TPS Board tables resolution to transfer properties to cityWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Following a presentation by Toledo’s deputy mayor of operations, the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) tabled a May 28 resolution to transfer properties to the city. The TPS Board of Education (BOE) sent the resolution back to the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) Committee’s June 19 meeting for further discussion.
“I was aware some board members had some concerns and questions,” Deputy Mayor Stephen J. Herwat said. “I was not surprised that the board took the action they did last night. And as I indicated, I would be more than happy to come back. I offered to go to the committee [meeting] last week, but they decided for whatever reason not to invite me. I’ve offered again to go to the next committee and to come back to next month’s board meeting.”
Cecilia Adams, Lisa Sobecki and Bob Vasquez were the board members who raised concerns.
Adams asked Herwat for a written agreement to make it less difficult for the BOE to get properties back if the board decided at a future date that the district needed them. Sobecki questioned how the city planned to maintain the properties given “the strains we have in all our budgets.”
Initial plans for properties
Herwat told the board the city’s initial plans are for the former:
- Beverly Elementary to be turned into open space and to be used to bury underground water tanks for the Toledo Waterways Initiative (TWI).
“We are under a $520 million federal court consent decree for when the sanitary sewer overflows into the waterways,” Herwat said. “It’s part of the TWI project.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary to become a park.
- East Side Central Elementary to become a park as well as provide parking for Eastminster United Presbyterian Church.
- East Toledo Junior High to be turned into open space and to be used for TWI underground water tank installation.
- Heffner Elementary to be used by a church group.
- Jones Junior High to become a community garden.
- Lagrange Elementary to become a park.
- Leverette Junior High to be used by the Police Athletic League. “The board has already passed a resolution to give Leverette to us,” Herwat said. “And we’ve already passed an ordinance to accept it.”
- Libbey High’s football field to be used for recreation by the Mid-City Football League.
- Longfellow Elementary, subject to a previous land swap agreement, to become a park.
- Nathan Hale Elementary to be turned into open space.
- Nelson Grace Park to remain a park.
- Newbury Elementary to become a housing development.
- Robinson Junior High to be turned into open space.
- Sherman Elementary, subject to a previous land swap agreement, to become a park.
- Warren Elementary to be developed by a private contractor into senior housing.
Vasquez said he was concerned with city plans that included potential residential and senior housing, the installation of sewer lines and underground water tank installation. The third time Vasquez asked for written assurance that the neighborhoods will be consulted before the city develops any of the properties, Herwat said, “We are certainly willing to put that assurance in writing.”
Herwat said the city has a well-established policy of listening to neighborhood concerns in all of its property development projects.
“Whenever the city develops a plan, we always meet with the community,” he said. “One of the meetings we’ve already had, because of the previous land swap, is Longfellow School. It’s going to become a park. We met with the community and asked, ‘What would you like to see?’”
Herwat said the community gardens project at Jones Junior High could take one of many forms.
“It could be where residents plant their own vegetables,” Herwat said. “We have a couple of examples in town where groups have installed greenhouses. Kids in the summer work in the greenhouses. Community groups grow vegetables and sell them to help defray the cost of the operation.”
Herwat said that the two housing development projects are in their earliest stages.
“Newbury is just speculative,” Herwat said. “With Warren, we have had conversations with a group looking to put senior housing there. But that’s not a done deal.”
Sobecki said she was pleased, but not surprised, that the board voted 5-0 to authorize James Gant, chief business manager, to spend $3 million to purchase 26 transformers and control systems to augment TPS’ current energy provider.
“I don’t ever expect anything to happen,” Sobecki said. “I always hope and wish that things go the way I would like to have them go.”
Increase in lunch prices
The board also voted 5-0 to raise lunch prices 20 cents for elementary school and 25 cents for high school lunches for next year. The current elementary school lunch will increase from $1.80 to $2; a high school lunch will increase from $2.25 to $2.50.
Section 205 of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNRA) of 2010 requires all school food authorities with an average paid lunch price of less than $2.52 to increase their average paid lunch price or secure non-federal funds to support their non-profit food service account.
At the Food Service Ad Hoc Committee meeting May 20, Gant said the CNRA will require TPS to raise elementary school lunches to $2.45 and high school lunches to $2.90 by 2018.
“My personal opinion is that is too big of a jump,” said Brenda Hill, BOE president. “And for families that don’t qualify for the free and reduced lunch (FRL) program, that’s like a punch in the stomach.”
Reynald Debroas, director of Food Service/Child Nutrition, said that 50 percent of TPS students are directly certified to receive a FRL lunch and “we’re just 14 percent shy of giving everyone a free lunch.”
Gant reported that TPS’ provides 78 percent of FRLs citywide.
“An incremental increase is fine,” Gant said. “What we really need to find out is if we can legally help parents fill out the FRL application,” Gant said. “If we can, we need to have an outreach to help parents. The real question is whether we have enough fosters and runaways out there to raise that additional 14 percent for direct certification.”
