School Board Candidate Profile: Bob VasquezWritten by Kevin Moore | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Of the eight candidates running for Toledo Public Schools (TPS) board this year, Bob Vasquez is the only incumbent seeking re-election. Vasquez was appointed to the board in 2008, served as board president from 2009-11, and was elected by voters in 2009. The other two would-be board incumbents are Larry Sykes, who is running for City Council, and board president Brenda Hill, who is not seeking re-election.
Vasquez, a native of East Toledo and a graduate of Waite High School, has focused his career on issues that affect children. With a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration, both from the University of Toledo, he worked for 13 years for Lucas County Children Services as a caseworker and supervisor of foster care. A licensed social worker, Vasquez has worked since 1996 as director of special projects for the Toledo office of The Twelve Inc., an organization specializing in foster care and adoption services.
Vasquez credits his father, a World War II veteran and single father to four sons, for his faith in the power of education.
“I witnessed my dad’s work ethic. He told me, ‘If you become educated, if you work hard, you will succeed.’ When you look at education, it has broad effects on housing, economics, hunger and public administration. School board can impact a tremendous amount of people for good.”
During his tenure with the board, Vasquez and his fellow board members developed the district’s transformation plan based on five key principles: financial stability, increased community participation, increased use of technology, stable labor management relations and “rightsizing” of the district.
To maintain its financial solvency amidst a shrinking tax base, cuts in state funding and the transfer of funds to charter schools, Vasquez said the district cut approximately $100 million since 2008. The effort combined cuts to athletics, transportation and concessions from TPS employees. The latter prompted the Lucas County Democratic Party and some labor unions to withdraw their endorsement from Vasquez this year, despite having supported him in 2010. Vasquez, who still has endorsements from such unions as International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8, understands the reaction but stands behind the board’s actions to balance the district’s books.
“We had to meet our obligations, and it was a situation we all had to deal with,” he said. “We cut what we could, but concessions had to make up the difference. But our employees really stepped up to meet our financial challenges so the broader community wouldn’t be affected. I support labor and collective bargaining, and through that process we were able to successfully renegotiate stable two-year contracts.”
To meet the Transformation Plan’s other goals, Vasquez and his colleagues established partnerships with area nonprofits and higher education institutions, created distance learning classrooms that give students more course options and shifted districts to better reflect the city’s changing population distribution, closing some of TPS’ older and more costly buildings.
TPS is also developing “thematic schools” that focus on specialized and vocational education to compete with the options presented by charter schools. Rather than debate the merit of charter schools, Vasquez has adopted a pragmatist position: “The point is they’re here. Let’s focus our energies on making TPS the choice.”
Vasquez said he firmly believes the district’s adoption of the transformation plan has begun moving it in the right direction, and he wants to see that work through to its completion. If re-elected, Vasquez wants to reallocate funds to rebuild TPS’ transportation system.
“Safety has to be a priority,” he said. Vasquez said in the next term he will focus on increasing parent involvement in education, implementing as much of the performance audit as possible and identifying underperforming schools.
“I was able to provide leadership during one of the most challenging times in TPS history. We’re developing a positive culture and new enthusiasm. We’re not done yet, and I hope to continue on.”
For information on Bob Vasquez, visit www.bobvasquezfortps.com.
Editor’s Note: Each Toledo Public Schools Board of Education candidate was also asked to answer 10 questions. Here are Vasquez’s unedited responses. Plus: Exclusive analysis by Urban Coalition member Steven Flagg.
1. What are three most crucial issues – in order of importance – facing Toledo Public Schools? What would you do as a board member to address the issues you identify?
The most crucial issues facing the School Board are financial stability, relevant and effective curriculum, and raising the performance of the underperforming schools. We also need to implement an effective marketing initiative in order to ensure that the public is aware of the opportunities that are available at Toledo Public Schools.
As a Board member I will continue to closely monitor our finances and continue to make the hard decisions that need to be made. I served as president of the Board during what I believe was the most difficult period in recent times. We have cut millions of dollars out of the budget by eliminating services and as a result of our staff making concessions. All of this involved making hard decisions, some of which have long lasting effects on our staff and students.
I am a trustee of the Ohio School Board Association. The association represents member school districts and assists us in educating our state and federal representatives on the array of education issues. Of course the most significant is funding. The state has balanced its budget largely by cutting funding to education requiring the local community to fund a larger portion. I am regularly involved in advocating on education issues in Columbus and I have traveled annually to Washington D. C. to do so on the national level.
I could write much more because these are complicated issues.
The state is mandating core standards that we must incorporate into our daily teaching. Much of the curriculum is mandated but we can make adjustments. We need to look at new techniques for teaching this generation of students. The current environment enables students to have access to instant information. For instance, current technology dictates that we incorporate technology into our methods of teaching. This is a long term issue that requires consistent attention. I have had discussions with the local universities and with our administration encouraging them to meet with higher education to let them know what our needs are.
