Flagg: TPS – Children first?Written by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Public Schools (TPS) renewal levy presents some interesting personal challenges.
I am a strong supporter of the members of TPS’ new management team and have been for several years. Interim Superintendant Romules Durant is a stand-up guy, someone I would hold up as a role model for children and adults alike. His team shares those characteristics. This group has worked to be open and transparent. They have not always succeeded but that is because of the box they are in — the TPS Board of Education.
These administrators have reached out and developed relationships with both friends and those perceived by board members as critics. They have listened, implemented suggestions and responded to concerns. If only the board would follow their lead.
The board has been and remains an embarrassment and community liability that owes its fealty not to voters, but to entrenched self-interests. They are petty grudge-keepers, incapable of working together and finding compromise. Each is more interested in future political advancement than service to the community, resulting in decisions based upon political goals instead of the interests of children and constituents. They hold the authority and thus hold the keys to the box.
Most of the reforms and cost savings in the past few years have come as pressure applied through levy failures. Savings gained from the transformation plan — whose major impetus was the change to a K-8 model — and the recent performance audit demonstrate that those of us who campaigned against new levies in the recent past were correct. Enormous cost savings have been realized and still exist.
TPS always finds a surplus to support employee raises, or a deficit appears that supports a new levy. It happened again just this summer when TPS adjusted their projections during the fact-finding process to legally justify a wage increase. Granted TPS unions made substantial concessions two years ago on wage and benefit levels agreed to in 2008. But it is now apparent that those increases were not sustainable without significant cost savings or new funds or a combination of both.
I can give you oodles of facts and figures to support these claims. Some of them can be found at www.toledofreepress.com in a posted copy of the TPS-TFT fact-finder report issued Sept. 18.
The recent performance audit identified $91 million in potential savings over five years and offered many recommendations to improve the district. However, it only opened the door to needed changes. The report never addressed changes in instructional delivery, technology in the classroom, classroom management and other areas that would improve overall student academic outcomes. It is far from a perfect document.
Nonetheless, it identified savings totaling about $5 million that could be redirected toward effective programs that are at risk even if the renewal levy passes because federal grants funding the programs are expiring.
Both the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) and the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel (TAAP) have vehemently criticized the report. A large majority of projected savings must be negotiated with these two unions.
Two of the leading candidates to fill three board seats up for grabs in November are backed by the TFT and do not support the audit recommendations. One sitting board member is heavily dependent upon TFT support. The audit could easily be dismissed in January if candidates beholden to entrenched self-interests win election in November.
Based upon TPS’ own projections, a new levy is not necessary for two years. Two seats on the board will open in two years. Consequently, if the levy passes in November, the community has no leverage for two years — except for public pressure — to put the process back on track. The recently announced audit “advisory” board could easily be dismantled and the process ended.
The board and its TFT handlers hold all the cards for two years. They will bank on a short public memory and be back in two years or less asking for new money despite their failure to realize the savings available.
Do I vote to support the management team? Or do I vote to force the hand of the board? Either way it is easy to see how our children don’t come first.
Steven Flagg is a member of the Urban Coalition. Email him at letters@toledo freepress.com.