Sykes said TPS’s best tactic might be to turn to county agencies for help in encouraging parents to sign up.
“It’s an educational process with the parents,” Sykes said. “My recommendation is to work with Job and Family Services. They will help identify and sign our kids up for the FRL program. Mr. Gant, call Deb Ortiz and share with her our concerns that we can do a better job of feeding their recipients.”
In her finance committee report, Adams said Treasurer Matthew Cleland identified seven issues that negatively influence TPS’ five-year financial forecast. Cleland’s forecast, as required by HB 412, presents four best- and worst-case scenarios.
Cleland said the seven key issues unique to TPS are:
- Hollywood Casino Toledo revenue will not increase yearly, as some project, but will peak in 2014.
- TPS is required to give $81 million of its annual $300 million budget (27 percent) to charter schools.
- TPS is required to give $1 million to charter schools for transportation.
- TPS will lose 5 percent of its federal funds in the sequestration.
- TPS will lose $4 million when the Race to the Top grant expires.
- TPS faces a projected 3 percent increase in salaries in the current union contract negotiations.
Adams also reported that TPS was required to spend $65 million (21.7 percent of its annual budget) in 2011-12 to pay for unfunded mandates. The district will be required to pay $69 million (23 percent) this year.
“We must speak with one voice,” Adams said. “We must tell the legislature to send money with the mandates.”
As chair of the athletics committee, Sobecki said she was pleased the board unanimously voted to fund the wrestling program at the six TPS high schools. Sobecki said the athletic committee does not decide which sports to re-establish. Rather, decisions are made when students, teachers, coaches, staff, parents and community members approach the athletic committee with an interest in re-establishing a particular program.
“Mr. Vasquez and I are not picking one sport over another,” she said. “As people come forward to us, we look at the one program they’re interested in. I would love to bring each and every one of them back. The reality is that we don’t have the funding at this moment.”
Board members returned from a 90-minute executive session at 11:02 p.m. to announce that they had not decided whether to accept or reject a state-appointed referee’s ruling to not fire Sandra Meeks-Speller, a suspended TPS assistant principal.
In a prepared statement, Hill said referee Anthony Gretick’s recommendations, “which came after six days of testimony, dealt with a great number of issues that we do not know enough about yet to come to a decision. At this time, the board will set a time where it will take formal action to accept or reject the report. We will make no other comments at this time.”
In his recommendation, Gretick rejected nearly all of TPS’ accusations against Meeks-Speller for allegations that did not merit discipline, biased and unconvincing witness testimony and a lack of evidence.
Sobecki said board members went in executive session to discuss the referee’s decision with TPS’ legal counsel.
“As a board member for the taxpayers, I think it’s our right and responsibility to look and examine this case — and any other case — and get all the information and all answers to your questions before you render a decision. And I was not prepared to render a decision last night because there was still missing information from some of the questions we asked.”
Sobecki’s decision to question a $496 expenditure in the BOE’s professional development service fund led to an acrimonious confrontation between Sobecki and Sykes that hung over the second half of the five-and-a-half-hour board meeting. Sykes made continuous references to what he had learned at a Chicago conference that cost the district the $496 in question.
Sobecki said she was only doing what she has done at every board meeting this year — reminding her fellow BOE members to live within their own service fund budget and set the example for all employees that everyone with TPS ties must spend taxpayer money responsibly.
“First of all, I asked a clear question to the treasurer: ‘Do we have the funds for this?’
“My second question was, ‘Did anyone know about this?’
“I didn’t know about this. Ms. Hill didn’t know about this trip until after the trip. I saw that our dollar amounts were shrinking in the service fund, and then, all of a sudden, I see a board member taking a trip. I believe if you’re spending taxpayer dollars to attend a conference and representing the board, you have an obligation to bring back and share information to help the whole district.
“I have not received one piece of information from Mr. Sykes when he goes on a trip. And I’m not going to vote for an expenditure that I do not know what it’s for, what’s been brought back and what’s been shared.
“And then it got personal.”
Sobecki is referring to Sykes statement, “Yes you are” and the conversation that followed when she said, “Mr. Sykes, I’m not picking on you.”
“But as I see it, there’s nothing wrong with asking questions about expenditures.” Sobecki said. “We question employees all the time. ‘How are you going to pay for it?’
“But when a board member is asked, I take from the conversation last night that we’re not supposed to ask. ‘You can ask everyone else, but don’t ask me.’
“As a board member, I think I should have that right to be able to ask. Others may feel differently.
“Mr. Sykes’ conference talked about food service. My question is, ‘OK, what are you bringing back to help us with our $3 million deficit?’ I don’t know because I haven’t been given any information.”
As of press time, Sykes was unavailable for comment.
Tags: Anthony Gretick, Bob Vasquez, Brenda Hill, Cecilia Adams, Jim Gant, Larry Sykes, Lisa Sobecki, Matthew Cleland, Ohio School Facilities Commission, Sandra Meeks-Speller, Stephen J. Herwat, Toledo Public Schools