TPS risks credibility without ‘independent’ committeeWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Reading the response of board president Bob Vasquez to suggestions made by a coalition of community groups (“Proposed committees to review TPS,” Sept. 5) has to make you wonder why he is so vehemently resisting a community partnership.
Vasquez is being offered the very help he asked for in June. Yet he suggests folks are asking for something he already is doing and that he has a committee when two folks he mentions as on the committee have said they were not aware a committee was formed.
Why would a call for action from a group of community organizations that states agreement with Vasquez’s call for “transformational change” by conducting a thorough independent review of the finances and operations of Toledo Public Schools (TPS) elicit such a defensive and antagonistic response from the board president?
Perhaps his defensiveness has more to do with who controls the scope of the review and making sure the final recommendations don’t upset the relationship between TPS and its unions who all endorsed and supported Vasquez’s election and those of three other board members.
Vasquez states, “We’re interested in long-term transformation change. It’s no trick or anything for the levy,” He also says, “I’m not looking for a study or strategic plan. I want to get the information that we need and make changes that we need to right away.” These statements are contradictory and confusing. You can’t create or sustain long-term transformational change without a plan.
TPS has lurched from year to year failing to grasp the fundamental problems and identify workable solutions. It has not had a strategic plan, just one-year operational budgets, for two decades. Yes, the district did go through two planning cycles in the early ’90s and again in 2002-03. TPS avoided the difficult task of creating systemic reform by failing to review how union contracts impact the very change TPS officials claim they are interested in.
There has been a sustained and consistent effort by TPS to undermine attempts at reviewing its operations or establishing community oversight of TPS operations.
In 1999, the Corporation for Effective Government did a review. In 2002, the Reform Committee (members appointed by the TPS superintendent) was created in response to a community call for a strategic plan. In both cases, TPS personnel and union representatives were on the executive committee that set the scope, procedures for the review and what was included in the final report. A critical means for providing ongoing review was eliminated in the 2003 Reform Committee report. And in a final act of control, TPS officials never implemented any of the recommendations provided in either report. Other smaller efforts throughout this past decade also met with efforts to control the process.
Vasquez insists that the major difference in the proposed committees is that his would involve district officials as they would be responsible for implementation and know what can and can’t be done.
The community groups realized that for the review to be effective, TPS personnel must be consulted and included in the review, but excluded from having influence on the committee makeup, work of the committee, and the final recommendations. It is implicit in the final stages that TPS personnel would be asked about the efficacy, practicability and appropriateness of all recommendations. But final decisions must be left to the independent committee and not be modified to appease an organization that appears to have gone rogue.
When recommendations are presented, the board always has the ability to say yay or nay. The board’s authority is a matter of state law and cannot be abridged or abrogated.
Vasquez’s resistance suggests that politics and not principles are again foremost. Vasquez and the entire board should get behind the community call for an independent review and stop worrying about their next political position by controlling the process and securing support from TPS labor unions for future electoral ambitions. This is their opportunity to stand behind true “transformative change” for TPS and not just talk about it to gain levy support or further personal ambitions.
If TPS does not act to create systemic reform, they will solidify their place as a reviled organization that is a key factor in Toledo’s dismal economic fortunes. An independent committee is just one step in rebuilding trust and creating an institution that is an asset in the renaissance of Toledo.
Steven Flagg is an education advocate and member of the Urban Coalition which supported the call for an independent committee along the African American Bureau of Commerce, African American Parents Association, Cherry Street Mission Ministries, Greater Toledo Urban League, NAACP, Toledo Area Ministries, Toledo Area Regional Chamber of Commerce, United North and United Pastors for Social Empowerment.