Flagg: Analysis of TPS school board choicesWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Eight candidates are vying for three open seats on the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education. Each candidate was asked to answer 10 questions. Below is exclusive analysis of the candidates’ answers by Steven Flagg, a member of the Urban Coalition and an education advocate who has followed TPS and education issues for the past 17 years.
Thanks to the Toledo Free Press for stepping up to the plate for voters, asking the hard questions and posting the candidates’ complete answers. You don’t see this often in Toledo as the news media generally wants to parse the content for you.
With that said, let’s analyze the answers of those who responded.
A number of candidates displayed candor on some questions, but there is a still good deal of equivocation. While voters have come to expect such behavior, candidates who practice nuanced deception and avoidance should not get our votes. Further, some of the answers caused head scratching: Do they really know the important issues, the impact of endorsements on decision-making and the statutory and representative role of a school board member?
The TPS renewal levy gets unanimous support from all the candidates. This is not surprising. Over the past 20 years I am familiar with only one credible candidate that opposed a TPS levy — and he failed to win a board seat.
When naming the three most important issues facing TPS, we find a good deal of common ground. The majority discuss improving academics and school performance. Two mention improving graduation rates – a related goal. But in a competitive world, mere graduation from high school is not a ticket to success.
Most candidates believe a board member’s role is to improve education. That’s easier said than done considering TPS test scores during the past decade. Two candidates, Perry Lefevre and Chris Varwig, believe they should be cheerleaders and that TPS needs to market their successes. Unfortunately, the exemplary programs serve about 1,000 students out of 23,000 enrolled at TPS. A diversified base of thousands of successes is the ultimate commercial for TPS.
The Toledo Federation of Teacher (TFT) backed candidates, Lefevre and Varwig, are critical of the performance audit and findings. Lefevre choose to cherry-pick a recommendation he disagreed with and used it to essentially discount the entire report. Bob Vasquez, the only incumbent running and whose credibility is tied to the audit he promoted, said, “…the performance audit was a quality product…” Randall Parker III appears a supporter of the audit, responding, “I agree with the audit as a tool to better our district.” Tina Henold believes the process of implementation should be open. Aji Green honestly admits he has not read the report and is researching it.
The audit report is more than 500 pages. Reading the responses suggests that in-depth knowledge of the findings and recommendations is not prevalent.
The candidates struggled regarding contract negotiations to implement audit recommendations. Polly Taylor-Gerken believes that mutual agreement is possible. “As a Board member, I will insist upon the openness and transparency in the negotiating process that makes such agreements,” she stated. This is an interesting challenge since past TPS negotiations with its unions have been handled in absolute secrecy.
One response was startling. “Board members do not negotiate contracts,” Varwig stated. Ohio Revised Code establishes the Toledo Board of Education, not TPS, as the legal authority to contract for services. While board members have not participated in labor contract negotiation meetings, they could. Participation in negotiation meetings creates a sensitive political situation for those supported by TPS labor unions. Sitting on the sidelines provides plausible deniability should negotiations get sticky.
Asked whether teachers and principals should be held accountable for student performance, as required by current state law, the candidates diverge. Vasquez stated, “All of us should be held accountable.” Taylor-Gerken said, “Yes, teachers and principals should be accountable for student performance.” Green is concerned that teachers be evaluated by those who have been in the classroom. Parker to some degree sidesteps the issue but does say, “I am a firm believer of accountability.”
Henold is an absolute “no,” citing issues with high stakes testing. Here she agrees with the TFT-backed candidates Lefevre and Varwig about tying student performance to evaluations.
No one believed endorsements and financial support would compromise their decision-making. The pressure from many outside groups would likely be minimal. However that isn’t the case for those endorsed and supported by unions where board members vote on their contracts. The TFT has historically spent thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours securing the election of their “bosses.” Vasquez, backed in 2009 by the TFT, felt the retribution resulting from employee concessions won under his leadership as president. This is how the TFT deals with supported candidates that stray.
Look closely at those supported by TPS unions. If they entertain thoughts of further political advancement, a powerful local union like the TFT will coerce cooperation by threatening retribution or withholding resources.
While you can vote for three candidates, consider voting only for your first choice. A vote for other candidates dilutes the chance your first choice will be elected.
No matter your choice(s), remember to vote Nov. 5.
Profiles of each candidate and the candidates’ unedited responses can be read here:
- Darryl Fingers declined to be interviewed or participate in the survey.
Email Steven Flagg at email@example.com.