis in TPS central city schools and its impact on Toledo. We wanted to discuss the type of qualities and platform we would accept from endorsed Democratic candidates for school board. That meeting never happened. Instead, candidates that the Toledo Federation of Teachers pre-approved were endorsed, and education reform issues were ignored.
I participated in the first Democratic Party endorsement process for school board candidates. After presenting statistics that showed 1,000s of Toledo children failing academically, I lobbied for the need for education reform. I was not endorsed.
When the Democratic Party re-opened its endorsement process, I reapplied. Instead of relying on name recognition or TFT support, I again outlined the crisis of Toledo’s failing schools and its impact on the entire community and asked the Democratic Party to join the education reform movement. These are serious issues and I was a serious candidate. It was the commitment of Lucas County’s Democratic Party’s leadership to support education reform that was tested. They failed.
In Toledo, the Teachers Union leadership and education reform advocates hold two opposing views. TFT leadership views everything through a filter that focuses on gaining and maintaining complete power and control they claim benefits their membership. Students and the community are not its members. Citizens seeking education reform focus on issues that impact students, our future workforce and the community. A thriving educational system is achieved and maintained through a checks and balance system where all entities work together. Toledo does not have this form of collaboration and cooperation.
The president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers is a member of the Democratic Executive Committee. The power and influence TFT holds runs deep throughout Lucas County’s Democratic Party. It is now obvious that financing campaigns and putting money in public officials’ accounts bought more than just TV commercials and advertisements for candidates that support TFT. It also bought the rejection of education reform initiatives, disregard of community concerns and the dismissal of constituents seeking assistance from their elected officials.
Now that the election is over, the next big battlefield for education reform is contract negotiations, starting in March. Pay close attention. Lets’ all see how much TFT’s money can buy.
Cheryl Catlin is an education advocate who may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.