Candidates pull petitions to fill TPS Board seatsWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With the deadline to submit candidacy petitions approaching, eight Toledoans have begun campaigning for spots on the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education.
Three board members’ terms are up this year: board president Brenda Hill, Larry Sykes and Bob Vasquez. Vasquez plans to run for re-election, while Sykes is planning to run for Toledo City Council. Hill will not seek re-election.
It looks to be an eventful year for who ever fills the three vacant seats, as well as the other board members. Superintendent Jerome Pecko’s last day was this week, and Romules Durant will step in as the interim superintendent at the beginning of the month. Durant has been acting as interim superintendent since April.
Also on the agenda for TPS is a five-year, $6.5 million renewal levy, set to come before voters in the November election.
Board member and former board president Vasquez said it is imperative to TPS that the levy pass.
“It’s a renewal, so all budgets have a five-year forecast. They have in them money from the levy renewal,” Vasquez said.
If the levy doesn’t pass, Vasquez said the Board will have to make cuts, but that they haven’t yet determined the source of those cuts.
“We are constantly receiving less and less from the state and federal level, and unfortunately, that has to be put on the local taxpayers,” Vasquez said.
Still, he hopes those taxpayers will vote for the levy’s renewal, and feels the district is showing it is worth taxpayers’ dollars.
“We have gone through a performance audit, trimmed the budget by millions and hopefully we can trim more over the next five years. We’re always looking for ways to be more effective,” Vasquez said. “Toledo Public Schools has made considerable progress in the last six years, and we’re moving in the right direction. The levy needs to be passed in order to continue progressing, and for the Transformation Plan. We can’t afford to stop or go backward.”
The following candidates have also begun circulating candidacy petitions. They will need to be certified by the Lucas County Board of Elections.
TPS parent Aji Green said he is seeking election because of his daughter, a student at the Old West End Academy.
“I’m running to make her educational experience better for her,” Green said. “As a parent, you want the best educational experience for your kids.”
Green said one of the board’s biggest challenges will be passing the November levy, as well as regaining students who have left the district.
“The majority of our kids are leaving in favor of charters and parochial schools. I bring something to the table to bring those students back,” Green said.
“Charter schools are not accountable to the public like public schools are.”
Green also wants to see the district engage students by “meeting them with new technology and new ideas.”
Green ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2009 and City Council in 2011.
Green said he wants to run because “the position would give me the opportunity to do what I’m passionate about, which is to be active in the community and be a voice for the community.”
Homeschooling mom Tina Henold said she knows she isn’t “the normal kind of person that runs for school board.” But Henold, who has homeschooled all three of her children, said she became interested in local politics, specifically the board of education, when she started feeling frustrated with last year’s national and state races.
She said she has been at every school board meeting during the past year, and “had a hand” in TPS’ performance audit. Henold, who lived in Romania with her family as missionaries for a time, said she believes that a strong educational system will help turn the city around.
“We’re not going to have businesses come unless the school system draws them. If we don’t have a population that is educated, they won’t come here,” Henold said. “The school system is connected to our property values. If we don’t have well-educated kids, the property values are going to drop. That’s the foundation to everything else improving.”
Henold said she “made a mistake” and wishes she “had taught [her children] evolutionism and creationism side by side,” as opposed to strictly creationism. She said she has no intention of pushing for creationism to be taught in Toledo Public Schools.
She said she will spend the next few months “knocking on a minimum of 15,000 more” doors in Toledo, hoping to speak with voters before the election.
Perry Lefevre, who is also a TPS parent, is hoping to take on a new role in the world of education.
He teaches social studies at Northview High School and is the president of the Sylvania Education Association, the district’s teachers union. Lefevre, who has taught for 28 years in both Texas and Ohio, said he has worked in “virtually every aspect of education.” But being on the board of education would be a first for him.
“I feel this is a different hat,” Lefevre said. “I’m not going in as a labor leader. I’m going in as a taxpayer, as a parent who can make a difference.”
“If I can make a difference and make some improvements, it’s worth it,” he added.
Lefevre is also the president of the Arlington Neighborhood Association.
Maynard Porter says he is a proud TPS alumnus. But the Waite High School grad knows there are many graduates of Toledo Public Schools who don’t feel the same way he does. And that is something he hopes to change if elected.
“I want to make sure every student is proud to be a TPS product,” Porter said. “I want to make sure people are proud of our community, and people are sometimes ashamed of where they went to school.”
Porter wants to improve the tutoring and mentoring programs in the district, and wants more TPS students “to be able to be gainfully employed.”
The former freshman football coach at Waite said that the district lost too many students after it cut freshman-level sports.
“We’ve had drastic enrollment losses to parochial and charter schools,” Porter said. “We lost out on that. We’re still trying to get those numbers back.”
Porter also has one person on the board he knows well: Interim Superintendent Romules Durant, who played football at Waite during Porter’s time as coach. Porter also is a basketball official for both boys’ and girls’ games.
In addition to his athletic activities, Porter works as a dock worker at FedEx’s freight division and is involved with his church, St. Martin de Porres.
Polly Taylor-Gerken knows a bit about Toledo Public Schools. She worked for the district as a secretary for 18 years, and as a school psychologist for 12. After years with the district, Taylor-Gerken says she’s ready to return.
“I think now is the time to engage my passion and expertise for moving the district through
imminent transformation. I’m ready to see things move forward,” she said.
Taylor-Gerken attended a vocational program through her public high school that prepared her for office work. Working with TPS was only her second job out of high school. She eventually became a school psychologist for TPS.
Taylor-Gerken said she feels this is an exciting time for the TPS Board of Education.
“The community is coming together to really show that our schools can be transformed.”
Gerken is the wife of Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.
Chris Varwig first became involved with Toledo Public Schools when her daughter’s teacher asked for a volunteer to lead a Girl Scout troop. From there, her involvement snowballed.
She became the president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Beverly Elementary, Byrnedale Junior High and Bowsher High School.
“I’ve been able to get a good feel for what the district has to offer,” Varwig said.
Varwig said she feels there is “such an attack right now on public education,” and also wants to foster parent engagement within the district.
“We’re working on that process, but we can do more,” she said.
With her daughter headed to college, Varwig said the time is right for her to run for election.
“I’ve been asked year after year to do this,” she said. “But it’s time to take it to the next level.”
As the only incumbent in the race, Bob Vasquez says he has unfinished business to take care of.
“In my time on school board, I initiated a lot of things with board members and administrators, including the Transformation Plan,” Vasquez said. “I want to make sure those ideas are carried out to their end.”
Vasquez said he would like to see ideas implemented from the performance audit the district underwent this year.
Vasquez said he is extremely qualified for re-election. He holds a masters in public administration and is a past president of the board of education. As president, Vasquez said he helped balance the budget twice and was responsible for the Transformation Plan. Before he became a board member, Vasquez worked at the Department of Youth Services, Lucas County Children Services and St. Anthony’s Villa.
“I’ve worked with young people my entire life,” Vasquez said. “I understand how important a good educational experience is for young people.”
Art Henry IV has also pulled petitions to run for a spot on the TPS board. He was unavailable for comment at presstime.
The deadline to submit petitions to the Lucas County Board of Elections is Aug. 7.
Tags: Aji Green, Art Henry IV, Bob Vasquez, Brenda Hill, Chris Varwig, Jerome Pecko, Larry Sykes, Maynard Porter, Perry Lefevre, Polly Taylor-Gerken, Romules Durant, Tina Henold, Toledo Public Schools