Budget Standoff Is Seen as Peril to Toledo Reforms

By Ann Bradley — March 06, 1991 5 min read

The Toledo Federation of Teachers and the city school district are at a bitter standoff over budget cuts the union says would devastate many of the jointly operated school-reform programs that have brought the Ohio district national acclaim.

A state fact-finder was scheduled to meet with both parties this week in an attempt to resolve the dispute. In the meantime, budget reductions that the district has agreed upon with its two other employee unions will not take effect until the teachers’ contract is settled.

Toledo, like several other large cities in Ohio, is facing severe budget cuts as a result of the failure of a tax levy last November.

Gerald Biernacki, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and administrative personnel, said the school system has proposed cutting $12 million over the next 18 months to balance its budget.

The stalled progress over the teaching contract, he said, is costing the district $8,500 a day in savings that were to have begun in mid-January.

The grim situation may change in May, however, when voters will be asked to approve a three-year, 6.9-mill emergency tax levy. In November, they rejected a 9.9-mill tax hike that would have enabled the 40,470-student district to continue operating its current programs.

But district officials and the Toledo Federation of Teachers are accusing each other of souring the chances for passage of the levy by refusing to eliminate favored expenditures.

In presenting a possible list of programs to cut, the school board named Toledo’s intern-intervention program, in which experienced teachers evaluate new teachers. The program has been considered a model of teacher professionalism.

Also targeted were several other jointly administered programs, including a project at Scott High School in which students stay with the same academic teachers for four years, and a research project on teaching junior-high mathematics that is run with the assistance of Michigan State University.

Mr. Biernacki said the programs were chosen because they are not required by either the state or the federal government, and not because the district does not support them.

The school board has pledged to restore several such programs--including the evaluation program--if the May levy passes, said Brenda Facey, the board’s president.

“We were not intending, nor do we intend, to try to eliminate some of the reform programs we’ve been known for nationally,” Ms. Facey said. “We’re very proud of them.”

The teachers’ union rejected the board’s proposed cuts and suggested some of its own, including eliminating a $2-million cafeteria subsidy, ending certain perquisites given to top administrators, and temporarily laying off some middle managers to balance expected teacher layoffs.

When the school board rejected this counterproposal, said Dal Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, the negotiations deteriorated.

Mr. Lawrence said he believed that the district’s estimates of how much must be cut from the budget were “grossly inflated.”

According to the union leader, the approximately $280,000 that the district spends to provide longevity bonuses, car allowances, life-insurance stipends, and professional memberships to top administrators would cover the cost of several of the programs targeted for elimination.

“There’s a real drive and effort to get the district to return to the old industrial model with strong principals and no shared decisionmaking,” asserted Mr. Lawrence, who noted that the district is using a new negotiator to handle the teachers’ contract.

The school board, meanwhile, has reached accords on reductions with its other unions.

The Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, which represents most of the district’s administrators, has agreed to eliminate 40.5 positions, or 11.5 percent of the administrative staff, Mr. Biernacki said.

The union representing nonteaching employees has approved laying off 122 people, or 9 percent of its membership.

The district is asking the teachers’ union to consider a reduction of 219.5 teachers and paraprofessionals, which includes teachers whose jobs will be eliminated when two of the city’s high schools are closed. Some 60 teachers’ aides who work with the Writing to Read program are scheduled to lose their jobs when that program is eliminated.

The teachers have sought to make administrative perquisites a key issue in the dispute.

The district has not considered doing away with the perquisites given to the superintendent’s “extended cabinet,” Mr. Biernacki, the assistant superintendent, said.

Mr. Lawrence of the teachers’ union suggested that the tax levy is in jeopardy because voters are outraged that the district is protecting its administrative staff from the budget ax.

“They’re taking Writing to Read and computers away from kindergartners and 1st graders and protecting car allowances,” Mr. Lawrence charged. “People are upset.”

But Ms. Facey, the school-board president, accused the teachers’ union of endangering the levy effort by appearing intransigent and unwilling to do its part to help the district through the fiscal crisis.

The union also has been “all over the place” in discussing which cuts it would allow, she maintained.

“We don’t have the complete support of all of our employees as we approach May 7,” the date of the levy vote, Ms. Facey said, “and that concerns me a great deal.”

If the levy does not pass, the district is facing the possibility of eliminating all of its athletic programs, in addition to cuts already being made.

Mr. Lawrence contended that the district has not been honest about the extent of the reductions in its administrative force. Of the 40.5 positions that it says are being cut, he said, 14 have been vacant for up to three years.

Mr. Biernacki said that in addition to the 40 positions, two top administrative positions have not been filled and three others may be cut if the May levy fails.

The assistant superintendent noted that 10 other central-office employees have been reassigned to work in schools to correct an imbalance between the number of administrators in the system and the steadily declining number of students enrolled.

However, Mr. Lawrence charged that in making the shift, the district guaranteed the 10 employees that their incomes would not be reduced.

David McClellan, president of the administrators’ union, asserted that the teachers’ federation was being “absolutely irresponsible” in its dealings with the school district.

He suggested that part of the friction might be due to the challenge posed to Mr. Lawrence by the district’s forceful new superintendent.

“A number of people would tell you that for the past 10 years, Dal Lawrence has pretty much run the district,” Mr. McClellan said.

But Mr. Lawrence said he believed some of the tension was the result of maneuvering by former politicians who want to see the district disbanded and its students absorbed into suburban systems.

A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 1991 edition of Education Week as Budget Standoff Is Seen as Peril to Toledo Reforms