Nearly 200 people made their way into Morrison R. Waite High School’s cafeteria to listen to Toledo Public School officials present its “Transformation Plan” last week.
The plan could mean redistricting students, closing schools, eliminating specialized teachers in art, music, and physical education, and creating specialized high schools.
The plan does not eliminate specialized classes. Instead, students would be taught those subjects by non-specialized teachers.
Walking into the cafeteria, a guest was approached by a coalition of art teachers with a pamphlet headlined, “Why do the kids need art?” and “Why do kids need art teachers?”
Teachers said they would rather “compromise,” suggesting a preference for a 10 percent pay cut rather than eliminate specialized teaching positions. One parent suggested the meeting format was “flawed” because the specialized teaching positions was not revealed in detail by TPS officials during presentations, but instead brought up by the teachers themselves.
After cutting $10 million two years ago and $30 million last year, the school district estimates it will have to cut another $37.15 million from its budget for the 2011-12 school year, or an estimated 14 to 17 percent of its total budget.
“I think everyone here knows Ohio and the whole United States is dealing with a hard economic downshift,” said Superintendent Dr. Jerry Pecko. “That’s huge. In my experience in education I have never experienced this kind of situation in school funding before.”
Most of the deficit will be made up by budgetary reductions and $12.5 million has yet to be negotiated, Dr. Pecko said. The transformation plan will account for $7.59 million.
Under the plan, TPS will transition all elementary and middle schools into K-8 neighborhood schools in the fall of 2011. That includes East Broadway Middle School, which would become a K-8 school. Parents in attendance expressed concern that this would present an opportunity for older students to bully younger students.
District officials say neighborhood schools will “mitigate transportation issues.”
“Instead of taking students to school, TPS is taking schools to students,” states the transformation plan’s executive summary.
Dr. Pecko promised in redistricting TPS would “limit student movement, pay attention to proximity of locations, look at current and long term building capacities, look at the integrity of neighborhoods, and stay within the learning community ‘the best we can.’”
East Side Central will close in the fall of 2011 and its boundaries shifted. In the fall of 2012, TPS plans to relocate the board of education from its current building on Manhattan Boulevard to “a more efficient building” not yet determined. All of the schools closed are not being renovated under TPS’ Building for Success program, which is funded by voters and the Ohio Schools Facility Commission.
“We took all of our buildings and all of our classes and we tried to start over,” said James Gault, interim chief academic officer. “We also believe that we will increase attendance and decrease discipline matters.”
At neighborhood schools, TPS plans to provide a platform to provide high school course offerings in grades 6-8 for those who qualify. The district also plans to re-establish extracurricular activities at those schools.
When Romules Durant, assistant superintendent for elementary education, spoke about using technology to improve educational opportunities, he noted that every east side elementary school was rated “effective” by the state of Ohio, which drew applause.
Durant, who was raised in East Toledo, said TPS would partner with outside agencies, such as the East Toledo Family Center, to expand and coordinate wrap around services.
“The family center is the hub of the east side,” Durant said. “When I grew up on the east side, everybody went to the family center.”
In the fall of 2013, Oakdale School will become a “Virtual Academy” with online textbooks. It will be a pilot program, but Dr. Pecko says if the program is effective and financially viable it would be expanded to other schools in the district.
Virtual learning labs will be established in each building, and students will be allowed to complete coursework at alternative hours. Technology will also be used to increase foreign language and advanced placement courses.
TPS will explore an international school at Waite with a focus on language, business, and culture. A teacher preparatory academy would be created at Scott for “kids who want to be an educator themselves,” said one TPS speaker. A similar program exists at Waite now, and those in attendance at the meeting expressed concern about moving the program away from Waite.