‘There is fat in this district’Written by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Speaker after speaker streamed forward as their name was called to plead with the Toledo Board of Education to save their school, art and music specialists or in opposition to cuts ranging from school athletics to bus transportation. Several said they would support the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) income tax levy, some only if their program was spared.
The public hearing at Start High School on March 17 had the feel of a pep rally for the May 4 levy. Others suggested it was more like a well organized union rally since Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT), TAAP and AFSCME members attended en mass, easily the largest group represented that evening. The public hearing the next evening at Rogers was not attended as well, more subdued and absent the union presence, although TPS employees again made up half or more of those attending.
Francine Lawrence, TFT president, led off the procession of speakers and was followed by Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel (TAAP) and AFSCME representatives. Lawrence was loudly applauded by teachers in attendance when introduced and again with obvious exuberance when she concluded her remarks by suggesting that Board Members need to “chop from the top.”
Lawrence offered a number of criticisms and one solid suggestion. If the levy failed, she suggested the district should adopt a four-day school week, stating it would save significant monies.
Why would Lawrence or TPS wait for a levy defeat to implement a new work week that could save art and music specialists and several school programs perceived as successful? Certainly such a change is not without challenges, but they seem reasonable as compared to the consequences. Some state laws must be waived or changed. But since legislators have struggled mightily with the state budget, they’re likely to be amenable.
One Lawrence remark was a bit of a shocker during a levy campaign. Lawrence said twice consecutively, “There is fat in this school district.”
On this, Lawrence gets wholehearted agreement from many in this community. There may be disagreements of where the “fat” is, but you heard it from the TFT president herself that “fat” exists.
Lawrence should share these cost saving opportunities with the public. Her members’ salaries are from taxpayer dollars and their ideas are an important contribution to the discussion.
Most of those who spoke at the public hearing asked that their programs or special interest be saved. The Toledo Technology Academy (TTA) was amply represented by students and parents. The students came prepared and eloquently articulated the value of TTA and their experiences. It was a testament to those involved parents and the students of TTA.
With TTA and Early College High School slated for elimination, the logical next question would be why the elementary academies at Grove Patterson and Old West End (OWE) were not listed as potential cuts. Superintendent John Foley stated on several recent occasions that all programs not required by state law were identified for board review.
The longer school days and curriculum at GP and OWE result in greater costs per student than the average TPS elementary school. GP and OWE programs are not mandated by state law.
All four programs serve about 1,100 students, or 4.2 percent of the approximately 26,000 TPS students.
So, is the current lame duck superintendent being honest with us? Were all programs evaluated and sent to board members for review?
TPS has strategically identified programs or services and offered them in sacrifice to create the greatest amount of emotional turmoil. Logic takes a holiday when proposed cuts appear callous and target programs perceived by many to be valuable and enriching. They seem even more heartless because TPS has not developed nor articulated a set of criteria by which they will make these cuts. Angst always runs higher when you cannot reasonably predict what will happen in these situations.
In the end, it is to the advantage of the entrenched educational elite to ensure that everybody’s ox gets gored and that emotions prevent clear thinking regarding a levy that will drain $18 million from the private sector of our local economy.
How else do you pass a levy in these economic times when TPS has been less than forthcoming about its operations and where great public cynicism regarding the safety and efficacious use of taxpayer dollars is evident?
Steven Flagg is a community activist and education advocate. For more information, visit www.tpsinfo.com.
Tags: Toledo Public Schools