The TPS board voted unanimously to put a five-year, 5.8-mill levy on the Nov. 4 ballot, which would raise approximately $13.3 million per year: an estimated $10 million for operating expenses and just under $3.4 million devoted to capital improvement costs such as new buses, upgraded technology, and building maintenance.
School board members stated the bulk of the new money would go toward resuming bus transportation that was cut in recent years due to the economic recession. Board member Lisa Sobecki lamented that this year’s harsh winter, which caused the district to use 13 calamity days, only exacerbated the board’s long-term desire to restore bus service.
“We have some of our youngest kids—five-year olds going into kindergarten—that are walking some very long distances and crossing some very busy roads,” she said. “Not every parent has the funds to for a bus pass to put a kindergartener on a bus.”
“If kids are having to travel multiple miles as well as provide unsafe conditions, a lot of times they’re not going to get themselves there,” echoed Dr. Romules Durant, TPS superintendent. “So safety is a priority, based on the winter we just saw. Kids went through treacherous conditions.”
“It‘s not just for our district. It’s for the entire city of Toledo,” said TPS board member Chris Varwig, citing state law, which requires the school district to provide the same bus service to students who attend charter schools or other schools on state vouchers.
“Other districts can hire them, including in other states, that can pay a signing bonus, something of which we don’t have in Toledo Public Schools,” said Ms. Sobecki. “They actually have moving expenses they can pay folks to come and work in their district, which we don’t have. It’s imperative we have competitive wages for our employees.”
Dr. Durant also cited “multiple innovations” that district leaders intend to bring forward, including the Leadership Academy, which would place single-gender academies in separate wings of the former Samuel E. Jones at Gunckel Park elementary school.
Events will be held, the superintendent explained, that would allow young men and women to participate “in appropriate interactions,” such as debates, business and entrepreneurial clubs, among others. Dr. Durant stated that such innovations are hoped to bring students back to TPS.
The district loses an estimated 11,000 students each year: more than 9,000 attend charter schools and the state’s school voucher program makes up the remainder of the losses. But TPS leaders, despite the continued drain on district finances, maintain they’ve been able to stem the tide of defections to other educational opportunities by offering more choices.
TPS has not received new levy dollars since 2001. The proposed tax issue would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $203 annually. Voters rejected a levy in 2012 that would have meant additional tax revenue. School districts in Ohio have traditionally had a difficult time getting voters to approve new-money levies, especially as homeowners bear a greater burden in funding local schools because of state government budget cuts.
“Superintendents should be campaigning every day of the year. I go to churches every Sunday. I go to multiple events and stay connected in regard to what’s going on in the community with regard to faith-based and business,” said Dr. Durant. “I’ve been to every Rotary, every chamber of commerce and every association. I’ll just be coming to do a second round to those locations as well. When the community feels a connection to the schools, then they feel there’s a buy-in, a vested interest in support of schools.”
“I think that we’ve demonstrated that we really should have the support of the community because we’re well into the transformation plan and we have some priorities that we need to address. I think we can talk with the community and get the community’s support,” said Vasquez, while also calling tax levies “unpopular” but “something we have to do.”
“I’m hoping the voters will be informed, engaged, and listen,” said Ms. Sobecki.
However, the TPS levy may be just one of four levies facing Toledo voters in November. Three other agencies also are seeking leaves, two of which would be funding increases:
The Lucas County Mental Health Recovery and Services Board is looking to voters to renew a 10-year, 0.50-mill levy to serve an estimated 26,000 people facing mental illness or addiction;
The Lucas County Children Services Board is seeking to replace a five-year, 1.4-mill levy with a seven-year, 1.9-mill tax issue, two years before it is set to expire;
The Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio wants a five-year renewal of a 0.45-mill levy set to expire at year’s end, with an increase of 0.15 mills to serve the county’s senior population, which has grown by double-digits since 2010.
All three agencies recently presented their proposals to the Lucas County Citizens Levy Review Committee, which will make recommendations to Lucas County Commissioners, who, in turn, will have final say over whether those levies will be placed on the Nov. ballot.