We need to address the issue of our underperforming schools. The key is to improve parent participation. We need to find a method for engaging those parents who historically have not been engaged with their child’s school. We need to redirect resources to accomplish this.
2. Why should voters select you to represent them in decisions and matters affecting the education of Toledo’s children in their public schools?
I have demonstrated during my tenure the kind of leadership that the citizens want and deserve. At the time of the last election I stated that there were 5 goals I wanted to accomplish.
- Financial Stability
- Enhanced use of technology
- Stable labor relations
- “right sizing the “district”
- More community involvement
I have accomplished all of them. In addition I am largely responsible for the TPS Transformation Plan.
Under my leadership we have had to make difficult decisions. Those decisions helped to financially stabilize TPS at a time when the community had very little confidence in TPS.
3. What is the primary role of a Toledo Board of Education member?
The Board is a policy board and deals with setting policy for the district. The Board helps set direction for administration and all of the staff. The Board has two employees who report directly to the Board; they are the superintendent and the treasurer. The Board is ultimately responsible, but it is important to allow our staff to handle the day to day operations of the district. Even though curriculum and the education of our students are primary to our mission, being good stewards of the finances is very important. Making sure that the district is financially solvent is absolutely necessary as well as ensuring that we are utilizing the taxpayers’ money in the most efficient and effective manner. It is also important for the Board to have vision and plan for the future. The board members also need to be advocates for the district in the legislative area. The district is directly affected by laws and policies at the local, state, and federal level.
4. The Toledo Public Schools recently completed a performance audit with projected savings of $91 million over 5 years. Do you agree with and support implementation of the recommendations provided by the audit?
I do agree and accepted the leadership role to ensure its implementation. We are already implementing those things that do not require contract modifications. The process for conducting the performance audit was significant as it relates to transparency in addition to the results. There are some recommendations that need further discussion and thought but most of the recommendations are acceptable to the board.
5. TPS will need to negotiate contractual changes to realize a significant portion of the savings recommended in the audit. Do you believe contractual changes can be made to realize these savings and how would you as a board member facilitate negotiations?
It is in everyone’s best interest to make many of the changes that have been suggested in the audit. Discussions have already started with the labor unions regarding changes. There must be an understanding that these changes can not be made unilaterally. Our labor unions and administration are addressing those issues that were highlighted in the performance audit as well as other issues that will make the organization more efficient and effective. The end result will fulfill the mission of providing a quality education to the community.
6. TPS currently has a renewal levy on the ballot that will raise approximately $16 million annually for five years or about the annual savings that can be obtained by implementing the performance audit recommendations. Why should the TPS renewal levy be approved by voters?
Asking for a levy is difficult when our community is affected by an economic crisis but it is necessary. The revenue from the renewal levy has already been included in our five year budget. Without that revenue there will be a reduction in services. It is important to recognize that although the performance audit was a quality product those projections are estimates over five years, and based on certain information and assumptions. The final savings from the performance audit will not replace the revenue. It will take time to negotiate many of these recommendations. It is also important to recognize that there are regular reductions in revenue from the federal and state government. We expect that to continue. The state continues to pass legislation regarding funding that negatively impacts public school funding.
7. Ohio statutes require that TPS teachers and principals have regular performance evaluations with student performance on standardized tests a component of the evaluation. Should teachers and principals be held directly accountable for student performance in their individual performance evaluations? Why or why not?
All of us should be held accountable. Student achievement is affected by more than teacher and principal performance. The students’ efforts and parental support play an active role in the ultimate success of the student. The student also deserves an environment where achievement is a priority, and the resources are provided; thus allowing for student success.
Toledo Public Schools has long had a successful evaluation program for our teachers, informally called the Toledo Plan.
8. Ohio is currently implementing national standards regarding the skills and knowledge all students need for success referred to as the “Common Core”. Why do you support or oppose the adoption of these standards?
I oppose legislation that dictates to the local community a set of standards that takes away from teachers their ability to creatively respond to the individual needs of students.
I also oppose standards that do not take into consideration the individual student.
I oppose unfunded mandates on local school districts.
9. What endorsements have you received as a candidate? Do you believe any of these endorsements present a potential conflict of interest with the community you would be elected to represent?
Leadership Fund of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce
Local Union 8, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Cement Masons and Plasterers Local 886
Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council
There are no conflicts as a result of these endorsements. Endorsements do not present a conflict because I make my decisions based on what is beneficial to the students and families in the district.
10. Parents today have a plethora of options including private, parochial, charter, virtual, and home schooling besides traditional public schools. How are parents to make this decision? And when is the public school option the best choice for parents?
The public school must remain an option. It is available so that all children have the opportunity for an education. Public schools offer a broad array of educational opportunities, i.e. college prep and career technology programs. The district offers the traditional classes and other programs such as Early College High School. The district offers the career technology programs including the Construction Careers Academy, Culinary Arts, the Floriculture program, as well as others. Public schools offer athletics and other extracurricular activities.
Parents should choose public schools so that their children have a total educational and social experience.