Black school educators hold forum without Steel but include 3 for Change
The Toledo Alliance of Black School Educators (TABSE) held a school board candidates’ forum last Tuesday evening at the Mott Branch Library.
An audience of about 25 heard four candidates—Darlene Fisher, Christopher Myers, Steven Thomas, and Robert Torres—address a number of issues that have been touched on repeatedly during the course of this campaign.
“We have an opportunity,” said Torres, “to create a school system that puts children first. What we need in the Toledo Public Schools is a ‘disruptive change.’ We need to go to an area that is not comfortable.”
The two major themes of the evening, in fact, were change and community involvement with each candidate swearing fealty to both. “The era of the rubber stamp is over,” said Myers as he spoke about how he expected to conduct himself once in office.
Fisher, Myers and Torres are the candidates who comprise the Urban Coalition’s slate that has been dubbed “3 for Change.” The only disagreements during the evening occurred when the three took on the lone board member, Thomas, and those moments were infrequent.
Thomas, who was appointed to the board last winter, made the strongest defense during the evening of the district and the administration, but even he admitted that change, especially in areas such as the controversial mentoring/evaluation program—the Toledo Plan – was necessary.
“There is no statistical data,” said Thomas that would support a charge that the plan is racially biased but “there needs to be a collaboration” between community and the district to effect needed changes to the plan.
Steve Steel, the fifth candidate for one of the three seats in play, was not part of the debate because he had not been invited by TABSE to participate.
“This is a democracy and we can invite who we want to invite,” said Rahwae Shuman during the discussion when he deflected a question addressed to the candidates of why they would have agreed to appear at a closed forum and whether they felt that such an omission amounted to discrimination. The candidates had not been previously informed that Steel was not invited.
After the debate, Shuman elaborated on the reasons for excluding Steel. “We invited four candidates who we thought were progressive and reflected our goals,” he said.
“We understand his closeness with the Toledo Federation of Teachers. We did not want to waste our time or his. We are very serious about change, it’s not about discrimination.”
Steel himself had not known about the forum beforehand. When asked later about the refusal of the group to invite him and Shuman’s comments, Steel said that TFT has frequently been an advocate for change in the past. He noted, in fact, that the Toledo Plan itself was quite a revolutionary change at the time of its inception. He added that other recent developments, such as the TPS academies (requiring longer hours for teachers and students), uniforms and dress codes have also won union approval.
But Steel admitted that there was indeed a chasm between him and other candidates who have been publicly disdainful of TFT and its leadership. “How can you profess to work with someone you’ve been bashing for the last 10 years,” he said of his opponents who have promised to find common ground with the union.
As to the closed forum itself, Steel criticized Shuman’s comments about his stance on issues. “How can he know my views when he has never sat down with me and talked to me about anything?
“Any forum where you are not going to invite all of the candidates is not a forum … it’s a press conference.”