Decision 2010: Yes on 5: Waiting with KryptoniteWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The documentary film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” has inspired a great deal of local conversation regarding the state of Toledo Public Schools (TPS). At the beginning of the film, education reformer Geoffrey Canada talks about his heartbreak at discovering that Superman wasn’t real. Canada earnestly explains to the camera that as a child he grieved because if there was no Superman, there was no one coming to rescue him from the poverty-stricken, fatherless life he lived in the South Bronx.
At this point, TPS has long given up on Superman; the beleaguered system would probably be happy with even the lowliest backbencher hero — Aquaman, maybe. The Wonder Twins. Harvey Birdman. Hell, if someone put a cape around a mop and paraded it down Manhattan Boulevard it would be a cause for celebration.
On May 4, voters rejected Issue 3, a proposed 0.75 percent tax to help TPS. Since then, TPS closed Libbey High School, cut athletics and drastically modified bus service.
On July 13, the TPS board named Jerome Pecko as the system’s new superintendent. (The competition, Tom Watkins, removed himself from consideration, offering the blunt and insightful explanation that he could not work with the TPS Board of Education, which he described as “not united,” the most generous understatement since someone described the Detroit Lions as “not competitive.”)
In that same session, TPS announced it would seek a 7.8-mill levy on the November ballot. In a depressed market suffering from increasingly crushing financial pressures, a 7.8-mill levy request was the Hail Mary equivalent of closing one’s eyes while driving against traffic on the Anthony Wayne Trail; it seemed doomed from inception.
But here we are, hours from the Nov. 2 election, and the Toledo community is being asked to approve Issue 5, a permanent levy that will annually collect $22 million of local homeowners’ earnings. If it fails, Pecko said up to 400 TPS jobs could be in jeopardy, and there could be more school closings.
It has been interesting to watch the community’s reaction to Issue 5. The 7.8-mill levy inspired some wishy-washy prose from The Blade, offered an Oct. 18 unsigned editorial endorsing the levy, which it summarized with a hold-your-nose-and-vote “gulp.”
The Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce did not endorse TPS Issue 3 in May, stating it “will not address the systemic financial issues that are currently plaguing the district and which will continue to affect the district’s budgets in the future.” The chamber said the levy “will harm the job climate by increasing the overall tax burden” and that while “the chamber is concerned for the difficulties that face the district, it believes the necessary decisions need to be made by TPS to address the growing deficits projected over the next four to five years. The chamber believes further cuts in state funding face TPS and the district should face the reality of their budgetary concerns.”
On Oct. 26, the chamber did an about-face and endorsed Issue 5, stating, “The Chamber Board(1) is committed to pursuing appropriate actions to improve TPS by mobilizing the business community to facilitate change, realizing that the most important reason to support the levy is that the district must provide a quality education for the students.”
Mayor Mike Bell(2) endorsed the levy with his characteristic clarity: “If our schools are failing, our city’s going to fail,” he said.
Another strong endorsement came from United Way of Greater Toledo, which announced its choice after an Oct. 24 community screening of “Waiting for ‘Superman’.”
Bill Kitson(3), United Way of Greater Toledo president and CEO, said, “The bottom line is this is about kids. Period. Our children are too important for us to stand on the sidelines.”
If you believe the narrative of “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” one of the primary factors that is strangling education is the system of union contracts and tenure that protects lousy teachers and lets great ones go unrewarded.
At a forum following the Oct. 24 screening, when Toledo Federation of Teachers President Francine Lawrence was asked what the union would do if Issue 5 fails, she replied, “Ask for teacher raises,” which tells you all you need to know about her sense of humor, her deficit of self-awareness when it comes to her role in the ongoing TPS drama and who the joke is really on.
Will voters agree with these community leaders and vote for Issue 5? I do not have faith that Toledo voters truly want TPS to ask itself the hard questions. If they did, they would have re-elected Darlene Fisher.
Should voters agree with these community leaders and vote for Issue 5? Should they make another sacrifice, trust a system that mocks that trust and commit more money to what has basically been a roaring furnace that incinerates funds with a never-ceasing hunger?
Yes. Because despite all the arguments against it, to do otherwise is to not just give up on Superman; to do otherwise is to sink Toledo in a molten pit of permanent Kryptonite.
Michael S. Miller(4) is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Call him at (419) 241-1700 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
1. Toledo Free Press Publisher Tom Pounds is a member of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
2. Mike Bell does not have any children attending TPS, although he does live in Toledo and will be subject to the tax.
3. Bill Kitson does not have any children attending TPS, nor does he live in Toledo, so he will not be subject to the tax.
4. I do not have any children attending TPS, nor do I live in Toledo, so I will not be subject to the tax.