Steel focusing on development, collaborationWritten by Gail Burkhardt | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Since his appointment to Toledo City Council in July, former Toledo Public School Board of Education president Steven Steel has proposed several initiatives to improve Toledo’s struggling economy.
Steel said his experience balancing the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) budget has helped him with his budget planning on council and with working with his constituents and other entities.
Working on council also has given the Democrat an opportunity to deal more directly with Toledo’s citizens than he did on the school board. Emotions also do not run as high at city council, he said.
“People take their trash collection seriously, but not as seriously as they take their children,” he said.
One of his main projects as an at-large council member is developing a joint economic district where Toledo and outside cities and townships work together. Recently, council agreed to make a joint economic development district near Metcalf Field, an airport owned by Toledo, but located in Wood County, Steel said.
The new district provides opportunities for warehouse facilities and transportation with nearby roads, trains and the airport.
Steel said he is trying to move other initiatives that he worked on with the school board to council, including cost-saving collaborative agreements between schools and other city properties. For example, if a school is next to a park, instead of having a Toledo Public School employee and a city employee maintain each entity, one employee would take care of both properties.
At-Large Councilman George Sarantou, a Republican and chairman of council’s finance committee, said Steel’s experience with personnel costs from TPS has been helpful for the city’s budget.
Steel is working to make the city greener with an initiative that he worked on at the school board, said Councilman Mike Craig, D- 3rd District.
“I think in the future, we’re going to look at having city council go paperless, which would mean less paper, not no paper,” Craig said, adding that Steel was on the school board when it went “paperless.”
Steel said he decided to take the appointed position on council in July instead of waiting to run in November because he wanted to gain experience.
“I decided that if I’m the right person in July then I’m the right person in January,” he said.
Despite leaving the board before the end of his term, Steel said he enjoyed the challenges that the board presented him.
“As my leadership as president, I can take some credit for making the school board a leading body,” Steel said of his time on the school board, adding that he hopes to improve council as well.
Current board president Bob Vasquez said Steel’s organization made the board better.
“He brought the board together to use a process for doing the board work, he strengthened our committee structure, he gave everybody instructions of how to work with their committee and work through the issues through committee,” Vasquez said.
Although Vasquez and board member Lisa Sobecki applauded Steel’s leadership, others said he was difficult to work with during his presidency.
“I don’t think ideas that I brought forward were considered by Mr. Steel,” said board member Darlene Fisher whose term ends in January.
She said that Steel did not include her in important board conversations and that he had a conflict of interest in dealing with the Toledo Federation of Teachers because his wife teaches in TPS.
Fisher added that Steel’s political aspirations may have prevented him from being a good board president.
“I think we need to find people who are focused mainly on education,” she said.
The former co-president of Parents for Public Schools in Toledo agrees.
“Steve Steel is only interested in himself and only does things that further his political career,” said Steven Flagg, who is a member of the public education reform group Urban Coalition.
Flagg said Steel was difficult to communicate with and did not close down schools to balance TPS’ budget because of his political goals.
Flagg said he also warned council members not to trust Steel.
However, council members with whom Steel has worked closely seem to respect the newcomer.
“He’s captured concepts that are vital for the future of the city of Toledo,” said Councilman D. Michael Collins, I-2nd District.
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